not that thomas

16 07 2004

a guy i used to work with used to call me thomas.  i don’t think this was for any particular reason, other than that i already had too many names, all of them beginning with the same letter, and he was the type to appreciate confusing matters further more than trying to simplify them in any way.  it was rather endearing, at the time, especially since he was the quiet, geeky sort (imagine, me conversing w/the likes of those) who rarely called anybody else anything at all.  and it’s a good name to have, in most cases.  in my mythologies, it’s tam lin first & foremost, & thomas lane (same but different), & thomas the rhymer, all wonderful people to be, characters to play, stories to romp through & wink around the corners of.  it’s also thomas reid, who won’t remember me, but whom i’ll always remember, & his daughter tamsyn, all in one breath.

in most westerners’ mythologies, however, it’s the thomas i make stand behind the rest of those in line who springs first to mind: the doubting disciple.  (i’m only mostly sure that wasn’t what randy meant–he was that devious, & i was often skeptical of the computers i’d have to call him in to miraclulously recover for me.)  & i’m spending altogether too much time in <i>his</i> dusty sandals lately.

(dusty sandals:) before i go any further, a necessary aside for the sometimes-sensitive: if you’re even thinking of creating a guilt-thing in your head on account of having recently asked questions, raised issues, or challenged preconceptions in mine that might have led to the existance of me having something to doubt in the first place, quit it.  of course, you’re all too enlightened yourselves to be pulling that crap, right?  right?  >sigh<

okay.  so: thomas.  a) i know he had a role to play.  it would have been a different story without thomas.  someone had to step up and do the doubting to answer the question for everyone who felt the doubt but kept it hidden–and most of us do, at least sometimes, in one form or another.  thomas, in his own way, was brave as hell for not being a coward about his healthy skepticism.  that we use his name this days disparagingly & only for people whose lack of faith disappoints us is kind of a shame, really.  if we believe the story at all, we owe a debt to thomas, because we’re all raised to be empiracally minded anymore, and we all want to put our fingers in the wound to know that it was ever there.  so, then, they aren’t particularly bad sandals to be wearing.  i do know that.

but b) there’s definitely such thing as too much time in them.  they’re not long-road wear.  they’ve got no longevity, no cushioned in-step, no lifetime re-sole warrenty from your friendly neighborhood birkenstock cobbler.    & they’re not the best for providing traction, either: there are a whole lot of lofty heights from which, in thomas’s sandals, i’ll never be surveying demesnes or gazing at stunning landscapes, sunsets, starscapes.  they have their limitations.  & i don’t particularly want to live that way, at least not for long at a time.

problem is, doubt (yes, the opposite of trust–you knew i’d pick that tangent up again)… is more than a nagging worry, like whether or not you left the stove on before you piled everyone into the car for the cross-country trip.  it’s not so simple as something you can call the neighbor to check on, or dismiss as soon as you have an answer.  “yes, the stove is off.  i swear.  look, i checked three times.  it’s off already!”  “okay, so what am i still afraid of?”  it’s bigger than that.  monster-sized, & not the kind that can fit under any one bed–the kind that’s under every bed you’re ever in, because it makes a home inside your shadow, & your shadow’s shadow, & the one inside that the brightest lights from all directions can’t fade away.  & i’m better at it even than thomas.  b/c i can stick my hands in the wounds until blood runs down my elbows, i can cut slices in my arms, mix it with my own, & see the scars there every day as promisory reminders, & still doubt it ever happened.

inconsistently, of course.  because while i’m doubting things other people are in my face screaming about–“i was there, you idiot, i saw it happen; what are you talking about?!?”–i can also, with perfect strength & clarity, believe in things i’ve never seen, right alongside the ones i have seen, that everyone but me can look back and shrug and deny all knowledge of.  i can put anything into analogy with anything else with unnervingly philosophical-sounding grace.  i can make minutia universal without half trying.  but when i’m asked to have a little faith in myself, or my own ability to follow things through, to have read them right the first time, to actually understood what i thought i understood before another infinitessimal flicker of “what if” totally knocked me on my ass, i fall all to bits.  and blame myself for doing so, which is equally stupid, in this science-minded world we were brought up in, where “proof” is everything and “evidence” the stuff that leads directly there, & words like “belief, impression, impulse, feeling, hunch, vision, imagination, perception, suspicion” are the minions of misdirection & show up as opposites to truth in our dictionaries instead of alternate ways of reaching it.

& i overreact to this the worst when language (& fscking barrier-creating language-distorting technology) is involved, which isn’t really surprising, since language is what i study, what i do with myself,  what i turn everything else into that isn’t already, & from which i learn everything i know about the world.  (the latter parts of which are really true for everybody, only i’m much more hyper-aware of it b/c a) i study rhetoric for a living, & b) i spent so many years being that kid with books and pens & notepads instead of friends)  if i can’t explain something verbally–if i can’t get it into a form someone can hear and understand–then i start to doubt the experience.  sometimes that it happened at all; sometimes just that it means what i think it does–because how can i have any idea what it means if i can’t explain it?

i’ve already heard the relevant responses:
1) (the sagacious sage says sagely, sagebrush burning in his hand) “just because you can’t translate it into the right reference frame for a particular audience doesn’t mean you can’t make language out of it at all, for other listeners or yourself, for other reasons.” 
& 2)  “it comes in waves,” like love, like enthusiasm, like summer, like thunderstorms, like financial crises, like hearing that same song on the radio ten times a day & then not for ten years & then all of a sudden every time you flip the switch again.
(see, i told you i was listening.  i’m just more likely to remember them when i need to if i put them down in language now, while i still can.)

and it might be that that last part is really the MOST important.  (because the first one’s just my trauma anyway?)  because i was going to say “faith is the hardest thing there is,” plain & simple, because you can’t ever know–anything you know isn’t an act of faith anymore, it’s something proven by some (thanks to vine deloria, now-suspicious) scientific means,  but you can’t either not-know, because  you can’t doubt & trust in a thing at the same time, can you?   but if you remember the waves, if you remember that not feeling it is just another attribute of feeling it before and after the blank space in between, if you remember that because it’s like the tides & the phases of the moon, always either rising or falling, it can’t at any point be doing neither, be all there or all somewhere else, and so not only is not being able to find it just a sign that it’s at a lull about to rise, but you’d have more to worry about if you didn’t worry, because you’d be believing in something out of whack, unbalanced, in defiance of its cyclical nature, then no matter how stupid you–okay, i–feel, it’s just a little autumn, just a moment for ducking into the cave to remember that spring’s always coming; it isn’t a signal-flare for a faith-ship going down but is instead the sun striking through that particular hole in the stone to slice through the shadows & say “this is where you are along the wheel today.  it’s all one wheel.  it comes in waves.”

so, i guess, maybe that thomas after all, at least in some not unimportant ways.  because he didn’t always doubt.  it was just his turn, at the right season (even if we’d rather the proof that satisfied him, & everyone who watched with bated breath, had been a little less empirical).

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6 responses

28 07 2004
tirgat

~grin~
Well little one, I agree with a lot of the analogy, but we also have the fact that doubt can become a trust all its one, a perverse “I know I will be let down by the thing I used to accept as the one truth” thingy. But for the empirically minded there is never true faith, we test and discard everyday theories that for ages were the accepted truth, we modify condense and consolidate the minutia into the theory that works for now. But its good to be a Thomas, without doubt there would have been no big story of a messiah, and without doubt no one would remmeber Thomas at all either…. As to doubting and trusting at the same time my situation now would tend to argue that it is possible….

29 07 2004
tyra

Re: ~grin~
But for the empirically minded there is never true faith, we test and discard everyday theories that for ages were the accepted truth, we modify condense and consolidate the minutia into the theory that works for now.
yes, but being that–& doing it based on that sense of beingness–exhibits faith in empirical science, in there being comparisons to be made, measures to weigh, tests that will reveal truths–and a faith that a “right” or at least “righter than the old/other” answer is out there. i’d say that’s still faith-based, in its own way.
& do you really think you’re doubting + trusting the same thing? or doubting one while trusting another–or doubting the thing you want to trust, & hope to again, & right now can’t find a way back to?

29 07 2004
wahyagar

well hun,
I worte a big long reply to this, but I ended up exceeding the allowable character count for a reply. (I was at like 6500 characters, the limit is apparently 4300 :P)
So I had to put the reply as a post in my journal….
–Me

1 08 2004
tyra

ici (if anybody cares to follow along)

30 07 2004
tamnonlinear

Do you listen to the NPR program “Speaking of Faith”? I’d link it, but NPR is blocked from workplace. They did a program on the spiritual use of doubt and skepticism. It was truly wonderful and insightful, probably my favourite of theirs so far. It talked about a lot of things tht I can’t quite recall right now, but if you can find it, you might find it interesting.
(sorry, tired. been meaning to respond but no more coherant answer presented itself)

1 08 2004
tyra

a) what an interesting suggestion. i usually hide from npr, probably because i still associate it with politically-minded adults, & in my head i think i’ll always be twelve and will only have to worry about unicorns. i’ll go look that up!
b) I SAID NO APOLOGIZING! thank you. 🙂
c) (this is highly tangential, but…) to be all tam lin about it, that whole story is based on janet believing what a not-societally-reputable prettyboy told her about being kidnapped by faeries. if she was even sanely skeptical, she wouldn’t have gone back out there, and she certainly wouldn’t have been hugging lions & eagles & the like. but of course she’s a heroine, for her brave faith, & she just kept hanging on. & when i make that analogous to our real lives, i wonder how many people we lose because we don’t have that kind of faith to hold onto them through ugly transformations.
which isn’t to say that giving up isn’t sometimes a far better option–i guess it’s easier to tell if someone not a real lion when the faerie queen’s sneering down at you while the claws are flashing. did i just pull “proof” back into it?
::ponder, ponder::

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