A Personal History Lesson

In keeping with the epiphany that led to the lovely little project that is this blog, let me tell you a little more about my life, and why I often want to get the daily grind overwith, rather than living in the moment.

I am an introvert, but I work as the only full-time legal secretary in a bustling law office.  This entails much contact with people and a lot of initiating telephone conversations.  I am kicked out of my comfort zone on a daily basis.  To compound this problem, I am also what is referred to as a “Highly Sensitive Person” or “HSP“.  Loud noises, bright lights, smells, and people’s moods and body language all affect me in ways I find difficult to ignore, and can overwhelm me when they’re too numerous or forceful.  Things seem brighter, sharper, louder, more pungent, and more immediate to me, apparently, than the Average Jane.  (This is a subject I’ve only just barely scraped the surface of, so pardon me if I don’t explain it very well.) 

What bothers me most, in the course of my workday, however, is picking up on others’ emotions, or, one could say, being an empath.   Have you ever known anyone to go see their attorney when they’re in an excellent mood?  When they’re happy, and not upset or bothered by something, or otherwise filled with anger and absolute rage at whatever injustice they feel they’ve suffered?  Nope.  Didn’t think so.  Also such people have a habit of shooting the messenger when they don’t get the answer they’d hoped for, and, usually, that messenger is me.

So why do I stay in a work environment that, most of the time, begins to drive me insane before the rest of the day is over?  Perhaps I’m a masochist and don’t know it?  In all seriousness, though, it boils down to simple economics.

I live in a small town in rural southeastern Kentucky.  There are not very many choices when it comes to finding a job.  You mine coal, work as a mechanic, work in a mortuary (which would be infinitely hellish for me), work in some capacity at the hospital, work retail (most of the time not full time, and not much if any over minimum wage),  or work in food service (see qualifiers in relation to retail).  We did have a couple of factories, which have closed.  Of course there are a few county and state government jobs, but those people stay in those jobs until they either die or retire for the benefits packages, which are superior to the other options in this very limited market.  The same goes for teachers: most stay until they die or retire, which, in the state of Kentucky, is 28 to 30 years. 

Landing a job as a private secretary in a law office was pretty much my only chance for full-time employment, as I graduated from university with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, non-teaching, which in the minds of the people interviewing me here post-graduation, was largely useless.  (I majored in it, ultimately, because I loved it and was hoping to eventually work in the publishing industry, as a librarian, or as a professor.)   The hospital and doctors’ offices wanted people with more technical degrees in medical transcription and the like, and, as I said, the food service opportunities and retail jobs are not full time.  And, at any rate, I would still be pushed out of my comfort zone consistently because all of the jobs available for women–most coal companies will not hire women, and, if they do, you’re opening a whole other can of worms possibly labelled “harrassment”–are jobs with a lot of contact with the public, and, often, an unhappy public.

Also, I live with my parents.  I graduated in May 2006, and did not even dream I would still be living with my parents,  but I found saving money was harder than I had thought it would be, and I wanted to save up enough to leave this place, not merely move into an apartment.  Of course, this necessarily brings with it a cluster of tensions.

Moving back home after the better part of four years spent living on my own was not an easy transition at all.  I was met with parental expectations and demands about, seemingly, the most minute things:  where to keep my things (my younger sister and I shared a bedroom until she left for university in August),  how late I could be up and around at night, a ban on any artwork or decoration in my room that did not meet parental and sisterly approval, the limits of my privacy, and, what proved to be the biggest sticking point, and, what I felt was the grossest misuse of the power inherent in “this is our house, you’ll live by our rules,” church attendance.  (Nevermind their refusal to teach me how to drive, even though no one else was local and available to do so, for the longest time, even after I bought my own car and insured it.  That, too, was a big point of contention.)  Then, of course, there are the drama, disagreements, and arguments inherent in an adult child living with his or her parents in a very small space.  (Our house is miniscule.)

You see, my parents are religious people.  Dad is a very conservative, “non-denominational” (Primitive Baptist-Petacostal/Holiness-something else entirely hybrid) Christian, and Mom is Southern Baptist.  This is what we butted heads over most, and this is what I railed against most, the expectation and demand that I attend church services either at a Baptist-affiliated church (preferable) or a Methodist-affliated church.  (They knew I was too liberal for Dad’s, and I had split with his church two years before for reasons I won’t go into now.)  The thing is, church is not my thing.  I was searching for my spiritual and religious home, and I knew that the allowable variations were not it.  

At first, the demand was that I go at least twice a month.  They’ve since relaxed that rule.  In fact, they no longer verbally demand it at all, but if I go more than a month without going, they start to get visibly antsy and ask when I’m going back.  In the interest of keeping the peace my last few months–hopefully–living with them, I do occasionally go to Mom’s church, even though it makes me uncomfortable to go just so I can play a role.

Personally, I believe that all religions have value.  They’re all trying to answer the same questions about the ultimate meaning of life, what happens when we die, what to believe about and how to relate to the Divine, and how we should behave toward one another.  Many of them even have a lot in common, which they could see if they’d take off the blinders which dictate that theirs is the only “right” religion.  My stance at this juncture is to learn as much as I can about as many religious and spiritual traditions as I can, to take what resonates with me on a deeply personal level–what I feel connect me to God/the Divine/insert your deity term of choice here–and leave the rest, mostly trying to tease out the common ties amongst all.  That there is something out there bigger than me that set the Universe in motion, of that I have no doubts whatsoever.  I only doubt the particulars.    Obviously, I fall into that ever-increasing-in-percentages category of “spiritual, but not [particularly] religious,” as I don’t subscribe to an organized religion.

I think that part of what made me fall into this quest is that, while my parents are demonstrably religious–they go to church frequently, they profess that they believe the theology of their church, they make major decisions based on how their church interprets the Bible, etc.–they aren’t very open about being spiritual.  We never had family prayer time.  They didn’t frequently read the Bible at home.  I’ve never actually seen either of them pray at home.  (This is not, however, to say that they didn’t do these things in the quiet time after my sister and I went to bed.)  Generally, I grew up with the belief that Christianity was the only right religion–being brought up in Dad’s church until I left and my Mom and sister followed–and that everyone else was going to burn in Hell. 

It was the fear of Hell that hung over even the little kids’ heads.  This is what I call “Fire Insurance Theology”, and, as I grew up, I realized that not all religions have a Hell, and that if I was only trying to make myself be exclusively Southern Baptist or exclusively a conservative Evangelical or whatever denomination of Christianity, because I was afraid of going to Hell, and didn’t actually believe it 100%, then there was no point.  Also, I could not reconcile the assertion that God is Love with the concept of a jealous, judgmental God who would torture his own creations for eternity, even if they had committed horrendous crimes, nevermind doing so because they didn’t identify with a particular religious label.  God, as these churches described Him, would know I had doubts and didn’t believe what I was taught with all my heart, soul, and mind, so what would be the point?  I’d just be playing a role to save face or because I was scared to death of eternal torment, which, to me, felt more hypocritical and blasphemous than looking elsewhere.

Furthermore, I’ve always been less interested in a particular set of rules or rituals than I have been in how spirituality–which I define, loosely, as a connection to one’s own Spirit and one’s connection to the Divine–meshes with daily life, how it nourishes and heals us from the inside out, and what it feels like to feel that connection to what many think is the Unknowable.  Where does the Divine intersect with the mundane?   How can we best keep our spirituality alive amid our day-to-day routines, challenges, and stressors?  Can and do we learn and grow spiritually through challenges, and how do we go about doing that?  These are my areas of interest, the point of my exploration.

This is not to say that my life sucks, and that there’s no purpose behind what I often feel, in the moment, are challenges and trials of my patience or sanity.  My parents are not horrible ogres.  They just don’t understand me, and are afraid of letting go of their eldest daughter.  My job is not the most horrible job in the history of the world, it just challenges me in uncomfortable ways, and yes, it is often stressful.  Whatever happens in a day, it is my choice to either hold onto the negative aspects or release them, while looking for and keeping the positive ones.

No, on the contrary I have grown as a person on many levels because of these experiences.  Everything that has happened before has led me to where I am now, mind, body, and soul, and will probably lead me elsewhere, and, I believe, that this “elsewhere” will be somewhere better.

To put it more succinctly, this is how I want to live from here on out, no matter what comes my way:

“Everyday life is the prayer.
“How we conduct it, cherish it,
“celebrate it, consecrate it.”
Sarah Ban Breathnach

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One thought on “A Personal History Lesson

  1. More kindred spirit stuff here!

    I’m originally from Kentucky!

    I am a recovering evangelical Christian!

    I believe all the things you said about art – and spirituality – and belief – and seeking.

    I’m also an HSP!!!!

    Again, welcome to my tribe 🙂

    And to the blogosphere. It will change your life!

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