Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on "I'm just not myself"

Look at that handsome devil Joe Purdy.
One of my favorite singers is Joe Purdy. I think I wrote about him when I was trying to explain “melancholy joy.” Listening to Joe is akin to an emotional journey. There is this dissonance between the music and the lyric. The music for the most part is hopeful; it is happy. The highs of the mandolin and even the piano create a place where your heart is contented and even joyful. But the lyrics…well, I’ll let me Aunt G explain the lyrics: “James this is depressing.”

So, that is kind of my genre of music. I like songs where the music and the lyrics are perfectly contradictory…which actually describes one of Joe’s shows that I went to in L.A. Joe had recently had a car company pick up his song, “Can’t Get it Right Today” for one of their commercials. This couple I know heard I was going to see him and asked to tag along. So, I of course agreed, excited to have someone go to the show with me, and we were all excited to hang together.

The show started late. This couple got tired, I was a little tired, but I was excited. The show was at The Roxy. Those of you familiar know that means there are no seats…it’s all standing. So, you factor in getting there an hour early, standing through an opening act, standing through intermission. It just made for a long night. Joe finally played the song this couple came to hear…but he completely changed it. Instead of the melancholy joy I describe the band turns it into a full on dirge. The couple looks at me, a bit disheartened and asks, “Can we leave? If you think he’ll play a happier version of the song we can stay. But we’re tired. We have church in the morning and really want to leave.”

This did not make me a happy camper. I paid good money for the tickets. I drove into Hollywood (not my favorite thing) and I was excited to see Joe, but these two were obviously miserable…so I left. But that song is resonating with me this morning.

I was having a conversation this morning where I caught myself about to say “I’m just not myself today,” but I stopped. For some reason I had one of those “apothecaries” (epiphanies actually, but that is a private joke with someone, I just can’t remember who, so whoever that is…I love you!). The epiphany was this: even when I’m not feeling well, even when I feel like ripping someone’s head off…that is still me. No matter what the mood, it comes from a place within me, and as such I need to own it.

What it made me realize was what we mean by “I’m just not myself today,” is actually, “I’m going to be a jerk to you right now, but you have to deal with it, because I don’t feel like making the effort, heck, I don’t even think I CAN make the effort to be congenial in this situation.” Harsh. I realize this, but the person I am slapping around most right now is me. The truth is “I’m just not myself” is an excuse to behave the way we want to behave. It allows us to do and say things that would be unacceptable in any other situation.
It reminds me of an episode of The New Girl when Nick keeps screaming, “Dead dad pass.” He was using the grief of his recently deceased father (which is a totally legitimate process, and are totally legitimate emotions) to get away with behavior he knew was unbecoming. It is actually a great picture to explain the phenomenon of, “I’m just not myself,” and I think that is what the writers were going for when they wrote that story line.

The truth of the matter is, when we feel out of sorts there are all sorts of legitimate things going on. Some people have chronic pain. Some people have seasonal depression. Some people have more on their plate than they should. Some people are working 70-80 hours a week to keep food on the table and being chastised for not being a better parent/friend/child. Every single one of these are legitimate problems that have the ability to steal our identity from us…because that is what we are saying. “I am working two jobs right now, so those jobs have stolen my identity” is what we communicate when we say, “I’m not myself because work is just too much right now.” And sure, what we are actually doing is just grabbing a common accessible phrase that communicates round about what is going on, but the problem is we believe it.

Why is it a problem to believe it? It causes us to be like the person in James 1 (the Bible, not my autobiography). We are people blown and tossed by the wind of our situations. When we believe that grief allows us to act irrationally and without accountability, we let it take over. Are you going to be irrational when you grieve? Absolutely. But…we, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians, should not allow ourselves to be overtaken by any situation.

And I will be the first to say this is a tricky balance. Many of us grew up in situations where we were taught, “Good Christians have to smile and be happy through every situation.” We were taught, “Someone died…let’s celebrate; you lost your job…let’s celebrate; you miscarried your baby…it was the Lord’s will, put on the big girl panties and move on.” And what has happened to a lot of us is this jaded response that rejects that form of Christianity and moves toward a place that says, “Surrender yourself to every ounce of that pain. Let yourself feel every emotion of it,” but we stop there. We don’t say, “Let yourself feel every ounce of that pain, and bring it to Jesus because He cares, and He will actively demonstrate His love for you in that place.” It’s like a marriage…it takes a long time to figure it all out, but you work toward that.

And so I end with this: I am reading Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird. He talks a lot about emotions and feeling things. The big message in this book on meditation is that we come to a place where we acknowledge what we feel, but are not overcome. Grief is a reality, pain is a reality, but they do not dictate the center of who we are…they are simply a part of who we are. We meditate, we reflect and we acknowledge what is going on, but we do not give ourselves over to the internal videos that we play and build and direct. We instead look past these things toward what I would call God. We don’t ignore pain…we look through pain to see God. This isn’t the Christianity that ignores the problems we face…it’s the faith that says we are greater than what we face, but what we face is indeed very real. And that is something I can get behind. Something that says there are things in this life that are great; there are things in this life that are small, and we don’t have to ignore either. Instead we learn to find the One who helps us put these things in their proper perspective so that we do and say the things that we know we should, because they are a reflection of the true self that emerges through our trials.

No comments:

Post a Comment