He whispered to me this morning while I was making coffee. Amongst the sound of the grinding of beans, his voice spoke through my own lips.
“This is not the way.”
He didn’t refer to the way I was grinding the beans. I don’t think he has much to say on that subject. He was speaking to the larger grind. The grind of life.
He meant the way I feel sorry for myself when things don’t go my way. The way I isolate myself when I feel ashamed. The way I silence myself when I feel angry.
“This is not the way.”
Not lounging in self-depreciating clouds of cigarette smoke and self-righteous armchair philosophy. Not maintaining my masks of professional competence and success. Not running away from love, from opportunity, because I don’t want to be tied down.
That way leads full circle, to the source of my complaint.
“I’m special, and no-one sees it” cries my ego.
And the weight of his accusation mounts on the evidence table. The momentum of my writing, slowing to a dutiful march. The scores of likes on my Facebook posts, dried up in the political massacre. And more damning that all of it, the unshakable feeling that I’m off track, lost down some overgrown siding.
I’ve fucked it up.
That’s what the other guy says. The one who lurks in the recesses of my mind. He’s always there, the compulsive pessimist who doesn’t want to see me fall in pursuit of avarice.
I’m running out of options. The escape routes keep bringing me back to the same room, where the walls are closing in and the rats have already scarpered.
I sit down in the corner, light up another joint. Maybe this way I can see through the fog. Maybe I just need one more high to finally break through to the truth.
And as the medicine takes hold I forget the question and sink down into the comfort of my dream. Until the effects inevitably wane, and I notice the walls again. They’re moving slowly enough that I don’t panic, and fast enough that I know I can’t stay here much longer.
I reach for another chunk of hazelnut chocolate.
“This is not the way.” He says.
Well what is the fucking way oh great oracle? I’m pissed. The scorn is desperation, not hatred. Give me the map shit-face, I’m dying down here.
He doesn’t answer. He just looks me full in the eye in that unwavering way he has. He loves me. That’s what makes him so infuriating.
I pause. Something in me doesn’t run away like I’ve been doing a lot lately. I sit with him. He looks like Jesus, but he feels like me.
Time slows down. I hear the hum of the refrigerator in the corner. The distant sounds of the world outside going about its business. I feel it, the poignancy of the moment. This moment. The one I can feel when I soften my searching. The one I can taste when I open my mouth and breathe it in.
The one that holds the entire history of the universe, and the unknown future of all there is. Balanced, exquisitely.
This. This is the way isn’t it?
He doesn’t say anything, he just smiles.
This place. The one where I keep walking, as slow as I possibly can, so that I notice just how beautiful the landscape is. The one where I choose each step, not from strategy, but from attention. The lift of my knee, the reaching of my toes, the planting of my foot, the casting of my gaze. One more step. Then one more step. Then one more step.
What’s the way? I ask him.
He doesn’t say anything. But I feel my heart break. Just a little, like the first crack on the surface of an egg as what is inside makes its way to what is outside.
I’m scared. I tell him.
He nods, in his bamboozlingly beautiful way. A nod that contains both bottomless compassion, and utter neutrality. I don’t know how he does that.
I am scared. I’m scared of getting punched. Or laughed at. I feel just like I did when I was a little boy at Lowfield Primary School. My unconscious and innocent eccentricity met with unconscious and innocent ridicule.
I had the wrong shoes. I cried when boys weren’t supposed to cry. I didn’t fit their society, I stood out, which wasn’t a good thing in working-class Sheffield.
“You’re a man now.” He says.
I don’t feel like one. I say before I think about it. I feel like a fraud.
“That’s what makes you beautiful.” He says.
He’s got me. Clever little fucker. He knows exactly where my weak spots are. He turns my own arguments against me. And I know exactly what he means.
It’s the way of revelation.
Not the kind of revelation accompanied by angels’ harps and priests and holy oppression. It’s the path that reveals. Uncovering what once was covered. Disclosing what was once locked away. Showing what was once held in shame.
It’s not about me. It’s not some faux-vulnerability where I wash my dirty laundry on Facebook (I tried that – the high lasted as long as the social news cycle). It’s about revealing what I see.
The world I see.
The one that delicately surrenders itself as I look into my woman’s eyes, and see how deeply she loves me. The one that pulls the rug from under my complacency as I remember what truly fires me up. The one that brightens someone else’s down-trodden day as I tell them about mine.
“That’s the way.” He says, and turns away to leave me to my gratitude.