A dent in the universe

It’s difficult to believe what you’re doing can make a difference.

Day after day, you try. You go at it. You find a way to make a move forward. You take a small step. You make a tiny dent in the big, impersonal universe.

Night after night, something happens. You can’t tell what. Maybe it’s fairies (the evil kind) or goblins or dark matter or something. Somehow, it seems like the work comes undone. You wake up in the morning, hopeful, but the dent is smoothed out. The surface polished. Your attention rolls right off of it. Your hope drips down and puddles at the bottom.

What have you been doing? What difference did it make?

It seems so hopeless.

It’s hard to keep going when it looks like you’re going nowhere.

Somebody comes along with stupid advice like, “Trust the process,” or “Do it for the sake of the experience,” or “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” And you want to throat-punch that person. You grit your teeth and smile and mutter some unintelligible response, instead. And that night, after another day of sweat and toil, making another tiny dent in this particular patch of a vast and unswerving universe, you fall asleep imagining how good it would feel to throat-punch that person.

The next morning you wake up and check on your work. Once again: no sign of your labor. All evidence that you have been here, that you have done anything, is wiped away.

Where does it go? Why does all your work, all your effort, all your faithfulness mean nothing?

Is it just the nature of existence? Is this how the universe works?

Are you too small and the problem too big?

Is it like throwing pebbles on a pond? You can make some ripples on the surface. But the pebbles sink, and the ripples disappear. You can throw pebble after pebble, but the surface of the water always goes back to what it was.

It’s so hard to be steady when everything seems pointless.

When you’re walking the same loop. When you’re banging your head on the same wall. When the progress you make keeps unmaking itself. When you endure the pain of the whole process–whatever it is–hoping for something better at the end, only to look up and find: you’re back at the starting point. Right back at the beginning.

How did this happen?

Why does this happen?

Have you ever watched videos of a building demolition? I have watched lots of them, weirdly. There’s something like a shock wave, and then you can see what looks like the whole building shuddering, and then it … goes down. Calmly, almost slowly. And the whole building is a pile of rubble. A giant structure, laid to rest, in this measured and neat way. It looks effortless.

I don’t know a lot of details about building demolition–despite my video history–but I know that one charge of an explosive isn’t enough to bring a building down. You have to have enough of it, and you have to put it in the right places.

And then it all falls down.

And it’s quite messy, for a bit, isn’t it?

Sometimes we assume we’re building things, but what we’re really doing is clearing the area so something can be built.

The old structure that wasn’t safe anymore.

The broken-down building that wasn’t solid.

Those old, unsafe things have to break down so we can make space for the new things we really do want to build. Breaking down things is a lot of work. It’s messy. Before you get clear space, you get a big pile of rubble. There’s a lot of noise and a lot of dust and it’s overwhelming and it’s ugly.

For a while, it’s really ugly. For a while, it seems quite clear that you aren’t making a dent in the universe. The universe is making a dent in you.

And that’s true, isn’t it?

Here’s life, making a dent in your beliefs, your assumptions, your dreams. Here’s life, throwing a big fat wrench in how you thought things would work out.

Here’s life, with a nice gift-wrapped package of exactly what you didn’t want.

Here’s life, coming at you with round after round of explosive until the old unsafe unhealthy broken structures you’ve been hauling around are all demolished, all torn down.

It all seems very cruel because we want to build things. We want to build beautiful things. We want to build good things, safe things, lasting things. We want meaning and love, not random destruction.

But maybe the destruction is not random. When things fall apart and things come undone and we’re looking at life and it’s nothing but a pile of rubble, maybe that’s when we know: here is the real beginning.

Here is the open space for building.

Here is where a foundation can be laid.

Here is where something new and precious can be built.

So get out your pickaxe, sister, and let’s clear this ground.

Image by scribblesofanoverthinker