by Jacob Nordby
What's left of me cannot be reduced any further.
This lump in my throat, this ache in my heart. The irreducible emptiness in bed next to me. This love and everything that I am and always have been, but am now carved down to the essentials of it.
I’m naked. Irreducible. Can’t take any more clothes off. Exposed. I walk around in the world this way, behind a swaddle of the things I hide behind. A smile, my shoulders square, facing the wind and sun.
My eyes. Irreducible.
Inexorable in asking everything.
Who are you?
What’s left here?
This beauty and everything, the breathing and talking.
What's left of me is irreducible.
That means it is strong.
That means that I am walking on the ground with these bare feet, feeling the good earth and the sharp gravel and grass.
Strong. Simple. Distilled. Lacking the fluff, the small talk, the layer of static that makes everyone comfortable.
And I woke up at 3 am again but couldn't sleep, which is how it sometimes is and I don't mind, really, if I can find something to enjoy at an hour like this that won't also destroy me.
So I watched the first episode of the last season of Rectify. That beautiful show about a man who lost himself in solitary confinement for twenty years and is now trying to find a way, a place, a self in this world.
He's living in a halfway house this season. Far from home. Banished from his native state. The man who runs the home is Ray.
I won't try to tell the whole story here but you can read a pretty good write up about it in this other person's article on Culturess.com.
But Ray catches Daniel coming back in from a devastatingly awkward day in the world. He won't let Daniel slip away into his room. Not yet. They need to talk.
Daniel resists. No one could possibly understand him, he thinks. He has suffered the loss of self so deeply in the traumas of his past that he doesn't have any idea who he is—at least not in the easy, seamless way that most people unreflectively see themselves.
In fact, accused of a crime that he most likely did not commit (that question, itself, is part of the tension that this series delivers so well) and locked in a solitary confinement death row cell since his teen years, he isn't even sure whether he did or did not murder the girl. Isn't sure about his own mind and what it is telling him. Isn't sure if maybe he has accepted the story about himself that others, with their own agendas, have told him.
Ray asks the devastating question, "Do you deserve to live?"
Daniel just shakes his head, looks away, tears now running down his cheeks.
Ray doesn't stop. "After all you've been through. After all that punishment. After all that suffering. Your one life. Do you deserve to live it? And just because you don't remember or know for sure whether you killed that girl or not... that doesn't mean you did it, either. Right?"
Daniel gives a tiny, reluctant nod.
"Maybe you ought to lean the other way for awhile. That you didn't do it," Ray says.
He closes, "This may sound hokey as shit, but... you gotta figure out some way to love yourself."
And that is the irreducible truth. Right there.
You gotta figure out some way to love yourself. You gotta figure out some way to forgive—and be forgiven, too. You gotta figure out some way to believe that maybe you are innocent and deserve a place in this world.
And there's no possible way that can happen without the terrible process of reduction that scrapes and burns everything away down to the charred bones of our souls; down to the living, solid realization that we are, in fact, real. That we cannot be reduced away. That we are here and deserve to be. That we belong.
We do. We deserve to live this life. Live it well. Live it as the art it can be. Live it with radical love and with the roots of us digging deeply into the soil of life and being nourished by it.
Whatever we have done to get here (to this moment); whatever coping or covering or flinching or running we've done to survive... we deserve healing. We deserve to forgive ourselves. We deserve to live.
You can't be reduced to a set of facts and stats on a sheet about your life. You are not the sum of your mistakes. You are not an equation that must forever work out the balance of painful karma. None of us is.
We deserve laughter and love and the thunder roll heartbeat of knowing for sure that we are doing it all the way.
That is the irreducible truth.
Jacob Nordby lives in Boise, Idaho.