The Dangers of Second Hand Thought
At first I wrote because I thought that would make it happen,
but it didn’t.
So then I wrote about it not happening,
and it still didn’t happen.
After that I wrote that it would never happen,
and nothing happened.
Now I write because when I write
that is it happening.
Richard Van Ingram
Life rises up like a tremendous black wave full of hidden things, treasures and
treacheries, opportunities and disappointments, and it crashes around us, rises
up and crashes again and again. We are, from the span between our arrival and
departure, caught in this relentless crash and flow, and by our effort or
failure to exert ourselves, by the cooperation, hindrance, or indifference of
others, by good or poor fortune signified by what circumstances we are handed –
from all of this we salvage ourselves, create who we are.
Our lives are not handed to us ready-made. We are offered roles to step into and
society does demand we fulfil these in stereotypical fashions. Mediocrity and
unimaginativeness are wide-spread mainly because people do not realize they have
choices about what roles they assume or about how to perform them; we do not
often think about what values we might devote ourselves to -- or question -- and
how we might put them into effect, intellectually, morally, aesthetically.
Many of us do not understand that our lives need not entirely consist of what
anonymous forces demand – my life could be more of an adventure than it is when
I just get in line to do what "everyone else" is doing.
How many of us started our lives with a dream, a dream of a future we would like
to inhabit, a dream of someone we wanted to be or things we truly wanted to do?
Perhaps the dream was unrealistic in some way, but dreams are like that; they
are ideal and ideals are by definition not "real" in the same way most things
are. To make a dream "real" means adjusting it to our circumstances and then
using it to change the circumstance as much as possible.
But the acid of daily existence often consumes a dream. Little by little we find
it weakening, fading. We begin setting it on a mental shelf where it becomes
dusty, covered by the cobwebs of passing days as our time becomes filled with
taking on the roles society and the economy demands we occupy in order to "make
a living," "gain status," "fit in."
The years pass. When nostalgic or sad, maybe we pick up the dull remnant of a
dream and polish it, wistfully imagine we might actually pursue it. Maybe we’re
convinced we are pursuing it. But it has ossified, become fossilized, something
no more effective than any other dead thing we keep on the shadowy shelf of
plans that failed to materialize.
Or, in the course of actually pursuing our dream, perhaps we became sidetracked
for other reasons. Maybe there were crises, turmoil, personal disasters that
wore us down. Maybe there was abuse or illness. Maybe we weren’t the right race
or from the correct strata of society. Perhaps no one would help us or see the
value in our pursuits and, instead, they demanded we do things that pleased them
or seemed less threatening – perhaps we were just ignored and our pleas went out
of our mouths like breath in winter, freezing on the air to drop groundward
before anyone’s ear cared to listen.
Maybe our schools were geared to destroy dreams and replace them with the far
more practical plans of a society that needed workers in other areas. Maybe,
hopeless or careless, we drowned our disappointment with the first of too many
drinks, pills, with the heavy perfume of marijuana, tabs of acid; maybe we began
to spike crank or heroin and traded our life for death-in-life.
Maybe our church became so obsessed with the End of the World it offered little
consistent guidance and assistance; or maybe our church became so obsessed with
gaining power and influence in this world it forgot about everyone and
Maybe, in the face of all these things and what they are, our hearts shattered
and from this wound we bled the black tar of cynicism that coated our souls – we
gave up and no longer care, and we believe anyone who does so is a fool.
Once we had a dream and now we do not. Once we had hope and the future appeared
as something worthwhile -- now it appears as another day full of chores or
something to desperately fill with novelties and amusements or to be washed down
with chemicals to dull our bereavement.
The crash and flow of the black wave washes around us and pushes us over, sucks
us down, strikes us from the left and the right; it comes on incessantly as a
question: "What will you do now?" And though my life does not come ready-made, I
must decide to what degree I will relinquish my creativity, give up, accept
ready-made answers without attempting to use my own mind and soul to seek who I
I must decide daily whether I will attempt to live my dreams or whether I will
refuse to try and begin to accept, without thinking, "someone else’s" solution
to the great mystery of my existence.
I must decide – face life and all that it is or fall to sleep, go beneath the
wave, go where the pointless current pulls me.
I keep thinking of Bob Dylan’s words from the song "All Along the Watchtower:" I
think of them often:
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
The hour is perpetually late when we are talking about life and how to live it;
our daily task is to learn for ourselves what things are truly worth, our lives
most of all.