Freshman year of college, I had a group assignment. The conceit was that each 5-6 person group had been shipwrecked, and found themselves in shark-infested waters with a small lifeboat – just big enough to support all but one of the group members. The assignment was to figure out who died.
Yes, it was a weird class.
When results time came, most groups talked about their deliberation process. Usually the decision was made either by drawing straws or logistical debates. Not so with my group. We actually had the quickest decision of them all. Because I volunteered to die.
I wasn’t trying to be melodramatic. When the teacher asked me why I volunteered to be the odd man out, I said that I felt I could do so. I’d be content. Obviously wasn’t an optimal state of affairs, but I believed I’d achieved all my goals. If I died, I said, I probably wouldn’t come back as a ghost or anything.
Barely nineteen, and I’m saying this.
In the years following, my friends convinced me that this was due to not having actually experienced life. So I went on adventures. Oh, how I went on adventures. Japan. Europe. Burning Man. And before each journey, my friends would sidle up to me, ear-to-ear grin, and ask, “are you excited?” And I’d say yes. Each time, it was a lie.
It wasn’t that the adventures were bad – it’s that I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. Each time they asked, it felt like they were really asking, “Are you alive now? Do you understand now? Can we relate now?” It seemed like they wanted so badly to have someone experience what they did. To have that connection. But time and time again – I was not transformed by that movie, that book, that festival, that drug, that religious service, that country. I didn’t live what they lived. I didn’t see the same colors they did.
How do you break it to your closest ones that what they hold dear, what they are excited for you to experience, what they love, you don’t? That you won’t be able to connect with them, like they’d hoped? How do you convince them that is how it is, without proclamations that “you didn’t do it right,” or “you have to be open to it,” or “you have to give it time”?
How can you – without coming across as a mopey git – express your doubts when someone says, don’t worry, your answer’s out there somewhere?
Today I am in yet another new place – to be precise, Winnipeg. Here for a wedding. It’s a nice city, and I’ve enjoyed myself here. But if you had asked? No, wasn’t overly excited for the trip.
So it’s the day after the wedding. I wake up and I am not hungry. I google interesting places in Winnipeg and start walking. I pass block after block of shops. Clothes, trinkets, books, movies, food. These are the things to do here. Or there. Or anywhere. Gobble gobble gobble. And I am still not hungry.
Out of habit, I whip out my phone to check my email. Then Facebook. Then the news. Twitter. Reddit. I read the local student paper. I idly scan the billboards.
And I think, didn’t I just say I’m not hungry?
And somehow that thought proves the keystone for my mind’s dam. I pull it out and suddenly there’s hundreds more to go with it. I think about my fractured mind. How I want to write, how I need to focus. How I devour wholesale the works of my favorite creators, as if, by osmosis, it’ll rub off on me. How I am always searching, consuming, feeding, yet never hungry. How here, there, and anywhere it’s what you like, what you buy, more than what you do. How long it’s been since I last sat, alone, quiet in thought. How, for years, I’ve plunged headlong into throngs of people, out every night, surrounded at every hour, when, at my core, I hate crowds. How my picture of God in my mind’s eye is totally blank. How writing is like meditation. How meditation is like prayer. How blank is this paper I stare at. How my answer’s not out there, it’s never been out but in, how, god, I took such a circuitous path. How big is this backlog. How full am I. How I must digest to be hungry.
And so I come back to the hotel. I stare at a blank screen. And I write this.
Off now to get some lunch. I’m famished.