I own a punching bag full of women’s clothing.
If I ever told that to my therapist, she’d probably get that hungry look. But there’s nothing symbolic about it, I swear. The guy who used to own the bag, a schoolmate of mine in college, went to the basement of the girls’ dorm at the end of the semester, collected everything from the box of castoffs, and stuffed it all in.
I guess he didn’t have any sand. Or he hates women. Whatever.
I’ve had the thing for nine years without really using it. In my previous house, I hung it from an eye bolt that was already sticking out of the garage ceiling. If it hadn’t already been there, I wouldn’t have bothered. And then, since it was a fairly thin bolt, a few good kicks were enough to break it, so that was the end of that.
But I’ve got a competition coming up and I want to learn to do a spinning back kick the way Sihing B. does, like a cat lashing out with its paw, quick as lightning; so I finally hung it up in the basement.
Hanging the thing was its own ritual, and I wanted to do it right. I laid out the steps: ask the internet how to do it, check for the right tools, buy what you don’t have, and then get to it. I tend to cut corners whenever I’m doing anything technical. I want to do things the quick way instead of the right way, and I’ll often make do with the wrong tool because the right one’s all the way upstairs.
Something in me protests against paying attention to details. Details are unfair; desire should be enough.
This way of doing things doesn’t usually end well. I’m not quite convinced that it’s necessary to spray the bolt with loosening agent, and it probably won’t work anyway, and even if it did, who wants to wait? So I give it a cursory spray, wait ten seconds, tug at the bolt, and strip the !@#$ thing. The ten minutes to wait for the spray to penetrate would have been worth the untold time it’ll take to deal with the stripped bolt, but I gambled, and I lost.
This makes me angry. But oddly, I’m not angry at myself for being impatient. Instead, I’m angry at the universe, for not being the sort of place where eagerness and good intentions are enough. I want the universe to be merciful; I want it to say, “Very good, Joey, you tried; so I’m going to go ahead and let that bolt turn for you.” I want the punching bag to be hung just because I’ve willed it into place.
But Christians aren’t pantheists. God made the universe, but he allows it to run according to its own rules. If you don’t do things right, they either don’t get done at all, or they end up worse than they were before.
I’ve quoted this bit of William Lynch before, but it’s one of those paragraphs that changed my life. Listen:
People who do not attend to detail are poor in hope. They do not believe that anything will come of detail. They rather expect that the pattern will form of itself, without the detail. This is contempt, which is the opposite of hope. The mentally ill frequently find it extremely difficult to have hope in language, in talk, in the use of one word after another, in actually saying to the doctor, step by step, word by word, what they think or feel.1
We love to paint our lives in broad strokes and bold colors. There’s comfort in saying I’m depressed or I’m defective or I’m broken or I’m different. Believing these things about ourselves — believing that change is too big a thing to be possible — relieves us from the responsibility of taking steps, actual small detailed tiny real steps, towards getting better. Like walking all the way upstairs to get the philips head screwdriver instead of the flat one. Like waiting an extra ten minutes for the spray to penetrate.2
Like going to your computer for five minutes to order Clean Of Heart, even if it takes you six weeks after it arrives to actually open it and start. Like emailing your mother to tell her, no, you’re NOT fine, actually, even if you don’t know where the conversation will go after that. Like going to Confession one more time, even though you’ve fallen into the same stupid pattern every stupid week for the last six stupid months.
What is hope is also humility. It is arrogance, as well as contempt, to believe that the atoms of the world will arrange themselves just because we decided they’d look better that way.
If we can’t even bring ourselves to submit to the laws of nature, how can we ever hope to submit to nature’s Lord?