Thursday, February 28, 2013

Faithful as a loon

I was talking with a friend recently and she asked me where I plan to be in a year. The question wasn't of physical location, but how I envision my life in a year. When I told her, she asked how I plan to accomplish my ambitious goals. For each goal, I said that I would continue to work towards it.

It's hardly as if I set goals and then sit around hoping that they'll happen. I've been working for these goals for years.

But my friend pushed me further. Citing a common phrase, she said that persisting in the same behaviors and expecting different results is insanity. I don't quite agree, so I guess it's time for me to confront conventional wisdom.

Actually, I agree that we should change if we want different results. The problem is when we take this generally wise statement and try to make it a maxim.

In a year, I imagine that I'll be dating someone seriously. This isn't a prediction of the future; relationships can start and end rather quickly and on February 28th of 2014, anything could happen. The same, of course, is true of February 27th. But I do expect to be progressing towards my most important goal: having a happy, stable family of my own.

How will I accomplish this? By continuing to date. This sounds like much of the same, but allow me to explain further. I will keep putting forth the effort to date. I will keep asking hard questions so I can change the faulty assumptions that I make about myself, others, and about dating. I will keep putting my best efforts into improving myself and improving the way that I go about dating.

But if these are things I've been doing for some time and I haven't seen much in the way of results, aren't I doing the same thing and expecting different results? Doesn't that make me insane?

Maybe. My possible insanity is something we can't discount.

But if a sane person tries to accomplish things by changing, doesn't that mean that a person can't remain sane indefinitely? By continuing to change, I expect to continue to see different results. I'm doing the same thing, so I should see the same results – either that or I'm nuts.

I could try changing how I change, but the same problem happens. I can go down this rabbit hole as far as I like and I'll keep on hitting the same wall.

More fundamentally, the world is a stupefyingly complex system, full of intelligent, autonomous, sentient agents (we usually just call them people). When my expectations involve other people – and virtually every worthwhile expectation does – I must remember that other people can choose what they will and won't do. In many cases, I am morally or ethically obligated to continue in the same course of action. In other cases, it just makes sense to keep doing the same thing. Meanwhile, I will continue to hope that other people will choose to do as I would like them to do.

And there is another agent in this system. He usually remains unseen, but is deeply involved in the circumstances of our lives. God gives me my life as I experience it for my benefit, partially to try my faith. For faith to be tried, I must choose what I believe is right and then experience consequences that do not match my hopes. And then I need to keep choosing what I believe is right, knowing that God will grant me all of the blessings that I need to be happy. They won't necessarily be as I imagine them and they probably won't come exactly when I plan for them, but they will come.

I'm not insane. It's just that I believe.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Peteys are like onions

I've been trying to learn how to play the guitar and the piano recently. Not having a piano, it's fairly hard for me to practice. But I have a friend who does and when I visit his house, I try to take a minute to practice. I've taken to playing one of my all-time favorites: And So It Goes by Billy Joel.

Although I've liked this song for some time, it has assumed a special meaning to me. First, a bit of background.

It's no secret that people's first impressions of me vary. In fact, they vary so much that I could probably write an entire blog post (or a series of them) on the subject. Since many people first see me in large group situations, it's pretty common for people to think of me as loud and energetic – sometimes, even disruptive. I think that my openness comes across quickly, as well. These impressions are all correct: I'm unafraid of large groups and frequently take charge when no one else has done so. Sometimes, I'm the one who organizes a game of freeze tag simply because freeze tag is awesome. I don't mind broaching subjects that make lots of people uncomfortable. And I write fairly personal things on this public blog.

Unfortunately, many of my acquaintances seem to think that they've got me pegged with their first impression. As is the case with every person who has ever lived, there's more to me than meets the eye.

I'm not terribly concerned with the people who assume things about my character because of their first impressions of me. In fact, several people have thought ill of me when they first met me, only to form wonderful friendships with me later.

What concerns me is that, because I'm comfortable in groups and because I'm so open, that people make subtler assumptions about me. One that is especially worrisome to me is that sometimes people assume that I express everything that I think and feel. I say so much that I don't really blame people for thinking as they do about me. But the thoughts and feelings that matter most to me are the ones that I express most selectively.

One facet most people don't see is the pain that I feel. I don't usually share my struggles, especially in public settings. I frequently wish I could talk about them but don't always know who will listen; my problems tend to be so different from the problems of others that my friends have trouble relating. I've even opened up just to be told (in an annoyed tone) that my problems are desirable and that I should stop whining.

I'm perhaps most guarded about romantic affection. I'm open about my admiration for people and form friendships easily. This is not the case with romantic love. I'm very cautious about expressing romantic affection. I think that, several times, my failure to express my feelings have been interpreted as the absence of attachment. I've been aware of this for some time, but I'm still trying to figure out how and when to best express it. I'm making this up as I go.

And so we come to Billy Joel's music. It might seem like what's visible at the outset is all that's in my heart, but this is far from true. There is a sanctuary in there. It is safe and strong because there are no doors or windows. I am learning to tear a hole in the wall to let people in. It hurts every time, but my deepest desire is to share this room and to have that trust reciprocated. Singing this beautiful song is simultaneously an expression of my hidden pain and of my desire to open up more fully. It is also a reminder that opening up is up to me.

But you, my friends, can help me. You can ask me tough questions. Please dig deep. You can care about my thoughts and you can share yours – even if they disagree with mine. Please be patient with me. Please don't let my silence make you leave.