In the family I grew up in there were two common, somewhat dissonant but simultaneously applied themes. 1) Don’t live like you belong in the default world because your true home is in Heaven, living on earth is really just a temporary state and 2) live every day like it’s your last and be prepared to account for each moment. The purpose of this, of course, was to encourage people to live Good Christian (cishet, protestant) Lives. Never wasting a moment because that’s when it’s easy to sin. What this looked like in practice growing up was: demonizing rest, play, and pursuing happiness for the purpose of being happy. This looked like being told I was a bad daughter and going to hell because I complained about being overburdened, pushed beyond my limits to meet the demands of my parents while trying to carve out the smallest space for myself in my own life. Feeling guilty whenever I got sick and being worried every day about what would happen when the rapture inevitably came and I had to account for a sunday afternoon spent napping or reading or otherwise engaged in an activity that wasn’t a chore, bible study, or being a good example to my siblings or others.
Consciously, I know, and I keep telling myself that resting is okay, doing things because they make me happy and won’t impact the state of the world is okay, binging netflix when I don’t feel well is okay; and for a few hours at a time, I can believe it. But at the end of the day I still come back to this feeling of guilt and listlessness even though resting is necessary for my health. I realized today that it’s still that little bit of fundamentalism clacking around telling me that I would have no justification for watching the entire season of Jane the Virgin this week and if I had to account for every day of my life this month it would be disappointing in front of a deity I don’t even believe in.
I grew up raised to be someone who would fight to change the world. And I think it’s fair to say that in some small ways, I have. But to get to that point I was trained to become someone who put their needs last, who wasn’t allowed to have pleasures without guilt, and who wasn’t permitted time to be present because there was always something next. Life growing up was about furthering god’s kingdom by busily serving everyone without a second to breathe. I’ve spent the last 14 years trying to get there, going in and out of the space where I feel like I can breathe and be present and then feeling responsible for the state of everything and needing to fix it.
As I’m approaching my 32nd birthday/14 year anniversary of my escape, I feel like I desperately need to get back into that space where I can breathe. I’ve been haunted by feeling inadequate from being isolated due to moving/covid/language barriers, feeling useless because the US is a mess and there’s very little I can do from Germany to help, and boredom because even though I’m technically allowed to look for work here, I’m not hireable on account of I can’t speak German well enough for anything entry-level or even getting into a non-private undergrad program. So I find myself in this in-between place, where the only familiar feeling is the wandering sense of guilt for “not doing anything important right now.” for not having anything interesting going on in my day-to-day, and not having the spoons to keep up with the US political scene because watching it become impossible for me to visit many states without risk of being jailed for existing hurts more than I care to describe.
Living every day like it’s your last day sounds like good advice on the surface. Making every moment count seems smart, who wouldn’t want to acheive things? constantly? But some moments have to just be moments. Not every moment has to be dedicated to fulfilling a purpose bigger than yourself or your needs. Adding the weight of eternal judgement to an otherwise benign sentiment and making it the praxis for your family’s lives is a recipe for perpetual burnout. Which I don’t think is the original intent behind the idea.
I haven’t done much lately, but I feel burnt out, because in the absence of Big Things To Do, that expectation hangs itself like lead around my shoulders. It makes it hard to do anything besides feel guilty for not doing much. But when I greet death as an old friend, they aren’t going to flip through the archive of my life and ask me about the days I rested, the days I was present, the days I lived. I think the moments I was taught to ignore, the moments I need rest, the moments where the only thing that matters is choosing joy, are just as important as the moments big things happen. I don’t need to have an account at the end of my day that judges how interesting or productive I was, how much progress I made on a goal or how many people I educated.
I think ultimately, the only thing that matters at the end of the day, was that I was here, and I took care of myself, and I did what I could.