Now that the ink is dry on the contract for the book version of “Nearly Orthodox” I’m sitting down to sort through the accumulated posts, notes, scribbled quotes and half thoughts written on receipts in my purse. It’s weird to read through the array of words now, over three years since I first put my feet on this ancient road. It’s weird because although I still recognize the fears and doubts, I no longer take them in as easily into myself. Like smelling cigarette smoke not long after quitting the habit, it’s familiar and maybe engaging but not compelling enough to get me to light up again.
I was, more or less, a pack a day smoker when I met my husband. When funds allowed I smoked more, when work was scarce the cigarettes were the first to get cut. I don’t think I noticed the difference when I cut the smokes. When I quit, not long after meeting Dave, I did not miss them. I stopped smoking because the time was right, because I no longer felt the need for the cigarettes. There were, of course, moments during which I would sigh and wish for a cigarette. Sometimes I inhaled longingly when a friend lit up next to me but that was probably more an exercise in nostalgia and friendly drama more than evidence of addiction. When I quit, I quit cold turkey and I never went back. I was ready.
I find today that it feels like that when I read about my struggles those three years I spent as a catechumen. I look back now, remembering that struggle, affirming that angst and thankful that I don’t miss it because truth be told, part of me probably likes the drama a little bit.
The fear is never the fear.
What I struggled with as a catechumen was always like double-sided tape, one side being what I felt on the inside, the other what stuck to me as a result of it. For as long as I was more willing to hang on to the fear I felt, I was unwilling to jump into the unknown. Why give up the fear I know in favor of what lies ahead? It’s far easier to stick with the lies I’ve adopted and fed and nurtured- I am an outsider, I am different, I am uninvited. The trouble in accepting the chrism was that in doing so, I make an admission that those are lies and I willingly hand them over day after day after day with full confidence and much trepidation that when I give them away I may find some gaping hole where they once lived. It’s a risk.
The real risk at this point, having given my “yes” to becoming Orthodox is that I would begin to craft some new false thinking, believing that I will no longer fall into that pit of fear and doubt, believing that I will always read the words of those three years and feel them alien to where I am now. I recognize that one day, I may want that cigarette more than I fear the repercussions. Accepting the oil on my forehead and my lips, my hands, my throat, my feet, does not insulate me from deceiving myself but something did change in me that day, that much I know. Perhaps it is that I am always changing, always drifting back and forth inhaling the secondhand smoke both repelled and engaged because life is weird like that, the road is rocky and hard to navigate, the grass is greener, the smoke is cleaner, calming and complicated.
In any case, I begin the process of sorting through it all in an effort to find some middle ground and place it into the framework of memoir, telling the story of soul work. I’ll let you know how it goes.