Sometimes self-respect and authenticity demand that we break our own hearts.
I tell myself I did the right thing, even though what I did broke my heart. Even as I did it, I protested what I was doing, wondering if I’d lost my mind. Wanting to slap myself and say: “What are you doing! Stop!” But I didn’t stop. I kept walking.
Through my tears and anguish, I tell a friend and colleague I think I did the right thing. And she smiled the Wisdom Woman smile I’ve come to count on from her, one of the things I most treasure about our friendship. She suggested I stop weighing this as “right” or “wrong.”
Rather, she said it was, before anything else, an unstoppable force. Its name is authenticity. She said my need for authenticity was more instinctual than logical. That sometimes this instinct just erupts as an unstoppable force. And that, in those moments, there was really nothing I could do about it. It’s a reflex. I just act.
A teacher once said to me, that, if ever I was unsure of who I was, what I really wanted, what I really valued, what I was doing and why, what I was really choosing … then look down. Look at your feet. Notice which way your feet are pointed. Notice what your feet are moving toward or away from. There’s a good bet, my teacher said, your answer is there. You are choosing where your feet are going. That’s who you are.
See, there are at least two Stevens in here, just like I’m sure there are at least two of you inside of you, Good Reader.
I call them Regular Steven and Deeper Steven. Regular Steven is my abiding, everyday sense of self. He thinks, he feels, loves his friends and family, loads and unloads the dishwasher and vacuums, though the last not often enough for most of the women in his life. He is generally happy and optimistic, though he also is filled with regular self-doubt and sometimes anxiety about who he is and his place in the world. He is productive in bursts, then lazy for inexplicable stretches. He is at once capable of profound and generous presence to others, and can descend into unwitting self-absorption, oblivious to how this makes him stop paying attention to people who deserve his love and attention.
All in all, he’s an OK, ordinary guy. I like him. Though I’m terribly hard on him.
Deeper Steven lives in a world beyond thinking and feeling. He tends a crucible inside me that is most often unconscious. That is, Deeper Steven and Regular Steven don’t talk much. I suspect that, like a lot of people would say, it’s hard sometimes to get Regular Steven’s attention. Truth is, I don’t think Deeper Steven seeks Regular Steven’s input at all. Oh, he loves Regular Steven … enough to ignore Regular Steven’s railing, spiraling emotional and intellectual machinations about what really matters.
Deeper Steven always knows what really matters.
So, from time to time, Deeper Steven just erupts, instinctually. From the gut. He grabs Regular Steven by the collar, takes out his own personal set of commitment papers on him, and says, “You’re coming with me!” And that’s when Regular Steven just jumps out of the airplane without a parachute, terrified and surprised that he has done so. And, so far, every time, Regular Steven builds wings and learns to fly as he falls. He screams a lot while he does this.
When Deeper Steven decides to act, it’s an unstoppable force. There’s not much Regular Steven can do about it.
On some level, Regular Steven must trust Deeper Steven, if only because he does what Deeper Steven says to do. But it doesn’t feel like trust. On a feeling/thinking level, I think Deeper Steven is stark raving mad. It doesn’t matter how many times Deeper Steven saves my ass and my sanity. Each time I go kicking and screaming.
The last time Deeper Steven erupted was in 2005. He told me to walk away from my vocation as a priest in the church I loved with my whole heart. And now he tells me to build a nest, to place myself and something else I love with my whole heart into the nest, and light it on fire. Burn it down.
And Regular Steven did it, not having the slightest idea how, whether or to what he would be resurrected.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press).
His columns appear on Sundays.
Contact him at 227-4165 or