Committed

My first roommate was sent home after locking himself in his room and threatening suicide three months in to the first trimester of college. All that I was ever able to gather from the event was that it somehow involved a romantic fallout with a girlfriend back home. My second roommate employed my kitchen utensils for cooking heroin in the living room. He was often dragged struggling into the apartment in a drunken rage screaming obscenities in early morning hours. The whole place smelled like rotting food from unwashed dishes in the sink and the furniture was uncomfortable to the point of being poor decoration. I looked on in the wide eyed naive horror that can only come from a small town kid utterly unprepared for the college welcoming committee.

Some decisions that appear easy come with a deep commitment and a potentially large bill. There is no ticket in the world that will show you how many relationships or how much health certain commitments will cost. I used to have a wedding ring with the words “forever devoted to you” carved into the inside. No human being can commit to forever in the honest sense of the word. The permanence of those words carved into metal still tugs at me. I still struggle with the way that love between two people is so often employed as a fix for life. A fix is the temporary satisfaction of an addiction. So diamonds are forever and the love of people will be mounting tensions until next week when they blossom into recriminations. I don’t believe that difficulty is a reason not to love I just think that sometimes love looks on its surface like any other obligation or a commitment. It’s work, it’s good work, but it’s still fucking work. The mundane is the patience of the ongoing process like tiny brushstrokes on an enormous canvas. You can’t really see anything until you step back. The whole is made up of smaller parts and the parts take time.

goya-the-folly-of-fear
Francesco De Goya “The Folly of Fear”

When I think about committing I think of Goya. After documenting the viciousness of the Peninsular war in a series of horrifying etchings Francisco De Goya, at 75 years old turned entire walls of his “La Quinta del Sordo” (house of a deaf man) into a canvas with what are now referred to as his Black Paintings. One of the pieces in particular displays two man beating one another with clubs while sinking in quicksand. It’s cheery stuff. After watching the horrors of war, it seems to me as though Goya literally illustrated his PTSD. Most accounts describe this as a decent into complete madness, but it doesn’t strike me as entirely mad to hole up and paint walls of pain after observing years of torture and violence. It strikes me as a perfectly sane expression of deep despair. The expression of sanity in an insane world might just be to hold a mirror up to the ugliness of the world. To hold a mirror up is a way of forcing important questions to be asked. Would you like to murder one another out of fear and hate as the world burns down around you? Please check yes or no. In the end I’m not sure that it was the war that got him so much as the isolation of his remote farmhouse. In isolation shadows grow longer and deeper. The long hours of solitude can make shadows stretch deep like canyons. We use solitude as punishment for crime because it is a terrible punishment, yet we have a strange susceptibility to creating isolated prisons of our own design.

There is a disparity between deeply held beliefs and the tedious summation of everyday actions. All too often the difficulty of loving seems to make the love part hard to remember. To paint the walls of your house with witches and murder is a serious commitment. A “forever devoted to you” carved in metal is a sentimental statement when not reinforced by the actions of devotion. The word devotion implies an act of commitment over an extended period of time. A fix over a long enough stretch of time may transform into devotion just like a devotion can slip back into a temporary fix. Despite long battles with depression and the descent of teenage children into lunacy people still grant one another importance through daily flawed offerings of time, ridiculous in-jokes, bad pet names, or struggles. It is the sharing of burdens that lends life a richness. In Galatians the very act of sharing burdens is tied inextricably to Christ. To mutually bear the burdens of one another through time is a fulfillment of love. The burdens of life become deep shadows when they are hidden behind the locked doors of a human heart.

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