Tag Archives: living well

All or Not At All

As I am

As I am

All or not at all.

—James Joyce

What breeds hesitation in you? What holds back a hand that wants to knock, a smile that wants to break wide and warm the room, a foot that picks up, wanting to walk straight across the room to the hurt in another?

If I am holding back, I can be certain that fear is forming the shackles. Looking down at a heart half-beating, at lungs half-breathing, I know it is fear of losing that keeps my heart and lungs stilled, unfulfilled. I cannot begin to question how I become little more than living dead when the habit of my life has been to still that which stirs, silence that which needs so much to sing right out loud.

I have spent the last year digging through ashes, fighting through flood, and learning, seeking, searching, just what it means to love.  I have come again and again to a single answer— love is giving your life away.

And what if in the daily fold of laundry, the stirring of little more than cereal in a bowl, what if no grand heroic gesture can be found to make? No bullet to take, no sacrifice other than my comfort, the exposure of my own insecurities…what then?

If my offer is quiet, if my offer is not dramatic diving, but awkward reaching, unsure, always unsure, what then? Is it even worth the offer, to stretch rusted joints to offer little more than an empty hand to hold? Ashamed at what little I have to offer, but desperate to reach, can I get past the pounding heart if it means I have loved?

I have made an unintentional collection this year of quotes, Bible verses, song lyrics, and encouraging words from friends, and they are serving as a rampart in time of doubt. This quote by Joyce beats like a mantra whenever I have begun to question, to be tempted to listen to the lie of “too much,” and “not enough.”

As I am, as I am, all or not at all…

“Too much” was always my biggest fear. I’ve been handed those words before. I feel too much, think too deep, ask too many questions, get too lost in my own imagination. “Too” is possibly our favorite distancer. I take a step forward, and suddenly I am too close.

But if our great example of love is one who sacrificed himself—came and died and no one rolled their eyes and said, “Jesus, it’s just too much, you’re making people feel awkward”— then how can I possibly reach a point where I love too much? It is a lie. It is a fallacy created to silence truth, and that truth is simply this: we were created to love, and to be loved. We love because he first loved us, and his offer is perfect, his offer is what we should be willing to copy.

But we are taught that we must hide our tarnish, and the best way to hide is distance, don’t show or share too much. Isn’t it important that we hide ourselves well, as if nothing more than a shiny shell was the goal? I have for so long attempted to dance along the fractured fault lines of social convention, following rules never written down, created to keep us out of each other’s lives. How foolish of me to be surprised to find myself at the bottom of a pit when an earthquake hits.

Once in a job interview I was asked what my financial goals were. The nice man laughed when I said to give. To give without blinking, to earn much and live on little, and give. But how can I possibly know that someone’s cup is empty if I am not close enough to peek inside? Can I give too much? Can’t this just be my life, to give?

All or not at all.

This is a great balancer, as I am, and all or not all when I am tempted to the weight of defeat, when the desire to give burns deep but still feet are stamped and accusations are thrown that I just do not give or love enough. It is like a secret I have circled around, and have just now managed to unlock, because the fact is, if I choose to love as I am, all or not at all, I must allow an honest look at the love offered. If as I am, and all of my all is just not enough, then what is my recourse? What can keep me from despair when the voices would have me buckle under “not enough?”

Did I give? Yes. The temptation is to prove the love, buy into the game of gesture, grand or small, become my own attorney and argue my case before the court.

Truth is, I’m not much for arguing. Instead I work. Harder, longer, tiring myself to the bone, to prove. I can’t help but think that anyone who asks for proof will never be satisfied in my offer.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh put it best when she wrote to an angry friend these words:

I think probably it is just as well that you are disillusioned about me. It is a terrible burden you put on people, to dream them up into something they never were or could be and then throw them out for not living up to your dream!

All or not at all.

All I have, not all I have, plus what I must tack on to meet another’s expectations.

All I am, not all I am minus what another doesn’t find acceptable.

It is an offer. All or not at all. If I imagine life as a great banquet table, and I am holding all I have to offer on a platter, waiting to serve, what are my choices? If I hold onto it for fear my offer would be found somehow wanting, well, it would rot right in my hands.

So I dish out, serving after serving. Some poke at my offer and smile polite smiles, but never take a bite. Some wrinkle their noses and push the plate away. I try to keep my heart from breaking and I want to snatch it back, run, pretend it never happened. After that I look again with doubt at what I have to offer. This is it. All or not at all.

I try again, because “all” does not equal a scared clutching to my chest of what I have arrived with. I try, until I see that first satisfied smile, where all I have offered has met a need, filled a heart and maybe just a corner of the empty that causes the ache this world lives under. I no longer want to be living or loving to the tune of anyone else’s approval, and I am stripping down from all I have tacked on, and all that’s been added to me.

I offer. As I am, as I am, all or not at all.

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