Strength of Flexibility 2/6/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

A number of years ago I was watching a movie of the story of Chanukah. Many people associate this holiday with the menorah, the eight candles where one is lit each night of the celebration. These candles represent the miracle of the Maccabean revolution against their Greek oppressors in the second century BC.

The menorah celebrates the lamp oil component of the miracle. The Jewish People had barricaded themselves atop the mountain, but only had enough oil for a few hours. One miracle is that the oil that should have run out the first night lasted all eight nights of the siege. But what I remember most about the movie was the engineering.

See, apparently there were stone walls as you might expect in a fortress. There was no good way up the mountain in the movie depiction (which was presumably based on historical facts), so the Greeks began building a ramp up to the wall, an act that one of the main characters in the movie had written off as “busy work”. As the ramp was completed, the Greeks rolled out a hidden construction, a giant battering ram on a wheeled frame.

The people in the fort realized at this point that it was only a matter of time before their walls would be battered down. The solution, of course, was to reinforce the wall. As some were planning on building internal second stone wall, one of the characters suggested that it should, in fact, be made of wooden logs. As the Greeks pounded through the brittle brick exterior, they found that the log inner wall had the flexibility to absorb the blows from the battering ram.

No doubt by now the reader is aware of the point that I am about to make, an example that frankly I struggle with myself. Don Henley said in one of his songs “I see all these heroes with feet of clay whose might ships have sprung a leak.” In a strong wind, the concrete in a bridge will crack and need repairs far more often than the flexible metal framework holding it up. In a rather ironic example, recently a section of the mighty US fence along the border wall blew over in the desert wind and I can practically guarantee that it will be discovered that it was the concrete base that gave way.

Circumstances change. Fortune rises and falls like the tide. As certain as we are that the sun will shine forever there is certain to be rain in the future. The question isn’t whether or not there will be changes in our future; the question is how we will deal with them.

I struggle with flexibility. I hate even writing that because it stinks of pride, which I like to believe I am past. But I know that thoughts of what “should be” based on my past successes often flood my mind. I have my doctorate, I have twenty years teaching experience, I’ve been a dean, I shouldn’t be a part-time temporary adjunct professor. This feeling is a reflection of my pride and shows that I’m not as flexible as I should be. And it’s killing me.

There is nothing wrong with being an adjunct professor. Heck, it’s a level of achievement in and of itself that most people will never know, and success as such is even more rare. I’ve also been struggling with a depressive streak that has been ongoing for, oh, maybe two years now, a streak that is truly harming my progress in moving on from this storm in which I find myself drowning.

I have no answers. If I knew how to get past this sort of thing then I would have by now. Instead I fall deeper into the abyss and wonder if ever I will come out of it. But if I cannot provide answers, perhaps I can be an example, in this case an example of what to avoid.

In an unmistakable case of “do as I say not as I do”, at least I can tell you what I wish I knew how to do. I wish I could reach out for help when I need it, which of late is more or less constantly. This would mean being vulnerable, and admitting to weaknesses which is, ironically, one of my weaknesses. It would mean letting people who love me, and who wish to do so, lend me a hand which I find so very difficult to do. It would mean accepting that there even are people who care and love me, something that my head knows to be true, but my heart cannot believe. Who could love somebody like me, after all? This doubt is why I feel unworthy, and struggle to socialize because of my doubts that my company is something that anybody would want.

Be flexible. Have friends. Let them help. Reach out. Just…don’t be me. Trust me, you’ll be so much better off.

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