Saturday, July 19, 2008

Temperate Thoughts

I have a confession to make. There is something within me that is attracted to darkness. When I say that, many people will assume that I like doing evil things, but that’s not what I mean at all. I really don’t like doing evil things (at least most of the time). No, what I mean by darkness isn’t evil, per say. What I mean when I say there is something within me that is attracted to darkness is that for some reason at times I have an attraction to pain, suffering, unhappiness, etc.

Overall, I am a fairly optimistic person. I try to see the best in people and in circumstances. In general, I take people at their word unless they give me reason not to. I’m a joyful person (I was once nicknamed Mr. Joy). I am an extroverted-introvert and therefore despite my seeming reserve and shyness, love experiencing new things, going to new places, meeting new people, and making new friends. I truly believe that hope is one of the best things in the world and that love, usually in agape form, can conquer all. As an example, my favorite film of all the Star Wars films, much to the chagrin of other fans, is Return of the Jedi. That movie flows with messages about grace, mercy, redemption, the importance of not giving up, and ultimately good triumphing over evil. I have a worldview that reflects those values.

At the same time, I’ve lived through enough pain, sorrow, and sadness to know that the happy ending of Return of the Jedi (and most chick-flicks that so many of my female friends are fond of), isn’t what usually happens in life. Those endings reflect something within us all that tells us, “This is how the world SHOULD be.” We want the world to be like that. We want people to end up falling in love with the people they are supposed to and living happily ever after. We want adventure and romance. We know that there will be conflict, but we want things to work out in the end. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world usually IS. I’ve experienced enough and seen enough in my life to know that in the world in which I live bad things sometimes happen to very good people, nice guys often end up finishing last, and the good guy doesn’t always win.

I want to always be a hopeful, joyful, and happy person. Like most people (including Jesus just before his crucifixion) I’d prefer to avoid pain. I want to make others happy and see them smile. It troubles my heart every time I see someone suffering. I’ve yearned to be able to heal people in their sickness and like John Coffee in The Green Mile and take the sickness and suffering of others and bring in within myself. I’ve tried to keep a positive outlook on things, but despite my best intentions, I’ve digested a lot of the sorrow, suffering, and sadness I’ve seen and felt. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily. However, I do know it is a problem when I feed upon that darkness.

The darkness makes you strong, but it also turns your outlook of life into one of bitterness and apathy. Take my writing or conversations I had with friends a few years ago. I wrote some really powerful writing a few years ago and around the same time, some of my friends were telling me I should go into stand-up comedy. There’s nothing wrong with that either. The problem for me was that I was feeding on the darkness. I was drinking from it, which was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy, and much of what I wrote was very sad and much of what I said was extremely bitter and vitriolic. There was some truth to those thoughts, but just a nugget. That nugget of truth didn’t really mean much because it was cloaked with superficiality and wasn’t tempered with the joy and vitality that also surrounded me. It just wasn’t me.

That brings me to the crux of the matter which is the issue that I see as the defining issue of my life: temperance. Most people who hear that word think it has something to do with not drinking alcohol. That’s because some very well-meaning, though narrow-minded people took the word to define their crusade to ban alcohol. That’s unfortunate because temperance has so much more to do with living life than how much or how little alcohol a person drinks. I know that words change over time and sometimes lose their original meanings. Yet, words like people are redeemable and if nothing else, let it be known that I intend to redeem temperance to its original meaning.

Anyway, temperance means balance. Plain and simple. When something is tempered, metal for example, it is brought to as close to perfection as it possibly can. Living a temperate life means living a balanced life, and therefore living as close to perfection as one can.

I will never be perfect in this world. No matter how hard I strive and in all honesty, I don’t want to be perfect. I have just as many flaws and faults as anyone. I have been broken and battered. My heart has been crushed. People I’ve loved have died. I’ve seen other people I love suffer unnecessarily and there hasn’t been a thing I’ve been able to do. I’ve also hurt people, sometimes unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally. I can be selfish. I am proud and sometimes greedy. After all, I am human. But, I can and do strive to live the temperate life. I am in the world, but not of it. The great challenge of our lives is in attempting to reach temperance, to live in balance. Go too far one way and you become rigid, dogmatic, self-righteous, and pessimistic. Fall to the other extreme and everything is care-free and happy until the trials and tribulations of life start which then turns you bitter, jaded, callous, cynical, and pessimistic (both extremes lead to pessimism). I want to live in the middle. I want to enjoy each moment of life given to me, but not be crushed when the challenges of life set in. I want to live the temperate life.

So, go live life. Do the things you enjoy doing. Do the things you are called to do. Do things that make you and others around you happy. Be joyful and when the trials and tribulations come (for come they will), try not to fall too far from the middle. As Dr. Seuss wrote, "Step with care and great tact and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft."

1 comment:

jwr35mm said...

Beautifully stated.

If you can deliver that message to your students , and have them understand it, it may be the best lesson you ever teach.