Existential Helplessness

There were some moments this morning – getting coffee and settling in to write – where I felt optimistic and… light. Ideas nudging the edges of my consciousness in such a good way. And then, they’re gone. Like a magic spell in a movie when the swirling elements drop like sand to the floor.

It’s okay. Like some movie trope, it’s just the cue to try again.

Sometimes the world moves in on you – for you. People come when you need them. And we really hope: when they need you.

I think that our social vocabulary is limited. Love is such a big word when it’s spoken in earnest. “I care for you,” is a beautiful phrase, I think. The honest description of real empathy and fondness without necessarily transgressing a sphere of intimacy. But in conversation? I don’t know. I think I get associations of bald people in flowing robes and a kind of patronizing distance. I care for you the same way I care for the tadpoles at the edge of the pond in spring. Lofty. A chilly warmth that somehow makes it all about them – those them trying so hard to make it all about nothing/everything.

Where’s the comfort in that?

I am fond of you? Archaic. I am out of words.

Another person that I care for, of whom I am fond – a person I “click with”, admire, and look forward to having a long and loving friendship with – is ill. And I can’t find the appropriate words. She’s an ocean away, so I can sit and drink tea with her and just be.

It makes me sad. Flat. It’s as though I don’t know how to pull myself together and make a difference.

All this, this past year, has brought me a new kind of helplessness. Or at least a new comprehension of existential helplessness.

I have definitely entered a new phase of life. Where people I love, from 25 to 70 are grappling with mortality. And there are people, too, whom I do not love, but featured in a few revenge fantasies. I’m seeing how poorly written my fantasies are, how unrelated they are to real emotions. Thin storylines with hollow characters.

The wonderful – literally wonder-filled – thing about this is that I see how unfinished I am. It’s like I have opened the door to a new world. Moved from black and white to color, from a sunset projected onto flat walls, through the doorway to the “real world” which is too big to take in, and too immediate to ignore.

I want to hold someone’s hand, get my feet wet, and listen.

I read the chat messages in a quiet moment. I pay attention to the few songbirds that have overwintered near the lake. I almost wrote, “lonely songbirds”. I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love.

7 Replies to “Existential Helplessness”

  1. Lingering over your words Ren. Especially the need to break from expressions like “lonely birds’ and really see/think differently. I have been with someone lately who was dying. There was no joy of being with him in person other than when the quiet set in. Only then could he tell I cared. I kept being told by others seeing him was “the right thing” to do. Was it? I have no answers. Only more questions. Earl Grey tea cheers to you my diarist friend.

  2. “I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love”–

    Zen study helped me to stop projecting more than counseling ever did. And also, raising children. I was so happy that they were who they were…these unaccountably amusing curious beings…that I spent less time dwelling on myself. I did not see them as projections of me or my abilities, either. They were just there. Teaching me stuff.

    I brood less these days. At my age, yeah–family members, friends, colleagues, old lovers, get seriously ill and die. But they also have grandchildren and traveling and gardens and art to create.

    Physics helped me, too. Because the randomness just comes with the cosmic territory. It’s not something I can control, nor is it something I deserve somehow.

    It just is. We can learn to love ourselves (brooding, illness, fracturing, dysfunction, and all).


%d bloggers like this: