Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Impossible Advent -- On Vision, of the tunnel, 20/20, and prophetic kinds

This is part of a series called "An Impossible Advent." It was inspired by this quote from the book Preaching After God by Phil Snider: "For what is religion if not a love for the advent of the impossible?" If that intrigues you, feel free to check out the first post to see where I'm coming from.

In November, in honor of my 30th birthday, I decided to launch a little fundraising page for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. My goal was to get 30 people to each donate $30.

39 people donated a total of more than $1500, and I am feeling immensely, incredibly, impossibly grateful.

It would be hard to overstate how amazed I am. Just three years ago, my parents were picking me up at the end of a several-month stay at a hospital in Connecticut -- a stay that came at the end of several previous months of bouncing in and out of various psych wards. It was a very, very difficult time. And three years later, here I am, smiling in gratitude as I check the fundraising page that will do a little bit to support other people clawing their way through very, very difficult times.

Diane Ackerman writes of those going through such difficult times: "But suicidal people have tunnel vision--no other choice seems possible. A counselor's job is to put windows and doors in that tunnel."

Looking back, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I can see just how right she is. During those 6 months in and out of hospitals, I remember how lonely I felt, how isolated, how convinced I was that nobody would care if I was gone, that in fact being gone would be better for the people that I could vaguely remember loving.

I was blessedly, decisively wrong. I was surrounded, during all that time and the years after, by the best support system that anyone has the right to ask for. Friends, family, and faith communities have lavished me with love and affirmation. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I just couldn't see it at the time.

At the time, my vision was a tunnel, and I couldn't see any light at the end.

Without making too light a comparison, I wonder what this human capacity for tunnel vision says about how we, as a species, view our world. I wonder how much we are all susceptible to that tunnel of despair, that tunnel that makes it impossible to imagine alternatives, or choices, or a better ending to our story.

I wonder if a hopeful vision of the future--the kind of vision spoken of by the prophet Habakkuk--requires exactly the sort of windows-and-doors imagination that Ackerman refers to in her work with those grappling with suicidal feelings. The cultivation of an imagination of what seems, in our tunnel-vision reality, impossible.

And perhaps some day, when we have lived into this sort of seemingly-impossible vision, we will look back on our tunnel vision days and, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, wonder aloud to ourselves:

"How could we not see it, way back then?"


The Diane Ackerman quote is from her essay in Paul Rogat Loeb's book, The Impossible Will Take A Little While (New York: Basic, 2004). 

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