> jumping into life.

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I woke up this morning thinking of my brother. He'd emailed me the latest draft of his life plan earlier in the week; he said he signed up for classes at the community college and was really hoping to land a good job he'd interviewed for. Previously, he'd been trying to sell his car to fund a trip to Europe, but had been struggling hard over the balance of exploration and freedom versus stability and responsibility. Had been trying to decide what path would greater serve his life and his conflicting needs for exploration, freedom, stability, and responsibility. My response to his email had been, No Europe, then?

I woke this morning thinking of that response, of his struggle, and regretting my flippancy.

How to know when you're on the right path, or off of it? How to know which glows with the promise of satisfaction, and which sparkles with fairy-lights and fool's gold? And, god, the urgency of it. The feeling of your life unreeling, a river passing inexorably by while you who should be master and conductor flail about, muddying the water. The feeling of your power lurking, waiting, knowing that if only you could find the right goal at which to aim yourself, you would be unstoppable. The feeling of that power being wasted.

Yesterday I finished reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It is a re-telling of the Biblical story of Dinah, whose father was Jacob and whose brothers murdered a whole city in its sleep. The story focuses on Dinah, on women, on giving them the voices that the Bible gives only to men. We follow Dinah and her mother and aunts through the daily movements of their lives: gardening, weaving, baking bread and brewing beer. Giving birth and raising children.

Perhaps because I have found that I love the tasks of a country housewife - gardening, baking, packing crocks of vegetables to preserve, darning socks and hanging laundry on the line - something of that life appealed to me. I do not think that I could be happy in a world where I may not speak if a man is in the room, a world bounded by my hearth and my husband's goodwill, no. Not now. But if I was raised to it?

Years ago I worked for a few long days with a pair of Hopi elders. In the frosted sunrise they told us a story about the place of men and women in the world. Though not the same as a Caananite's as imagined by Anita Diamant, a traditional Hopi woman's life has similar boundaries, and those boundaries are similarly clear. Each task in the running of a life has its proscribed author: Men do the farming, women the cooking. Always. At the time, and before I'd learned my country-housewife ways, I felt a dim yearning towards the structure they described.

What would it be to know your place in the world? To know it from birth, to be taught its mastery by your mother and your mother's mother, to have a clear passage from girlhood to womanhood marked by corn pollen and a revelation of secrets, or by scented oil and the earthen figure of a goddess? To spend your life in one place that you know, in the company of a tribe of family and friends. To have no one ask you, ever, what you "do" or what you want to be when you grow up.

We have gained in exploration and freedom, there is no doubt. I love science, calculus, and mechanics, in addition to the darning of socks; do not mistake me. My husband has the stated wish of being a stay-at-home dad when that time comes, and he loves baking and the tending of soil as well as I do. When we argue we are on equal terms. Nor do I wish to disrespect those men and women constrained to lives that do not suit them, lives that may even crush them, whether that constraint be by veil or poverty, ignorance, tradition, or force.

But The Red Tent was wildly popular amongst women friends I had in college, and I still do not know my place in the world.

But this is about my brother. My brother who recently awoke to the infinite possibilties of this life and was, I think, utterly overwhelmed. And of course; it is impossible to be sure that you are choosing your toothpaste correctly with so many choices. How is a person supposed to choose a life? And not just any life, but a life of spiritual significance, of generosity, of uprightness and passion. How? How do you know which choice is the right one, how do you know which path to take? How do you cope with the crushing feeling that you are wasting time, precious time, that you should be doing something amazing by now, that you should be doing something by now that is more than working this crappy job, but what? But what and how? And oh, what if you make a mistake? What if you should have gone to Europe?

From the great height of my twenty-five years, some of that sense of urgency has waned. I have found the right path, for now, and I no longer worry that it must be the only path I ever tread. I have lost my terror of choosing wrongly, though perhaps that has something to do with the incredible relief at having chosen. I have a goal. I am unstoppable.

My mother and father and I tried to guide my brother's searching. He wanted to be independent of my parents and their finances; he wanted to renounce; he wanted to travel, to follow the tug of spirit that had been calling him; he wanted to stay home, save money, and work hard; he wanted I am sure more than he told any of us and perhaps more than he understood himself.

Here is something I have learned: There is a sense amongst at least some people in this culture that when the "right" path is found, it will lay itself at your feet with all hinderences removed. You will glide down it with effortless happiness and this is how you will know that you have chosen rightly.

Perhaps this is so; I do not believe it. My goal has made me unstoppable because I will work until I achieve it, and I know I have chosen rightly because the work - right now I have a job on-call at the bottling plant, moving cardboard boxes from one conveyer belt to another for nine hours a day - because the work is hard and stupid and worth it.

I suggested that my brother get a job with the National Parks or something similar, get out of the house and into the wilds where lives the only spirit my family has ever acknowledged; and make some damn money while he's at it, rather than stay suckling at my parents' financial teat. (Full disclosure: my parents still pay my health insurance and phone bill; my self-righteousness is unearned.)

I don't know what they suggested to him. I don't know what conversations he had with friends or my sister or God (by all accounts he's been talking often lately with God). I don't know if any of what I've written here actually applies to how he feels or felt. But he has chosen something.

Yesterday my brother disappeared. Left a note - written with an old family code so that there could be no mistaking his hand - and all his belongings save a backpack and some clothes. He's on a journey. I am proud of him and afraid for him, glad that he has found a direction and sad that he did it in such a way as to scare my poor parents half to death. There is a long tradition of young men taking a walkabout, a vision quest, or a road trip to seek out the lives they want to lead. I am curious to see what he finds. I think there is a crucial difference between comfort and safety, and I think even that safety is mostly an illusion we prop up with fear. Still, I hope he is safe. And I hope he finds something.

i know exactly how he feels. i still do. and every day.

i don't have faith in much lately EXCEPT that feeling of urgency, and yearning, and hunger, and joy coupled with the need to spread it. and i have faith he'll be alright. i wish i could send him a message of support somehow. i guess i'll have to send it through god... which'll be weird 'cause we haven't talked, per se, in awhile. or it's possible that we have but i call it something else.


Safety and clarity.

I really feel this writing. The Dept. of Rehab is pressuring me to tell them what job I'm going to have when I graduate -- and it's pissing me off. But they pay for everything so I feel pretty obligated. It's very much like having a parent pay for school.

I'm glad you found home. Been thinking of you lately. love you.

Now this is what you do best (and you do a lot of things really well)...writing from the heart about those things closest to your heart. Your words always bring my eyes to tears, and for sure this posting is destined for your book. When you write your book, I would love to be your publisher. Or, I would love to be your editor (now that would be an easy job...). For now, I will keep practicing my craft so when the time comes, perhaps you will consider my hat in the ring for me to publish you. Most of all, though, I love being your reader.
I wish your brother Godspeed, and peace to your parents.

How? How do you do this? How do you write posts that make me think I could've written every single word about the same internal struggle if I only knew how to craft words this well?

This has happened so many times so far that I think even the surprise is wearing off a bit.

How? How do you do this? How do you write posts that make me think I could've written every single word about the same internal struggle if I only knew how to craft words this well?

This has happened so many times so far that I think even the surprise is wearing off a bit.

Firstly - Thanks to everyone for your kind thoughts and support. He's come home safe now. I'll write more about it soon.

Nika - I thought of you a bit while I was writing this. It seems to me though, that you've found a way to go with the urgency instead of trying to find a way to quell it.

cc - thanks.

laurie - it's so hard to be bound to other people's expectations! Especially when it feels like they're somehow justified in binding you. Good luck!

Diana Christine - thank you. And watch out, I might take you up on that publishing offer. Once I, you know, write a book.

Arvind - Well shucks. But I'm glad you can hear your own voice here; that's the point, isn't it? Of writing? Of everything? To find resonance and connection?

Found you through Mouse,
You write so well I don't know what to say.
And you're 25? When I was 25 I was building a house, fuzzy headed and emotional as all heck. Now that I'm twice that I can usually say what I mean.
I'm impressed.

I guess you're right. We must all have both Narcissus and Goldmund in a constant tug of war in our heads. Thank god for writing, and the chance to connect a little bit.

Oh by the way, wanted to tell you that in case you're on facebook I had created a blog network for your blog a while back (currently I think I'm still the sole fan) and you can claim it as the author.

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