Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Screwtape Letters...

Passing by the bookstore in the oddly designed A Terminal in Memphis, and opting for a good book to read versus a plate of hot steamy greasy and delicious barbeque may have been the first indicator that I was going to pick up a read that traditionally is better saved for those of us who aspire to be real thinkers – you know those men and women of real dedication who never blindly go about things, the ones who set out a plan, and to some of us, seem obstinate in their search for charity and peace – it should have been a sign – but a better sign was that C.S. Lewis has come up in random conversation lately in my circle, and although I am probably the farthest image of what one would call a Christian (or vaguely imagine as subscribing to a philosophy of any religious type), I do have certain innate spiritual qualities that remain undefined – it is not a good or commonly accepted thing to say you are an atheist, or an agnostic, or more transcendental in your beliefs – the mention of those phrases is taken about as wildly as saying that you do believe aliens impregnated Mother Earth with Demon Seed and we were brought upon the world to control it – the scowls and twisted faces that you get from most after those comments is enough to say that you have offended the sensitivities of your peer group, and pushing the button on a lack of belief sets the nuclear reaction of distaste exploding in their heads - that was a long sentence to say that C.S. Lewis does at least make you think – make you wander through thoughts – that even to the most far removed from Christianity, cause some speculation of whether there are two sides to every approach to life – and if they are founded in some greater or lesser good – I have a hard time believing in pure unadulterated evil – I believe in purely evil acts – I believe in sociopaths who have developed a keen sense of sickness that leads to those acts – but I wonder, if somewhere down the line, Wormwood and Screwtape came in the form of Mom and Dad, or Teacher, or even worse, religious leader. Now, I can’t say that without saying that the same could be said for pornography or drinking or drugs or any number of things that create that illusion, if only for a short period of time – an illusion of self worth – followed by, loathing, as Wormwood says (and I paraphrase) one of their greatest weapons.

We all, I think, once had goals to become great. I never believe for any human being, that we have not considered being the best yo-yo player, or the best sportsman, or the gold medalist - we all, at one time in our lives subscribed to an ideal that we could be at the top of our chosen life – and stand atop and look down at those that lifted us there, those that gave us the hand up, those that we may have climbed over – and maybe, just maybe perceive that we are able to become a benefactor for those seeking to reach the top, to stand on our shoulders rather than climb up our backs. Age plays odd tricks on men – I cannot speak for women, they think differently than I, and I do not mean that offensively, but they do think in patterns that for the most part are foreign to me. Men, and speaking from a limited collection of those men that I see and associate with, are still the ten year olds on the playground – they are still searching for that opportunity to climb the monkey bars, or get picked as team captain, or get the newest toy with the best pieces and parts. Age starts to weaken that desire to achieve and to be that one shining star – at least it weakens the desire to be recognized for it – it strengthens the need to succeed, but a more internalized success – one where the gray hairs and the crows feet and the dark circles under your eyes in the bathroom mirror are replaced by a brimming wide smile and an inner satisfaction that makes doing worth the effort, and makes sleeping an exercise in peace not one where staring at the ceiling (or the dead fire described by Lewis) until finally weariness takes the place of worry. Having forgotten what I started out to become and trying to figure out what I will become are those struggles that many deal with and many have given up on and many have just surrendered to. Perhaps that is the draw of the peace that C.S. Lewis speaks about – the sense of just being and it being as it was intended to be – and the sense of steering that ship in the greatest gale towards something larger, more inconceivable, than all of us.

Human emotion – the only emotion I am aware of, is talked about in books – I read too many of them, they all prescribe to different philosophy – one speaks of chemical reaction, one speaks of religion, one speaks to seeking until found, they all speak to ways to find some contented place that you can stop and exhale – if only for a short period of time. We all used to know that feeling – the unquestioning ability to sit back and exhale – temporarily, and look at our reflection and decide that what we have done was good and right and strong. Oddly enough, it is arguable that once we exhale, our place of solitude is interrupted by the need of another to find that place – whether through a glance, a “joke proper”, a temptation, a need. We wander off the path just for a small while, and voluntarily went down a road – but refused to turn around when we ran into the briars – we just marched into them and let the knicks and cuts and thorns become our comfort, instead of the clearing and the warm sun and the need to exhale.

I was 18 years old when I met my ex-wife, I was 37 when I left my ex-wife. Mistakes can be deconstructed, reconstructed, opened, parsed, examined, dissected, and inevitably are not changeable – mistakes are cancers that no room full of Christian Apologists can explain away – they happen, and they move through us. Falling in love with things – and I say things in the sense of baubles and finery and fancy – was my mistake. It paved a path that once on, I was not full of enough courage to correct – I numbed it with sport, and drink, and cards – but given the confession booth of the internet, that is what my downfall became. Out of some divine grace, I was able to have two miracles – they are still here – and I am not quite sure where that grace originates – but my children hopefully will have the benefit of what little I have learned in so many years of hiding the obvious. Whether it be Christianity that says pursuing the right is wrong, or reversing the years of being stuck in thorns – or just plain common sense, I cannot subscribe to the altruistic notion that a decision I made twenty years ago, ignored twenty years during, and finally recognized could be considered any such thing as a sin.

Hope does spring eternal for most all of us – there are those that have much less hope for themselves than others – the terminally ill, the widower alone, the motherless child – but even they have hope – and from what I have seen, when this hope dies – they too follow in perhaps lesser a physical sense, but more so an emotional sense. To see a sixty three year old man sit on a couch numbed by pain pills and mood pills and sleeping pills and not be able to lift his arms to hug his grandchildren – that is hope that has died. That is, oddly speaking, a catalyst for hope for each of us – that we don’t take things around us and build a wall of appearance – that we build from the inside out – and have what most go without – a little hope – hope that their children will grow and succeed, hope that one day they will understand, hope that they can go through a day and love each person the same without regret and malice creeping in. When I, from a purely selfish perspective, think of myself losing that hope – there are few things left, other than numbness left to prescribe to.

I know why I picked up that book – let me assure you, it was not to find the answer to my wavering or any remaining religious convictions. It was not to pacify a need to feel more intelligent or seem more exhalted in my literary studies – it is certainly not the book to make you want to sing or dance or play fiddle – I picked up that book as a reminder to myself that very little in our lives goes without a choice – and most choices, we rationalize, we live through, we ponder. I picked up that book to remind myself that perhaps, there are other forces at work, but the reality is that internally, the struggle between those forces is a moot point – it is the decision I make in each of them that makes the difference – all hope springs eternal, and the fact that you can change most choices and have little control over consequence makes the rest of what we do day in and day out insignificant, except to say that at some point – we had the control to decide. I have done just that, and that, my friends, is where hope comes from.

Here is to the next open field and bright sun and exhaling.


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