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.