may i please be excused?

Much of my life is on hold. Decisions being made by others will affect me in radical and far-reaching ways. This waiting to find out what direction my life will take has been going on for many months. As I struggle and stretch for ways to cope, a phrase keeps popping into my mind: “May I please be excused?”

The question is offered in a calm, composed, polite manner – as though I am a well-trained child who has resolutely and quietly chewed as much of dinner as possible (if not all) and now wishes to go and play for a while.

I seem to be submitting my request to the powers that be, as a respectful plea to consider that I am, after all, as Charlotte Brontë writes in Jane Eyre, “a figure with average gastronomical powers” and I’ve had my fill.

In other words, though I simply can’t take it anymore – this waiting – I must, and so I ask for mercy. I ask to be excused from the ordeal in some way, either by finally receiving word about those decisions so I can get on with my life, or by being granted permission to leave the table to go and play.

Playing in the way I crave would involve laying down my burdens and romping light-heartedly, but the usual ways I play aren’t remotely potent enough to break this spell of limbo cast over me. Industrial-strength play would be required to lift this weight of waiting.

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So, as I’m wondering what would constitute “industrial-strength play” for me, my mind offers another snippet, a memory of reading about inmates in a Nazi concentration camp who started a secret university. On scraps of paper, they wrote out what they knew and shared their expertise with each other.

Over and over lately, this odd little sequence of thoughts flits through my mind, usually during times of semi-consciousness: I consider my current limbo, I find myself asking if I may please be excused, and I think of those inmates who chose to teach and learn, even as death and hopelessness must have laid down beside them.

Then I raise my eyebrows and wonder, “But what does it all mean?” After a moment of groping blankness, I sigh and get up and wash my face and check the mailbox and sit down at my desk to work.

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I’ve made peace with a lot of things over the decades – situations and realizations that stumped me or dropped me to my knees. I’ve written ridiculously vast quantities of journal pages. I’ve come to know myself, to know what I can count on about myself and what triggers my lizard brain to fight or flee. I know the darkness in myself and I know how to feed it light and warm milk.

When I close my eyes and probe deeper into the meaning of my request to please be excused, I find a childlike desire to be allowed to stop trying so hard to wait. My habit of relentless doing, of activity and will, of initiating change, of responding to situations by taking action, is being asked – with industrial-strength insistence – to cease and desist. There is, in fact, absolutely nothing required of me during this time. I may (“Yes, you may”) occupy this segment of my life passively, if only I will allow myself to do so.

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Over the past several days, it’s become clear to me that “May I please be excused?” and the secret school in the concentration camp come to me as signals reminding me that I am already excused and that – though my fate is, in major ways, out of my hands – in accepting my situation, I gain the freedom to learn.

As I sit quietly at my desk now – bright morning sunlight baking the wooden floor, dogs barking on the other side of the valley, the red train to Himmelreich passing by a block away – my helpful mind offers up a new phrase. I squint mentally to get a good look at it. It’s Charlotte Brontë again, with a succinct two-word paragraph that nicely sums up what I’ve learned: “Silence succeeded.”

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Related reading: true nature

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