Sunday, December 26, 2004

A New Day


“So here hath been dawning another new day; think, wilt thou let it pass useless away…?”

It is one of those posers that pop up almost at random, and like most of it’s kind somehow manages to make me feel guilty; they also seem mostly unanswerable and make no immediate sense. After all, what is useful to one is useless to another, and having done some of my daily chores the question still stands unanswered; are they useful enough? Are they, in the grand scheme of things, useful at all? My basic humility rarely moves me to action anyway because getting too useful may only arouse envy in the hearts of other lay-abouts who have long since given up the struggle. More to the point however, what is confronted here is another NEW YEAR.

Here hath been dawning another New Year; this indeed is a challenge. I seem to be asked just what I am going to do about it; just how different, and presumably better, do I plan to be in the year to come. Having seen some fairly useless years come and go with only a smidgeon of personal improvement here and there, my resolve is about as firm as a wet noodle –not even al dente. Like all the other truisms which sound good at first blush, (and may in fact evoke some blushing, such as “slow and steady does it” right after I have rushed headlong into some quick-fix that bogs down), never quite tells me precisely what “it” does, or why. My first impulse is still to do nothing at all –wallowing in unrepentant sloth.

But perhaps with a different attitude one could at least slim down or trim up, join a spa or hire a personal trainer. Or learn to sing, tap-dance, take up the zither or the harp, learn magic tricks and be the life of any party, even arise in the early dawn and jog a couple of miles before breakfast. Eating breakfast and getting out of bed would be a start –and eat healthy don’t forget --all those carrots and greens –no more cakes and pies for lunch. The most obvious improvement would, it seems, be for me to become a lot different than I am.

But now surely is the time to take heart. I have decided (in the nick of time this year), that most other people do not appear to change much at all once majority has been reached –nor shall I, probably. A philosopher has said the kind of thing his sort often say, “Greet each day as a new lifetime”, but my persistent, ordinary humanity will this year try to solve the problem of newness and change by falling back on some old routines, by in fact changing very little in the face of the cataclysmic changes crashing down around us. Here I hide within the words of B.F. Skinner, a behaviorist (one I cared little for in the past), who wrote, and very probably said aloud: “The older I get, the more I become me”. (No wonder my past New Year’s resolutions are always broken; I must have tried too hard to be somebody different. Am I the only one who has tried to cope with new problems in faddish, unfamiliar new ways? At least I always give up easily). Now the real question is revealed: with what methods or wisdom already provided to me, do I intend, as it were, to gird up my as yet un-girded loins to greet the coming year?
Remembering that my son Douglas just the other day suggested that I reread Galatians, I find that the Apostle Paul had written, (in a tone of dismay), “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.” He went so far as to address them as “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Gal.1-6. 3-1). Paul was referring to something already learned, something that had stood revealed, and something I was apparently now ignoring –possibly to my own detriment. For Paul, coming to terms with this life and the next included those conditions of justification and renewal, which comes only through faith in Jesus Christ; not through reliance on regimens, “religiosity”, fads, spells, magic or man-made laws. Go and do likewise, the words seemed to say. My New Year’s resolve is clear, may yours be likewise. Love and HAPPY NEW YEAR to my children, my children’s children, and to one and all!

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Pro

It became clear, on reflection, that this would really be a story of a great many lives. Even one life might qualify it as a saga which, (if sufficiently true to that life), usually carries the weight of many. In order to pass as quickly as possible into the less problematic third person, the central figure is referred to as the Protagonist, or Pro, for short. Changes in usage are gradually taking place, but for clarity she/he will be he, which is probably not as unrealistic as may first appear.

To begin with, memory served hardly at all when trying to pin-point just when Pro had started to emerge from his own first home into the outside world. By then scenes of earlier times were fading. He could see his own progression had followed, as it has in most everyone’s 3x5 sepia-toned or glossy photo album, in an increasing series of perceptual changes, along with lives other than his own. Eventually these changes led to events for which present memory serves very well. The more memorable ones, when (and if) they occur at all in anyone’s life, consist mostly of movements away, into new group settings: Military service, college or university, prison, the streets, a job or workplace, marriage, a gang, a different piece of geography, another family, a funeral; not only did new people pop up, but familiar ones occasionally suffered sea changes and became somehow either imperceptibly or radically different, or absent; life itself changed, surged and expanded into an entirely different world view. These were times to move on, to move out -- carrying baggage; trunks or worn suitcases from a musty closet, or sea bag, paper sack or box, pockets, or just memories from what was being left behind of our first identity; but never all of it – we hastily gather up and hold close what seems valuable at the time—some of the odd shaped articles such as genetic inheritance and state of health, for example, go along, as we take care to ask for, (and hopefully to receive), what food or money might be available to us. (In Pro’s case it took the military to provide the impetus for the “exodus”).

Though usually seen as less dramatic, youthful growing-up experiences could be equally explosive in their time: Stolen fruit, prideful personal feats in schoolyard or neighborhood, even if undeserved -- the heady experiences of quasi-sadistic or aggressive impulses on the part of others or one’s own approval seeking; fantasies of glory dreamed up during the movies or other agar of pop-culture; delight in possessions, (because different, as-good-as, or better than those of others); secret bits of self- image not fit for publication, a fund of which grows bigger and more difficult to suppress with every passing year. As in old songs, “high hopes” and aspirations are frequently part of the standard exit gear. And girls, who were of course, a different matter altogether.

There were always girls around, sisters and others who mostly shoved him and ran away, hurled provocative insults or laughed at him in those early years. He obliged them mostly by returning the favors in kind. But he also began to realize there was a power of some indefinable sort involved in these sporadic contacts; as time passed they became more emotionally charged, more compelling. Pro’s tendency was to blame his mother for sensitizing him to the relative frequency and importance of girls in his life; later on, since it made more sense and was more convenient to do so, he blamed the girls; (he tended, quite defensively, to practice the blame-game early on). Mostly he wondered just what they wanted or expected from him; he thought he knew, more or less, what he wanted from them, but that seemed clearly contingent on other, often unrelated issues. A dignified job, with an income of sorts, (the more the better), seemed important in the then current mating practices of his species; after hitting the streets most of his time and effort was invested in pursuit of financial security of one sort or another. There is a quaint folk-myth in Pro’s country that goes: By investing time and energy into someone else’s capital venture, the worker who is worth his hire will be compensated as fully as he has any right to expect, all things considered. This open-and-shut proposition was the beginning and end of it; the only other considerations concerned the inalienable rights of the employer. Unfortunately several small, “sinful” difficulties are omitted in this quaint homily, such as the frequent unavailability of suitable work; available or not, other mandatory contributions were not listed under tax deductibles, like the requirements for devotion to the material things that are supposed to make it all possible. Ostensibly working for food and drink and shelter, these items proved to become both the instruments of pathetic efforts at re-creation and the progenitors of poor health and illness. Joy, happiness or passion tended to be in short supply.

We are not talking only clock-time here; Pro was giving away youthful years, and the energy and opportunities to explore other venues and verities. His limited and constricted capacity to devote himself to anything higher than a personal economic “ground zero” ignores the most valuable item of all, time itself -- and the creative imagery that goes with it. Pro is not dull-witted, but in a sense he is blind. He knows something very important is missing from his existence, and being the materialist that he has been and is, his solution is to seek out happiness in the form of goods and services of a costly sort.

Though not stupid, Pro is human enough to do stupid things – he now goes out of his way to borrow on credit, live high on the hog, and here the story becomes old stuff indeed. His decision to “let the Devil take the hindmost” is in danger of being readily accepted as an invitation to the inevitable. Here the classic melodrama picks up speed as our hero sinks lower and lower -- and lower. Pro in fact finds that his notions of high living have become, due to the lowering effect already noted, more of an anti-poverty advert for UNICEF. He feels hungry, helpless and Hell-bound, surely a line for a Cockney to recite. Now back to the chase.

Seriously, out of the collapse of fortunes and the failure of hopes and dreams to materialize, there frequently appears evidence of an eternal, seemingly distant light -- not just when sought for, but when our defensive guard against saving grace is at its lowest ebb. In Pro’s case it came with the realization that somehow that life did not have to be a jumping-off place for despair; for him it came with dim memories of a time gone by, (perhaps within a faded early family portrait), when faith and security had set the scene. A certain difficulty shows itself just now, when people such as Pro (who is called Pro now with good reason – he is no longer a novice, at any rate), surveys his past history and questions whether it is too late to turn back -- back to innocence and to his Lord of long ago.

“Can I return to my Father’s house?” His earthly father never had a house, and besides he had always thought the “Prodigal Son” was some kind of pet name. Just here it should generally be understood that prodigality implies two rather different effects: (1), the traditional spending of too much, wasting money or other resources; wasteful and extravagant. (2), Rich abundance; profuseness: the prodigality of jungle growth. In order to realize the second part of the definition one needs to understand that the whole familiar Biblical passage is a parable after all. It is not about an earthly father that loves his son so much; symbolism is relied on to reveal an important aspect of God’s love, available to all who would return to their Father’s house. We are familiar also with the parable of the day laborers who were hired on at the eleventh hour to work in a vineyard; it is never too late for those who come forward.

There is, over and above our material underpinnings, a vital spiritual dimension needed to give meaning to what we do. Lacking such a meaning all the rest becomes a truly prodigious expenditure; it would appear that Pro had been in the process of spending all his material goods by just living in the world he knew --or thought he knew. As he reopened this spiritual dimension he was blessed anew. Incidentally, our Pro(digal) had kinfolk who, after his gala return, did not feel he deserved all that “fatted calf” business --neither did Pro.