The eaves of my mind

Alicia Faith Heaton at WAAY-TV reunion, 2003

Alicia Faith Heaton at WAAY-TV reunion, 2003

My three score and ten arrives this summer, and I find myself thinking thoughts that percolate in the dark eaves of my mind, where Life accumulates a certain waste from the flows and streams entertained for all those years. It’s a strange and not-so-friendly place, for it contains the things left undone, the words unsaid, the love withheld, the pain of sorrow, the pain of loss, the sadness of certain memories, the buried tears, the squandered hours, the unkept promises, the people I’ve used, the relationships that shriveled, the bridges burned, the unexplored dreams, and the regrets, those awful regrets. I don’t often visit this place, because it looks backwards, and I’ve lived my life on the opposite side of the here and now, in the future where anxiety has forced my attention since very early on. These eaves are also home to a type of quicksand that empties into the Slough of Despond, a miserable condition known as self-pity. Poor me.

But three score and ten means there’s not much left to worry about, and I’ve reached that place where the view of my life is almost entirely looking backwards, and honestly, I don’t care much for what I see.

The broken hearts are all in that waste swamp, and who wants to be reminded of the countless times I let somebody down? The pain of loss is there, too, and the bitterness of expectations not fulfilled. The darkest realization, though, is the speed with which it all has gone past and the unrelenting pace at which the hourglass empties on the road ahead. It’s not so much scary to face one’s mortality, but it can be profoundly sad.

There are those who will suggest that I’ve wrestled more out of Life than most and that I should be grateful. On a certain level I know that’s true, but the price I’ve paid physically, emotionally, and spiritually has been high, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It also feels sadly delusional, for a man isn’t the measure of what he’s gained; it’s about the character he demonstrated in the process, and that’s where I’ve failed most often. There are no failures of talent, the old saying goes, only character.

“That which I would do,” the apostle Paul wrote, “I do not, and that which I would do not, I do. O wretched man that I am. Who can deliver me from this bond of death?” Only one who has been there can fully appreciate the depth of the misery that Paul addresses in this passage. Thank God for recovery, because at least I’ve made an effort to make amends. I’ve experienced the spiritual awakening of recovery, and I know what it’s like to change the way I react to certain people, places, and events.

As such, I’ve learned that the rear view mirror isn’t one of total darkness, although at this stage of life, our regrets do seem able to cast shadows over the light we’ve known, and that’s what I really want to talk about today. The light; yes, the light. That’s what it’s all about. Like the bluegrass band Balsam Range sings, thank God for the Trains I Missed:

It’s a big old world, but I found my way
From the hell and the hurt
That led me straight to this.
Here’s to the trains I missed.

I must agree that the light I’ve known is sufficient to overcome the darkness of those thoughts that linger in the eaves of my mind. Everything in life has two sides, and we always have choices. I cannot see the past truthfully without considering those things that gave me the opposite of sorrow, those events that produced a kind of euphoria that, although often brief, took my breath away in a reminder that I was always right where I was supposed to be in that moment. I’ve had many of those, and likely so have you. It’s amazing how hard we try to duplicate such and how impossible the task actually is, which is, again, why it’s so important to live in the moment. It’s the only way we can avoid taking such for granted, to not squander the hours that might have been worthwhile, to keep the memory eaves flowing smoothly with fresh water.

My greatest joys and greatest shames have come in my relationships with others, especially women. I “was” a misogynistic womanizer in an attempt to overcome something awful that happened to me as a child, and I used a lot of people in the process. I’m not proud of that, but I’ve been forgiven (by most) for it. As a man, the ultimate shame of youth is a lack of knowledge or experience in matters of sex. It is THE strongest of shame messages transmitted to teenage boys by the culture, and overcoming this is paramount in resolving much of the gender conflict of today. For young men, this knowledge must be acquired in secret, for one is “expected” to know without the public or parental embarrassment of being taught. This is not just an issue that impacts women, for victimization isn’t reserved for the female gender.

Most people — especially those who’ve seen me take over a conference session with my personality or seen me on any stage with my guitar or banjo — don’t realize that I’m actually quite an introvert; INFJ or INFP according to Myers-Briggs. Who knew, right? I qualify as a “highly sensitive person,” too, and I’m happy to stay that way, because I wouldn’t trade a connection with The Unbroken Web for anything. I think sensitivity is a gift that is underrated in our self-centered culture. I believe artists today are the true prophets of God, for that is the task of those with the sensitivity to hear God’s voice. And yes, God does talk to people today, even though Christianity reserves that for “the Word.” The problem is that only the listener is able to discern the voice of God, not the speaker.

But let’s get back to that light. It shined brightest for me in the person of Alicia Smith. The tenth anniversary of her death is upcoming in a couple of weeks, and I think about her throughout every day. That will never change, although what I’m remembering is different than what it’s been throughout those years. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get sad about losing her from time-to-time, but today’s most common memory is how lucky I was to have been in love with her. Read the haunting words of Alison Krauss from her hit, A Simple Love, and you’ll understand:

I want a simple love like that
Always giving, never askin’ back
For when I’m in my final hour lookin’ back
I hope I had a simple love like that

I’m proud to say that, yes, I had a simple love like that once. She quieted all my fears and taught me that I was, indeed, lovable. Allie was my gift from God, who loaned her to me for a sadly too short season, so that we could hold each other and know that we both were loved. One day, I’ll write our story, for my true wish for younger people is that they, too, would find such a simple love.

The here and now is all that truly matters today, and the only problem with that for me is the speed with which it races by. I’m told it’s illusionary that time gets faster as one gets older; it’s simply my perception, because every year I accumulate shortens the relative length of any single year, and that’s why a moment today is but a scant wisp of a moment from my youth. Or perhaps the computer in my head simply takes longer to register a single moment, because I always seem to be trying to catch up.

John Pavlovitz writes often of experiencing the moment. He’s one of my favorite Christian writers, and he recently found himself looking back once again:

We are all having a near death experience in this life.

As we breathe, eat, sing, work, laugh, argue, sleep and do all manner of seemingly ordinary living, we do it all just an onion skin’s thinness from the threshold to whatever awaits us beyond this place.

In our most mundane and uneventful moments we are tightly pressed up against the edge of eternity.

This truth, he writes, “snaps me out of the sedated autopilot experience I so often operate within.” That’s what I’m hoping to leave with each of you in posting this today.

Scott Peck opens his wonderful book The Road Less Traveled with a simple declaration:

Life is hard.

The real danger of hanging around those eaves for too long is that I begin to think that I am somehow unique in the experience of difficulties in life. That’s a trap, for life is hard for everybody. And those difficulties are nothing compared to all that Life has to give.

The light. Love yourselves, my friends.

Comments

  1. Waseem Jassar says

    I love your writings.…

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