Just outside of English, Indiana, I found a roadside spring thanks to findaspring.com and filled up my tanks with water that has been filtering through the belly of the Earth for thousands of years.
About an hour down the road is the Lincoln Boyhood National Monument.
Illinois has done a really good job in associating Lincoln with their state, but he only moved there as an adult. He grew up in Indiana from age 7 to 23, and Kentucky from birth to age 7. He lived at this farm from 1816 to 1830, until he was 21, and remained in the area for another two years at which point he helped his father and the rest of the family move to Illinois before starting a career in the law.
The visitor center included information, pictures, and some memorabilia from Lincoln’s early life and a video about his time in Indiana, narrated by Leonard Nimoy. A quarter mile away, following a lovely country trail (pictured at top), is a working living history farm on the site of Thomas Lincoln’s farm and cabin.
Do you see the pegs sticking out of the wall in the back corner? Those are steps leading up to a hole in the ceiling where Abraham and his older sister, Sarah, and later step-siblings, would have slept each night. During the day, the pegs could be used to hang clothes to dry. The beans and mushrooms hanging from the ceiling were strung up to dehydrate in the breeze from the door.
Lincoln was no stranger to facing unknown futures. At seven years old, he left the only home he had known with his father, mother and two years older sister to walk 140 miles through a literal forest wilderness to an unknown plot of land in Indiana. Two years later, his mother died, and a year after that his father remarried so that he suddenly had a new mother and brothers and sisters. They did develop close relationships, but at the beginning it must have been a fearful unknown.
At 23, he helped his father move the family to Illinois, who was again hoping for better farmable land. His adult life was likewise riddled with trying new things, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. Regardless of what happened to him, and how uncertain or unknown the future seemed, he kept working toward a better future, always with a kind and generous spirit.
I’m focusing on this aspect of his story now, as I begin my Second Chance Life and am redefining my identity as a writer, because I find that I am hopeful and excited and yet also a little fearful of the future.
I don’t want to wake up 10 or 20 years from now and again realize that I’ve been deluding myself with something that merely feels good but is not also good for me, or that I’ve been pursuing goals that have been distracting me from issues that I need to face.
I love the idea of being a writer, and could put that to all sorts of good uses, but there’s a little bit of mean-spirited talk in the back of my head that is trying to convince me that I’m being self-indulgent; that if I really want this, and would find it enjoyable to do, it can’t be good enough.
Where did this voice come from? My dad actively preached the opposite, telling me over and over to “find something you love to do, then find a way to make money at it.” I suspect I absorbed this messaging from our culture, which in some ways glorifies drudgery.
This struggle—what to do with my life that will be good enough to justify my existence—has been plaguing me since my mid-teens, and I think that I’m not alone in that. We are bombarded with conflicting messages that work is going to be awful, so just accept it, and the sooner the better (but do what you love), and that any job that is enjoyable is selfish (but look out for number one). This is a recipe not only for unhappiness, but despair.
An hour down the road from Lincoln’s humble beginnings, in Evansville, Indiana, I attended evening liturgy for the Dormition. After service, I met a very nice couple who invited me to camp in their driveway for the night, and I actually took them up on it. We talked for a while that night and the next day, and I ended up staying there for a few days, enjoying their company and dog sitting while they went out of town for the weekend, which worked out nicely for all of us.
That makes twice in a month that I have approached new people, accepted an invitation, socialized with a family, and not gotten overwhelmed, which before would have happened around stage one of that sequence. My social anxieties are not gone, but have significantly calmed down since New York. That was clearly a major turning point for me.
Since I had Wi-Fi access at their house for the weekend, I spent a day watching more than a dozen TED Talks on the topic of fear from a wide variety of perspectives, hoping for some insight. Here are few things that I took away (all emphases are mine).
Addressing my need to do something good enough, or to be spiritual enough:
From Dan Pallotta on, “The Dream We Haven’t Dared to Dream.”
“Thomas Merton also wrote about wars among saints and that “there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace.” Too often our dreams become these compartmentalized fixations on some future that destroy our ability to be present for our lives right now. Our dreams of a better life for some future humanity or some other humanity in another country alienate us from the beautiful human beings sitting next to us at this very moment.
“Well, that’s just the price of progress, we say. You can go to the Moon or you can have stability in your family life. And we can’t conceive of dreaming in both dimensions at the same time. And we don’t set the bar much higher than stability when it comes to our emotional life….But this idea, that…our capacity for compassion and humanity and serenity and love is somehow limited is a false and suffocating choice.
“Now, I’m not suggesting simply the uninspiring idea of more work-life balance. What good is it for me to spend more time with my kids at home if my mind is always somewhere else while I’m doing it? I’m not even talking about mindfulness. Mindfulness is all of a sudden becoming a tool for improving productivity.
“I’m talking about dreaming as boldly in the dimension of our being as we do about industry and technology. I’m talking about an audacious authenticity that allows us to cry with one another, a heroic humility that allows us to remove our masks and be real. It is our inability to be with one another, our fear of crying with one another, that gives rise to so many of the problems we are frantically trying to solve in the first place.”
From Gill Hicks on, “I Survived A Terrorist Attack. Here’s What I Learned.” She was in one of the London Underground trains when it was bombed, and still could say:
“I believe the potential for widespread positive change is absolutely enormous because I know what we’re capable of. I know the brilliance of humanity. So this leaves me with some pretty big things to ponder and some questions for us all to consider: Is what unites us not far greater than what can ever divide? Does it have to take a tragedy or a disaster for us to feel deeply connected as one species, as human beings? And when will we embrace the wisdom of our era to rise above mere tolerance and move to an acceptance for all who are only a label until we know them?”
From astronaut Chris Hadfield on, “What I Learned from Going Blind in Space.”
“But the key to that is by looking at the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, where is the real risk? What is the real thing that you should be afraid of? Not just a generic fear of bad things happening. You can fundamentally change your reaction to things so that it allows you to go places and see things and do things that otherwise would be completely denied to you.”
From Ingrid Betancourt on, “What Six Years in Captivity Taught Me About Fear and Faith,” about being taken prisoner by her political rivals and held in concentration camps in the Columbian jungle.
“And I decided at that moment to kill him. And for days, I was planning, trying to find the right moment, the right way to do it, filled with hatred, filled with fear. Then suddenly, I rose up, snapped out of it and thought: “I’m not going to become one of them. I’m not going to become an assassin. I still have enough freedom to decide who I want to be.”
“That’s when I learned that fear brought me face to face with myself….I learned that facing fear could become a pathway to growth.”
Who do I want to be? Who do I want to grow into?
From Pastor Rick Warren on, “A Life of Purpose.”
“[Ask yourself] “What am I wired to do?” Why would God wire you to do something and then not have you do it? If you’re wired to be an anthropologist, you’ll be an anthropologist. If you’re wired to be an undersea explorer, you’ll be an undersea explorer. If you’re wired to make deals, you make deals. If you’re wired to paint, you paint.”
“Did you know that God smiles when you be you? When my kids were little — they’re all grown now, I have grandkids — I used to go in and sit on the side of their bed, and I used to watch my kids sleep. And I just watched their little bodies rise and lower, rise and lower. And I would look at them: “This is not an accident.” Rise and lower. And I got joy out of just watching them sleep. Some people have the misguided idea that God only gets excited when you’re doing, quote, “spiritual things,” like going to church or helping the poor, or, you know, confessing or doing something like that. The bottom line is, God gets pleasure watching you be you. Why? He made you. And when you do what you were made to do, he goes, “That’s my boy! That’s my girl! You’re using the talent and ability that I gave you.”
Okay, Pastor Rick. Good points. Also, I’ve come to believe that I can’t authentically be who God made me to be without first sorting out the muck and gunk that has been building up on my soul for my whole life, and that’s exactly what I’m doing, bit by bit. I’m fighting for my soul.
And I’m starting to see more and more of who I am apart from the hurts and anxieties and defense mechanisms and everything else that has been clouding over me. The authentic me is starting to come out and I’m feeling more like myself than I have in a very, very long time.
These are some good words, and they have helped, but there is still a lingering doubt, which tells me that I haven’t sorted through the issue enough to figure out exactly what the root of the fear is. When that reveals itself, in time, I have confidence now that, in faith, it too can be healed.