Friday, January 21, 2011

Deserts and Graveyards

One of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival songs says it all. In the song Fortunate Son, John Fogarty’s unmistakable voice wails, “When we ask them ‘How much should we give,’ they only answer ‘more, more, more.’” Seems like everyone wants more, and they want it from me. I get all kinds of phone calls and mailings and other appeals for support for all kinds of things.

A lot of these things are good, worthy causes and deserve to be supported. I wish I could give to all of those. Many of these things are shady or political in nature or are at least trying to sell me something I don’t need or want.  I’d like to banish the shameless perpetrators of these hoaxes and false appeals to outer darkness – or at least to someplace where the only people they have to talk to is each other.

Everyone wants more from me when I have less to give. I wish money was all they wanted. The hardest appeals are the ones that ask me for time, personal investment, emotional commitment and ultimately a piece of my soul. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made many personal commitments and I’m glad that I made most of them. Still, even the commitments that you’re grateful for take something away from you. It requires a reservoir of personal energy, love and faith to answer them. Some days you feel like the reservoir is in serious danger of running dry without a raincloud in the sky to replenish it.

Someone is saying, right about now, “Come on, Mitch - you’ve got to have faith. You’ve got to believe that things are going to be OK.” Well, I get that. It doesn’t change the fact that some days are dry as a desert and silent as a graveyard. Some of my friends of faith would say that being in the metaphorical desert or graveyard means that I’ve lost my focus on God or that I’ve allowed my priorities to shift from where they should be. Some would say that if I remained totally focused on God and aligned with divine priorities, there would be no sand and silence.

I’m not a perfect person. There are times that I have indeed allowed priorities to get skewed or have lost some degree of focus. You don’t live as long as I have and not have that happen. Still, I have to say to those friends of the faith who would scold me because of these feelings of emptiness: “I love you – now get outta my face!”
I mean really – it’s part of the human condition to sometimes feel mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained or exhausted. At least it’s part of my human condition. I’ll admit to being somewhat moody or even prone to some degree of depression. There are probably multiple causes of this particular state of being. There may be multiple ways to move through it. Do not, however, give me simple pietistic platitudes and expect me to immediately experience some Damascus Road event or, Lord help me, “snap out of it.” The only people who “snap out of it” are the people who never really were dealing with the issue to begin with. For the rest of us, snapping out of it is not an option.

The only way to get out of the desert is to walk through it. The only way out of the graveyard is to experience a rebirth. Neither happens quickly, as far as I can tell. It takes a strong degree of patience, personal will, love and yes, faith, to make it to happen. For those who are on the outside of the process, thank you for your love and concern. Please, however, don’t think you understand where I am or where anyone is who might be dealing with the empty silence. Perhaps you have been through the desert – but not my desert. You may have wandered in the graveyard, but the markers and monuments you’ve seen are not the ones I read and contemplate. When I reach the boundaries of the wasteland, I’ll know it and I’ll be glad that you’re there waiting for me. In the meantime, please allow me (and anyone else who may need it) the time to make the journey through.

We might even be better people when we reach the other side.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

When I Grow Up

I took a brief hiatus from writing during the holidays. No one noticed, but that's OK. I figured that you were on hiatus too. At any rate, all the Christmas hoopla, New Year's hoopla and just general hoopla gave me the chance to think about some things – always a dangerous process. I spent some time thinking about what it's like to be a kid. Parenthetically, I know that some folks out there hate the term “kid” when it refers to human children. I once had a woman become indignant, telling me that they are NOT goats, they are children. Obviously she had never lived with human children or she wouldn't have made that statement.

When we're kids, we spend a lot of time talking and thinking about what and who we'll be when we grow up. When-I-Grow-Up-Land is a magical destination when you're very young. I's the place where you can be in charge of everything. You can have any job you want, wear what you want and if you want to eat ice cream for breakfast, no one will stop you.

Apparently, When-I-Grow-Up-Land doesn't exist. At least I haven't stumbled across it yet. I still have people who tell me what to do and when it should be done. I have to wear approved clothing because image is important. If I want ice cream, I have to go against the advice of nutritionists and health care professionals. What a drag!

As a child, there were a lot of different things I wanted to be. My father was a military man, so for a very short while, I thought that must be my destiny as well. I quickly realized that my personality wasn't suited to the style and mission of the military. I hate taking orders. I hate not being able to dress in jeans and t-shirts. I also hate the idea of killing or being killed or being told where to stand when it happens (thanks, Max Klinger, for that one).

For a while I had a real interest in science. Maybe being a scientist was my future! Before long, I found that a severe lack of mathematical skills was an impassible barrier for my scientific ambitions. I still love science, particularly the study of outer space and the universe, but other than watching the Discovery Channel, I'm not really active in that milieu.
My interest in music began when I was in junior high school. I took up the acoustic guitar and dreamed of playing in a band. As I grew, I found that there were (and still are) a huge number of people who are much better musicians than I. I still enjoy playing, but the truth is that you'll never hear me playing an acoustic set at your local coffee house unless one of us has lost a bet.

In college, I discovered an interest in and modest talent for writing. No hit songs or great novels have materialized, regardless of my supposed talent. I did use my journalism training in writing a number of items for the community columnist feature of the local newspaper, which is fun and makes you feel like you're important. I'm not a bad writer. I'm just not a great one. There are a lot of those around and not a lot of room for more. It may be that my local newspaper rants and this blog will be the best creative writing I will ever do. If so, then that's the way it is. Like music, writing can be valuable simply because it is enjoyable and allows me to express myself even if no one is listening or reading.

The question facing me now is this: What do I want to be when I grow up? I still don't know. There is another question that I have to answer first. The question is: Do I want to grow up? After all, it's more fun trying new things than being tied down to old ones that leave you no room for exploration and discovery.

For now, there will have to have to be a vacancy in When-I-Grow-Up-Land. I'm still deciding who I am.