Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Stumble Through the Dark so that We May See the Light
I can see the light all around your silhouette Leave an open door behind you My heart went running after you but I ain't caught it yet Leave an open door behind you --RCPM, "Leave an Open Door" This is, by far, the hardest lesson I've ever had to learn. Nothing has, or ever will, come close. It's made all the worse by the fact that I'm in the process of learning it all over again. People come in to our lives all the time. Some of those people matter, an even smaller amount matter a great deal. Most of the time, though, the ones who matter most don't seem to reciprocate the feelings. Or they do for a time, then things change on one side of the equation and one half of a relationship moves on while the other wonders what happens. It's rarely mutual, whether we're talking friendship, dating, or marriage, and one party often ends up standing by that open door, watching and waiting for the return of the treasured other. I can't help but associate Roger Clyne's words above with those of Eddie Vedder: There must be an open door For you to Come back And the days, they linger on And every night, what I'm waiting for Is the real possibility that I may meet you in my dream And sometimes you're there And you're talking back to me Come the morning I could swear you're next to me And it's okay --Pearl Jam, "Come Back" The Pearl Jam song ends with a plaintive, repeating, diminishing, "I'll be here/Come back/Come back." It's forlorn and hopelessly hopeful. It's a cautionary tale for the person who doesn't realize that Clyne's request to "leave an open door behind you" should be taken seriously by both the leaving and the left. When someone who matters leaves, the one left behind tends to want to stand by door to hold it open and hope the departed one day walks back through it. Sometimes, though, that door is never used again. When that happens, the advice is best given to the one waiting. Don't close that door, but leave it behind you and get on with your life. This, then, is my second lesson. Never give up on the people who matter, but allow them to give up on you. It's hard, almost impossible . We invest so much in the people who matter, let them get to know us, make a place in our hearts that aches when they disappear and a void that feels like it will never fill takes their place. We want to wall up our hearts, to never feel that pain again. In the process we become hardened and in the name of never feeling pain we forget what it means to feel happiness and joy. In the name of never crying we forget how to laugh. So how do we deal with this? I've come to realize that it requires a change of perspective. Let me give my heart away With a little bit of luck it'll break every day Share me your pains so I may relieve them Tell me your visions and I will believe them --RCPM, "World Ain't Gone Crazy" And, later in the song: Let me give my heart away With a little bit of luck it'll break every day Give me a smile, shed me a tear We have everything to lose and nothing to fear --RCPM, "World Ain't Gone Crazy" Broken hearts are things to be avoided, or so the conventional wisdom goes. We don't want to be hurt, to have to pick up the shattered pieces of a life or love we so desperately cling to. But doesn't that drive to avoid pain just make us callous? Cruel? Cynical users of the people around us? What if we started regarding a broken heart as an opportunity? What if we stopped hiding our scars and started using them to remind us of a life fully lived, a chance really taken? What if we started looking at the scars we saw in others as a chance to help them heal and, in the process, help ourselves heal our own scars? Couldn't we make the world a better place? I saw the Peacemakers in concert a week an a half ago. I also went to see them last October and plan on doing so again at every opportunity. Clyne ended both shows, and I would assume this is pretty normal for him, by asking a room full of strangers to watch out for each other. In those moments when an entire room is unified by the power of the music, it seems like such a good idea. In a way, it reminds me of church. See, in church you go to a service and hear about how horrible the world is and how it's the responsibility of followers of Christ to make it better. A good pastor will get everyone pumped up. Sometimes you'll go on retreats or missions trips and experience what's called a "mountaintop experience" when everything just comes together. I've had more conversations than I'd care to count, however, about how to stay on that mountain when you get back in to the real world. The zeal just kind of dissipates. It's why holy orders build monasteries in remote places. Being a holy man on top of a mountain is easy. Being one down in the village isn't. The reason why is simple. When you leave that place of sanctuary, be it a monastery, weekend retreat, or concert, the pain of the world shows up again. The bills still have to be paid, jerks are still out on the road cutting you off on the way to work, and that community that was briefly created is no longer there never to return again, for even if the exact same people show up again in the exact same place later on, circumstances will have changed and the community won't be the same. It was in realizing this that I finally understood the thirst for Heaven, ironically enough after I'd already stopped believing in the place. The idea of bypassing the pain of existence on this terrestrial ball, being caught up in the sky and joined with loved ones who will never leave is compelling, to say the least. But I've personally witnessed people use the idea of an eternity of togetherness as a crutch, an excuse to ignore those very relationships while we're all together for a brief moment here and now. It saddens me to think about it, but a lot of the people who never came back through that open door I left and never even acknowledged it were Christians. On some level I think it's because they meant more to me than I them at the time, but on another level, too, I think that attitude that someday we'll be together forever diminishes the importance of the fact that we're together right now. I know this kind of thinking is a component because I myself am guilty of it. A couple of weeks ago I was watching a show on PBS about the mythological city of Shangri-La, a paradise on Earth. They ended up tracing the roots of the myth to a city somewhere in Tibet that is now an empty mountaintop overlooking a desolate plain. Once, though, it teemed with life and was surrounded by lush farmland. The show ended with a thought from Buddhism . It said, in effect, that we can only start building paradise when we give up on the notion that it exists in another world. Shangri-La doesn't come to us. It's not reached after a brisk walk across a sunny meadow. It can only be built through our own sweat and sacrifice. That paradise is built a little bit at a time, starting when we learn to look at heartbreak as an opportunity, not a horror to be avoided. It also builds when we stop trying to force the people who matter to stay or stand by the door, waiting for them to come back until we're nothing but an ossified collection of scars to which no one should ever want to return. Instead we need to take those moments where we share our scars, our pains, our hopes, and our visions and say Momentito why don't you stay Bright little bird don't fly away so fast Turn the hourglass over I ask not for a century No eon or immortality (no, no) Turn the hourglass over --RCPM, "Hourglass" The lyrics booklet that comes with the Peacemaker's album No More Beautiful World ends with that ever so famous Ghandi quote: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." I can think of no better advice. We can create Shangri-La an hour at a time. Maybe we'll find someone to flip that hourglass again and again, but if we don't that just means we need to take it with us and ask the next person who comes along that same question. Hopefully, too, even the people who only stayed for an hour will start to do the same thing the next time they meet someone who matters. I know of no other way to change the world.