There is a saying that is mostly credited with being a Zen proverb that I love, “The obstacle is the path.” There is something beautiful about putting our troubles in neat little sayings and holding onto them when the worst gets harder. It makes us think strongly of the future, of something down the path that is patiently waiting for us; it makes us believe for one moment that the horror of life, the difficulties of being, is a journey that has an end. Once the path is removed, the obstacle too will be gone. Clearly one could argue that we are always on a path, but if you believe that life is a series of paths that go in so many directions, then it is possible to see that one path can end and another can begin. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the next path will be any easier.
I travel on a path that is dirty, dusty, winding, hilly, full of potholes and speed bumps, and ultimately quite dark. I sometimes like to believe that I was given this path because someone, somewhere thought that I was a good candidate to travel this road. Sometimes I like to believe that it is simply a symptom of this mental illness I carry so close to me that makes it feel like my own personal path is so destructive. Sometimes I cry thinking of the path that I am on; and rarely, (and I mean rarely) I like to think that I have the fortitude to actually survive this path of mine. Despite all the Zen sayings in this world, I don’t believe that we truly get to pick our path. Maybe we get to pick a turn, maybe we are in charge of our destiny. Or maybe, just maybe, our path is laid down before us and the only thing we get to pick is whether we walk or die. Maybe the path is so entrenched in ways we can’t fathom that our destiny, like the light from all those stars, has been shining for millions of years and will simply continue to do so.
I have a friend who is navigating her own path. I bring her up, not to tell secrets on her, but rather because she is so different than I am. At forty years of age she decided to go get a mammogram. Not because of a lump she found or some horrible family hereditary gene, but because she was trying to prove that she was taking care of herself. She did it on a whim. You can imagine what happened next: the doctor came in and told her she had breast cancer. From there she has done everything she was told to do, despite the pain and despite the fear. But what is truly remarkable about this woman, isn’t the disease that God willing she is fighting, but rather her attitude about it.
None of us can know who we will be in these situations, or any situation for that matter. We can hope that we would be stoic, strong, full of confidence, full of faith. We can hope that our turning path doesn’t also turn dark but again, how do we really know? How do we know if we can find God when confronted with this news? How do we know that we will find strength or at least be able to look at our children and promise that everything is going to be fine? How can we believe in the ordinary, and the perfection of that ordinary in our darkest times?
My friend is one of those being whose outlook is almost comically textbook perfect. She is one of those people that can go through the first stages of breast cancer and see gratitude in her heart. She doesn’t believe in a world where the glass is either half empty or half full; she is just happy there is water. She is the kind of person who looks at the people who have responded to her posts, her stories, her confessions and is genuinely thankful for them; I believe we should call it grace. She confesses that she is in pain at the same time she sees out her window the changing leaves that signify her favorite time of year. She talks about each aspect of her journey not to gross anyone out (she is able to describe the journey very simply) but to demonstrate all that she has, all that she has been given. There is no narcissism in her stories. There is no pride in her personal tales. There is no need for any awards. She really is that person; the one person in the whole world you wish you could be when the chips are completely down.
I have known this woman since high school although we are no longer in each other’s lives. We don’t have each other’s phone numbers or are each other’s ear during the long days of this life. I certainly wish her well, and I would imagine that she wishes me well, but that is as far as it goes. She is a stranger to me despite the bond we once shared so long ago. Yet, through her words I find myself not motivated to have a better outlook on life but rather to wish that I had a choice and could have what she doesn’t seem to take for granted; faith, love, strength, courage.
I actually have the initials FLSC tattooed on my body. I have the words faith, love, strength, and courage initialed on my stomach. I spent the money, the time and the incredible pain to put these words on my body. At one time I believed that if I could more permanently put these words on my body then somehow they will seep into the blood that flows through my veins and touch me in ways nothing else has. I thought, naively, that they would be able to help me believe in the path I was walking, to see the shadows that depict the light, to give me a point in the sky to head towards. I am afraid to say that despite the pain, those words were never carved into me. They sit on my body but so far, can’t seem to find my soul.
I live in a life where my path is not dictated by the steps I take but by a mind that is so diseased. I live in a world where my path is a day to day struggle to find a glimpse of sunshine. I live in a world where the beauty, the strength, the music of glorious voices are right out of reach. I live in a world that is beautiful in so many ways but not a world that I can touch much less feel. I live in a world ruled not by the spirit, not by the soul, but by the mind; and that can make all the difference in the world.
It doesn’t matter that I know that if I changed my attitude and started seeing the good, the beautiful, that I might feel better about myself. It doesn’t matter that I know that this world holds as many possibilities for me as it does for anyone; I can’t find that light. It doesn’t matter that part of me knows that if I could just change my brain and my own faith everything might significantly change. It doesn’t matter that I know life is about mind over matter; my mind won’t win in any match. My mind is diseased, pox marked, shriveled up, and black as the ash that comes after the flames. I can’t be happy to just have water because my brain won’t allow me to.
I wish nothing but the best for my friend. And while I applaud her attitude and in many ways know that my life would be easier if I could find the same gratitude and faith, the truth is that my mind won’t let that be. My mind will always reveal the darkness, shy away from the light, and refuse any attempt at those grandeur, purposeful emotions. It is a truth that I wish others would know. It is a known fact that I wish others could understand. I will never believe that my path has light because I can’t get my mind to see anything but a deep, scary, and permeating darkness.