Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
The urge is upon me.
I can always tell when it’s time for me to sit down and write. I feel anxious, unsettled; there’s something inside that needs to come out. Usually, I can sit down in front of the computer, or pick up my notepad, or in extreme cases, pull the moleskin out of the back pocket and start putting things down. After a while, some sort of cogent theme will emerge. But not today.
It doesn’t help that I’ve got a lot of thought fishes swimming around in the ol’ brain pond these days. (How’s that for a flashy slice of mixed metaphor?) It’s becoming hard to sort out what my analytic priorities should be, and how long I should be spending on each one.
I’m still trying to work through the passing of our 5-month-old granddaughter in early April.
Why can’t I bring myself to use the word “death?” Is it because of my religious beliefs and the promise of an afterlife? Is it a result of my own near-death experience? Or am I deliberately trying to soft-pedal the harsh reality?
I can’t answer these questions today. Tomorrow’s not looking good, either.
James Kirk asked Saavik, “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” Unfortunately, human nature at times is the refusal to deal with either one. And I’m finding out just how manifestly human I am.
In the meantime, I worry about my oldest daughter. She was the last to see Zoe alive, and the first to see her after she died. She’s unbelievably tough, much stronger than I ever gave her credit for. She knows full well that she still has to be Mom to two young autistic boys and I worry whether those responsibilities will permit her to grieve in the way she so desperately needs. I worry about her husband as well. He is a tougher read. He was Airborne; a Ranger, the toughest fighter the Army could produce. Like all the special ops troopers I’ve ever known, he has the ability to compartmentalize his emotions, a characteristic so vital to the battlefield. But if he is ever going to get through this, he has to drop those walls and allow himself to feel those emotions so he can move forward towards a more healing and healthy place. I know he has battlefield courage. I pray that he can find his emotional courage.
My career is at a bit of a crossroads, putting me in a situation where I have to make some critical decisions about the direction I take from here. That I turn 55 in May complicates things, since whatever choice I make has to generate significant results in a relatively short period of time. I’m a little atypical in that I love my job. The work challenges me in all the right ways. It is important and has relevance not only to the betterment of the world at large, but also to events in my personal life. I will admit, however, that a security clearance is both a blessing and a curse. I know more about the world, especially the hidden part most people never see. Hence, my understanding of events and the flow of history being made is clearer. But there are facts and images in my head that professional responsibility requires to absorb, relevant to the tragedy of human viciousness that at times I just wish weren’t there.
I’m a pastor of a shrinking congregation. Over the last three years, I have wracked my brain for solutions, picked the brains of a hundred other leaders, and tried a number of programs, none of which seem to have worked. We were small to begin with, and we are smaller now, which means our resources are limited. There are several churches in our area, including a few of the big corporate operations with staff, funding, and leaders I fear are far more gifted than I. They are able to put on what amounts to a Broadway show every Sunday, attracting people who are happy to sit, soak it all in, and go home feeling spiritually sated for the week. It’s different for us. When we do things, everybody pitches in. Nobody grazes. Perhaps my blind spot is assuming that Christianity is an active rather than a passive avocation requiring not merely attendance, but action as well.
I read about the fates of the original disciples, how only one of them died at home in bed. (And that was after surviving a bath in boiling oil.) The rest of them were murdered, all in the service of Jesus. They didn’t give up, so I won’t either.
I love to write. Last week, I quietly celebrated my 75th newspaper column, all of them about those things in life that unite us, rather than divide us. I’m rather proud of that. My degree is in Political Science, but in the current angry climate, the world needs another political writer about like it needs a strike from a 7-mile-wide asteroid. So I focus on those experiences in life that happen to most everyone, reaching for that moment of spiritual and experiential synchronization. The response to my columns has been uniformly complimentary, for which I am humbled. But I torture myself by reading other columnists and other bloggers as well. Many of them write far better than I, reflected by their successes in the shark-filled waters of the publishing ocean. I read their stuff, analyzing each word and phrase in the search for the magical silver bullet they possess, the thing that caused an editor to sit up straight and exclaim, “Aha!” Maybe this is a fruitless search. One can strive to become Hemingway, but in reality, there can only be one Hemingway.
I wish I could write better. I wish I was better able to articulate emotion in a way that would appeal to a larger audience. I comfort myself by maintaining that the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it. But there are millions upon millions of free-lance writers out there. How exactly does one become that tall stalk of corn in a short field of soybeans?
The Beatles once sang, “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream.” This is an inviting concept, but I’ve learned that refusing to face problems only compounds them. I know that some people view problems as that annoying salesman who appears on your doorstep. You stay inside, away from the windows hoping for that moment when he gives up and leaves. But problems are more like persistent prowlers. While we cower inside in false safety, the prowler is circling the house, trying all the windows and doors. Unlike the salesman, the prowler won’t give up. Unless you stand up and defend your domicile, he will eventually find his way in. The good thing is that problems aren’t armed, so if you stand up to them, they’re much easier to fight. And even if the solution is not readily forthcoming, by working the problem, solutions will eventually become apparent. And if those episodes are treated as teaching moments, we can usually avoid their re-occurrence.
I have a long road to walk, and I can’t avoid the mountains I must yet climb. It will be difficult, even painful. But the view from the top of the mountain is worth the pain of the ascent. I have to keep moving forward. Every time I stop, I die a little inside. But on the other side of those mountains lies the land of the unknown; where adventure, and answers, await.
It is the one place I must see before my journey ends.