When I was approximately 18 and working in a gas station (in the days of full service), I had two elderly gentleman customers come in within about a week of each other. It was bizarre how they each, in their own ways, envied my youth and my future.
I noticed them watching me, and since I was required to “up-sell,” we struck up a conversation. They talked as though all hope was lost for the future, that the past had been less than desirable, and that given these two realities, the now was mostly spent waiting for the inevitable end.
For whatever reason, these two events seemed to broaden a perspective that most, if not all adults I knew, were somehow unhappy. And worst, they weren’t sure how that unhappiness had occurred. This was just too stark a contrast with the hope of youth. However screwed up I viewed things in my life, I had hope that it could be changed. And now I saw in these two gentlemen this mysterious malady, the loss of joy which somehow came while they were unaware.
I vowed to be more aware of my days and my life. Awareness would bring more realities into view and aid in making decisions that would be the inoculation for this mysterious malady.
After a rocky start (new awareness, when there wasn’t much to begin with, always upsets the reigning ecology of the psyche) I was under full sail, I thought. Even when two relationships went down, I simply had more information, more star charts to guide my way.
And now, in the last couple of months, the mysterious malady has set upon me. The early death of my mother for lack of attentive care, regardless of her age, the death of another relationship built from illusion (as it turned out), the demise of my worth at work, and even all of the fallacies of customer care that I and all consumers run into almost daily has become the film of my life.
Despite my strength and my sense of worth, my sense of contribution appears to be turning into smoke and floating away with the wind.
I woke up numerous times last night, startled awake by some unknown factor. Perhaps I was snapping awake to make sure I had not turned to smoke. My body certainly feels under assault and I am thinking way too much about death.
More than 30 years ago, I had seriously contemplated dying, going so far as to make plans to carry it out. Awareness had so undermined my being, that I suspected that my life was not worth living. On the day of my intended departure, as I attempted to bring some logic and symmetry to the ritual of dying, I found myself rejecting scenario after scenario as too trite. Finally, desperation and frustration set in–anything would do. And a person whom I knew and was there, went and got a rather large knife from the kitchen and brought it to me.
Silence abounded, until finally the sound of a rooster, busily crowing though it was by now nearly noon, broke through. The entire story of the crucifixion came flooding to me. It was nearly noon and the crow was calling its wake-up message. The story of the crucifixion seemed to me to be one of living. Jesus was taking the deeply rooted message of humankind that we were doomed and called upon to not only die, but to do so by the horrible means of crucifixion. We seemed to believe that having heightened awareness meant discovering our inherent worthlessness, and that sense became the orienting premise for turning away, denying our greatest good, and washing our hands of our complicity. He was taking upon his being all of our worst nightmares, calling all our demons to him, so that we can get back to the essential joy and happiness of living that had become so clouded over.
Obviously, it has not necessarily worked, but the guidepost and the opportunity remains.
Now I am not a person who much appreciates institutional religion. It seems to me its function is to construct a distinction between the haves and the have nots, it just does so under the premise of caring, while promoting hierarchies. In other words, I see it as a political function in religious clothes.
But the story of Jesus, and Muhammed, and Buddha, and of the creation by many different groups of people are stories that all seem to say something to me. It is not about the truth of the stories, it is about the truth of the messages.
And so, upon seeing this story of the crucifixion in a new light, I began to laugh. There was no logic and symmetry to the ritual I was undertaking. I needed to attend to the logic and symmetry in the ritual of living. That was what all of that dying and all those messages concerning the power of realization were shouting about.
Powerful as it was, peak experiences and existence have their troughs as well. Ups and downs were not about life and death, they were about learning to sail the oceans of awareness.
And so it went, through many peaks and many troughs.
And now I find myself being re-visited by those forces that seem to have me twisted up in “facts,” but are really shouting at me to really look at my sometimes bumbling, sometimes artful attempts to become aware and intentional. Awareness, it seems, comes with a large dose of irony. Look at all of the debris around me. This is how much I know, how much I can do, how much I can contribute. My star charts are in shambles, my ship full of holes, my philosophical notions are jumping ship in anticipation of the impending wreckage, my support a figment of my imagination.
And it has got me. No amount of work can keep it away, sleep cannot, play cannot, alcohol, or exercise, or food, or conversation–nothing is working, my talisman gone.
Like two old men many years ago, I find myself in their shoes. I wonder what happened to them? Perhaps they found their way. It would be good to know if that was true.
Still, despite the affliction, the life of me has not yet left. I remember the rooster crowing, my silly attempt to make death a statement, especially after so many have done it so much better. I remember what it is like to have magic, even if I have to rearrange the patterns so that magic lives in being and not just illusion.
So, there is yet hope.
However, I suppose the best I can do for now is to stay away from full-service facilities peopled by the young and hopeful, who wonder about this guy with hollow eyes and wrinkles forming even as he stands there.