A Personal History of Doubt

Here’s a thought among many: How can you really know anybody? What is the true nature of things?

Why are we here?

These questions go back a long time with me. As soon as I could talk, I questioned. Mother said it wore her out; no report on what Dad thought of it. With my brother it was always, “Huh? When’s lunch?” (More about my brother’s tree-climbing misadventures to come.)

After high school I told the folks I wanted to major in Philosophy. Being the God-fearing people they were, their reaction wasn’t a surprise. I assured my mother it was okay. After all, it only got really intense when you had to take the final examination. “What’s that?” she said, unsure.

“Suicide!” I laughed.

After that, I could be anything but a Philosophy major. I may have stuffed it for a good couple of years, but I still ask questions. That’s why I’m here, writing this blog now instead of last year, or a couple years ago. When you begin losing dear things, you grasp for what you can, sort through what’s left, try to make sense of what remains.

That should be my goddamn mission statement: “Grasp for what you can, sort through what’s left, try to make sense of what remains.”

The kid in this picture, on the red bike, wearing the felt vest he made in home economics class (yeah, I took Home Ec!), he’s our future philosopher. His little brother is trying to get their new dog, a Sheltie named Lassie (imaginatively named by said little brother), to smile for the camera.

The kid in the picture clearly does not feel like smiling.

This was our backyard in Maryland, probably around 1970, shortly before we were to leave for Minnesota. The trellis, the lawn chairs … if the camera panned to the left, there would be a hammock between two trees where Dad used to swig Carling Black Label beer, after we’d had a picnic of blue crabs we’d fished out of Chesapeake Bay (back in the day when you could actually do that).

Clearly I’ve got something in my hands but I can’t recall, or even make out, what it was. The occasion for the photo was the Christmas photo card, taken in what looks to be early autumn.

As far as my attitude, things bothered me a lot (then as now) and I went inward. Didn’t understand why I reacted to stuff negatively, but things seemed too loud, too threatening—too much.

Brian and I used to climb trees. In the front yard, tall Eastern White Pines, hedges in the back, and farther back, a grove of apple trees. Once I recall Brian climbing the front pines while the rest of us were in the dining room. The window must’ve been open because we first heard the snap of branches, followed by a dull thud. Silence. Then wheezing followed by crying. At some point in his life Brian seems to have broken every bone in his body.

I climbed up those trees, too. But once I got to the top, I straddled a branch, rested my back against the sticky bark and looked out over the far cow field, toward Olney. It was up in those pines, or in the back hedges, that I talked to myself, back before I started writing anything, poetry, journals—anything.

Writing was talking it out, not necessarily how I felt, but an attempt to describe what was around. It’s strange, but I truly felt like there was a listener, something on the other side of my output.

And no, don’t recall ever having an “invisible friend.” 

But maybe you get the picture.

~ by completelyinthedark on November 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “A Personal History of Doubt”

  1. Great revealing photo Mike. Spirits shine through don’t they?


  2. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Here’s my Friday post, early. Republished piece since the one I wanted to put up today isn’t by a long shot ready. Acknowledge your weaknesses and exploit your strengths, I guess. See you next week. MM


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