I really screwed up at work a couple of months ago, but didn’t find out about it until recently. Fortunately, my boss has a REALLY good sense of humor, and instead of yelling at me, she couldn’t stop laughing for an entire day.
Because. I am a freaking idiot sometimes. With a terrible memory.
Long story short….with very good intentions and knowing the importance of data validation in healthcare, I signed us up to do some data collection through a branch of the CDC that was very time-intensive and required my boss and me to have to do extra work on the weekends. The thing is, I didn’t realize what I was signing us up for when I flippantly, and completely well-intentioned, agreed to an option that was presented to us.
The IT person, who discovered my “unintentional signing us up for a crap ton of extra work” move, could have thrown me under the bus for being an utter dumbass, but she very tactfully pointed out how I had signed us up via email for the data collection and then completely and absolutely forgot that I did so. So when said data collection time commenced, my boss and I thought it was a regulatory mandate and not me, the dumbass, voluntarily opting us in.
Sigh. I’m pretty grateful for the people that patiently deal with me.
Anyway, after my boss stopped laughing and I finally crawled out from under my desk, I shared with her a story about silver linings, and how I had made a huge, unintentional mistake in my first job after college. But, that mistake ended up yielding fantastic results , and maybe this data collection mistake of mine might actually prove to be an unexpectedly amazing decision.
When I graduated from college I had NO clue what to do with myself. I didn’t know if I should go to grad school and if I did, I didn’t know what to major in. To say I was lost and floundering would be an understatement. So, I made the obvious choice and went to West Africa, pretty much without any kind of solid plan. Dumb decision making on my part, but fortunately it was a growing experience for me and I have some good Ghanian friends and adopted parents that kind of saved me until I came to my senses and back to the States.
Once I got back to the States, a semester after being out of college, I had even less clue of what I should do with myself. I randomly and half-heartedly applied to some graduate biochemistry programs without any good reason for why I was picking those programs. “Hey, let’s apply for grad school at Auburn, because…..why not? I’ve never been to Alabama!” Fortunately, I had the wherewithall to pass up an acceptance to Auburn; looking back, that would have been a disaster.
I landed a job in my hometown working for a university agricultural research station. I wanted any kind of job that was even remotely science-related, and my soon-to-be boss hired me because I had some experience running a gas chromatograph. So, in due time I had a job where I was half farmer and half chemist, and to my complete surprise, I realized that I loved horticulture and vegetable physiology research. (Funny thing is, I can apparently only keep plants alive if I”m being paid for it. Ever since that job, I can’t for the life of me grow or keep many plants in a happy, thriving state).
One of my boss’s dreams was to introduce artichoke crops to Texas. Artichokes had never been grown in Texas before, and he had a hunch that the area we lived in had the right soil and rainfall that would be amenable for them. I was tasked to be part of this plan, which I was excited about. The thing about artichokes is that when growing them from seed, they don’t produce their fruit on the first year. They are typically a two year crop, so you have to be patient to get a harvest. However, there is a process called vernalization, where you expose plants to really cold temperatures, to induce flowering.
So, not only did my boss want to introduce artichokes to Texas, he also wanted to take a stab at yielding a harvest on the first year of planting. My job then, was to start artichoke plants from seed, and once they were a few inches high, to expose them to refrigeration for several days before we planted them in the fields. They were to be my babies, and nothing could happen to them. Of course, with my luck and all, the refrigerator that I stored these baby plants in broke….and the temperatures that were supposed to hover just above freezing….fell below freezing. And I didn’t realize it for at least 12 hours.
To say that my boss was upset with me was another big understatement. I had, unintentionally and really through no fault of my own, frozen two-thirds of my baby artichoke plants. (My boss was really upset with me those last few months in general. I froze the artichokes and then I stupidly gave up the chance to do a PhD in vegetable physiology under his mentorship because of a guy. Who lived in Indiana. Who eventually became my husband. And eventually my ex-husband. But that’s another story for another day. Other than to say….ladies, don’t be a dumbass like me. Get the PhD. If he’s the right guy, he’ll wait for you.)
We ended up planting all those artichoke plants ou in the field, even the ones that I froze, just for grins to see what would happen. As it turned out, all the plants took root and survived. Not long after, I left that job and moved to Indiana. But about a year later I came back to visit, and my former boss took me out to see the artichokes. He was no longer angry with me, but especially not so because those artichoke plants that I had frozen? THEY were the plants that produced bumper crops that first year….not the ones who were vernalized at above freezing temperatures. Over a matter of many months, I had gone from being the artichoke villain to being an artichoke hero. And now we know that artichokes can grow wonderfully in the Wintergarden region of Texas.
My whole point in telling my current boss this artichoke story? 1) To distract her from my current dumb assery, and 2) to show that I have a track record of doing things that initially appear to be moronic, but have unexpected silver linings. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a while for these silver linigs to reveal themselves, and the waiting period for them to arrive can be brutal and uncomfortable.
I think that much of the important stuff in life comes through the waiting. But we, especially in the West, are not good at waiting. We want instant results, we want to know what’s going to happen, we want certainty, and we want things to work out the “way they’re supposed to.” This is a dangerous way to live because we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment again and again. There is really very little overall that we as humans have control over, and when we constantly fight and strive for control, we just end up creating more suffering for ourselves.
We also tend to think that that “void” that comes with waiting periods is just a space of nothingness. Nothing good is happening there, nothing transformative, and it’s just something we have to grit our teeth and bear until the thing we really are after finally shows up. I’m very gradually changing my opinion on this, and starting to believe that the places of nothingness, the places of absence or void…..those places are absolutely brimming with life, and energy, and potential….and they are just as important, if not more, as the arriving.
I’ve gotten into Celtic theology lately, and it is really rocking my world. I actually think that at the moment it is the one thing that is helping me keep a toe in my heritage of Christinaity. Because so much of the Christianity that I see around me in the world these days feels shallow, and literalistic, and detached from matter, and landscape, and the depths of our humanity.
Much of my dive into this theology has been through the writings of the late John O’Donohue. His writing and imagery….I can only describe as magical. The words he wrote resonate deep in my soul as true….truth that maybe I can’t cognitively and intellectually flesh out, but the kind that just brings deep peace and “yes!s” from my spirit.
O’Donohue wrote alot about aspects of the inner and spiritual life that can feel counterintuive or scary to us sometimes, but he was able to reframe them in ways that made them feel safe instead of scary. Two areas that I’m particiularly interested in are the ideas of darkness and the waiting. These are things that no human can ever escape; we all experience darkness at different times and at varying degrees, whether actual physical darkness or soul and emotional darkness where we can’t find our way forward. And we all experience periods of waiting…wanting the next thing to come but having little control over its coming. Some things we know will absolutely eventually arrive, and other things we wait for, with hope, praying that they do in fact come. Then, there is also the waiting that we desperately wish we could slow down; we know that something we don’t want will eventually be coming for us.
For me, the the concept of truth and all that word means are wrapped up in these ideas of darkness and the waiting. My goal in the next lines of this post is to kind of flesh out and explore how all of those intermingle in my mind, and the lessons I’ve been learning about them over the last few years.
Why are little kids, and many adults for that matter, afraid of the dark? It’s because we can’t see in the dark. We don’t know what is coming toward us or leaving us….we can’t see wheere we are in reference to anything else….we can’t see the path to where we are wanting to go. We aren’t sure where the boundaries of anything are. And it’s really hard to come up with contigency plans of how to protect onself from imagined dangers when you can’t even see if those dangers are real.
We see the darkness as an enemy, because we don’t have control in the darkness, and we as humans generally crave control, even though most perceptions of haivng control are complete illusions. There is actually very little in life that any of us control. (Maybe that’s why parents get so weird and nutty with their kids, and try to choreograph and micromanage their lives. It’s like a dog that is afraid of water, trying to climb on top of his human companion out in the middle of a lake in order to feel grounded. Inevitably, the human companion ends up clawed and scraped up, just like our poor kids. It’s a pointless pursuit, but gives us the illusion of being stable and “in control” for just a minute).
O’Donohue wrote some wonderful lines about darkness, that I want to share here. I love them, because it is the reminder that just because we don’t understand something or can’t find answers doesn’t mean that we are in danger, or “not OK.”
Though you live and work in the light,
you were conceived and shaped in darkness.
Darkness is one of our closest companions. It can never really surprise us;
Something within us knows the darkness more deeply than it knows the light.
In the beginning was the darkness. The first light was born out of the dark.”John O’Donohue
“I LOVE these ideas of darkness being our companion, the one that shapes us. Isn’t this true? It is the alone times, the moments of despair, our greatest sufferings, that mold us and grow us and make us rethink our belief systems. It is the medium that smooths out our sharp edges and our quick judgements and our selfish-ego driven parts, if we allow it to do its work. It is where we can find a safe place to hide away and mend when we are tired or at a loss.
I know what you’re thinking…..Julie, there’s a shit ton of horrible things that happen in the dark. The dark and hidden places are where people are abused and abandoned and left to pick up the pieces. I get this, for sure. But I don’t think it’s the darkness that itself is BAD….we just associate darkness with badness because it’s the place where broken and angry people can exploit its good qualities in order to hurt other poeple and do bad things.
Like everyone, I’ve done alot of waiting in my life. And, most of the time I didn’t enjoy it. Also, like everyone, I’ve done things to distract myself from the waiting to try and make it feel like its going faster, so the thing I wanted would hurry up and get here.
This is what I’ve learned about trying to hurry up the waiting:
- This might be the most important one. When you try to hurry the waiting, or distract yourself from the now, you’re wasting the good and precious life that exists right here, right now. I actually wonder how many amazing experiences and friendships, how much love, how much rest….we completely miss because we don’t allow ourselves to be fully in the present. We leave a foot stuck in the past while grasping forward to yank open doors of the future. What would it look like if we could determine to suck every last drop out of each moment of life we go through?
- Some things just need to percolate for a while. I don’t really buy into the cliche that “time heals all wounds”, but in so many cases, things just need a little “time”. Indulge me for just a moment to reference the tiny bit of Koine Greek I remember from my college Bible classes. When I say “time” here, I don’t really mean chronological (Kronos) time, although that can be true. What I really mean is Kairos time….or the time when condiitons are right for something to come to fulfillment. Kairos time is “deep time”. More on this in a minute, pun intended.
- The times of waiting are the place for us to go inward, to discover who we really are, to find what we are rooted in, to learn what remains when all is lost. Waiting is part of the hero’s journey, and sometimes when we’re waitiing, and it feels like we’re about to absolutely die from pain or loneiness or heartbreak, we are able reach the end of ourselves and be completely transformed. The waiting can feel like nothingness, but it’s not nothingness. It’s a place where the invisible and great possibiities exist, and they are gathering themselves, ready to burst forth in due Kairos time.
I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs assessment, which means I crave closure on things. I want to know what is going to happen yesterday. Hanging around in states of ambiguity has historically been brutal for me. Alot of this plays into wounds from my childhood that were intermingled with the theology of my youth. I feel like I need to know where I stand. If I can have firm boundaries, and be able to put people and things into boxes with tidy labels, and know generally how things are going to play out….that’s when I feel most safe. After alot of work, I now know that these things are all illusions anyway, but seeking them out is my default modus operandi, and I have to actively work against them and learn to lean hard into groundlessness.
I think maybe that part of understanding the idea of ultimate Truth is that it is wrapped up in being OK with darkness and being OK with waiting. Sometimes Truth, and real understanding, can only emerge after the dark waiting.
I want to meander off down a rabbit hole for a second, on the idea of emerging truth. Hopefully I can get down into words what makes alot of sense rambling around in my head. To keep myself on track, I’m going to put these thoughts into specific points.
- Honesty is important, but radical honesty, to the point of telling complete strangers every detail about yourself, is not really a way of living in truth. I grew up with the belief that I had to be completely honest about anything that anyone asked me about. I inherently hold telling the truth to be a paramount value, but I’ve realized over the years that I’ve taken this to an extreme in my life. I basically felt that even if I told a little fib or a white lie, I was a horrible person. It felt like I had an inner compulsion to always tell the truth in every single moment, even when it did me harm. I have since learned that while part of my need to tell the truth to such an extreme was rooted in my theological background, it was also firmly rooted in being called a liar so many times as a child by trusted adults, in cases where I absolutely was not lying. Thus, in my attempt to never be viewed as a liar, I would go over the top in my truthfullness. I have since come to learn that things can be true, but they don’t always need to be said. And, more importantly, if people are determined to stay convinced that you are a liar, when you’re not, that’s on them and you probably can’t convince them otherwise.
- There’s a passage in the Bible that talks about how you shouldn’t cast your pearls before swine. The idea is that you shouldn’t offer up what you hold to be valuable and sacred to people who will absolutely not hold those things dear….and will instead trample over those things. You should only offer up what is dear and sacred to people who will receive and carry those things carefully, and care for them because they care for you. This has been such a very hard lesson for me to learn. I try to be pretty transparent in life, because it is important for me to let people know that I’m the same Julie all the time….at work, at home, with this group of people, with that group of people. And I want people to know that I have good intentions and motivations, and that I really work endlessly to become a better person everyday. But big takeaway here: some people don’t deserve to hear your truth. They don’t deserve to hear the stories of your traumas, or the things in life that have wrecked you, or your most intimate secrets, or the things that delight you most in life. All of those things are glass, and some people will just drop them when you hand your most precious parts to them without people earning the right to hold them. Sometimes, I think, big TRUTH is about holding the important things close to yourself until the right kairos time has passed, and then you can reveal your truths to the right people who are safe.
- Which takes me to the point: something can be true for me in this moment, but it doesn’t have to be true for everyone. I think it was Richard Rohr who gave a good example about how something doesn’t have to be true for everyone at the same time to still be true. Let’s say someone comes to the door and tells your kid that they need to talk to you. The kid, because he knows you well and the fact that you hate solicitors, tells the person that you’re not available. (Even though you’re totally available, hiding behind the couch so the person doesn’t see you). But the part about truth here is: yes, you are available….for the right person. But you’re not available for the wrong person…in this case, the solicitor who set the dog off by ringing the doorbell. But reacting in this way doesn’t make you a liar. I’m sure this seems like a dumb example, but its a concept that has taken a while for me to wrap my head around….that I don’t have to tell my truth to every single person who asks….it is ultimately mine to give to those I want to. And it does not make me a bad person.
- And finally, going back to kairos time and emerging truth. I’ve written in the past about the idea of instimacy, where you get into a new relationship with someone and end up creating a false sense of closeness by revealing way too much about yourselves way to fast. Instimacy is hardly ever real, in my experience. I’ve met a handful of people that I instantly knew were ‘my people”, but it still took time to build trust and a strong relationship foundation, even though we knew we adored each other from the start. Sometimes, for relationships to grow well and strong, you have to reveal your truth slowly, over time, and after the other person has proven to be safe and trustworthy. This can be difficult, especially when you’re in a new friendshp or romantic relationship that you’re wicked excited about and you just want to go at it with abandon. But, I can say that I’ve pretty much never regretted revealing my truth slowly, and I’ve definitely regretted, so mnay times, handing my fragile, glass parts to people too quickly, who quite often either thoughtlessly or intentionally threw them to the ground and shattered them.
Big takeaway from that rabbit trail: People need to earn the right to hear and hold your truth. You don’t owe them jack squat, especially if they can’t or refuse to value what is precious to you. And vice versa. Other people don’t owe you anything until you’ve shown that you are careful and kind with what they offer.
Now to attempt to come full circle with all these meandering ideas…..might not happen, but I’ll try.
I think there is an overarching, ultimate truth. And I think there are little, subjective truths.
I think that the ultimate truth in life can only be seen in bits and pieces, here and there. I think sometimes we have to wait on that truth to come to us. Just because something exists doesn’t mean it’s always accesible to us at all times. And I think that sometimes we have to learn to embrace the darkness and the long periods of hard waiting to be able to open doors for that truth to come to us. Maybe truth isn’t just a static “thing” out there, but also a process, or an outcome.
I think my main point that I’m trying to hone in on is that sometimes what may seem true in the short run is not really what is true in the big picture. I thought I had failed with those baby artichokes, and I beat myself up for months. But in reality, I had actually done exactly what those artichokes needed to produce an abundant harvest. There’s so many other times in life that I thought I had just completely fucked up and ruined everything, only to be shocked months or years down the road when I found that what I thought had been a huge mistake was actually the catalyst I needed to move forward in life, or learn a lesson, or heal from deep wounds.
Sometimes to get to that big truth, we have to hunker down in the darkness and trust that kairos time will eventually come to fulfillment. Isn’t this so much of what life is about? Learning to trust the process? Learning to trust that life is working behind the scenes for us in ways that might not always be apparent? Trusting that our epic, dumbass mistakes will be incorporated into our transformation and can ultimately be redeemed if we allow ourselves to remain workable?
I attached a song from Jose Gonzalez at the beginning of this post. I love the entire song, but I really like the lyric “there is a truth and it’s on our side…dawn is coming, open your eyes.” The dark will never last forever. The waiting will never last forever. But in the time that they are with us, they also will never be in vain if we can learn to rest in them, and to trust them. Truth will always eventually emerge, when the time is right.