I’ve been through a lot in life. More times than I like to remember, I’ve fallen, left in a puddle of despair, sobbing through heartbreak. More than once, I’ve considered ending it all. Well, not in the finger-on-the-trigger kind of way, but in the I-can’t-go-on way. The stage of grief tucked between depression and acceptance.
Somehow, I’ve always bounced back. Crawling out of the mire, I managed to find some new lease on life, some new reason to go on, some meaning in all the turmoil. Tenaciously, I clung to the belief that there is a reason, some higher power connecting it all together, some lesson to be learned in everything that happens. To the chagrin of those I’ve harmed, I seem to always come back from the edge. Some believe unscathed, but I bear the internal scars to prove otherwise. Nonetheless, I’ve always come back.
This time, it feels different. This time, I find myself simply treading water. My audience mistakes my frantic strokes for swimming, as though I have once again found my way back, determined to succeed, head down heading toward the finish line. What they don’t see is that my treading water is a reaction to paralysis, a shrug to a life that goes on for no apparent reason. I have said it for years, but it rings more true now than it ever has before: I go on because I must. I must, because I go on.
I go on without joy. Without sadness. Without fear. I feel only anxiety, an underlying worry that I will be left without. Without friends, without family, without purpose. Treading water until the inevitable happens, a fate to which we all are destined, but one which I cannot no more hasten than I can prevent. A past I regret, a future I watch with emotionless apathy. I try to find a way to live in the moment, but honestly, I’m too tired from treading water.
Before, I’ve always found a way to come back, to push through, to survive. This one has taken the wind out of my sails. This one has left my resolve tattered and blowing in the wind. The words from Old Man River echo in my brain: I gets weary, and sick of trying. I’m tired of livin’, but afraid of dying.
Perhaps it’s karma. Touché, karma. Touché.
Thomas Kuhn wrote of the paradigm shift. He spoke specifically in terms of scientific revolutions, when a current paradigm is disrupted by a plethora of contrary evidence, resulting in a shift to a new paradigm. Though it seems that new paradigms come along in a moment of clarity, in an “ah ha” moment that heralds the dawn of a wiser, more advance way of thinking, the reality is that paradigm shifts generally happen after a long, arduous, painful crisis of dissonance as long held beliefs, rock solid ways of thinking are beaten down mercilessly bit by bit, argument by argument. In the end, the new paradigm feels comfortable, the old paradigm left in tatters like ancient folly, the tortuous path between the two forgotten like a bad dream.
Though he described paradigms shifts in terms of scientific advances, the concept is nonetheless applicable to the plight most of us go through at various points in our personal lives. The moments when what we thought we knew, what we accepted as reality, what we obdurately maintained as right and wrong come crashing down around us, leaving us in a cloud of dusty confusion, grasping for any sign of comfort and reassurance. Those moments are the culmination of a steady barrage against the very core of our foundation, the very base of our emotional and intellectual existence, our fundamental paradigms.
My paradigm has been challenged for years. And like most of us, I have fought to protect my paradigm with everything I have, despite the challenges life has thrown against it. Today, these past few weeks, these past couple of years, I have watched my paradigm unravel, crumble, become so much nonsensical din. Now I find myself in the midst of the uncomfortable chasm, that vertigo that comes when one paradigm collapses, but another has yet to form to take its place. All I know is that the old paradigm no longer works. But I don’t know what the new paradigm looks like.
This paradigm shift has to do with so many of the basic tenants of my existence. The answers to questions about what it means to be successful, what it means to be happy, what it means to a good person, what it means to be human and to be a human being. I thought I knew the answers to these questions. I thought it was pretty clear, a solid set of core values to which I could cling during any raging moral storm. Yet now those answers seem like grade school philosophy, simple and silly, a naïve perspective. A paradigm that simply no longer works.
And so I begin to build a new paradigm, to understand these basic questions in a new way, in way that I have never imagined before. I turn inward, toward some sort of inner peace that excludes external manifestations of accolades, approval, reward. I honestly don’t know the way. Maybe it is there, perhaps in some ancient texts from fringe philosophers, teachers, moral leaders, eastern religions. Or maybe it is a well-trodden path that I must discover and walk down for the first time alone, struggling to find what others could easily show me, lessons that many others have already learned.
Whatever it is, I don’t like it. I don’t like being left to twist, to blow in the wind, struggling to find a foothold. But what choice do I have? Life continues to give me one more day, and thus I have no choice but to keep trying. I go on because I must. I must, because I go on. In the end, we all end alone.