It’s 2021: The Insignificant With the Sacred Unique.
I hate marathons. I hate waiting. Especially for something that I know is coming. It makes me feel not only unsettled, but as if something terrible is going to happen until that thing that’s supposed to come, comes. Until that thing that’s supposed to occur, happens. (That feeling is called dread. Or a constant panic attack. Anxiety.)
That feeling like something is missing.
That feeling of being… incomplete.
Well, I’ve been mulling over this whole new year business — a second time around — and I’ve come to only one possible conclusion:
Okay, but… for real. 2021? This new year needs more Sister Act.
Last year, I was facing a personal unknown, and I wrote about redefining our understanding of resolution. I had zero idea what was coming for everyone, not just me, because not a few months after that, the novel coronavirus caused everyone to lock down and everything to change. And I spent the year rolling with it.
I was excited to get back to teaching, only for my classes to get cut due to low enrollment, which itself was due to all in-person courses being moved to online. So I was ready to come back with a new energy and a new outlook, and then I had to adjust to teaching daily from my study.
And here we are, a year later, and… not much has changed. And yet at the same time, it feels like everything has changed. Maybe because I’ve changed. We’ve changed.
And yet… change doesn’t feel enough, does it? Because slow (possibly lasting) change doesn’t feel as noticeable as a drastic change. And it’s been a year of slow change for most. I don’t like that I feel I’ve personally changed, and yet also feel like I don’t show it. I made a goal of taking better care of myself, and connecting with my physical self (challenging as an enneagram 5), and I’ve spent the past year doing so.
I’ve been flossing every day for a year now. I’ve been working out and exercising consistently for a year. I’ve watched what I’ve been eating. Meditate regularly.
Maybe that’s why I love getting new tattoos. There’s something noticeable, from before to after. I always feel like I’m closer to my fuller, more complete self after every new tattoo.
Or really, it’s that sensation of getting a new tattoo is more of a temporary diversion from the reminder of my incompleteness.
As such, while I love that release, what I hate though is the time between booking my appointment and waiting until the time comes. Because I want it now. Because I hate waiting. I want the visible, noticeable change right when I set about getting it.
And it’s during the in-between, I’m facing a reminder that I don’t have the thing I believed will make me feel more complete, and I have to wait to get the thing that’ll make me feel more complete. Thus, I’m stuck feeling incomplete.
And that feeling seems like the worst part of this past year. The slow change, whatever those changes may be. The constant reminder of our incompleteness. The year itself dragged on and on, until all we were left with is the personal and collective mindset of the before times. Before last year. Before what we’re still in. A desire to go back to the time where we weren’t reminded of just how incomplete we actually are.
Ever wonder what Auld Lang Syne means? It’s customary to sing it at New Years, but what does it mean besides a call to remember?
Well, the most accurate plain English interpretation of the Auld Lang Syne’s famous title is old long since, or for the sake of old times.
Remembering the before times. And then looking forward to what will become the new ‘old times’. As I talked about last year, we mark moments like a new year as a fresh start. But how do you fresh start when you can’t? When you have to wait.
How do you have a new year when it all feels like a continuation of the old?
How do you live when we’re still stuck in limbo?
It’s not like you can just take your WaitMate pills until COVID-19 is over, or the year, or the election.
Or until that point you believe you’ll finally be complete.
It’s not like you can just fake it and turn the clocks forward.
Here’s the thing. I really wonder how many are still holding on to the Auld Lang Syne, the before times, out of a desire to return to them when this is all over. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are so ready for this all to be finished, to return to the way things were before. Who want to return to normalcy and decency.
Who view this time (or however long) as a stopgap, a pause, on life; and once this is all over, we all can get on with life.
But we can’t. Things won’t be same, probably ever again. Because we’re not the same. I know I’m not. And I won’t be. You won’t be.
As a teacher and as a reverend, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what I’ve learned, and what lesson I can give about this past year. Some… morsel of wisdom, to make sense of it all. To make them feel better about their incompleteness, or to forget about it.
And the truth is… I’m not there. Because I’m still struggling with mine. I can’t give something worth while. Not for anyone but myself anyway.
I honestly just end up either sending them the following Monty Python clip, or singing it to them:
Over the holiday, my son had an experience causing him to suddenly believe Santa is real. You see, my kids have been raised a bit free to explore their own beliefs and come to their own summations. I happily and readily tell them what I believe and why (on a level they at their age can understand), but for the most part, things like Santa, Krampus, etc. are all things conveyed to them that are fun to pretend are real.
I’ve never pushed them into belief one way or the other. But sometime over the holiday break (and I have a feeling I know exactly when), my eldest went from believing Santa was just pretend to telling me one day while having a thousand-yard stare in his eye, “Papa, Santa is real.”
He looked just like this when he said it, cigarette and all.
And so this Christmas, for the first time in his five years, he actually believed that some of the gifts left for him from Santa were actually from Santa.
The thing is, I never thought I would be a parent who would perpetuate the illusion. But then, I never realized how much joy I would personally get out of my children’s sense of awe and wonder. Yes. I could explain to him what he actually witnessed. I could explain to him who the gifts are actually from. And eventually, I will. I will share the truth. And expose the lie. A lie that I am currently perpetuating.
But for one, I don’t know if he’ll actually believe me.
Or the truth.
And for another, in a way that’s just a return to what came before his experiences. And as I said, there is no going back.
So how can I even think to give any sort of universal statement to any of you? Something just as personal, if not more?
For one, I don’t know if you’ll actually believe me.
Or the truth.
And for another, as I said, there’s no going back to everything before the experiences of this year.
If there’s one takeaway or truth I can give, it’s this:
Stop holding on to Auld Lang Syne. Stop hoping to get back to the way things were.
The worst thing you can do in the middle of a panic attack is fight it.
But you fight it because you want to get back to how you were before the panic attack. My daughter struggles with getting too worked up, and it is like a panic. And all she wants to do is go back to before her tantrum. All the way back to before whatever set off her overwhelming sense of anxiety and emotion. But that doesn’t solve it.
And you can’t just do that every time something overwhelming comes up and causes you panic and extreme emotion.
Instead, recognize it for what it is, and then trust that it’s not forever. Let it wash over you. And through you. And come out the other side.
I sit in it with my daughter. It can be overwhelming. But I live it with her. I strive to remind her that it’s okay to feel it. But that we’re not going back to the beginning. Because that’s not going to help. And because there’s no going back.
And I’m trying to get to the place of doing that with myself.
Because it’s not about getting back to how you were before the event. Yet here’s the thing, it’s also not about doing whatever you can to just… get to the other side.
Sometimes it takes just sitting and being present in the anxiety. The dread. The belief.
And so it’s not about finding the lesson (or the takeaway). It’s not about finding the purpose. It’s not about finding the point. It’s not about finding the meaning.
It’s not about finding your spark.
In the newest Pixar film, Soul, the lead character Joe Gardner has been holding out living, hoping for the day his life will truly begin. That is, when he gets to be an actual performing jazz musician, rather than just teaching band to inner city kids. He dies.
And the rest of the film ensues.
But the thing I kept thinking is this: How can someone die who hasn’t actually lived?
See, Joe doesn’t accept his death, because he died right on the cusp of what he believed to be his life beginning. “I can’t die now! My life is about to finally begin!”
It’s only through seeing a soul that doesn’t want to live, actually live his life (in his body, movie logic), that he not only helps said soul (22) accept life, but maybe on a deeper level, is jealous of that someone else is living his life better than he is.
And why? Or rather, how?
Not by satisfying what he believes to be his purpose, his reason for being, his spark (jazz musician), but just regular old living. Talking with people. Truly connecting.
The insignificant with the sacred unique.
Soul ends with Joe accepting his death. Accepting the Great Beyond. And looking back over his life and realizing he’s already lived.
So then… when he’s given a second chance…
“So? What do you think you’ll do? How are you gonna spend your life?”
“I’m not sure. But I do know… I’m gonna live every minute of it.”
Living is what happens in between the moments you think or believe you’re actually waiting for. Living is the incomplete. Not being complete. Or in the things you think or believe will make you complete.
The insignificant with the sacred unique.
You ready? To come live?
I’m scared I’m not good enough. And I never got my spark.
Yes, you did.
Your spark isn’t your purpose. That last box fills in when you’re ready to come live.
I don’t have anything to say beyond this: I think I’m done teaching for a while. I mean, I have to for my job. But I don’t want anything beyond that for now. I’m tired of treating life like I’m waiting for it. I want to live. And see life. I want to learn. I want to meet you. And hear your story. I want to see life through your eyes. Because that is living.
If we only ever live through our own life, well then how much of life itself do we ever actually get to know?
It took a suicide attempt to fill in the last box and give me my spark.
It took a year like last to make it really matter, and for me to get intentional about it.
I wanna know all of it.
How am I gonna spend my life?
I don’t know. I don’t want to plan it.
I just want to live it. And see what happens. Or rather, what happens next.
Good. Bad. Boring. Lively. Panic. Joy. Known. Unknown. Doing something. Doing nothing.
All the moments. And the in-between.
“For all the love you’ve left behind, you can have mine…”
See you all around the bend.
Christian Kumpost is an ordained minister, philosophy professor, writer, father, and quite possibly a modern day Don Quixote. Having always wanted to shepherd all people to the truth of the universe, he took the long way ’round to get to doing so. Now he teaches various philosophy courses at the local community college, writes regularly, confronts bad theology, makes truth accessible, hopes to reveal the loving, inclusive song of the Universe to all, and raise Hell, simply to show it’s nothing to fear. You matter. And have more worth than you could realize. All are Dulcinea, most just believe themselves to be Aldonza. Time to get crazy. “And the world will be better for this…” You could contact Christian via Leaving La Mancha.