“When a child first catches adults out -- when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just -- his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child's world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)
And you learn this lesson over and over again. You will learn it as a child with your parents. Hard and fast and it will ache forever.
You will learn it in college when you stumble into work, stoned after having smoked pot in a bathroom stall. You will learn it when you quit your job and stop going to class because for some reason it hurts you too much to be there.
You will learn it when you run away to Mexico to escape yourself- you are so bored with yourself- and you ride home on a motorcycle and someone can tell you're still a virgin just from the few words you force from your mouth and you drink oso negro on a rooftop and hide in your apartment.
You learned this lesson again and again and finally you realize that even if you were okay with the gods crashing, shattering, sinking deeply into the green muck when you were a kid, when you were just thinking of those gods as your parents, you hadn't yet realized, not until Mexico, that the gods weren't just your mother and father- they were the world. All the ways you imagined the world was, its rules, its laws- those were the gods.
Time passes and you feel whole again, but it happens one more time. It happens when you start teaching. It happened after the third week and this same lesson would be repeated over and over throughout the year. "You cannot save everybody"- you cannot save anybody. You can't help everybody, most of them don' t even want help. And you're someone that has to be there everyday. You're someone that's chosen to be there everyday. But it begins to feel like a sinking ship and you have to get off. You have to find a way to make it different for them. But there's a part of you, the most part of you, and it has come to believe that things cannot be different. At least not for everybody. All you can think of is to go on but once you've seen it you can't un-see it even if you wanted to.
You tell yourself that you know nothing. That the world is an unchanging place. That most of it's for nothing and living can sometimes feel like a succession of verbs. You begin to believe steadfastly that when things are good they will fall apart...and these become your new gods. You are growing older and in that becoming more and more aware of how few but concrete things there are that you trust, that you know. It is an aching kind of growing.
Sometimes, you deny your gods and you are smote. In love, out love. Filling holes with words. Honesty. Quietly waiting. Believing that the world, all its laws, all the possibilities that can come from aligning yourself within these rules, can take you back to the place that your heart lived before any god mattered and all you can remember about that place is that things were quiet there.
Again, the gods crash, shatter, and sink. You are reminded that the rules of the world, the ones that tell you how to be happy are the gods that no longer shine. Because it's you that they don't want to see anymore, it's you who chose the career that you hate, it's you that's no longer hungry for what's to come, it's you that's tired and predictable and it's you whose world has gotten so small that you are now aching in growing. These rules are the new gods that burn like smoke in your eyes.
But, YOU have learned this lesson over and over again: Whatever gods you create will crash, shatter, or sink deeply into the green muck.