“But the threshold is what kept me alive and safe.” You could believe that. Both of us have probably believed that for years. “But behind me is every true and noble thing. It’s madness, it’s irresponsible, to leave it.” You could believe that too. Behind you is certainty, where you’ll find every familiar thing. The handle of the door is an angel you wrestle. Exhausted by the work and driven near to madness because there’s still a handle and a door after all that, you let go of it and lurch through. Whether in that moment you believe this, or believe anything, you lurch through, and it is done. That’s crisis for you: going outside. That’s the old meaning of ecstasy. Not “thrill,” not “joy.” It meant “going out from what prevails.” — Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (p. 100) (my emphasis)
I listened to this passage this morning.
I can’t get it out my head.
This is my life: I’m unhinged daily by wrestling with that damn handle.
Just when I think I’m about to walk through, something else comes up and I’m right back where I started, ploughing a furrow enshrined by the moral order. It wasn’t always this way. In fact, at least twice in my life, perhaps driven by madness or an obsession to free myself from my narcissistic torpor, I’ve turned the handle, put my psychic shoulder to the door and marched through. The first time was when I left home, went to London and started a business aged 19. The second was when I walked out on my career in law without any plan about the future and ended up CEO of a law firm.
It would be too easy and lame to say I’ve lost my mojo. Sure, I’m not embued with the same level of energy as previously, but the main obstacle is I don’t want to replace one form of work for another but instead go all in on a creative expression of my life. Trouble is, as I’m daily reminded, it doesn’t pay the bills.
What if there weren’t any? Namely, my wife and I gave up on the dominant, Western narrative and instead tried to live as nomads. Sadly, she’s not on board with this. She gets that I want to travel but I’m sure feels that I’m being reckless and need to honour my (moral) obligations.
But I keep coming back to this poem that Jenkinson also quotes. I think it’s a Robert Bly translation:
“sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.”
In the end, as I’ve learnt from past experience, you can only wrestle these demons for so long before something has to give. In my case, I know that I’m close to leaving my current job and then it will be up to me to consider if I’m called to a very different life or I’ll be lassoed back to live by a moral code that I no more believe in now than when I first fell out with my parents age 14 who were insistent that my destiny was writ large in getting a trade, knuckling under and being an obedient servant to my masters.