Hey there folks,
Forgive the lack of updates. As you recall, I was bound for Chile where our mission group had absolutely no Wi-Fi possibilities. Indeed, one of the stipulations for this trip was a media fast, if you will, that dissuaded me from even firing up my phone. There’s your lack of updates for ya.
But I’m back in the States, in the midst of packing up my belongings, trying to bang out a post in good order.
I have a lot on my mind as of late, and many of these thoughts are swirling about, trying to take shape in the form of words on a page. The writer’s conundrum – how do you write out just one of these many, varied thoughts? It’s like trying to catch the dust floating about in a sunny window: you can clearly see everything, but you cannot quite grasp those motes.
The following passage is based upon a testimony I had to give to the group. Although I had an outline of what I had wanted to say, I ended up firing from the hip and just rolling with it. If you’ve ever heard me speak before, you know I’m prone to word vomit – I’m much better at writing out my scattered thoughts than saying them aloud. Might not be the exact words I used when speaking, but the story is the same. Part II will follow shortly after.
Enjoy this passage about my struggle with faith, the absurdity of reality, the desire to help others at my own expense, and the need to belong.
So, I began, what brings a New Mexican redneck to the middle of Chile? I topped off my coffee mug – third or fourth for the night (who keeps track of that shit?) – before I sauntered to the middle of the dining area, ready to give my testimony to my fellow missionaries. It was part of the package: everyone had to stand afore the group and relate their story about finding Jesus.
Fuckin’ a, right.
I had been doodling thoughts and speech topics for the past couple days, trying how best to phrase my relationship to Christ without saying fuck as a filler word. Tough crowd, these good Catholics. And tonight was the night. Tonight I was supposed to tell a group of Catholic kids just how and why I ended up alongside them.
Me. The most self-loathing of self-loathers. Mr. Long Hair Don’t Care was now a missionary. And somehow I had to relate to these cherubim.
So there I was, I said – as if I was telling the best joke on the planet – sittin’ on this mountain in Spain, my feet in absolute pain, and I’m shrieking to the heavens. “Why,” I shouted, “why am I being tested like this?” No answer. Typical.
I had been walking the Camino San Salvador for a few days at that point, and it was the most emotionally and physically taxing thing I had undertaken by myself. But I found it oddly poetic (and darkly humorous) that I had managed to hurt myself on the literal road to salvation. San Salvador. Saint Savior. Silly name, no?
Tough crowd; not many people chuckled at my religious jokes. Sheesh.
As I sat on that mountain top feeling sorry for myself, wondering what the hell I was running away from out there, I felt a distant, but oddly familiar presence. Perhaps my pathetic cries for help or the turmoil pounding within my breast served as the beacon I needed; I finally heard that voice answer me.
“Because this is the only way you learn, asshole,” it said. “Pain is the only thing you listen to. Now that you’re in absolute pain – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – let Me help you. Trust in Me.”
“All right,” I half mumbled to myself. “Let’s do it your way,” I said to No One in Particular. Crazy, right? Sitting on a mountain top in a foreign country talking to God like it was a normal, every day occurrence.
I paused for effect.
I was raised Presbyterian, the libertarians of Christianity if you will. Everyone’s welcome, regardless of what you believe. Just don’t be a jerk and you’re welcome to share our pews. But in truth, I said somewhat jaded, I couldn’t tell you what makes a Presbyterian a Presbyterian, or what the difference is between them and a Methodist. I’d been going to that church my entire Life but had no inkling about who or what I was.
Not a bad thing, I added, I just didn’t really understand the difference between most Protestants. Except Baptists. Baptists don’t like to have fun.
Now that earned a few laughs.
Yes, I was raised in a Christian household and have always considered myself Christian (apart from that brief 2-3 year stint as an experimental militant atheist). But I felt like I didn’t belong. I’ve never felt like I’ve belonged anywhere, to anyone, to anything. Sure, I would be there at services, but nothing spoke to me. Few things do speak to me. Like hurting yourself on the Way of Salvation, asking for help, and finally coming to grips with my salvation.
Now I paused for what seemed several minutes. I had doodled this in my journal, about broaching the subject with my newfound comrades, but I hesitated. It wasn’t an easy subject for me to discuss, and I have rarely told the entire story in full detail. But I felt compelled to share. To let these good people know just why I was so completely fucked in the head and heart.
I took a deep breath. Few years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.
Yeah, some folks physically shuddered when I said that. Me, right? Mr. Always Has a Joke is sad? Man-up, I could hear from a thousand voices throughout my lifetime.
There’s a chemical imbalance in my brain – shrinks and doctors couldn’t tell me if it was genetic or otherwise. Some pistons are firing non-stop up here (pointing to my noggin) whilst others are silent. Nothing I can do about it really; you can’t fix chemical imbalances.
Oh sure, you can take happy pills, I added, and for a while I was on them. But I hated the way they made me feel. It wasn’t me anymore. I ceased to exist when taking the meds; I became little more than a mask for the pills. A fake face to the world – one that could be avoided – and not my regular, chemically unbalanced self.
Shortly after my initial diagnosis, I was fast tracked out of the Army. You don’t give crazy people guns, I laughed. I dropped out of school. My 5-year relationship/engagement broke apart faster than the Titanic. I moved back home and tried to pick up the pieces, trying to make a Life out of what I could.
I threw myself into work. Tech writing. Boring as shit but it paid well. The Army, miserable bastards, ceased offering me any sort of aid once I was cut loose. You’re crazy, they said, and that’s a bummer. But you’re not wearing a uniform anymore, so, cheers. Yep, I had to figure things out on my own. How do you cope when your entire Life is ripped away from you without warning?
Booze and smoke, mostly, I chuckled. Not the healthiest of coping mechanisms, but it was better than being on the happy pills. At least booze wears off after an hour.
I started going to Mass with a family friend of mine. Known this cat for years, him and his family, and they’ve always been good Catholics. Can’t say for certain why, but I just found comfort in Mass. It wasn’t like any other services I’ve been to. You could look around the pews and see people from all walks of Life sharing them together. The rich lawyer shared a pew with the oil roughneck and neither thought anything of it. Truly a universal family. That appealed to me. Christ had always said, as a good Marxist (no one laughed), that we’re all people. We’re all equal in His eyes.
I started RCIA courses in August 2011. I was the only convert in my class. I wanted to know about Catholicism, to understand more about this religion older than spit, to be a part of something greater than myself. I was confirmed the following year, and for a bit, I felt peaceful. I felt happy with myself for once.
But the feeling didn’t last because I quickly gave in to doubt. What’s the purpose of all these rules and regulations, I soon found myself asking. Before too long, I was right back at square one, struggling to identify with God, Catholicism, and society in general. Surely, I thought, there must be more to Life than genuflecting every Sunday?
I’ll leave it here for now, folks, for I’m already at 1500 words. That’s more than most college papers I’ve written
for other people. Part II in the works, eh?
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your patience with this crazy Monkey.
8 thoughts on “Limping Along (Part I)”
You aren’t limping along alone, you just got to the guts of it a lot younger than many of us. Bravo.
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I agree with Lisa. Each of us struggles, each of us has some fundamental sadness. Since each of us has only partial knowledge of our fundamental conditions, we each have doubts about the answers to our biggest questions, but only a few of us try to face those questions, square up to them, wrestle with them in heart and spirit and try to take them to ground in words and prayers and rituals. Those who do try are not crazy–except they/ you / we– are trying to do the impossible, know the unknowable, or at least come to peace with the ultimate tumultuous questions. You are a Warrior, my friend, a Samurai, not a monkey but a man of full height, of dignity and grace. Continue to Stand tall as you are doing, feeling broken or not, for many of us stand with you, feeling as you do and wishing you so, so well, for your sake and ours. I hope this sounds like love, because it is exactly that, born of our shared, if broken, humanity. Continue to wage the good fight. Seek on, for all of us!
Bruno: I started following your blog on the Camino and have recommended it to others, specifically a group of PCT hiker/bloggers who were interested in your style when I tried to describe it (irreverent, I recall). I’m glad your journey has continued because it seems like you’re ready to peel back a few layers and I’m ready to hear about it. Your writing has already touched the lives of other fellow travelers like me. Vaya con Dios.
You may be limping in physical terms, but as you said, it is when your hurting the most is when you hear the most. Thank you Bruno for your complete vulnerability to share exactly who you are. I have personally in spirit been on your journey with you. ( I also just back back from the Camino, and heard a lot)
You touch many people. You have gifts and demons like all of us. But few have the courage to open themselves the way you have.
Buen Camino to life!