Life Lesson No. 13: Ignore the Audience

For a period of about five years during my mid-thirties, I enjoyed working in a community theater. I sang roles such as Mad Margaret and one of the Three Little Maids from School in a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. And I learned the hard way not to look at the audience, lest I get caught up in someone else’s facial expressions and forget my lines. It pretty much boils down to focus.

I’ve come to believe the same holds true for life in general: one can either follow one’s inner truth, or risk losing it in the face of someone else’s views. And there will always be someone ready and willing to tell the rest of us how we should live.

Someone once said the most important thing in life is to be true to one’s self. I believe that to be one of the few Supreme Truths on this earth. We’re born into a Role (not into a Script, which is the subject of a different Life Lesson), or dealt a specific hand of cards, if you prefer. To do ourselves and the rest of humanity full justice, and in the interests of wasting not one single hour of our allotted time, we must follow our Truth – what some call that still, small, inner voice.

While that may sound like fuzzy, leftwing drek, it isn’t easy to actually do. It takes courage – especially in the face of opposition – to decide against doing something most of humanity is doing simply because most of humanity is doing it.

I’m no philosopher, but the happiest times of my life have been when the decisions I made were in keeping with my inner truth. And my worst living nightmares have been the results of decisions I made that went against it.

Bad Things to Good People

Why do bad things happen to good people? After visiting with one of my sons this past week, I have had to revisit that age-old question – for the thousandth time. Like a scab regularly ripped from a wound that’s never allowed to completely heal, I’ve still not found a satisfactory answer.

My middle son was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic several years ago. His is one of the relatively rare cases that was both late onset and not caused by drug use during his youth. In fact, during his growing-up years he never touched alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs at all. He was, evidently, born with this predisposition, which then fulfilled its horrible potential, according to his doctor, as the result of long term, intense stress.

When the seed of this disease blossomed into full-blown schizophrenia, he lost everything: his family, his job, all his possessions. This young man was a kind, gentle, dedicated, Christian seeker after spiritual things. Yet he has been allowed to go through unbelievable hardship, and is even now fighting to maintain contact with reality.

He has to take injections – the sites of which get very sore so must be moved around his body. He also takes medications orally every day that make him lethargic and numb his mind. His memory is shot, and he shuffles when he walks. Sometimes his speech is slurred, and he has developed twitching and jerking muscle episodes. But the most devastating aspect of this neurological brain-destroying disease is that he’s still quite intelligent. He knows what’s happening to him, and struggles with depression.

Make no mistake, I know that millions of parents lose their children. Parents who must stand by and impotently watch as their children suffer and die from horrible illnesses, or who are abducted and never found. I hurt for those parents, and I pray for their peace. But that knowledge does nothing to lessen the pain I feel for my son.

He’s made a bit of progress. He has learned to recognize the symptoms that tell him he’s having delusions – most of the time. When he sees a person he suspects is a hallucination, he tries to shake his hand. At that point, the hallucination usually disappears. My son shakes a lot of hands.

But he also suffers from aural and olfactory hallucinations. He says he deals with them by “testing them out.” But he can’t make them leave him alone. He says it’s a lot like having a radio inside his head that he can never turn off.

His struggle is not about me, of course. But I’m his mom. I’m supposed to be able to make things better. And I can’t do one thing in the face of this monstrous, brain and body destroying disease. And that eats at me.

Meanwhile, I have lots of angry conversations with God. And I pray for my son.

Roll On, River of Life

I recently read that people who say they are hopeful that life will get better do not report themselves as being as happy as people who know it will get worse. Because when it gets worse, and it does, in fact, get worse – if only once in a while – their expectations are shattered. Shattered or unfulfilled expectations are the cause of unhappiness.

The article made me do some introspection. I’m one of those who know life will get worse, and I’ve been proven right time after time. Like my mom once said after I refused to let her take my picture (always hated having my photo taken), “You might as well let me take your picture. You’ll never look this good again.” Words of wisdom from an unexpected source. Life will never again be as sweet as it is today.

It seems the most unhappy people I’ve ever known are those constantly searching for the next “high.” Those folks who won’t go to a funeral because it makes them sad. The ones who demand everything be roses all the time, no quiet moments of introspection and no darkness allowed. Feeling down? Take a pill. Know someone who’s going through hard times? Spout some absurd platitude at them. Better yet, avoid them altogether.

Although I know bad stuff happens to good people, I’m also hopeful that there will always be good times. Because the ebb and flow of life describes a Sine Wave – up, down, up, down. It’s only realistic, in my opinion, to understand that there will be downs. But it’s also hopeful realism to know those downs are not permanent. Even the darkness of a terminal illness will eventually be replaced with rest.

It’s the pattern of life. Day follows night; rest follows work; up follows down. And it’s okay by me.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

I’ve been dealing with a head cold, so haven’t taken the time to write. But I caught something on television the other night that sent me into orbit. I’ll call it “Name it and claim it” theology.

A young televangelist, an obviously very wealthy young televangelist, claims that God wants good for His children. And I believe that to be true. But he also says if you’re not wealthy, it’s because your faith is faulty, that if you just claim the materially abundant life, it will be yours.

It reminded me of the words of an old country western song, “Oh Lord, would you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” And that’s where I draw the line.

I absolutely believe in the abundance of Christian life. However, the issue seems to be in the definition of “abundance.”

When Jesus said He came that we might have a more abundant life, I do not believe He necessarily meant abundant materialistically. As the Son of God, He could have amassed a huge fortune. He could, as His disciples wanted Him to do, have overthrown the world’s Rulers and taken over. But He did not. His Sermon on the Mount, in fact, points to blessings we can enjoy other than earthly treasure. And elsewhere we are told to lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven, rather than on earth.

It’s a matter of focus. And although I’ve often fallen miserably short of what I believe to be the highest and best Christian life, I still believe that our life is to be focused first our love for God, and second on our love for each other. When we focus on attaining wealth, we make money an idol – and attaining more of it devours our time and energies.

Nothing wrong with having wealth. And I believe it’s fine to have a bit of ambition. We’re told that we’re to do the best we can at whatever we choose to do. But the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t include “help me get wealth and accumulate power.” If we have it, fine. But it’s how we get it and how we use it that matters.

I’m no theologian, but it seems that our focus needs to be on quality, rather than quantity.

Because I sometimes struggle with issues around what is of ultimate importance and what really matters in life, I need the occasional jog. And for that poke in my Belief System’s ribs, I thank the young televangelist.

But I’m not buying his message.



Forgiveness: Forged in the Fire

We humans are host to a number of dichotomies. We want to be independent, yet we hunger for acceptance by the Whole; we work tirelessly in pursuit of fame and recognition, yet we insist on privacy; we crave love, yet we’re too tight-fisted with our own emotions to return it. We want our faults to be overlooked, yet we insist on holding grudges for the smallest of slights – many of them doubtless unintended. Forgiveness is often just a word we hear on Sundays. A concept we recognize but can’t quite embrace. That’s because to really forgive is tough – the burning desire for payback too strongly embedded in our human psyche.

Our feelings get hurt, so we grit our teeth and wish a pox on the other guy. Or we might even plot an appropriate smack-down. We seethe after seeing an acquaintance in the mall and she walks past without speaking. Never mind that we didn’t speak to her. We expend hours or days stewing in our crock of hateful poison after the person in the desk next to ours gets credit for an innovation that was our idea – and soaks up all the kudos without so much as a glance in our direction. So we feel justified in gossiping about that person’s sex life. Or we crank our creativity up a few notches and devise a way to euphemistically kick him in the groin. A way that will hopefully show him up for the twat we know he is. That’ll teach him to mess with us.

It’s much easier to give a pass to someone who genuinely regrets an action and begs our forgiveness. We might even garner a sense of power amid stirrings of nobility as we graciously grant absolution to the miscreant, our body language cautioning just don’t do it again, mind you.

As the ashes of anger have cooled, I’ve managed to forgive most of the pranks, jibes and slights foisted on my head over the past sixty years. But I get stuck high center on the willful acts against me or my loved ones, the cruel and sometimes wicked deeds aimed at hurting careers, at sabotaging undertakings, and at destroying credibility and self worth.

Some of those things are as fresh in my memory as when they first happened. And it’s those things I stand most in need of forgiving. It’s the memory of those things that whisper to me, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”