I wrote this essay following a ritual created by classmates at a writing workshop hosted by the Collegeville Institute, in the Minnesota wilderness.
A million things on my mind: Lingering vestiges of the anxiety of deadlines past and accomplishments already accomplished. Navigating complicated relationships. The power that other people’s words have on my self-perception. Song lyrics from a lifetime ago running through my head. The nervousness of not just the next ten minutes, but the ten minutes after that.
A million miles away: A pregnant wife at home struggling to deal with the dogs by herself. Feeling the trauma of the latest shooting on my block, and getting a call from prison where my foster son is now being detained. The perpetual anxiety of the news cycle, and the ad infinitum ridiculousness of the world around us.
Then the singing bowl sang. Slow steps. Meticulously pre-ordained by the masking tape marking our route. The periphery disappears. Mirrored by a partner I barely realized was there and arriving to the center of the labyrinth at the same time, our eyes briefly met as we bowed and blessed each other in silence.
Between the taped lines, everything disappeared except one thought; the one thing that I always come back to.
I’m not good enough.
Why would anyone want to read anything I wrote? Who am I to have an opinion on anything? Every blog post brings out the trolls from my past. “You’re a heretic,” “You are a disgrace,” “You can’t have an opinion on this because you aren’t black, you aren’t a woman, you’re not queer, you aren’t a parent, you aren’t ordained, you will never be good enough for me to spend my valuable time reading your lunatic rants.” Why should I even bother?
So that’s what I wrote, in an abridged version that fit on the tiny notecard obviously, because that’s what I want to leave here. I don’t want that anymore. It’s a part of me, but it’s a part that I’m desperate to rid myself of.
As it burned, I hoped for relief. I prayed for relief. How do I go forward from here? How many more times do I have to write that down and burn it?
But I get to burn it every time I need to. And I won’t always need a labyrinth or a divine bowl. I have a new family here, and I can look around the room (at least for the next few hours). That paper, with those thoughts, burns again on its own when I hear what Melanie writes about loving the good. When I hear the stories that a Canadian stoner shares about finding God in a heavy metal band. When I hear the profundity in the questions Tess is asking every time we have porch beers. When I share my story and find out how much I have in common with Susan and Lee Ann – the joys and the families and the pain and the burnout. These thoughts burn when I’m reminded of the quiet and witty persistence of Caroline, when I hear the wisdom that flows from Fudgie each time she opens her mouth, when Beth shares the divinity of Sabbath with us and Aunt Judy profoundly shows us concern for a lost (or losing) generation. That little notecard of insecurity burns intensely when Liz teaches us to love a little bit more than we’re ever comfortable with, because it is the journey that matters more than the destination. The thoughts turn to ash when I hear of Kristel’s persistence in following her calling, for much longer and against greater odds than I think I have the strength to.
This time and this place have changed me. Maybe from the ticks and mosquitos. Maybe because I’ve been revisiting angsty music from my forgotten past. Maybe from porch beers with my new family. Maybe from realizing that these things that I burned are bullshit. And maybe that was the whole point of it all.