I found out late last night that one of my roommates from college passed away. In looking through all my old photo albums, I was aware, once again, of those positive influences in my life who helped me overcome my inadequacies, and stood as an example of goodness, truth and such kindness. She stands front and center. I know its common to talk about people who die in celebratory language and images. But Louise was the real deal. She would get teased sometimes by her Pollyanna approach to the world, but she was just, simply, so good. She helped me stay optimistic when my more brooding tendencies would begin to take over. A fellow sojourner on a quest for spiritual enlightenment, she visited a community in Canada to calm her spirit and find some answers, like I did in the desert in New Mexico. She found her soul mate in her husband Tom, a relationship I often used as an archetype of how a man and woman behave in a healthy relationship. I wasn’t always good at social cues, and Louise somehow helped me navigate through the complications of relationships. Even after all this time she continued to be that person who glowed, and that was intrinsically so much better than many of us not just because she was kind, funny and smart, but she moved in the world living a life that reflected her spiritual values and made it seem uncomplicated and effortless…and she never made me feel inferior, never once, even though I believe it to be true, in every sense of the word. Lou was matter of fact about what was necessary to be a modern Catholic Christian. She had her causes and worked tirelessly to bear her own brand of “good fruit.”
She was that friend you could always pick up right where you left off. I was able to talk to her on the phone a few times after she got sick because she lived in another state. The first time, I didn’t even know she was sick, we didn’t talk about that, we just picked up and updated like we usually did. My world was brighter every time we connected, and it is my hope that I made her world brighter too. She was my only friend that continued to write letters long hand as well, waxing philosophically much of the time, continuing to search and grow. They are in my box of letters along with others like my father’s that made me think and grow. She again, was much better at it than I was. I would start but never finish, and end up sending missives separated by long periods of time that had many different sections that were started and then stopped. I regret letting my own ill health often get in the way of reconnecting, but I do feel confident that she knew how much I loved her, even if we didn’t see each other very much.
I have often used Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” in the story of the wood fox, to depict how to make friends or tame people…
Louise tamed me. She transformed how I learned to see the world. I’m sure through her husband and beautiful children, her friends and family, no one will see the wheat fields in the same way agian. And it is nice to know that there is one more angel in heaven watching over and bringing us light and hope.
From my unrecognizable place in the world, I’ve seen a lot. Being in the middle has had its advantages. I’ve learned a lot from being a middle child, living in the Midwest, graduating several times in the middle of my class, having a middle-income, juggling the challenges of the middle class etc. Far from being mediocre, though, being in the middle has offered me an equidistant view to the world. From the thick of it, I see an increasing sense of discontentment, anxiety, stress and a loss of hope. It seems that my penchant for average has kept me, sometimes against my will in a position of observation. There seems to be a ubiquitous grey cloud that hangs over society today, even a midst the plethora of groups who have laid claim to the key to happiness or in the alternative try to isolate the exact source of our discontent and eradicate it. In all honesty, most of those groups on high who offer solutions to any and all problems if I would just surrender my control and give into “the right way of thinking” are never all that hopeful or happy, which truly doesn’t inspire much credibility on their part.
And yet, I’m not offering any magical solution either. However, it doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t there, just waiting to be recognized. After years of honing my observation skills, I think I understand why we aren’t necessarily in a better place. It all lies in our perception and our ability to see the solution. No solution to any problem is helpful if you can’t see it. So let me use another sense to focus on the problem. Focus on your hearing for a moment: I cannot sing. I’m not being modest. I really can’t sing. But, just because I’m aware of my own limitations vocally doesn’t mean that I also forgo the ability to make a decision about whether someone else can sing or not. Pretend you’re on a variation of the show American Idol. Now, instead of it being your job to listen to potential singers, focus on the contestant’s perception of their singing. The truth, or proof of talent, is what comes out of their mouths, not from voicing the opinion that they are the one you are looking for. Very often, you respond with incredulity, because it is painfully obvious that many of the contestants are delusional. Then, just when it feels like there is no hope, and you’re ready to accept anybody that may have only a glimmer of talent, a pure tone and melody presents itself often from the least likely contestant. It is keeping alive the hope, like a beautiful song, that an answer to a prayer exists out there for each one of us. All of us ordinary folk have been inundated with really bad singers for too long now. The negativity of the information we receive from almost every angle, like nails on a blackboard, is making my head hurt. Like those terrible singers on American Idol, some people are just plain off-key and should be told so. When truth becomes buried so deeply under the screeching of the tone-deaf, it does have an effect on the rest of the world, making it harder for the rest of us to hear the clear tones of truth.
Bad things happen, to be sure. The cure, though, is much more basic and a lot more boring, which may, to many people, make it far less interesting than being delusional. Truth is often the bitterest of pills and it is indeed a challenge to encourage consumption in a way that is palatable…but I do feel obligated to try. The answer lies in not what one sees, but how one sees it: the process of observation. For example, take something simple like the cacao bean, cane sugar, and cow’s milk. Looking at these raw materials singularly one may not see anything remarkable, but who could have guessed that, as an addendum to a long and adventurous journey of discovering a new world, these ordinary elements would work in concert together to become one of the great culinary discoveries of all time: chocolate.
The fact that chocolate has been a delicacy and has delighted our taste buds for centuries isn’t at all surprising. What may be surprising, though, are recent scientific studies that have also shown the impact that the properties of the cocoa bean has on our health. Many of you are probably aware that consuming chocolate releases endorphins : a natural morphine like substance that your body produces that inspires well-being. Were you aware that chocolate may also improve cognitive function and make your heart healthier also? Had the cocoa bean been left in its natural and bitter state, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so willing to include it as practically its own food group. Again, so there is a great food that is good for you, not such a big deal. The biggest miracle of chocolate though, doesn’t lie in our taste buds or sense of well-being, but how it came about in the first place.
The truly amazing part about the interactions between the Mayans, Aztecs, Columbus, Cortez, and some Spanish monks, is that individually they never intended to discover a new food. The creation of chocolate is only one example of what can happen when simple elements of different worlds unwittingly merge and then emerge into something entirely new and different. Like children do, the key is to observe the world in a way that is teeming full of potential. Perhaps it is God’s intent to present us the necessary raw materials and let our hearts be the source of seeing what ordinary elements mixed together can do to transform the bitter into the delightful. It also took time, some failures and a host of different players to find the perfect recipe. The creation of chocolate is the perfect metaphor for the plot of the movie in my head: there is always something great that can come out of any journey, even if it is unintentional. The challenge is to believe that any road can lead to chocolate by learning to see the infinite potential in ourselves, and the ordinary things and people one sees along the way. My entire life thus far is a living testimony to this truth.
In a general sense, the purpose of these post’s on observation is to create a cosmic sort of chocolate, so to speak: to create a process by which one can see the world in a way that looks as good as chocolate tastes…and is still healthy for you. It just doesn’t make sense that from this world of amazing raw materials God would give any of us great visuals without also setting us in the right direction and providing means necessary to be a part of bringing them to fruition. It’s simply a question of being able to see and then bring together the right ingredients. I’ve also learned not to be too rigid about what the final result will look like, to limit the number of roads necessary to get there or even stay around long enough to actually see the fruits of my labor. And I can say with confidence that I have never been disappointed. Confused at times, perhaps, but never disappointed.
That being said, because each of our lives are different I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to fully understand or appreciate the movie in my head, like I probably wouldn’t fully appreciate what is going on in anybody else’s either. It’s important to preserve subjectivity. Not only are we all predisposed genetically to certain traits, we all have accumulated millions of different experiences, resulting in millions of unique personal dioramas. So really, no one individual will ever see the world in the same way any other does. This also means that no one else can give you an instruction book on how to live out the movie in your own head. What I’ve observed is that too many people rely on others to tell them how they must see the world to find success which is one of the causes of the world’s deluded thinking.
The whole point here is not to have you embrace the movie in my head, but to embrace the movie in your own head and learn to observe the world in such a way so that it can happen. Figuring out what ones uniqueness is and putting it out there in the world to mix with others is the first step. This is not without challenges, especially in this day and age, because being a totally different and unique individual often runs contrary to societies’ push to be defined by and live within specific cultural rules created by bigger and seemingly more powerful people than us ordinary folk. It is easy to succumb to the pressure to allow an external standard to tell you what to think and define who you are and your place of importance in this world. If we all saw the world the same way, there would never be growth, which depends on a myriad of different perspectives, from the grandest to the simplest. As an ingredient, my addition to the mix might be the most basic, but essential nonetheless. Like chocolate, it’s the different ingredients coming together that can bring a dream to life.
Because each of us is different, the need to have outside acceptance or approval can be fatal when striving to live one’s dream. Understanding what goes on in one’s head is central to the individual only. Don’t get me wrong, acceptance and approval is nice, but it isn’t a requirement. When I think of some of human histories greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, to a personal favorite of mine, Teilhard De Chardin, they were far more familiar with condemnation than acceptance. Where would we be if they hadn’t persisted in the face of societies’ disapproval? The simple reality is that no one else can live my life or fulfill my dreams, but me. Most of the things that I’ve accomplished in my life never would have happened had I waited for permission, approval, or enough of an understanding by other people of what goes on in my head for anyone to give me support in the first place.
While approval isn’t essential, it is also impossible to achieve one’s dream in a vacuum. We are all dependent on ordinary elements to make the movie in our heads a reality, whether it comes in the form of a person, an idea, or a simple experience. And it is being able to see the importance of those simple things and have faith in their potential in whatever guise they are presented to us that will determine one’s failure or success. Expecting that someone else can give you all the answers will almost guarantee failure, and rarely are they packaged with a bow and flashy wrapping. Although acceptance by others is never necessary in bringing a dream to life, the knowledge that each individual out there may be essentially the exact ingredient necessary for a dream is reason enough to encourage everyone to “be all that they can be.” The more I actualize my own dreams, the better chance, even if unwittingly, I can help actualize someone else’s. How often does that thought come into your heads? How often to do you start your day with this thought: I may be the exact ingredient necessary to help someone’s dream come true? Even if it is in the subtlest way, that thought should change everything about how you observe the world…when was the last time anyone told you that you were essential to success of the world…to the success of building the Kingdom of God? I thought so. So, let it start now. Be cosmic chocolate to someone. They don’t even need to be aware of it…only you do.
All crap aside, I have tried in the last couple of days to 1) figure out what exactly drives me as an observer and 2) figure out how to improve and change what drives me as an observer. Truthfully, I am stuck. I’m stuck because there is a part of me, perhaps the part that is rooted in common sense, that absolutely can’t change how I view that portion of the world that is so rooted in illusion that they are convinced it is the rest of the world that is completely insane….I KNOW! THAT VERY EXAMPLE FITS ME BOTH AS AN OBSERVER AND THOSE THAT I OBSERVE!!! It is a bit of a conundrum. So, I have begun to disassemble the illusory elements in my life…which also stands as proof that my willingness to accept that I may just be as crazy as those I’ve been judging, is a sign that I am in fact, not the crazy on in this observer/observed relationship. Also, the fact that I would never go out in public with my boobs tucked into my pants because I misplaced my bra and shirt is a point on my side as well.
As far as what drives me as an observer, I would say first and foremost it is my faith as a Christian….I KNOW! MOST OF THE CRAZY PEOPLE I’VE OBSERVED ALSO INCLUDE CHRISTIANITY AS THEIR BIGGEST DRIVING FORCE! That includes, and is not limited to those horrible spirited people who protest funerals, those that think that a woman’s body has special powers to keep from being impregnated when she is “legitimately” raped, and any or all of the “Real Housewives of Orange County.” So, what happened? Did we get it wrong? I, personally, think we did. This then, is where I will start. Read this verse John 13: 34 & 35 and answer this question…is this how you understand your faith? Actually read the whole chapter, it is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. A wonderful portrayal of what is expected of authority.
I know that Jesus didn’t just grab a random person off the streets and command them to love like he did and wash their feet. He loved these disciples. He had journeyed with them, spent three years with them…he had tamed them. Because he had tamed them, he knew that they would understand his command. The ties that bound them on earth were so important when it came to building and continuing his church, and he was no longer physically with him. They were responsible to each other, just like the Little Prince taught (see post on Taming). I think is the most important part…I asked myself the same question: How am I responsible to Him?. I didn’t get tamed by Jesus personally…only spiritually, and it was through a disciple that I came to understand what he was all about. It is what made me different from any of the others that have made the same claim. It has put me on a path of not focusing on being better than or being right…but one of being better and responsible to this phrase: “They will know you are my disciple by how you love one another.” The break down of illusion starts there.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
The above quote, from “The Little Prince,” is where I root the fundamentals of friendship and has helped me harness love, especially in regard to the fragile nature of the human heart these days. The gist of the tale is this: the wood fox leads the little prince on a journey of establishing ties (friendships, the true essence of taming) which makes the prince’s ordinary rose “unique in all the world.” In the end, after the wood fox tamed the little prince and it came time for the prince’s departure, the fox was sad. The little prince could not understand the benefit of establishing ties if the result was to end in possible sadness. To help him appreciate taming despite the sadness, the fox sends the little prince back to a rose garden to try to understand how all the roses there were different from his solitary rose on his own little planet. It is in the presence of all these other roses that the little prince realizes that his rose matters more than any of the others because of the time he has spent caring for her, watering her and protecting her. It is the ties that he established with his rose that has made her so important.
The fox makes it clear to the prince that in order for taming to be successful one must observe the proper rites. In all it’s beautiful simplicity it means that taming takes time and patience. At first the fox told the little prince to sit at a distance and do nothing except to allow the fox to see him out of the corner of his eye. He explains that during this initial phase the prince should say nothing at all because words are the source of misunderstanding. Everyday the little prince was to sit a bit closer. He also told the little prince to come back at the same time everyday so that he would begin to know at which hour his heart should be ready to greet him; consistency is everything when it comes to taming.
The wood fox explains that the process of taming causes the world to appear completely different. For example, the fox had no use for the wheat field but after the prince had tamed him, the golden color of the wheat will always bring him the thought of the prince and give him joy. The fox will never see the wheat field in the same way again. It will be larger and more powerful all because he allowed himself to be tamed. The fox also can live happily because there is at least one person who truly understands him, for one can only understand someone after they’ve been tamed. After all is said and done and the little prince understands the essence of taming, the wood fox goes on to share a secret. The first part is the quote cited above, and then he continues with “it is the time you have wasted for your rose which makes her so important…you become responsible forever for what you tame.”
What is particularly poignant about this story, in this fast and furious age in which we live, is that it is the time and effort put forth that makes taming successful. The nature of today’s world certainly doesn’t endorse wasting time for anything. The wood fox in The Little Prince believed that humans didn’t understand anything anymore because they tried to buy everything ready-made at stores. However, there was no store anywhere where one could buy a true friend: friendship demands that we waste the necessary time and observe the proper rites to establish ties. As an observer, it is those that I have established ties with in this world that have helped transform how I see it. The world becomes infused with special meaning. All of us can rework the rules we choose to abide by and focus on our inner rhythm, but ultimately it is the process of being tamed and taming others that put those rules and cosmic music to practical use.
Loss, as foreshadowed in The Little Prince, is a common element in establishing ties. Because all of us are on different roads, with varied dreams, relationships often change or end. The up side to this kind of loss challenges us to spend more time reflecting on how the relationships in our lives have affected how we see a wheat field. Whenever the inevitable happens and those people I’ve established ties with begin a different journey, I’ve learned to look at it as just an opportunity for them to transform a wheat field somewhere else. Distance can’t ruin ties, only complacency does. True taming doesn’t rely on proximity.
Taming need not be complicated, but it may seem risky at first. When you put yourself out there to tame and be tamed you may be rejected. But just like the little prince did, I’ve found that if you let your heart guide you and observe the proper rites, the chances are that rejection is just an unrealized fear. Establishing ties with someone practically demands that you put the other person first. Taming someone for the sole benefit of my own needs almost guarantees failure. It should come from a place of empowering, rather than having power over. Trustworthiness is essential. Remember the last part of the wood fox’s secret: you are responsible, forever, for what you tame. Although being responsible for what you tame may seem daunting, try to see it for a moment as a beautiful consequence of the process.
Unfortunately taming, like the middle of many processes, is an often passed over step, because it takes time, it takes commitment and it takes patience. We live in an electronic age that makes everything quick, easy and often anonymous. Anonymity voids the element of responsibility, and I think it is why the ties of today are so flimsy. How we establish ties may differ with every thing, person, place in the world, but it still demands those essential rites. Regardless of the uniqueness of the method, the challenge remains: to reflect on who we have tamed in our lives and more importantly how we handle the responsibility. It is a powerful thing, this taming process, especially when it commands us to rely on our hearts more than our eyes, for eyes can play tricks whereas the heart does not (contrary to popular opinion that love is blind).
You see the thing about taming is that it is subtle, and it usually occurs over a long period of time. Those who have truly tamed me acted so subtly and consistently that I wasn’t even really conscious of it at the time, leaving me no time to run in fear. It need not be complicated and dramatic. Even though I’m just as big a fan of the being swept away themes in movies, I do realize they are only two hours long. The rest of us have lifetimes to contend with, we have to go beyond the “and they lived happily ever after” line. The work is worth it though. I feel so much better about myself and my world knowing that the relationships I’ve established (and it doesn’t have to be many) are transforming the way others see the world. I tame because I love; the responsibility then becomes a bonus and not a burden. It’s not even fathomable to me to imagine what life would be like without them. Given that life is unpredictable, I do know that even in the face of loss, life will never appear the same again. I wear them proudly like a seal on my heart. Now, before I get too verklempt, let me stop now so you may talk among yourselves.