I’ve been calibrating my situation. For most of my life, I felt unworthy to receive anything of value. I came by this belief as a cradle Catholic (“Oh Lord I am not worthy to receive thee / speak but the word and my soul shall be healed”). My feelings of worthless got substantial reinforcement from the taunts of children, the chaos of childhood with a violent alcoholic father, and the treachery of men.
Two years ago, I began to question the wisdom of measuring my value by other people’s opinions. My house didn’t satisfy this one’s standard; my clothes fell short in another’s view. I’m too small, too loud, not rich enough, not clever enough, not soft enough, not simple enough. Each time someone judged me I sprang to action. I furiously attacked the characteristic of which the critic complained. I’d diet, I’d journal, I’d push my features into the form the beholder preferred. I changed the length and color of my hair, the type of clothes I wore, my habits, my hobbies, and my associates.
Regardless of my efforts, I heard condemnation. “You’re not doing enough; you’re doing too much; you’re not doing the right things.” You aren’t easy enough. You don’t bend enough. You don’t let people do things; you don’t do enough. I lived in a funhouse and the goblins around each corner shrieked as I huddled against the wall, shivering.
I’ve spent the last twenty-three months trying to live complaint-free, motivated by the desire to push myself towards joy. I started this journey mostly to please those who found me wanting. Along the way, I began to question the virtue of those people’s opinions. I discovered the relationship between my conduct and my happiness depended not on external judgment but on my ability to quell the chorus and hear my own voice.
I might not measure up to other people’s standards. I no longer care. I sank low enough to stumble on the spot where my values got buried in the avalanche. As I dig through the rubble to unearth my own standards and let them scramble back to the surface, I realize that people who truly love each other don’t pile dirt on top of each other’s fragile gardens.
I recalibrate my scale before stepping on it each morning. I’m doing the same for everything and everyone in my life. I once told someone that I did not form my social and political opinions capriciously, that they resulted from consideration and deliberation. The person closed his face to me and replied that if I would just listen to him, I would see that I was wrong and he was right. I listened; and tried to believe him. But the beating of my heart inside my chest grew wilder and louder until I finally stopped and turned my attention inward. Now that heart has become my guide. It has continued to beat through all the shocks that I’ve levied upon it. I realize that I should be able to march to its rhythm and still be loved. I step forward. Life continues.