Punches to Ashes
Here we are, Ash Wednesday. As I get older, when I think about it all coming down to ash once more as the sum total of my existence will be blowin’ in the wind, I think about what, if anything, I’m leaving behind. When my son, in his contemplative moments after 10 p.m. or anytime we're in the car more than five minutes, starts to ask me his cosmic questions about faith and God and life after this one, I always bring the conversation back to what we can do while we are here. I try delicately to make the point that frankly, I don't know that there is anything after this. And if this is all there is, what’s the best use of it? I don’t need some invisible deity or the threat of eternal damnation to tell me that the most important thing we can do here on earth is try, in the end, to be good to each other.
Yesterday I was talking with a woman who came into our office for a meeting. She works for one of our region’s burgeoning health care empires with locations in the Middle East. Apparently, jobs for these locations come with a giant rulebook that includes not speaking to women. Most of my friends can’t imagine me surviving long in a place where you can’t say “hello” while you’re walking down the street. A world where human interaction is legislated to that degree is a real drag.
People make things difficult. People make rules. Now, sure, we need some rules. But some people make up their own rules and expect the rest of us to fall in line even if they have nothing to do with anything else. These are dangerous rules--set-ups. These are the rules that the Wall Street CEOs or Southern Governors want to live by, not the rules the rest of us have to live by. Everywhere and all the time, people are waging some kind of heated and unwinnable war of “Because I Said So” in governing their communities, their businesses, and their own lives, using the best ideas or people closest to them as weapons. Can anyone really believe that woman who just had octuplets actually has those babies’ best interests at heart and not her own self-aggrandizement—including her own doctor? We all do it to ourselves, too, we all get lured into something and before we know it we’re part of the problem. But it’s hard not to be in this largely constrictive and shortsighted world of “either/or” instead of a world of possibilities where it’s safe to offer a different approach.
Fortunately at least in the world I spend most of my waking hours, I do encounter a lot of folks who don't limit themselves, who choose not to limit themselves in the way they solve problems. It’s exciting and refreshing and and I feel very lucky to have met so many creative leaders – and by creative I mean not just performing arts types but also the business men and women whose unique approaches and styles have revolutionized the way their workplaces operate. Frankly it has been a big influence on my own ability to overcome the hurdles I place in my own way. There is always, always a choice, always. Now, we might not be capable of making that choice because of our own limitations or because of a law preventing us from doing so, or because of some lie we’ve told ourselves. But that doesn’t mean there is no choice.
I liked Obama’s reference to a Day of Reckoning in last night’s speech, appropriate for the eve of Lent, the season of sacrifice. Life does not go on forever, and very few of us are living on the best possible terms with ourselves, our families, or our neighbors. The choices we make will always have consequences for someone, maybe even so far down the line that we can’t possibly know them. I still battle with my rash and hasty retorts at times, and every now and then I woefully and embarrassingly misrepresent my best intentions. Those moments always are followed by sincere regret. And, sometimes I fire something back that does represent my best intentions – but it still isn’t very nice and not always necessary.
Should I care, when so much of the rest of the world is mean and nasty? Of course. Sure, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But I have an irrepressibly optimistic view based on my experience that most people are not jerks. And it sure feels like more work to be a jerk throwing punches than to be kind, and certainly the rewards are greater. Which means that being good to each other, at Lent or any other time of year, whether you believe in only now or the great hereafter, should hardly be considered a sacrifice.
One of the many good people I am so very fortunate to have in my constellation of special friends near and far sent me a little something in the last week and it contained this tune. I had not heard of Collin Herring but this song grabbed me just as I was winding up to throw another punch. There’s no point to it, as the song points out. Pull yourself off the warpath long enough to listen to this one.
Colling Herring, from the 2008 release, Past Life Crashing.