“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?… Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime, it is not. So, look forward to better things.” -Seneca
There is a gap between poverty and wealth that translates to many people as one missed paycheck or one serious illness from their life as they know it crumbling away. This fear drives many to work dead end jobs, stay in loveless marriages, and live in uninviting communities.
Life is just life. We will get sick, people around us will die, we will be lied to and cheated and stolen from, but accepting these things as facts of life, allows us the freedom to discard these worries from the present day. This doesn’t excuse us from planning, preparing, and executing careful action, as guided by our ethics, but it does make us immune from the threat of the great unknown.
The Great Lie is that we can prevent life’s hardships by sacrifice, prudence, and avoidance of what is unknown to us. I’m not saying jump into a pool if you don’t know how to swim; only that it is uncertain if you would drown if you did. The truth is the only certainty in life is one day it shall end. So why do so many, me included, fall prey to the Great Lie?
For me personally, I’ve always been an anxious person. As a child, I felt like I saw dangers that adults appeared oblivious to. I did not yet understand calculated risk and my child mind could not grasp the fragility of life, only that when you are dead – you’re dead for a long time – and I did not want to do that. But I wasn’t just going to just take anyone’s advice on life; I was curious and wanted to know for myself.
Drinking from the hose on a hot day always seemed like a bad idea to me. Plain water should not taste like anything. Even when adults told me it was fine, I did not believe them and resented their assumptions of my intelligence. During a time when I had so little control over my own life, I could at least choose not to drink from the hose.
These minor acts of agency were enough for me to develop some self-assurance, but I was thrown off when I was told external things could harm me. These were the same adults that tried to gas light me into drinking 90 degree stagnate water from a plastic water hose on a hot day and I was supposed to trust their judgement? I think not.
My first memorable rebellion was when I was ten or eleven years old. I took a bus far from the security of my suburban bubble and ventured to the very places I was told to avoid. I entered an unknown world and to my amazement, everyone seemed very normal and nice. I met a homeless man who wanted to be pastor and taken a vow of poverty, and another that had HIV and had spent all his money on maintaining his health. I even made some friends my own age.
As time passed and the gravity of my homelife was too much to bear and I would seek refuge in these sorted places with a collection of misfits who, for the most part, treated me with the upmost respect. I learned how-to put-on makeup, shop at second-hand stores, and attempted panhandling, for which I was promptly arrested for. All truth be told, some of my happier childhood memories are of my time in hanging out in places with people I had been told to avoid.
Years later after alcoholism had infiltrated every aspect of my life, I wondered if the “bad” influences I sought out as a child caused my downfall. Afterall, my mother told me this much. It wasn’t her inability to parent that caused a scourge of alcoholism and drug abuse to dominate all four of her children. No, it was that I had gone places and talked with people “I shouldn’t have.”
Time has given me the perspective that people, places, ideas, things, and even food, are not in themselves inherently a threat to anything or anyone. To live as such, is to limit ourselves from the very things that make life interesting. And while I cannot speak for the masses, my internal conflicts are the root cause of my poor decisions. Sadly, the conflicts I had as a child directed so much of my growth that it may take a lifetime to see myself for who I truly am, not how others want me to be.
While there are chapters of my life story that I’d prefer to be footnotes. However, I can confidently say that I am better person for having lived it. I do not have to borrow trouble from other people’s worries, nor do I have to carry anxiety about the unknown. The external world cannot disrupt my internal calm if I deem it so. It is only when I give myself up to the future or past that I am robbed of the present moment.
Today, I will take comfort in knowing that I will meet the woes of tomorrow with the same logic and tools that I have used to successfully deal with the problems of today. I will turn deaf ears to the Great Lie and trust my own reason and of those I surround myself with. When trouble does come, it will have to come find me as I will not come out to greet it.
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