This reaction to https://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/all-the-joy-you-need/ needs to be a separate blog post…so here it is. This is personal, so I’m scheduling it to pop up on a Saturday, when I won’t be online, and not using a graphic, since I’m not planning to “plus” it.
Between 1983 and 2005, with time out for major illness in 1986–which means since age 17–I was independent, successful, and very active with all sorts of odd jobs that informed and supported my writing. Then in 2005 I became a rich man’s penniless widow and nothing has worked for me since. I still work (at other things as well as writing) the same as I always did. People still seem to appreciate what I do…until the time comes to pay for it. Then instead of getting any reward for what I do I get responses that add up to “You don’t need to be rich (although I, the non-payer, do) and if you do need, maybe, food or heat, why don’t you just beg for handouts like other non-wealthy people do.”
It’s been profoundly discouraging.
I don’t mean “depressing”–I find it discouraging, also, that people confuse the two. Actually, with exceptions that last a few hours before some sort of physical illness (usually a gluten reaction) makes itself noticeable, I have a cheerful, fact-focussed disposition.
I’m not inclined to beg for handouts. As I’ve said, in fiction and on my Blogspot: widows have no “needs”–we’re alive because someone else needs our help. If other people are too stubborn and stupid and arrogant to admit their needs, or repay what I do for them, that’s not my problem.
I’m not inclined to give anything away without some form of repayment, though, either. I don’t think that’s good for anybody, nor is it what the Bible teaches. Every normal person wants to read to blind people, send provisions to disaster victims, and make children’s eyes light up–which is fine–but even children need to learn to think in terms of giving something back to those who give things to them.
I’ve not been eating regularly in recent years. It’s getting harder (due to genetically modified food products) to find anything I can eat. Yet another e-publisher is trying to rip me off, and once again I’m not making enough money to pay for anything I can eat if I can find it. At the Blogspot I declared a hunger strike, so of course some local lurker wanted to buy me lunch…one day. Fine. That’s the condition of the strike. I’ll eat on any day when I’ve received US$100.
It’s hard to explain…Losing a chance to get paid to write about the Bible did hurt my feelings. The prospect of literally starving (or freezing), in the beautiful home I inherited, rather than becoming another parasite on the Welfare State, does not hurt my feelings at all.
I believe in remembering people’s lives by carrying on what they did. My home became a Cat Sanctuary in memory of a cat who tamed wild animals and fostered kittens. Whatever I’ve done or written in aid of homeschooling (I don’t even have children), veterans (I’m not one), or people with major disabilities (I’m not one of them either, even if the U.S. Army counts gluten intolerance as a major inconvenience), has been in memory of other people I’ve loved. Well, what I want people to do, in support or in memory of me, whichever, is to stop worrying about the handouts to the full-time professional “needers” in these United States, and focus on making sure that people who’ve actually done something worthwhile get some substantial compensation for what they’ve done. Put “need” out of your mind. Think about the value of their contributions, and pay for those.
Writing is a source of pleasure for me. So is being at the Cat Sanctuary. So is the memory of the people who’ve gone on before me, and the prospect of being with them again. We’re all born into this world with an oxygen addiction, and I’ve known many people who’ve not achieved emotional detachment from the question of how long they’ll go on breathing even after age ninety. A lot of things have to go wrong for anyone to be discouraged enough to feel detached about that at fifty. Well…I’m a widow, and a lot of other things have gone wrong. Maybe at any age it’s not so much about chronological age as it is about the relative numbers of people you’ve cared about who are living, dead, or near death. (Last summer, while I’ve been writing my little heart out, two other members of the Blogspot–both of whom have lived splendidly with trivial disabilities for years–have developed real disabilities.)
The dinner I ate before writing this tasted good. If I were going to eat dinner today, I expect that would also taste good. Whether I do eat another meal in this lifetime, or not, is not a high-priority question for me. I have no “need” for food. I want no “help” to eat. I would feel encouraged if people wanted to start compensating me for what I do, but that’s their problem. For me living means giving and taking, using my talents and being rewarded for what I do. Parasitism isn’t living. I don’t think it’s part of what my Christian tradition calls God’s “perfect” will if my time for living is over, but if it’s part of God’s “conditional” will, well, then it is.
I’d call the state of mind I’ve reached detachment. It certainly has little in common with the intense emotion that C.S. Lewis taught (Highly Sensory-Perceptive) Christians to call Joy. (Non-HSP’s don’t understand this kind of Joy because they unfortunately don’t have the neurological circuits to feel it…sort of like being color-blind, I suppose…they seem to get through life all right in their way.) But I’ve been reading The Cloud of Unknowing, finally, and recognizing that this detachment together with determination does have something in common with Joy.
Maybe some readers, if anybody has the fortitude to read this far, remember “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver.” For those who don’t, it’s a dreadful, sentimental piece of verse fiction in which a poor widow miraculously receives material to weave clothes for her little child, and during one cold night she weaves all kinds of things, specifically including things that aren’t woven in real life, singing joyously. “Her voice never faltered, and her thread never broke,” and in the morning they find “her hands in the harp strings, frozen dead. And piled all around me, and toppling to the skies, were the clothes of a king’s son, just my size.” On the literal level, as fiction, it disgusts me; on a symbolic level, as a metaphor for using her talent, it delights me. Nothing else feels quite as good as doing the work you were meant to do. If you die doing what you were meant to do, where you were meant to do it, you’re better off than most people. If singing and weaving are your talents, and your voice never falters and your thread never breaks, that’s Joy.
Most of the people who warble and witter so annoyingly about “being happy in the Lord when they fall into adversity” are clueless twits who know nothing about either adversity or the Lord. That’s why they’re so annoying. They’re overfed, overprivileged, mind-bogglingly ignorant, mostly half-grown idiots whose idea of adversity is a bad hair day–a flat tire–they’ve never even had to drive a car that’s likely to have problems more serious than a flat tire. They’ve never been hungry; they’ve never worked hard; they’ve never even been seriously ill. They don’t know what their talents are, and may not have any. Christians are told that on the Judgment Day many who say “Lord, Lord!” will be told that our Lord “never knew them,” and it’s hard to imagine that most of the people who carry on about their “joy in the midst of adversity” are in that group.
It’s also been hard for me to overlook the fact that, with just one exception (a cancer survivor who tried to believe what she’d been told), the people I’ve known who really have overcome real hardships have not been Positive Thinkers. They have not wittered annoyingly about how happy they were. In fact some of them have at least earned reputations for being positively grouchy. Ask them how they were doing, they might growl, “Don’t ask me that unless you want to know!”–because the fact is that some of the physical disabilities with which some of them were living hurt like bloody blue blazes. But they lived with Joy, too, and during the time I spent with them I was aware of feeling Joy.
I’m certainly not happy about the idea of being unable to earn my living while my hair’s not even really what you’d call grey. When I started to imagine the possibility that I might live beyond age forty, which as a young undiagnosed celiac I couldn’t imagine, I wanted to have adopted children by now. Before age forty I had already made more positive contributions to this world than just staying off welfare. If that’s the only pathetic, negative contribution I can make now, the world is in a sorry state indeed…and that does not inspire me to think any “spiritual” thoughts or do any “spiritual” things, I might add. But what I feel is the kind of detachment and determination that may well be as close as some people ever get to feeling Joy.
Is it possible to love a God who can’t provide better opportunities than this for me? I don’t know; I’m not, frankly, bothering much about that question. I know it’s possible to be true to myself and the people I’ve loved, whom I have seen, and in whom I definitely do believe.
Is it “spiritual” to prefer to die in a state of integrity, if necessary, rather than keep on sucking oxygen and give up what you believe is right? I don’t know, and don’t want to bother my head much about that either. I know the reason why historians have been unable to identify the real-life original of “John Henry” is that not one, but several, nineteenth-century working men risked their lives on bets that they could outwork new machines (and some of them lived to collect the money); none of them seems to have been especially “spiritual” about it. I know there are old Irish legends about Pagan people who won various contests of brute strength, and died, apparently more pleased with their success than regretting that they hadn’t settled for less. I know there’ve been race horses who didn’t have to be urged on to finish races on broken legs; horses like Black Gold or Barbaro wanted to lead the pack more than they wanted to avoid pain–who knows whether a horse understands that a broken leg means death for him, but these horses made the choices they made. Since unbelieving people and even other animals seem to be capable of this choice, I’m not at all sure that the author of The Cloud of Unknowing was right about detachment from the felt “need” for physical life being a great spiritual advance that God wants Christians to make.
I can tell you that this detachment is at least as different from “depression,” or despair, or grief, or sorrow, or self-pity, as it is from happiness or pleasure. If it’s different, also, from cheerfulness, contentment, or Joy, it’s closer to those things than it is to the more painful moods humans feel.
How “real” is God? How “real” is Heaven? I don’t know. I’d prefer not to find out for another thirty or forty years. I’d prefer to go on living–I mean, really living–making my own choices, using my own talents, doing good things for other people and receiving good things in exchange for what I do. I’m not willing to go on sucking-oxygen-but-not-really-living as a beggar, a thief, a prostitute, a traitor…or an able-bodied welfare cheat, which is a sort of miserable amalgam of all four of those other things, and really does not “need” to be allowed even the oxygen, much less the handouts of anything less widely available than oxygen.
If there is a God as described in the Bible, whatever that means, or a Heaven, whatever that means, then either other people will start paying me real wages for what I do within the next week or two, or else I’ll soon be spending my time in the company of those who did appreciate what I did for them and reward it in whatever ways they were able to do. I will not be cheated or exploited again. If you want to call this a spiritual gift from God, I don’t know that you’d be right, but you’d be closer to the truth than any fool who might mistake it for suicidal despair.