“Life itself has no meaning,” Joseph Campbell wrote. “However, each of us has meaning, and we bring it to life.”
I like the paradigm shift here: meaning moves from the outside to the inside.
It’s just that sometimes, we lose our way.
The movie The Rookie (based on a true story) begins in Texas, where Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid) is a Texas high school chemistry teacher and coach of the school’s baseball team, his career path the result of a shoulder injury that prevented him from pursuing his own dream of professional baseball. Frustrated with his team’s play–and their tendency to “quit” or give up–Jim vents his frustration after one lopsided loss, “You better give some serious thought as to how you live out the rest of the season.”
“Why?” says one player, “what difference does it make?”
They turn the question around, and ask, “What about your dreams coach?”
“Scouts aren’t looking for high school science teachers,” he tells them.
As a way of motivating his players, Morris agrees to go to a professional try-out, if the team wins the championship. Inexplicably, they win. And Jim shows up at an open tryout (both his very young children in tow). An endeavor many considered crazy. Why? Because a 35-year-old man doesn’t play professional baseball. To add fuel to the doubt, his own father discourages Jim, telling him it is time to accept reality and put aside impossible dreams.
Fast forward. Morris is drafted by Tampa Bay and given a shot to play for their minor league team. But the wear and tear of bus travel, keeping up with his wife and young children by pay phone, concern due to mounting bills (the pay in the minor leagues minimal), an aching body and a disquiet knowing that some of the organization’s younger prospects view him as a publicity stunt have all taken their toll, and his spirits sag.
He’s ready to call it quits.
To give up.
I’ve been there. Have you?
On the night before he heads home, he sees the lights from a little league ballpark. Morris stands at the center-field fence and watches as the young outfielder–maybe 10 years old–jogs out to his position during an inning change. As the two make eye contact, Morris nods and the boy grins.
Morris decides not to quit.
The next day in the locker room, he says to his young teammate and companion, with his own grin and high spirits, “You know what we get to do today Brooksie? We get to play baseball.”
There is a scene in Out of Africa, when Karen is leaving the farm, and her faithful servant Farah asks her to build a fire, so he will know where to find her. She says that she will.
“Then you must make this fire very big Sabu,” Farah tells her.
A big fire that reminds us (and allows us) to stop long enough to pay attention, to find what has been important to us, to find our heart, and to be grateful.
Here’s what I think happened at the little league ballpark. In the exchange with the young boy, Morris laid down his preoccupation and worry, and was gifted a very big fire. You see, this is not just a story about pursing a dream (or to identify life’s meaning), it is a story about paying tribute to your heart, and bringing that meaning to life.
I know this for certain: when we do not pay tribute, without even knowing it, we settle for less. So much less. So it is not just a question of what holds us, but of what holds us back… from being wholehearted, true to our self, fully alive, unafraid of uncertainty, and grateful for the gift of this moment.
God bless the fire builders in our life. They help us find our way.
Fires that remind us that the gift each one of us carries (brings to life), is priceless.
A sagging spirit is another way of saying, something seems to be missing. And it takes a toll. Of course the conundrum is that this “something” is often unknown, adding to our disquiet. We know only that a fundamental part of our being fully alive (an activating principle determining our character) is depleted. (The metaphor makes sense, as spirit comes from the Latin word for “breath”.)
When my spirit sags, as it did this past week, I do feel out of breath…
So I feel at the mercy of the news and the cacophony of cultural noise…
I’m certain control is taken away.
So I don’t trust my own voice…
I wonder whether the meaning I bring to life will matter after all.
So I am less than my best self.
I worked in DC this past week. So two long flights. On both I had conversations with seatmates. This is atypical for me. In the past I’ve told people I’m a TV evangelist, just so they leave me alone.
Now if someone asks I tell him or her, “I’m in the refueling business. I try to find ways to keep us sane and grounded, so that we can be present and live from our best selves.”
In both cases this week, they responded, after a couple of minutes, “Can I ask you a question? You got any ideas for me?” And they told me stories about stress and anxiety and a sagging spirit. They needed someone to build them a fire. Someone to invite them to the little league ballpark and revisit their joy.
But Lord help us. We prefer a list, some kneejerk need to invent a method. Which requires rules. (More weight to take the breath out of us.) There were two rival fire brigades, a volunteer one and the official one. A fire broke out, and for some reason, the volunteer brigade got there first and extinguished the fire. When the official brigade came later, they made sure to point out that the fire was incorrectly extinguished.
When we go down that road, we are sure that our sagging spirit is due to some personal shortcoming.
But here’s the deal: Paying tribute to our heart is not an exercise to be graded. We’re not awarded merit badges. This is nothing less than an invitation to live from the inside out. The good news? An undefended heart carries the fragrance of love and bestows kindness on ourselves and the world around us.
Do you still need a list? Okay…
Be gentle with yourself. Practice kindness to your imperfections.
Give up a manicured and spiritualized image.
Come home to who you are, and savor the gifts and beauty of ordinary existence.
Let your heart spill… Try tenderness without apology or shame.
Put love, and you will find love.
When I bring my heart, I bring meaning.
So be your unapologetic self.
Speaking of sagging spirits, it is hot here on Vashon, mid 90s. That is way past melting for us, but with Phoenix’s week, we don’t even get grousing rights. A glass or two of very cold dry sherry is compulsory.
This past week, summer solstice. The photo above I took while in DC.
And World Refugee Day passed almost unnoticed, showing us how easy it is to lose track of the most vulnerable among us, a reminder that we need more than ever to bestow kindness.
Our Island hosted its Garden Tour, with five to visit, to point and grin, to appreciate and stoke garden envy. I’m back home now, talking with the birds at the feeder. I tell them I’m pretty content where I am.
Quote for your week…
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The tender flesh itself
will be found one day
to be capable of receiving,
and yes, full
capable of embracing
the searing energies of God.
Go figure. Fear not.
For even at its beginning
the humble clay received
God’s art, whereby
one part became the eye,
another the ear, and yet
another this impetuous hand.
Therefore, the flesh
is not to be excluded
from the wisdom and the power
that now and ever animates
all things. His life-giving
agency is made perfect,
we are told, in weakness-
made perfect in the flesh.
Saint Irenaeus (c.125-c.210)
A Different Language
I met a little girl
Who came from another land.
I couldn’t speak her language
but I took her by the hand.
We danced together,
Had such fun
Dancing is a language
You can speak with everyone.