Sunday, April 12, 2009

Setting the bar high

On the day which, for Christians, means ultimate forgiveness, it seems not at all odd for me to contemplate failure. It comes from a conversation with an old friend, about our dreams from when we were flush with the fire of youth, ready to go out and flash brilliant as the stars we knew ourselves to be.

This, in the land of opportunity, the land of milk and honey. Because our surroundings were -- and are still -- extraordinary, we expected we would be equal to our landscape. Shocking, I know, but when we left school, nobody handed us tights and a cape.

So many of us flew out of our studies and were... ordinary. We didn't earn millions of dollars our first week on the new job, we didn't discover the cure for every known cancer, we didn't win an Oscar or a Grammy or an Emmy or a Nobel Peace Prize, we didn't save the earth from an approaching asteroid, write the Great American Novel or paint the next Sistine Chapel. We became teachers, welders, plumbers, preachers, housewives, parents, grandparents, homeowners, renters, cat-feeders, dog-walkers, gardeners, babysitters, fishermen, and general doodlers.

For some of us, that was always good enough. Become good at being yourself, do well at a given career, and happiness comes. But for others among us, being just very good is never good enough. We were told when we were young that we were special, and, by jingo, we're going to be special, some day. Except that, we're still stuck in dead-end jobs, or worse, stuck in the unemployment lines, the welfare lines, the disappointment circle. We reached (or have nearly reached) the half-century mark in our lives, and what we have to show for it is a photograph of one of us shaking hands with somebody famous. We have an unfinished manuscript. We have a stack of unsold canvases. We have the keys to a car we don't actually own, and likely never will.

There lies a cord of wood which was once the tree of promise, having borne little fruit.

It's not that our lives are so hard, or anything like it. In fact, being poor in this country is a lot like being filthy rich in most lands. We have roofs over our heads, food on the table, free entertainment not necessarily of our own making, companionship, information, freedom... ah, yes, freedom.

With that freedom comes the moral obligation, one feels, to excel, and to help others to do the same. So those of us who fail to thrive sense in ourselves the roots of opprobrium. We may greet our fellow man with a hearty smile and warm handshake, but we shy away from the scowl in the mirror.

Funny thing is, my old friend became a star of distant stage and screen, a man of sharp wit and sharper words in a place where saying the wrong thing can mean the end of his freedom, or even the end of his life. And he naturally gets nervous about his performances. We, here, in the sweet land of liberty, have no such cause for dread, and still we fear.

What my friend, last night, reminded me was, that, even when there is no real adversity in our lives, there is still a struggle to rise above it, and a reluctance to forgive ourselves when we quit striving. We should have had that place in the firmament, if we'd only....

If we'd only had the courage to believe in ourselves as we were told we could. But I'm told it's never too late to start over.

1 comment:

Joan of Argghh! said...

Such a conversation we could have about this! It's so well written, but even more, it's so well communicated.

I was never told I was special, but secretly have always believed it. It has been the source of much goodness and grief, alas!