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Contradictory me

May 15, 2013

Something I’ve noticed about myself as I’ve grown older and experienced various environments is, oddly, that I feel most connected to the world when I am alone.  I’ve thought about this many a time as I’ve stood overlooking the pond by our house.  From this vantage point, I can see cars and trucks moving along Interstate 90 while enjoying a view of the Beartooth Mountains in the distance.  Standing there completely alone, I feel a strong connection with both God (or the Creator, the Great Spirit, whatever It is) and with humanity.  Perhaps it has to do with the traffic on the highway, knowing as I do that most of it is traveling to and from places far beyond my little corner of Laurel, but the puzzling thing to me is that I feel this connection without any human presence by my side.

On the other hand, when I’m surrounded by people I’m expected to interact with, I tend to lose this sense of connection to things grander than myself.  I’m sure this is completely natural, for unless the conversation centers on grand issues (political problems, poverty, religion, etc.), my focus must shift to the small scale, to the moments I’m spending with whomever I’m around.  My attention must move from the world beyond myself to the mundane, which is a perfectly welcome occurrence most of the time–after all, I can’t always have my head in the clouds–but I’ve noticed that if I spend too much time interacting with other people without sufficient “me” time, I become distracted and restless, losing my center and sense of peace.

Having married a gregarious man with a very large family has been a challenge for me because of this aspect of my personality.  I probably would have been better suited to an equally quiet, contemplative man with a small family, but on the other hand, being married to my husband may be exactly what God wants for me.  It’s His (or Her) challenge to me to learn to tap my spirituality even in busy environments such as large family gatherings.  Interestingly, this has been the most difficult challenge of my life thus far.  Living in other countries, learning new languages, teaching students with disadvantaged educational backgrounds–all of these have been easy compared to learning to be at peace in a crowd with which I’m expected to engage (which is entirely different than being an anonymous part of a large crowd, something that is, strangely, quite easy for me).

I suppose I’ve lived on my own for so long that I’ve learned to be at peace among strangers, quietly “people watching” and observing the happenings around me, occasionally engaging in conversation with someone I don’t know but for the most part stepping back from the hubbub and simply contemplating the crowd and how the goings-on might connect to the grander scheme of things.  It may also simply be part of my nature to step back rather than step in, perhaps a characteristic inherited from my dad, who probably spends even more time in his head than I do in mine.  In any case, this habit is so ingrained in me that my husband tells me people feel uncomfortable around me because I never say much–I’m always just watching and listening instead.

I imagine my silence makes others uncomfortable because they are left to wonder at my thoughts:  Does she not like us?  Is she judging us?  Is she unhappy?  If you are one of those people, I can assure you none of those is the case.  I get lost in my thoughts and travel down roads I’m directed to by something someone said.  I’d probably like to share with you what I’m thinking but wonder whether my thoughts will be welcome since I often end up contemplating matters that others prefer to forget, like the big problems of the world that no one wants to worry about in their down time (or do they?).  For whatever reason, these thoughts fill my mind more often than not, which is probably why I always appear so serious.  I’ve been told to lighten up, but truth be told, I don’t want to.  Thinking about broader issues beyond myself doesn’t depress me; much to the contrary, it energizes me–I suppose because I get excited about the little things I think I can do to make a difference in the world, however small.  Something as simple as cloth diapering gives me a high because it makes me feel like a responsible caretaker of God’s creation–every time I put a cloth diaper on Libby instead of a disposable, I get a little thrill (seriously, I do!).

I don’t want to ignore the problems confronting us in contemporary society, I want to tackle them.  I also want to tackle this challenge of feeling at ease in my husband’s large family, and with time I will.  If I can teach algebra to college students who enter my classroom not knowing what a fraction is, I think I can learn to remain centered even when “me” time becomes scarce (I think!).



One Comment
  1. As Dostoevsky famously said in The Brothers Karamazov, one may love humanity in the abstract but not any individual humans. “I love mankind, he said, but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.” This may be a particular affliction for people who are attracted by idealistic movements for social justice and no doubt afflicts intellectuals more than others. Jesus, i suppose, would be at the opposite pole, every day demonstrating love for particular individuals but probably not so concerned about humankind as an abstract entity.You may indeed have inherited some of your ways of relating to people from me. I tend not to be very talkative in large family settings because I don’t find it especially rewarding to discuss the minutiae of everyday life. Gossip and gabbing are not my forte, for sure. But put me in a seminar room, like the Tower Center at SMU where I attend many discussions about important issues in world affairs, and you will have a hard time keeping me quiet. In fact, I have gained a reputation for usually being the first person to ask a question of the speaker. So, it’s not as though I am a wallflower or a reticent person all the time or the least bit shy; give me the appropriate circumstances and I can be as talkative as anyone. I suspect you are the same way. The way I use Facebook is indicative. I rarely ever use it to mention events in my daily life; rather, most often I come across an article that discusses an important public issue in one of the several areas that grab my attention and post it with a brief comment indicating my point of view.No doubt over time you’ll adjust to your new family circumstances in a way that will not be disconcerting to them while maintaining what is distinctive about your own way of approaching life.

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