Self-Improvement and Self-Rejection Are the Same Thing
I’m standing on our back deck, looking out at the forest, as the sun sets on a shortened day, during which autumn has given up a little more of the ghost to winter. The trees are almost entirely bare, the forest floor rusted with leaves. The silence of the scene is disrupted only by the rustling of creatures and critters working diligently in preparation for the cold season to come.
A song plays somewhere in the house, and Zach Bryan sings, People die a thousand times to get to who they are.
Indeed, everything dies over and over again to get to what it is. Daylight saving time died another death yesterday, resulting in this dusk gathering well before dinnertime. This forest in front of me has died thousands upon thousands of times to get to what it is today.
Though, when it comes to people, it’s important to remind ourselves that, if we’ve died a thousand times to get to who we are, we have been resurrected one-thousand and one. It probably also wouldn’t hurt to remember that all of those previous versions of us are somehow, mysteriously, not dead and gone, but dead and still here, gathered within us, informing and inspiring this most recent resurrection.
In The Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Buechner says it this way:
Beneath the face I am a family plot. All the people I have ever been are buried there—the bouncing boy, his mother’s pride; the pimply boy and secret sensualist; the reluctant infantryman; the beholder at dawn through hospital plate-glass of his first-born child. All these selves I was and am no longer, not even the bodies they wore are my my body any longer, and although when I try, I can remember scraps and pieces about them, I can no longer remember what it felt like to live in their skin. Yet they live inside my skin to this day, they are buried in me somewhere, ghosts that certain songs, tastes, smells, sights, tricks of weather can raise, and although I am not the same as they, I am not different either because their having been then is responsible for my being now. I am like a candle lit from a candle lit from a candle…
Behind the scenes, I’m writing a chapter this week about how self-improvement and self-rejection are really the same thing, and what we’re all called to is greater self-awareness so we can eventually and finally arrive at some genuine self-acceptance.
Does that sound just about as muddy as a puddle?
I think the water comes a little clearer when we’re reminded of those thousand deaths and matching resurrections (with one to spare) and the family plot we are. I think self-awareness is about the willingness to go inside and meet each of them again, to dialogue with them, and to learn what they are still needing from us now. Perhaps we will not always give it to them, but we can certainly learn to accept the reasons they’re asking for it.
Speaking of which, I feel like I’ve died a half dozen times this year alone.
In one death, I died to the traditional blogging I’d been doing on my website for eleven years and was resurrected here on Substack, writing a book with all of you. Then, more recently, that version of Substack-me died and was resurrected into a hybrid of new-me and old-me, which is to say I’ve made all my writing free again on Substack, and only the book writing is restricted to paid subscribers. As I become aware of those versions of me, I realize most of my readers have missed five of my posts this year, which were restricted when I first published them and are now free to read forevermore.
Here they are. I hope you’ll enjoy the reading. And thank you, as always, for your patience with my constant death and resurrection. May you have the same kind of patience for your own.