Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Hushing Angel

From Walden: …If I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?

Photo by Sonja Rainey

Sometimes we picture our good and bad impulses as an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other. I think we are not leery enough of a third voice, a voice that is burrowed so deep in our brains that we may mistake it for our own conscience. It is an authoritative voice, dressed up as an angel, telling us to be “good” by placing the wishes and needs of everyone above our own. This voice tells us to be a good girl, take up less space, don’t complain, need less, give more.
This is not the angel that stood with Martin Luther and Sojourner Truth and urged them to speak out. This false angel keeps us from speaking out. It is the hushing angel. The hushing angel tells us that we should take the burnt toast.
The hushing angel is heavy. The hushing angel presses down on us so that our brows are furrowed and our lips are tight. The hushing angel tells us we should carry more, do more, lift more. The hushing angel tells us to use our vacation time to pick a nursing home for our mother because our brother “just can’t cope with this.” The hushing angel tempts us to buy best-sellers for the library shelves because the town has slashed the book budget. The hushing angel pushes us out of bed early in the morning to wipe the kitchen counters before the housecleaner arrives.
The hushing angel drapes around our neck a golden necklace inscribed on every link with the motto, “I matter because I make others happy.” And the links of chain are so massive and so many that our heads bow down under the weight. No wonder we fret that the kitchen floor is dirty; we can’t look up to see out the window.
The hushing angel has us harnessed to an infernal machine for which we are the source of energy. Every breath lifts a lever, every step pulls a chain to make something happen for someone else. We’re a horse in harness, we’re a prisoner on a treadmill. And the reward, the payoff for all the work, is just this: you get to keep doing it.
This is the horrible secret of the hushing angel. If you live as though your goodness, your value comes from serving others with no regard for your own well-being, then the reward you get in exchange for all your effort is continuing to live – to serve others. “You are earning your spot on earth,” the hushing angel tells us. “You are paying rent on your right to breathe. If you jump off the treadmill, throw off the golden chain of obligation, then – why should the rest of us let you go on?”

1 comment:

  1. This post remnds me of the wonderful song by The Story called The Angel in the House, Inspired by Virginia Woolf. May we be free of the hushing angel!