“Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more.” – James Joyce, Ulysses
Years ago, much as today, I sat with a blank screen in front of me, searching for meaning and purpose in the midst of chaos and confusion. Then the chaos and confusion was the result of attempting to write a thesis statement from the Proteus episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I kept staring at the opening words, having no clue what on earth they meant. Ineluctable – unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable. On and on I plunged, deeper into dictionary definitions, searching for meaning. By the end of an all-nighter, I had determined that the best meaning I could grasp from these first five words was the concept that the things we see around us are inescapably identifiable by their forms, which are heavily subject to change.
I understand Joyce even less now than I did then, but in the years that have passed, the understanding I pulled from his words has grown. What can I say from all that I have observed in this life? Not much, but at least this much: everything I see is identified by what it looks like, yet what things look like is inescapably subject to change. If there’s anything I know, it is that I know nothing. For those of you who are completely lost, please bear with me. I digress.
Many of you have been keeping me in your thoughts and prayers over the past nine weeks as the unexplainable headache saga continues. To update you, it is not a migraine, it is not a tension headache, and it is not a tumor. Through these nine weeks there have been no positive or negative impacts by diet or fasting, exertion or relaxation, time indoors or time outdoors, prescriptions or natural remedies, massages or pain killers. Recently, the pressure in my head hasn’t be as noticeable as in the past few weeks, though I cannot safely say if that is because I have been able to largely ignore or tune out the pain; however, in the evenings it reaches its worst, at times preventing me from sleeping. For the past two weeks, I’ve just tried to keep fighting, one more day. It has worked well enough, but it’s not a solution. Thank you to everyone who has volunteered possible solutions. I still have yet to reply to many of your messages. After having tried and tried, we’re sadly nowhere nearer to having a single clue what is wrong with me. Perhaps we will never know. I’m trying to be at peace with that thought.
Over the days, I’ve tried to be somehow productive, whether it’s spending hours in the yard doing work, or attempting to tackle one of the many editing projects on my plate. I don’t wish to sound like some ungrateful wretch, for I am indeed greatly thankful for all that I have. Life has been filled with so many miracles, especially lately. I cannot and do not complain. I’m just going to try to put into words what chaos reins freely in this head of mine. Earlier, I related the struggle to find meaning and purpose in the midst of James Joyce’s chaotic writing. Today the struggle is the same except instead of his book, it’s my life I don’t understand.
I remember when I was a hero.
Was it that long ago? It couldn’t have been that long ago. I remember the days when any given day, at least several times a week, I knew what I did mattered. I knew I had made a difference. Back in those days, I was at Wright State University. After breaking out of the suicidal slump of freshman year, I started to be active. I remember playing for the WSU Ultimate Frisbee team. Even at practice, I went all out for the team, and I remember that satisfaction over tight defense or a senseless, incredible catch. Beyond that, I remember the years I worked at the University Writing Center. Every tutoring session was a challenge, and I took pride in my work. In those three years, working 20 hours a week, there was only one day when I actually believed I had failed to help a student, and it crushed me. I remember how people depended on me. Day or night, I’d get a message, someone needed help. And there I’d be in an instant. Paper due? I was there to proofread. Harsh breakup? I was there to talk you through it. Computer broken? I would always find a way to get it working. I was a hero. Every day, or at least several times a week, I knew what I did mattered. I knew I made a difference. It was clear as day.
Time moved forward, I graduated, and it was time for the real world. The next major stop in my life was Miracle Meadows School, managing and mentoring at-risk youth. I remember waking up every day, no matter how tired I was, ready to take on the world. Any given day, I knew I made a difference. Did I completely change their lives? Maybe not, but I knew what I did mattered. I knew I was making a difference–not only for the students but also for the staff. Suicidal kid? I’d take the night watch. Runaway on the loose? I’d be rushing after them on my day off. Someone needs a ride in the middle of the night? I’d have you there and back before you could blink. They started calling me Nightcrawler, after the X-men character who could teleport. Whenever anyone needed anything, I was there. I was a hero. Not a day went by where I could even doubt for a moment. I knew what I did mattered. I knew I made a difference. It was clear as day.
In all those days, when I was a hero, I remember running on as little as one meal a day, sleeping as little as 2-4 hours a night. But that sleep was so sweet. I fell asleep certain of what I was doing. I slept the sleep of the just. There was this level of satisfaction many never know in life. There was the definitive purpose woven into any given day. There was this sense of accomplishment at the end of the hero’s day. Something had been done…something that mattered. Yes, there was a definite risk, to body, to health, sometimes to life, but proportionate to the risk was the reward.
I’m not a hero anymore.
I look at my life…at my days, yea, moreover weeks, and even months. I’m not a hero anymore. I’ve tried to derive satisfaction from believing that the work I do, not receiving a penny of pay, sitting in front of a couple of computer screens, editing day and night, actually makes a difference. I hypothesize about what could happen when a finished project might reach some people and maybe have an effect on them. I have to create a fake world for myself within my imagination and force myself to believe I’m making a difference, but in my heart, I know I’m not a hero anymore. When I wake up, there is no fire in the hearth. Whether I do something or not any given day, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve studied the situation carefully. The impact is gone.
Is it time for a change? I don’t know. Can I go back in time and relive the glory days? Probably not. I’m not a hero anymore. I don’t know how I feel about that. I don’t know what to do with that. Nevertheless, that is the conclusion at the end of the day. It is finished. To bed I go, the sleep in that hollow void where once a hero could rest in peace. Asleep I shall pretend to be, as this brain tries to fathom what happened to cause this emptiness inside. I know what it is to be a hero. I know I’m not a hero anymore.
Dear son, one inescapable moment of reality that I wish to share with you is that I can identify with your plight. I started college with the idea that I would hasten the coming of Christ. I approached ministry with the idea that interaction with anyone who was not saved, was a call to make the ultimate difference. Over the years my family grew and shaping each child to be ready for Christ was all that mattered. Now I am older, slower, my certainties have been tempered with more questions. I still have a zeal for Christ, but wonder if my time to really make a difference has come and gone. As I read your blog, I wonder if we both may face the reality that the only super hero that this world has known is Jesus. My calling is not to be a superChristian, but face the fact that being an erring, forgiven, mortal, and still sinful human is enough in His hands to accomplish His purposes. Can I live with myself if my mode of working changes, my pace of life slows, the significance of what I have done is measured by faithfulness to Christ, not numbers put on the board due to my efforts, and any legacy left behind says, “Christ was here!” with no mention of my name? Whether you can do so or not is another question. But there is one thing I hope you never forget… I love you and am proud of who you are and what you attempt to do for Christ. Even if you never fly again, you are my hero! I thank God for giving me the joy of seeing you grow and change. You have done much, gone far and wide, handled success and failure with grace and courage, now persist, be faithful and await our Master’s approbation: “Well done servant!” Love, Pops.