"You can't stop what's coming...and it ain't waiting for you. To think so is vanity."
That's what Tommy Lee Jone's character says at the end of the movie "No Country For Old Men," as he is recounting a dream he had about his father.
Of course, he's talking about death, or at least the inevitability of age. In the dream, he sees his father, riding a horse in the night, holding fire inside a hollowed out steer horn. He knows his father is going on ahead of him, that he's going to build a fire in the night, and that he will be waiting for him.
You can't stop what's coming. Regardless of what we may do between now and then, we will not stop the day of the inevitable. There will not be a Rapture - no one is going to be turned into spirits in the twinkling of an eye and taken up in the air to be with Jesus forever. We will all die. Every last one of us.
And it's not going to wait for us to be ready. It's not going to ask our persmission. We won't be able to schedule it, like we do our doctor's appointment. It will not come in any way that we can foresee or guess. To think otherwise is truly vanity, foolish beyond measure.
In many ways, this really is no country for old men. It is a hard place, and old men tend to be feeble. It is a place where memory can be a weapon, and old men have lots of memories. It is a place where the young are rewarded, and old men are...well, old.
So what do we do once we see - really SEE - that our fathers have gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us? What do we do when it finally dawns on us that we can't stop what's coming?
Well, we certainly can't stop everything, but we can do some things. We can determine how we will live before we die. And how we will love. And we can take control of the little things that we can control...not what happens, but what our responses are. We can choose to explore, or question, or trust, or doubt, or forgive.
I can't stop what's coming and I am in control of very little. But I can do some little things, right now, in little steps. Little goals, little accomplishments.
It doesn't stop anything...except me obsessing about the fact that I can't stop what's coming. I can distract myself from the inevitable. I guess it is a denial, in a sense. But it is also choosing to rage against the dying of the light. I will not go gentle into that dark night, and I will not yield to the inevitable until the inevitable murders me.
How about you?
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
"Life is glorious, especially to the cursed and the damned."
These words, spoken by Anthony Hopkins in his role as the patriarch in the latest version of "The Wolfman", had - and continues to have - tremendous impact on me.
Life is glorious! And who better to understand that than a condemned man?
Ever since I left religion, I have felt an insatiable hunger for LIFE. I have become hyper-sensitized to the pulses and rhythms and vibrations of life around me. I yearn - you could almost use the word "lust" - to live life at its craziest, beyond full, beyond meaningful. I want to move beyond a peak state of consciousness and catapult into the universe, soaking up every drop of life that there is.
I have always had this madness for life inside of me. However, religious culture put a cramp on that in me. Religion, at its heart, is about control...a system of doctrines, roles of authority, social programming and reward that causes people to step in cadence to whatever values the religion holds dear. The expectations put on me by religion nearly killed me - while I had to acknowledge my own worthlessness and sin (which, in the religious mind, are just nomenclature for natural and instinctive desires, our animal nature), I had to acknowledge the awesome glory and goodness of God - which I did not actually always see or believe in or understand. A beautiful sunset, or a tender moment of sexual intimacy, could not be enjoyed for the pure pleasure of itself, but had to be recognized as a gift from God...the same God who apparently had no time for healing cancer or alleviating injustice or eradicating disease.
The wildness of rock music? In my particular religious group, it was declared as sin. Enjoying the "fleshly" pleasures of life - food, sex, drink, even a little controlled violence? Sin (except, of course, for football).
I think you get the point. Religion - for me - was not about affirming the glory of life, but of controlling the wildness of human nature, and therefore robbing glory from life. The Bible actually taught that "all creation groans" because of the sin of man. I agree with that to an extent - witness the Gulf of Mexico. However, "all creation" is not groaning - I hear singing, and laughter, and raucous joy. Only a rigid, frightened and judgemental religious mind could hear the music of the spheres and call it "groaning."
Leaving religion, I left with a sense of condemnation. By the reaction of many religious friends, and through the thoughts of my own mind, programmed as it was by years of conforming to the religious machine...I felt cursed and damned by turning my back on religion.
Oddly, however, I felt more alive. In the past six years, my health has improved, my attitude has improved, my experiences have broadened my knowledge, and I am a more expansive person than I have ever been. I love more, laugh more, accept more, and actually serve more.
I am a spiritual man - my hunger and thirst for spiritual things has only increased. I am currently working towards a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology, which is a study of the spiritual dimensions of consciousness and relationships. I meditate. I often journey to a "peak state" where I contemplate mysteries both ancient and future. I experience lucid dreaming. I howl at the moon. I embrace the wildness of my human beast. In my dreams, I run wildly through darkened woods, filled with vitality and energy and power. I devour everything I can. I pray. I weep. I laugh, hard. I play guitar and write songs. I paint.
I make my son mow the yard...one of the benefits of being alpha male.
I do not know if I am cursed or damned...though, when I get around religion I certainly feel that way. Occassionally, when the car blows up or the sewer line breaks, I wonder if God has cursed me for choosing not to believe in Him the way I used to. Then I wonder if He is sending calamity in order to get me to return to Him. Then I ask myself, why in the hell would I return to an understanding of God that includes Him sending calamity to woo me back into His arms? Sounds perverse, doesn't it?
I do believe in a Spiritual Mystery...a Life Force that underflows everything that is. It is good, playful, loving. It embraces darkness, violence, death, and even pain and suffering...for it embraces everything, and everyone. I don't understand it...I seek it.
In the meantime, I am daily learning how to live my life more gloriously. I am loud, I am intense, I am opinionated, and I try to be loving, affirming and to be the most intensely loyal friend you will ever know.
Welcome...to the glorious life of the cursed and the damned!
Posted by Don Martin at 7:53 AM