The Terrible Shock of Acquaintanceship

Onward and upward

I wrote a quote on the inside cover of a journal spanning April 26, 2002 to January 12th, 2004. The quote, captured before I started journaling, accurately sums up the content that eventually followed:

To become acquainted with yourself is a terrible shock (Carl Jung)

This journal covers the summer leading up to my marriage. It covers the death of my father a month after tying the knot. It covers a time of doubt: for myself, my marriage, my life. It covers my birthday in 2003-2004 during a trip to Mexico when I rediscovered the ability to relax… after almost 18 months of trying.

Basically, it covers my dropkick into adulthood.

I reread this journal yesterday and reacquainted myself with myself, clearly seeing the incompleteness of my search for self during those years. The profundity of the Jung quote also struck me as doubly true. Here is a record of my search from almost ten years ago when that search was very present and active, now viewed through the lens of those intervening years, a perspective full of insight and sympathy for that past, incomplete me.

The reacquaintanceship plays out in the four drafts of my wedding vows followed a few pages later by drafts of a eulogy for my father. It plays out in a long entry in the summer of 2003 when I can’t separate the pressures of work, grad school, mourning, and being a newlywed. It plays out in a bullet list of activities in Mexico followed by random thoughts of the day.

It is during the long summertime reflection that I begin questioning (and doubting) my patience. My tolerance, composure, and calmness come across as stoicism and imperturbability but I recently admitted to myself and the world that is a facade. Anyone who has ever seen me lose my temper (aka “hulking out”) knows that there is a deep reserve of emotion under that smooth surface, deeper by far that the illusion of patience.

These entries are from a time when I wasn’t plumbing those depths. At the time, I still believed my patience inexhaustible. But doubt was cracking the foundation of certainty.

As I reread this little journal, emotions–the bittersweetness of the wedding, the emptiness of the funeral one month later, a hollowness that I still feel today–came on strong. However, it was that summer entry that spoke loudest for it is there that I ask myself the tough questions… the possibility that my patience is a lie, the fear that I don’t actually know how to love, and the worry that I chose the wrong partner.

Looking back almost a decade later–after a divorce and an ongoing process of aligning myself so that I might have fleeting tastes of balance–I felt an abiding compassion for 2002-2004 Steve. I felt validated as well looking back at all that doubt and confusion with a clarity made available by the distance of perspective and the wisdom of paying attention. There is a frozen-moment quality to the rumination, a blurred snapshot of my mind that I can now look at fondly, filling in some blanks and adding back some of the faded colors.

In it there are also questions and perspectives that remind the almost-2012 Steve of the timelessness of some states of being.

How much of me is a lie? Do I really do so much? Do I really give more than I get? I realize how unhappy I am, working so hard that I don’t find time to enjoy myself. When I do have the time, I’m so preoccupied with the weight of responsibility that I don’t settle into the moment. This is clearly no way to live.

I wonder what Steve will be reading my journals eight years from now. Where is he? What is he doing? Does he still occasionally forget that unhappiness is caused by losing the moment in a torrent of to-dos and should-dos? Is the process of acquainting himself to himself still sometimes a terrible shock? Has he answered any of the burning questions of today? What questions does he have in his present moment?

I look forward to meeting him and hearing his answers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s