Robert Augustus Masters

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Giving Up. Throwing in the Towel. Quitting

  • August 31, 2015
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Giving up. Throwing in the towel. Quietly quitting.


What might we associate with these? More likely than not, something negative. When I was younger – way younger – I viewed such acts as not much more than failure. Quitting was for cowards, so when I quit certain things, I was steamrollered by my shame, stripped of any square-jawed steeliness or compensatory resolve.


But once I had quit something and felt significantly freed through doing so, my take on quitting shed much of its rigidity. I knew how to stick with difficult conditions, having learned to do so from doing time in a frightening and frighteningly numb household – but I had learned little about ceasing to stay too long with conditions that simply eroded me.


The quitting I feel these days doesn’t dominate my life, but does emphatically punctuate it three or so times every month. On the surface it can appear as a kind of complaining, laced with enough of a sense of entitlement to keep things unpleasantly edgy.


This can be indulged, and it also can be an invitation for a conscious rant, a deliberately melodramatic full-out expression of my state that both relieves me of the energy of my complaining and injects it with a potent dose of humor and compassion.


But there’s another sense of quitting, of tossing the proverbial white towel into the ring, that’s very different for me. In it I don’t feel self-pity or any sort of indulgence, but rather a sobering sense of something – including me — coming to an end, a highly significant end, minus any fireworks or pleas for more time, more help, more support, more more.


Yes, my mortality is loitering near my deeper doors, and I am unlocking them. And there’s a feeling of having done enough, of having given myself to various matters fully enough to not need to do more. It’s not that I’m choosing to quit, but that necessity calls for it, with an insistence I trust.


I don’t want to go to my death still hungry to do more, to write more, to work more. My ambition for such doing has been gone for a while, masked by spurts of effort to bring about more auspicious conditions. But the very conditions I am living in are none other than auspicious. I see what’s on my plate, and feel less and less hankering for a better meal.


I have had many, many better meals, great meals, outstanding meals, but I am tiring of my appetite for more. Where a full belly once sufficed, a taste is now enough, enough of the time.


Now I’m quietly ranting. The soapbox has crumbled, and I’m rudely brought to my aching knees, thinking about having a nap. On the inside, though, I am feeling, more and more, a deep lining up, a gathering at my core, the mirrors around me cracking. Am I achieving non-achievement? No, nothing so zennish. I am simply feeling close to done.


Have I decided to quit? No. But quitting is no longer an appetizer; it’s a main course, already dripping down my beard, all bibs but confetti in an infinite whirl. Does this mean I won’t be working any more? No. But I need to save my energy for the work that most matters, the work that really uses me well. I cannot quit that, for it is my very nature, my passion, doable so long as I can sit in a chair and have my teeth, tongue, breath, and mouth somehow conspire to make sounds that make sense to others.


Am I that old? Of course not, says what’s left of my pride and grooming capacity. But something else in me undoes the whole notion of age and achievement in a way that blends dignity, power, love, compassion, and absolute mystery.


Can I quit my quitting? No. But I can be with it, letting it complain up to a point, then slip below its surface, giving myself permission to nap as much as I want to, opening more and more deeply to this final chapter, dying into what I was born to be, still tracking down words for what, as always, outbreathes whatever can be said.


This can be such a sublime doddering! Grace that limps is still grace. Bowing to the Mystery until I rest in It, awaking refreshed, not knowing what comes next and not minding not knowing.