Swept Away

At age three my oldest son told my wife and I, “When I was still blue dust I got you guys together so you could have me.” I didn’t see this so much as self-centered as stating what was probably the obvious. As with most things, the moment of choosing is often acknowledging what has already been decided. The decision to marry my wife was not a matter of weighing pros and cons, or was I ready, or was she the right one; the decision to marry her was a choice between sailing downstream or paddling upstream. So too my wife’s and my decision to have children. Not having children would have been like going to watch my favorite sports team and choosing not to cheer for them.

Obviously, this is also true with writing. There was one very dark moment, many years ago, when I wondered if I should chuck it. Nothing was happening, everything was coming back, and I asked myself one night, “Should I just drop it?” I had never actually asked that question. The answer came back an unequivocal “No,” so I didn’t – but the truth remains I could have chucked it. Despite of chorus of yes in my heart, my brain could have pointed to the evidence and said no. We are all free to cause ourselves as much pain as we can muster.

I think about this sometimes when I see people mired in conspicuous suffering. If I had chosen to live my life swimming upstream, if I had not married my wife, not had children, not kept writing, how ugly would it have gotten? The effort needed to live a life against the current of your strongest desire is many, many times greater than the effort required to follow the current of your strongest desire. The sadness, the strain, the sickness, the complaint, the anger, the despair – all of it is an expression of someone using their energy to do the opposite of what they most want to do.

The current of your desire is very strong, however. Swim against it long enough and it will kill you, and released in death you will be swept away to where you would not go in life. Or you can turn your boat. No matter how swift the current, now matter how joyous and easy the ride, you will always be free to wrench your boat upstream again. Once you are pointed downstream, however, once your oar becomes a rudder to keep you steady, you will have trouble remembering why you ever wanted to paddle so hard in the first place.

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