Down in Texas where guns and guitars
Are the friends that man loves best
You might feel like your spinning wheels
Are truly headed West
Someone said the best we can hope for
Is to make a beautiful mess
And I put my soul up for sale
And the whole world asked
Could you take any less?
--Over the Rhine, “Last Night on Earth Again”
Rule Number One of my life is pretty simple.
Don’t get too attached.
I say it’s “Drink Local,” but that’s really Rule Number Two, since Rule Number One always seems like one of those things not to say. Some of the worst things about this life we all are forced to lead can be summed up by looking at Rule Number One. Everyone and everything leaves at some point. This, I’m forced to admit, includes me. I hold on to things for far, far too long because I want to believe that I can, somehow, overcome the simple truth that everything ends. But in the end there’s that one rule.
Don’t get too attached.
I’m supposed to go back to Chicago for the first time since I moved in a couple weeks. I’ve been dreaming about that return since, basically, the moment my Chevy and I hit southbound 55 out of Brookfield.
Now I don’t want to get on that plane and fly north.
I’d rather get in my Mazda and drive West.
I have no idea what I’d do when I get there. I don’t know where “there” is. I’m just assuming that at some point I’d run out of road. When you run out of road there are three options: you can go back the way you came, find a different direction, or keep going straight and see what happens.
I shouldn’t be allowed in to animal shelters.
I fall in love with abandoned dogs too quickly. I just want to take them all home and hug them. Even if a dog that I want to rescue has been adopted there’s always another. Next week. Next month. Forever.
It depresses me. It leaves me feeling helpless.
I’ve come to understand my tendency to fall for what I call “Crazy Girls.” It’s a specific neuroticism. On my part. I want to be the hero. I want to save the day.
At the end of the day, though, someone gets abandoned. I can never tell who abandons and who is abandoned, though.
I’m beginning to fear that it’s me who will always do the abandoning, though. Such is the nature of Rule Number One.
It’s a strange thing, living my life. I suppose I’m successful. I have all the accoutrements that indicate success. I park that new car of mine outside of the apartment I’ve filled with gadgets and toys and books. I get updates about my 401(k) in the mail. I get a paycheck that’s more than enough to purchase all of the things I need and most of the things I want.
But that new car, that apartment full of toys, that 401(k), that paycheck all serve to create a life I don’t want, I don’t need. They trap me.
They trap me because I bought in to the idea that all of these things matter. They trap me because I keep thinking I can justify my entrapment by showing ever more success. But my life now has to follow me around on a truck. My things own me.
The life I never wanted forces me to continue living it.
A wealthy man walked up to the prophet one day and asked how he could get in to Heaven.
The prophet replied, “Sell off all you have and give the proceeds to the poor.”
The rich man walked away unhappy, for he wanted his things more than he wanted Heaven. When he was out of earshot, the prophet turned back to the crowd and said, “It is easier for a camel to travel through the eye of a needle than a rich man to make it to Heaven.”
A murmur began in the crowd. For the crowd, you see, wanted Heaven, but they also wanted riches.
The prophet saw their discomfort and asked them why they complained so.
One man stepped forward and said, “But I need to put food on the table and my children through school. I have a cell phone bill and cable TV and that unlimited 3G data plan for my new iPad doesn’t pay for itself. All of these things are necessary for me to live here. I can’t be waiting for Heaven until the day I die.”
The prophet smiled, for he had heard all of these arguments before. “Were you not there?” he asked, “That day in the synagogue where I walked in and said that the Kingdom of God is here, now? Were you not here when I said that I was building it on this Earth?
“How can we build Heaven on Earth together if we insist on trapping ourselves in our own personal Hells?”
The crowd slowly melted away, even unhappier than before. For as much as they wanted to find their way to Heaven, they also wanted easy answers. Everyone else had promised them easy answers if they just had enough money or lacked enough sense.
So they went away and tried to forget the prophet’s words. They bought 58” LCD TVs that were as thin as a sheet of paper and were happy for a while. Then when that brief bit of euphoria wore off their new 58” TVs told them that if they bought a new BMW 5-Series they’d be happy, then the iPhone 5, the XBOX 720, that new mp3 player that could literally store every song ever recorded, every podcast ever made, and have enough room left over for all the porn on the internet.
But those things only temporarily made them happy. At night on their adjustable memory foam beds they lay awake and stared at their ceilings, unable to forget the words of the prophet.
So they bought season tickets and hoped that a championship season would satisfy them. They sought out gourmet chefs and the best wine in the hope they’d fill themselves to the point where they’d forget it all. But they never forgot the words of the prophet.
Every day the bills came. Every month they did the math, came up just short or with just enough. Every year they dreamed of that big raise, that big promotion, that new job that would finally provide them with all they needed.
All the while the prophet spent his days wandering on his single pair of sandals, wearing his single cloak, sleeping under the stars.
Every night while the crowd stared at their ceilings the prophet slept soundly.
Perhaps I need a different Rule Number One. Maybe “Don’t get too attached to the wrong things” would have been better.
But I fear that I no longer know what the right things are.
I fear that there are no right things.
Mostly, though, I’m just afraid.
What happens if I reduce my life to the absolute necessities and travel about as I see fit, then one day find myself reaching the end of that road and wondering why I ever left my comfortable apartment and all my toys for a life of senseless wandering? What if it turns out that the things that seem like the right answers now just seem that way because I’m so tired of the answers I’ve always chased?
That other life always seems so shiny, so worthwhile, when your own is dusty and boring.
It’s why the new convert is a zealot.
It’s also why the new convert is always so damn annoying to the people who have been trudging along for so long.