“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” ~ HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE
Maybe, I forgot to live at times. Even how. Perhaps you have, too.
Having done that, one may well have forgotten what might count as living as a human, living up to the privilege of being a human. We forgot to wonder… as wonder only arrives after doubt arises, doubt mainly of one’s beliefs – which are largely guesses and prejudices one inherited from the “They”: “They” being anonymous, irresponsible, no one in particular, the warped half-memory story delivered by one’s culture.
Yet, in our sleepwalking lives within dreams, within what we’ve been taught to “count on,” have faith in, some of it may be true, at least partially,,, but much may be misleading, even utterly false, even a lie that leads to death. The death of oneself, the death of others.
The only proper human stance to take from time to time is the withdrawal from activity — not to avoid activity, as that is living — but in order, eventually, to return to life, awake this time, more aware, more alive, having learned something of what is true… and what is counterfeit.
What one must do while “within” is to suspend belief, set it off to the side. Pretend, if one must, that none of that and nothing is trustworthy until it proves itself. To do that, it must be resistant to doubt. Otherwise, one lives a false life within a dream populated by lies.
“The way out is through.”
“The medicine is in the poison.”
Once, I was taught to dream of fleeing from this world, this life, as if it were a curse, a punishment. That is the cult, the religion, the culture within which I was born. It, being as extreme as it was, made the division as stark as can be: This world is evil and all things within it and all people — myself included; not only do they, us, I not deserve existence, but are born corrupt and infect everything we touch. The only salvation is to be “pulled out” of this Hell, into another world, by something pure that both despises us, yet decides to have mercy on a few — this they called “salvation.”
One could not kill oneself to escape this horror of a world — the rules of this story and game were as strict as imaginable. No, one had to say the correct magical words with full belief and intention. One had to confess the unimaginable crime of being born human, imperfect, “sinful,” and fully convicted of the guilt of it all. One’s very life was a crime: each thought a crime; each feeling; each desire; each action or inaction was death itself.
I was told the perfect being had to come here, into this world, become a human, teach the way out, then volunteer to be tortured and murdered as a criminal… because of me. Because I would one day be born – bad enough! – and then live and do worse and worse things, spread the wickedness, aware or unaware. And, any minute, this perfect being who came here and was murdered by all of us, would take away the very, very few who had prayed the magic words and stopped any and all sinful things and thoughts and feelings — they would disappear into the perfect world; then, for seven years would allow this Hell on Earth to become impossibly horrible while undergoing plagues.
The final act would be this perfect being, the only perfect man — because he was also allegedly G_D — would come back, destroy everyone remaining in a great conflagration, raise everyone from the dead who’d ever existed, judge them — me too — and then throw us all into an eternal fire, eternal damnation, where the worms and fire would gnaw us for eternity… which is more than a long time, but unimaginable and without end.
A very, very small number would be saved, live in eternal peace, and, I suppose, never remember anyone whom they once loved who didn’t make the cut, didn’t say the magic words, and who committed even the most minor-seeming infraction… as evil is evil, small or large, all equal, all disqualifying.
I heard this story nearly daily from birth. When I became capable of it — quite early — I began to dwell on it. Any time I got quiet and wasn’t reading or drawing or something a child would do, terror would grip me — an existential terror. I lived in anxiety, regret, guilt… and that only grew as I did.
What a cruel story to tell a child, a story the tellers fervently, enthusiastically believed; so, I believed, too. I saw the whole world and all things through that lens which was as good as welded around my mind, though at times it seemed wrong — the wrong story.
I first prayed the magic words in terror at the age of four. No adult would believe me – how could I be sincere enough at age four? terrified enough at age four? So, I never believed the magic “took.” I’d pray it again and again, obsessively. And, being an angry, mean, cruel child at times, I certainly was eaten by sin at most moments – so, should the Man show up to take away the saved, I would certainly not be going with him… yet, I did not wish to be here at all.
To top it off, after baptism, I never received the “other” baptism, the sign all was well between one and the perfect being. I could not speak in tongues, as the religion I was raised within taught was necessary. I watched and heard people in the grip of “the spirit” at every service for years — there was no option about going — and that, too, was horrifying as I was excluded and it was a terrible thing to behold.
So, I took to reading Tanakh — what my people called “The Old Testament” — since the stories were… different. Entirely different, involving humans who did both good and bad, who sometimes did better, too; all the stories were filled with mystery — I grasped that much, though I could not discern why or in what ways.
That, and I drew on every scrap of paper I could locate — I went within, into my own dream, different in many ways from the one I was raised within… but as an escape.
By age 10, I did not believe much of my parents’ religion. By 12, I refused to go back there; by 14 and 15 I was searching for some other way to interpret the world, reality — yet, the guilt and horror impressed upon and into me did not leave. They grew, deepened. By 9, I was depressed, badly, though I had no word for that; by 14 on, it grew and deepened — and my hatred focused mainly on myself. I despised myself. If the rest of the world was at least “good” or neutral… not me. I was ruined, cursed.
I deserved every bad thing that happened around to to me… though something deep within rebelled at that. But the message that I am bad, odd, wicked, stupid, unworthy, foolish — when I wasn’t hearing that from most adults and children around me, even relatives, I heard it from myself, habitually reinforcing the notion of my own worthlessness.
But there was that pinpoint spark within my darkness — no, it was not “happy”; it was offended. It kept insisting these messages from whatever source were not merely wrong, but lies, a false narrative, and I was a false narrator concerning my own self, who I could be, who I should be.
52 years have passed all total since I arrived and I’ve made it a few more days into year 53. Time has passed and I’ve chosen to change. A bit at a time. A fragment of a millimeter sometimes. But it has been years of change, change in search of a better way to be and towards the person who should be here within my actions.
If I have made any genuine progress, it has been by means of doubt; doubt so that I could begin understanding I do not know what is true or false – neither. I do not KNOW and belief in what may well be untrustworthy is not enough for a human being once they can reason. I begin by assuming nothing – suspending as many assumptions as possible — then questioning ( a by-product of doubt ) in search of what I can know… and even the limits of human knowledge.
A journey. A journey through this world where I was always meant to be, just as you were, a journey of wonder, of failing, falling, standing back up, moving onward — but while performing at a certain level of intensity, better and better or, at least, not worse. Through, not out – an Exodus. I found the medicine in the very poison… or, drop by drop I find it.
I was born a slave in Mitzrayim, a stranger in a strange land, and have been on a journey towards who I should be for my symbolic 40 years. I will trust, when I arrive, in G_D, not an idol; I will trust even should I never quite “arrive.” The journey was the point, why I was born where and who I was and why I was allowed to leave and chose to do so.
The false stories I was given, however sincerely, by others — I do not believe anymore, though the reverberations will always plague me to a degree… but less and less, a bit at a time. I have found a better story, full of truth or pointing towards truth and goodness, even beauty, though I only learn or understand it a bit at a time.
Life is something done and that happens to one, a bit at a time.
Here. In this world, with everyone else, where I belong and so do you — setting things right a small bit at a time or wrecking things: Your choice. Me as well.
That is enough for one day, probably several.
17 February 2018
Richard Van Ingram