THE CROSS BEFORE THE CROWN
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.
Every noble effort requires pain, sweat, and faith to overcome fear. Every crown requires a cross. ~ Jim Bondly inspired by C.S. Lewis
In my mind, I think I am still 30, trapped in an aging body. I cannot do what I once could. Personal history is seventy-five percent written in stone unchangeable. Can it be atoned? Can it have produced more good than evil? Has true happiness eluded me because I strained to witness it when all the time it has been around me screaming from every rock? Is mister Emerson right or Camus? Indeed, happiness is not something to be found without great effort expended. Adam and Eve had great joy caring for the garden as God commanded. Evil entered, and caring became work.
Why I Write –
I apologized to all of you early for my lack of writing skills and scattered thinking – I decided to do as Forrester said, “Just Write,” “Write from the heart” – So I am. A personal memoir of my wonderings and wanderings journaling each day on past, present, and hopefully future events. The initial flow of this writing will be discontinuous thinking of my memories, current perceptions, and what God lays upon my heart each day. The intention of this letter/essay is a father’s testament to thoughts, actions, fears, and hopes – I know I would love to have known my father’s. It is to help guide sons in making better decisions by understanding what their universe means to them and what they mean to the universe. Maybe this is a journey we can share.
FINDING THE ONE THING:
Emerson’s idea of not living life to be happy seems very contradictory to the common goal of humans. Instead, we have a purpose, and as complex and scary as it will be, we are to live our lives to that purpose and contribute our role to make a difference. I do believe that for all of us who are dedicated enough to find and live out a goal, in the end, we have the satisfaction that we lived a productive, beneficial life. Our lives are not just about us. For me, I have not figured out fully what my place in the universe is. As painful as it may become, I will have to revisit my sorrowful past filled with poor decisions, regrets, anger, and fear. I must look down upon myself and the events that led to the wrong choices, the anger, the fear, and why my pride got the best of me.
Robert Fulghum, in his book, ‘Everything I needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten,’ had it right. As children, we are fearless; we can do anything, sing, dance, drive a train, and fly a plane; nothing in our dreams is beyond our abilities. Opportunity is exploding around us. As we age and become scared from the realizations that dreams become realities and life has, its scars and the fact maybe we can’t do anything we want or dream we can. Perhaps finding that one thing, our destiny, our calling, our designed purpose is the prize. In the movie City Slickers, the character Curly, played by Jack Palance, told Billy Crystal, Mitch, a mid-life crisis character dealing with closing chapters, Curly’s Law:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [Holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.
Curly’s advice closes with no magic formula or plan or suggestion of how to find the one thing, just that we need to find that out, it is our responsibility, and no one can help us find it; it is heavily upon our shoulders. Tony Evans, a well-known Christian minister out of Texas, said your calling, your one thing, is best described as the thing you would do without compensation. That widens the gap between what I perceive as what I would like to do and the reality of paying the bills. This reality forces me to do what I do not want. It often means moving to what others expect from you instead of what you expect from yourself—responding to the mainstream or lame stream instead of our hearts and intuition. It is the dichotomy – follow your heart, your passion, but it may have to be a part-time passion while you labor to pay the rent. Even Jethro of the television series, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ searched for his one thing and was dumbfounded between the idea of being a brain surgeon or a fireman. There are the rare exceptions; those blessed with a clear vision from childhood what the one thing is for them. These elite individuals matured into the one thing with a clear picture of the journey and the end. Sadly, they know what the one thing is for them, but accidental tragedy or bad decisions murder the dream, and clarity vanishes. Those individuals either die with the goal, or they are wise enough to see the opportunity within the tragedy and re-invent themselves to adapt and evolve to welcome the challenge eagerly. These are the genuine people of character, those who persevere in life.
The saddest thing is that finding that one thing for the rest of us may never happen. We are the working-class heroes. John Lennon wrote about this dilemma.
A working-class hero is something to be
When they’ve tortured and scared you for 20 odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function, you’re so full of fear.
Teach you to read, write and add, then throw you from the nest and expect you to fly high. Not much of a life plan, is it. Onto college with no clue what to do unless you follow the father’s footsteps intending to join the family business. The wanderers labor, drink beer, smoke dope, or enter the service and fight some war and win the GI Bill. All with hopes of taking some time to figure it all out. I am not saying that some are blessed, or the rich kids get a break and have it given to them on the silver platter. Everyone is rich, poor, weak, strong, talented, or not; black, yellow, red, brown, and white all struggle at some point in their lives. Some dare to find contentment in what life has brought them. Either born into a life, tragedy steals the dream they once had, or the plan turns out to be not the one thing they thought it was.
I am 71 years old and, like most still have not discovered my one thing, I have been reacting to the demands of shelter, food, and clothing. I have come to the conclusion life is by trial and error. It is interesting in the creative world; someone has coined this process of trial and error as “Design Thinking.” Design Thinking is a process where you create or build something, get it to an audience for a response, make corrections and alterations based on the user response, and repeat the process until “Voilà,”; it is the next right thing. I have a long list of trials, errors, bad decisions, and attempted corrections trying to find the one thing. Every bruise I incurred along the search is the faint light at the end of the darkness. The glow leads me to productive, creative endeavors that encourage and influence others.
This logic may be the way it is – we all stumble around in the dark, motivated by the need for food, clothing, and shelter first, then profit, then success, then power, and maybe the pursuit of our happiness, a.k.a. Discovering our one thing. One advantage of age is that if one chased success and followed the contemporary plan to work for the money and save, then when one retires, you can afford to do that thing that has eluded you. The misconception you can retire to a tropical beach and live in Margaritaville is a hollow goal. Now that I can afford to write, even if someone will never read it, much less pay for it. Now that I can create pictures, I find joy and satisfaction; even if the critics hate them, I am challenged only by the craft. Learning the skill is my cross. I am far from independently wealthy I still need to manage the nest egg closely, but I can afford more time to think it through a bit. So how do I share this journey, my thoughts about finding the one thing? I write a daily journal; the audience is but one– me.
OK, CURLY, HOW?
Having to live life, search through life’s lessons, and ponder its wrong decisions, miscues, and tragedies to find and live the one thing for just the final chapters is flawed. How can we sync to and realize what our design is or destination early in life? How can we help youth discover that sooner than we have or have not? So what do you have to say, Curly? Just how do we find the one thing? Knowing Curly, he will stick to the point it is not for him to say it is up to us to find it. He may, however, try to mentor us a bit and provide some suggestions. Curly’s suggestion list may look like a recipe for a great chili.
Resolve: You must have the motivation, desire, and determination to find the answer to your restlessness. Before beginning the journey, you need to have the spark to have a goal for your travels.
“Wherever you are – be all there.”
Humility: If you can read and comprehend this writing, admit you are the only one really to blame for the life you have led. You made bad decisions and wrong turn. No blaming parents, teachers, counselors, environment, the government, tragedies, illness, big banks, God, or another scapegoat you can dream up. You made the decisions; the consequences are the result of those decisions. Yes, people and circumstances can drop you to your knees, but it is up to you to have the determination to get back up. People can help you, but you need to have the desire to get back up.
Courage: The common ingredient for failure to live a completed whole life is FEAR. The – This might happen. – Leads to the – Someday I will. Culminates in the – I wish I had. Face it; life is not safe, secure, warm, comfortable, or a smooth ride. Life is a terror; it is complex, complicated, and scary with no guarantees. Life is not a merry-go-round; it is a roller coaster. You may need to be shocked back into life; it means a significant change; change is good but always scary.
Perseverance: Life is a tribulation, a life that, with diligence, builds character, and mature character develops hope. It is the hope that overcomes fear and allows us to dream and dream big. It is straight from the Bible stuff, the best self-help book written. Plagiarism from the bible will be the foundation for my writing.
“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” – J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings.
Faith: Todo, one must believe. Have confidence in your journey, however long it is. However hard it is. However scary it is. However frustrating or annoying it is. I believe that to believe is to be. Knock, seek, and you will find. It may be on your deathbed, but you will find it. With God at the helm of your life’s boat, no matter how rough the seas become, you can walk on water through faith. The bible states that to each a measure of faith is given, some more, some less. I believe that for those given less confidence, our journey first leads us to our faith; once discovered, we could proceed to the understanding of our purpose, our one thing.
Mentor – God’s message often comes through the people we meet. A good, successful scout, guide, mentor, and navigator are critical to a successful journey for anyone and likely the most challenging ingredient to find. A mentor can point out the pitfalls, potholes, and mistakes they have seen along their way to finding the one thing. Look for the person who is smiling and assure that all is good and right. It is the father’s responsibility to mentor the son, I have not been a god-centered mentor for mine, but in these final chapters, I pray I will.
These characteristics are individual traits to have, and the willingness to develop these traits is essential to your journey. If you are content where you are and have no compunction about chasing the dreams, you once had or if you do not have the right stuff – willingness to work hard, some control over your fears, and the humility to admit when you are wrong, then certainly be content. If you are happy, content, and living the dream, continue what you are doing right now; you may have already found the one thing and never really given it much consideration.
If you lack happiness and contentment and have the right stuff, you can continue to follow Curly’s receipt to discover the one thing. However, if you lack the ingredients, individual character development and life’s journey do not have to be traveled alone. A best-traveled Life is with a supporting crew. Your God, family, wife, best friend, or mentor can be valuable in your expedition. Without community and relations, you will likely never find “the one thing.” After all, where can you get critiqued and gain encouragement?
Finding a mentor is as hard as finding ten good friends, lifelong friends the kind that they show up no matter what if there is trouble. In the movie – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the writers coined some great finding the one thing quotes that deal with life’s journey, fear, and perseverance. I suggest that at this point, you quit reading this muse and watch the movie. For now, here is a short list:
“The only real failure is the failure to try, and the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.”
As we always must. We came here, and we tried. All of us, in our different ways. Can we be blamed for the feeling we’re too old to change? Too scared of disappointment to start it all again? We get up every morning; we do our best. Nothing else matters. But it’s also true that the person who risks nothing does nothing; has nothing. All we know about the future is that it will be different. But, perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same. So, we must celebrate the changes. Because, as someone once said, “Everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me, it’s not yet the end.”
Now watch the movie and come back after you have.
So what did you learn from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? It’s never too late; change is good; we are who we are. The movie exemplifies every once and a while; we need to be shocked back into life from our sleepy safe, secure routine. You do not have to be gray-haired to need to be shocked back to life; you could be at any age or any stage of life. You will very likely have to start a new journey with course corrections sometime in your life.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the rings
Life is a dangerous business, no escaping it. To venture out of your door means exposing yourself to risk, heartbreak, disappointment, criticism but also opportunities, love, jubilation, and praise. Many surveys of aging people ask about regrets that range from financial, emotional, love, spiritual, and wellness. Some had more regrets in specific areas; one thing common to virtually all was they wished they had taken more risk when opportunities presented themselves and during course corrections.
My roots are in North Dakota, and that is where I started my journey. On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to spend time in Medora in the North Dakota Badlands and visit Teddy Roosevelt’s ranches, the Maltese Cross, and the Elkhorn. Sue Flanagan documents Teddy Roosevelt’s journey well in the book Trailing the Longhorns by a good background read for any of our journeys. Teddy Roosevelt said,” I would not have been the President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” Theodore was on his quest to find the one thing and the main road that needed to be traveled led him through some tough times, including the heartbreak of losing his mother and wife in a single night. The wild badlands living and his tragedies built Teddy’s character, the foundation for his most famous quote, The Man in the Arena, an excerpt from his speech “Citizenship In a Republic,” was delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April 1910.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the Arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
MAKING CURLY’S CHILI:
If you have not developed the ingredients needed to make chili or the willingness to build those character traits – then leave the kitchen now, find a mentor, seek them out within you and return. Keep mindful we are all searching; I have no magic pill or process, just my observations, thoughts, ideas, and the wisdom from the people who were willing to share it and from the stories of others who have successfully walked the road. I have, however, found common elements, laws that need compliance to every success. I have come to know them, but again have not always complied with them, and every time there were hard-edge consequences. I have screwed things up in significant proportions. I have hurt the people who have loved me the most. I have allowed pride to rule me. I am seventy-one years old, and I desire to live the last twenty, maybe thirty right to the full. Maintain diligence; we are on this road together, so I have to mind these rules as much as you. We all know the right thing to do; this writing and these rules are reminders for all of us.
Law 1.) – Rules of the road:
First, give into the fact that life is risky, dangerous, hard work, and we have to persevere to the end. Failure and mistakes along the way are healthy, beneficial, and unavoidable. Failure paves the path to success. At all crossroads, we will never choose the most accessible road. Believe in your gut, your intuition. Love others, be a Samaritan; always take time out from your journey to help another along their way, no matter how long it takes. Each day has some alone time, quiet your thoughts, clear your head, listen and pray for direction and guidance. Prepare for the daily opportunities as presented, and be observant of the possibilities. Dream and dream big at any age. The fearless child within you has never left you. Be mindful of your health, move, think and do untraditional things. Maintain healthy relationships and care for your friends – your traits and character depend on them, so pick wisely. Finding the one thing and having success has nothing to do with making a lot of money or having a lot of power.
Law 2.) – Think it through:
Clear your head, take the time to dream, and imagine how you can live the time you have left well. Thinking clearly without the annoyances and noise of scattered and random thoughts is the most challenging thing for me to do. Just because I believe I have a good idea, something comes along to distract me. Once it passes by, I question myself – “Now, where was I?” I am at my cabin at a lake on the Canadian border; my wife is sleeping, there is no one around to disturb me; the scene outside is a poster perfect winter day with fresh snow and frost on the trees. You would think this is the ideal environment for serious thinking and writing uninterrupted or disturbed – NOT! The idea is correct – find a quiet, restful place and meditate, but it is tough to quiet the mind. I know it will take work, but keep seeking the answer and write your thoughts and ideas down so you can go back later and find them.
Law 3.) – Goals are Great – make a list:
Face it, plans constantly mutate, and navigation is cloudy. Plans must transform to meet the challenges that we have no control over. It is not the plan that is important; it is the goal. How do you know where you are going without them. For me, I would like to impact the people I meet positively. I want to be doing something that rewards my family and others more than myself. There are some specific places I want to see, things I would like to do, wrongs I want to atone, mistakes I want correct, and senses I want to awaken. The bucket is enormous for the list of things I need to change or do. I am not sure the list is even the correct list at this time. I am sure that as I travel, some things from the list will fall off, and others added to it. So please make a list of possibilities as you see, act on them, know and expect them to change. I will share my entire list with you later but know the primary goal is finding the one thing, realizing my purpose in life, and fulfilling it in these final chapters. Who knows, maybe this writing will be read by one person who is helped to find their purpose and helps them live a robust and righteous life.
Law 4.) – Pray, be thankful, rejoice with all circumstances and meditate.
The rock upon which every good plan builds is prayer. As the most critical and the most beneficial law, we must pray constantly, rejoice in every moment, good or bad and think before acting.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 New International Version (NIV)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus
Most of us may only pray when we need something or during a life-threatening event. As a plane is about to crash, even an atheist reaches out and prays – most would never admit it. The whole idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent loving God who listens to our prayers and is willing to share his wisdom is impossible to comprehend. All of us have at some time reached out for advice from someone we respected or wished we had someone that could guide us in the right direction. So why not go straight to the top and ask your questions and build a relationship with God. God may not always give you the answers you thought or wished for, but he will always guide you to the right path.
For all of the non-believers or fence-sitters, ask yourself, what is the harm in trying. Knock, seek, and you will find. My testimony shows my faith foundational facts and the truisms that have happened to me directly from prayer. We all want to live an abundant complete, and prosperous life. In John 10:10, Christ said – I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Try it; you will like it, it will love you.
Law 5.) Be inquisitive ask questions – others may have insight into your purpose.
Often outsiders can see what we cannot. Strangers and friends are spontaneous and can see into us directly; we are always looking into a mirror with Everything backward and full of noisy secrets. People from infants to the elderly and even animals have a sense about you that can shine a light on your path. Filter all comments with your insight about the critic interpreting who you are and what you should be doing. After all, this entire exercise questions our souls to discover who we are and what we should be doing. I always ask the question – “What is your story?” and “Do you feel there are exciting chapters yet to develop in your story?” You would be amazed how many people will share their secrets, pain, and success, giving excellent illumination upon where to turn and things to avoid. Most of all, look into the mirror and be honest about yourself. Ask yourself who you are, what you like, what you love, and what you don’t about yourself. Most importantly, always ask, “Why.”
We now have the ingredients, the laws to abide by, and all agree that the travel we are about to undertake will be arduous and include a healthy amount of risk. We are at the crossroads, evaluating the trails that lay ahead of us. We packed our bags, and knew the goals, and had the resolve to achieve them.
There was a cartoon on Saturdays I would love to watch in my youth – Mister Peabody and his way-back machine. Peabody’s Improbable History features a talking dog historian and Sherman, his pet human and fellow time traveler. The duo would venture into their time machine aptly named “The Way-back Machine” and visit historical places and events only to discover that their assistance was necessary to make history turn out according to plan and the history books. “Set the Way-back Machine” has become a familiar phrase for recalling past times. As for the time travel aspects of the show, it always appeared that after arriving on the scene, Peabody and Sherman would discover that the reality of the past was not what the history books had made it out to be. Mr. Peabody and Sherman always took it upon themselves to get involved and set things right to keep history on the right track.
We need to get honest with ourselves and understand what history has made of us today. Our past has developed our character and beliefs of today. Our dreams of the future as boys and girls remain in our hearts. From the beginning, we dreamt of the possibilities of what we could be. Unlike Mr. Peabody and Sherman, we cannot travel back in time and correct our past errors; there are no do-overs, no mulligans. We will live our lives with the consequences of our bad decisions. Experience is valuable; experience is wisdom if appropriately applied. Our past mistakes can provide us the insight to make the right decisions in the future. It is crazy, but the truth is that without understanding our past’s errors, we cannot right our future.
We are the totality of all of our experiences and God’s design and purpose. For me, I believe God is the author; he has placed opportunities as breadcrumbs along our path; each is lost or found by our choices. God has a plan, and our role and script are critical to his plan. Even our time and place in history have meaning. I have wondered why I was born in North Dakota and not Hawaii? My son Joe is a great guitarist. He has often told me he was born in the wrong segment of rock history; he should have been part of the ’60s and ’70s. All input into our magnificent brain adds to who we are; the books we read, the television programs we watch, the friends we hang out with, our teachers, family, and strangers we meet all ingredients to our chili receipt. Remember who we are and what our purpose has nothing to do with place or time.
Let’s set the way-back machine and see if we can right what God meant in our lives. Each of you needs to examine your past clearly, unbiasedly manner; it is impossible to do it but do it the best you can. For now, let’s look at mine and see if it will illuminate critical features of my character and how I can convert my experience into the wisdom needed to navigate my future correctly. Hopefully, you can do the same.
This story is “To Be Continued.”