Growing up with abuse, I learned how to survive the unthinkable. My life became a never-ending battle of endurance: I was David with his sling and pebbles living among the boasting, swaggering Goliaths and, though my heart often quailed with fear, I stood up to the challenges presented by living among savage giants.
These days my life is lived much less intensely and frantically. Problems pop up from time to time, and I’m never free of the aftermath of my frantic childhood. But most of my days are quite ordinary in the sense that I don’t have much drama to contend with; when something unpleasant does arise, I’m more equipped to deal with my little tribulations than I was as a child. I’m discovering that living through the ordinary days which now make up the lion’s share of my life is a challenge in and of itself. Used to the constant fear of what new ordeal awaits me around each corner, and of having to defend myself as best I can, these low-key days are in some ways harder to bear.
Who am I when not contending with inexpressible abuse and sorrows? Is it really okay for me to simply be? I suspect my life lacks purpose because it is no longer lived in constant fear. As my days float by I experience a sense of unreality, as if I’m not really engaged in living at all, but merely watching my life from a distance as a curious spectator. I want to emerge from the trance of childhood and get my hands dirty and my feet wet and muddy from living in a place of wild abandonment and joy, but I pull back, fearful. Fearful of being punished for my audacity in enjoying anything. Fearful that if I relax and let myself simply be I will dishonor that younger self who didn’t have such luxuries.
There must be some irony in this, in the fact that I’ve come to a place I’ve longed to be in for decades—but can’t unwind enough to fully enjoy it. What did the warriors of old do with themselves when there were no more wars to be fought, or they were simply too old for the fight and hung up their swords and shields? Did they languish in inactivity, lamenting the absence of enemies to be fought and slain? I wonder if they replayed in their imaginations, over and over again, the scenes of their most vivid, dangerous battles, relishing the courage and triumphs of a lifetime. How to replace the old with the new, how to settle for living in peace when war is all one has ever known?
A strange complaint, this, that I should now have to deal with peace! It shames me to admit to my misgivings and sense of discomfort when, for several years, I’ve done nothing much beyond complaining about life’s tribulations and my weariness in facing yet one more!
I suspect there is more to my present day life than I’ve realized. Courage comes in many forms; perhaps I’ve simply failed to recognize the courage it takes for me to face these quieter days. David slew Goliath and was greatly praised, but his greater moments were spent tending sheep in the hills and writing the Psalms which have, down through the ages, comforted and strengthened those who, like me, have needed their steadfast, honest encouragement. And, I remind myself, many of his Psalms were lamentations written when his faith and courage flagged and he felt all raggedy, felt too much the reality and pressures of being human.
Perhaps I’m beginning to discover what it means to be human. I once was a victim who didn’t know how to, or lacked the opportunity to be human. Now it seems I’ve got all the time in the world to learn what escaped me during the wilderness wanderings of my childhood: how to simply be, and make no apology for doing so.