When I was younger, it was fun to pretend that an entire life could be lived out as some random role in a tiny, backwater town just about anywhere in the world. It was easy to think that I could surf between the streams of being that constitute the channels we all fall into when we move into adulthood. I thought that with the right amount of mental concentration, I could move my mind and astral self into any number of bodies, and become a gulf shrimping boat operator for a lifetime, then a Wall Street hedge fund manager for a lifetime, then a young mother living in abject poverty in Sudan for a lifetime–all while still aware of a higher place of time that I could jump back to in order to be “safe” and unscathed by the toll taken on my soul for living out these lives.
Even within my own limited little time and place of being, I thought that I could easily switch between various life narratives without being the least bit affected. I was completely confident in the notion that we are all Buddhas in some higher dimension, and that all suffering and desire are but manifestations of a will to try out a new life as if it were a new suit.
All of this changed the day my little brother died. I had the hard, sinking weight of a feeling that I’d stepped into a life narrative that I wouldn’t be able to pull myself out of. Nonetheless, I continued to live as if I could easily switch over to being somebody else, and that eventually I would get back to the moment in time where our eyes locked as he was leaving the dinner table and a voice inside my head compelled me to try to make conversation with him to get him to stay just a few seconds longer, but when our eyes met I mistook his scowl as a clear indication that he had no interest in being delayed, and wanted to get on with his business of getting over to the campsite.
I sought out relationships with people that I thought I could extricate myself from easily, in spite of all appearances that I was making gestures of deep commitment to these folks.
I was a fraud.
I secretly wanted to get as far away from most of these people as I possibly could, and just use them for my own little fantasy world. The women and girls would be my sex adventures, and the men and boys would look up to me as their great leader. I was full of the ego and hubris and intense confidence that comes with being 24.
But then I woke up too many mornings in too many beds with too many women that seemed to think I’d made a commitment that would last a lifetime. I could feel the chains tightening.
I thought I was smarter than all of the people that I surrounded myself with, but now I can see that I wasn’t smarter than them at all. I had perhaps more of a desire to seek out more intellectual reading material at the library and watch more cerebral movies, and listen to jazz and classical more than C&W and pop music, but none of this meant that I was smarter than them.
The real error in my thinking was that I assumed that all of the changes that had come in my life up to the age of 24 had been mostly due to my own doing, even though I should have known better. It was clear to anyone that the changes were due to the gifts of my parents, and the good things in life came from God, as my mother prayed for me incessantly, and almost none of it came about due to my choices or my secret mental superpowers.
We live inside a world in which our mobility is becoming more restricted by the passing minute. The price of fuel, the cost of car insurance, the cost of an airline ticket, the price paid to give up your dignity to be strip-searched in order to fly on an airplane–we are all calmly accepting it as a part of doing business in a world of uncertainty. The amount of work and money it takes to get yourself to a destination outside of the country, and to be able to be mobile in that destination once you get there–it’s incredible to think about. If you don’t have Daddy’s money, and you don’t have an employer that wants to send you abroad, you have to work and work, and sacrifice a lot of things in your day-to-day life to get there.
The truth is, the powers that be don’t want a bunch of mobile Americans learning about the way the world is outside of the U.S. There is a hard narrative they are trying to keep going, and they don’t need people seeing just how narrow that narrative is.
Why did I end up wanting to have the sort of life that I have ended up with? Why did I decide in the end, that I did want a wife and children, in spite of just how much of me doesn’t seem to fit this mold? I had a sense of duty–that I owed this to my parents for all that they did for me. With my two older, adopted brothers disowning my parents and not sharing their lives and their grandkids’ lives with my mom and dad, and with my little brother dying, I was the only son left to give my parents grandchildren they could love and hold.
But, my mom died before she could see this day. I couldn’t bring myself to marry any of the women that I dated in Austin–I knew that any marriage with them would have lasted ten years at the most. So, my mom got the cancer that her mom had at the same age her mom did. And, I had yet to meet my wife. Even though she died, and you might have thought that I was released from this obligation (my dad wasn’t even close to being as interested in seeing bouncing grandkids on his knee), I felt it all the more keenly after she died.
It was imperative that I passed along my DNA to at least one child, and do my best to give him or her the same lessons in morality and human decency that I received. Whatever my child ultimately decided to do with his or her life was completely up to the kid, but I knew that I had to do my part in this before I died.
So, I woke up one morning and got the news that my wife had tested positive using the home pregnancy test. The morning happened to be the 15th anniversary of the day my little brother died. The due date of my young son is five days after my little brother’s birthday, and four days after the date every American knows. I hope to God if my little boy comes early he comes on my little brother’s birthday, or some other day but not the 11th.
But he will surely come when he comes, and be his own little self. He won’t be me, and he won’t need to be everything I failed to be, and he won’t be my little brother reincarnated, or my dad, or my wife’s dad, but he will just be his own person, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If he’s autistic or has a physical deformity, we will love and raise him and take care of him his entire life, and if he decides he’s gay or decides he can’t make it out in the world and needs to live at home, he’ll have our love and support, and we’ll just take him as he comes. If he wants to join the military, I won’t stand in his way, and if he wants to go to a trade school then spend the rest of his life as a local man that I can’t really relate to, and hates the finer things in life, well then, that will be okay, too.
It may seem like the depths of pathetic thinking to continually sit around and listen to the old songs, the sad songs, and pull up some of the past that swells the sorrow into the heart. You might scoff at me and dismiss me as being hopelessly lost in the chasm of my self-pity. But, you see, within the sorrow there comes the light of the love of the Lord, and the hope and faith that can be so easily forgotten when the days all run together. And, remembering the Lord is the sweetest thing of all. It gives me the kind of strength I need to keep the old lusts, vices and evil habits at bay.
The thing is, it’s just too damn easy to get caught up in the small problems of the workday, and forget exactly what really matters. Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I sitting here, alone, as I have for so many days now, instead of trying to crush it with my own career and a powerful push to get to the top of a heap of fools? The big themes, the huge plans, the long-ranging work that began so many years ago, are the things that I seem to forget the soonest once the day is underway. And, before I know it, I’m changing my plans and envisioning a time where I am living in SF, no matter what it takes, even if it means that the son I have hardly knows me because I’m always working to support the life we’re living.
I know that this kind of state of being would be akin to utter hell–I would be so far away from God, even if it felt for a few years like I’d finally arrived at the heaven on earth I’d created in my head so many years ago.
My pride is stung every week from me living the way I do now. I feel slighted every time a younger, less experienced person gives me an order to push a button on something, and all hope of getting to contribute to projects in a strategic, creative way seems to be lost. It is hard to see the bigger picture when people are basically telling you to shut up and just push the buttons for them.
The other thing I should keep in mind is that I shouldn’t think that I know everything God wants for me or doesn’t want. I’d like to believe that to some degree, God offers gifts that are offered solely because I ask for them. I can’t be certain that God has some rigid, non-negotiable plan for me to be stuck in a small town in Texas until the day that I die. He might be more than happy to open up a door for me to live in SF, if I make it clear that this is really what I want. Of course, what I really want is subject to change on a regular basis as well. Today and the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling sentimental about going back to SF again, even though we just went there last November. A week ago, I was certain that Charleston was really my city, and no other city could be more perfect than Charleston, even SF. But then, I started remembering the way the air felt when I was buffeted by the winds rolling in from the Pacific, and the Pacific just seems much more grand and magnificent from almost anywhere along the coast there, than the Atlantic or the Gulf do.
Obviously, living in SF is full of all kinds of problems. Unless you are very wealthy or very lucky, you will be driving for an hour and a half each morning and evening to and from wherever you work, and you will deal with traffic that makes Austin’s traffic look like nothing, and you will have to learn to park on those crazy hills or give up driving altogether and find the ways and means to live and work within walking and public transportation distances. Then, there are the earthquakes, the wildfires, the high cost of living, and all of the people out in California who would turn my son into a little tyrant, assuming he ends up getting to attend a school with a bunch of other little rich, spoiled brats.