Remember this scene from City Slickers?
It endures because it is funny. When we are young, we laugh at the absurdity of this speech being given to a group of little kids. When we are older, we nervously, knowingly laugh at what we know all too well to be true.
It’s not the greatest movie ever made about a mid-life crisis (that distinction belongs to The Incredibles), but it is a very good one. IMHO, Curly’s “One thing” soliloquy is not too far from the truth.
We must view this crazy period in life as comedy, otherwise the themes would be too harsh to bear. I’ll never forget late one night in the 70’s hearing Kansas’ Dust in the Wind on the radio. As the guitar faded and Steve Walsh vamped, the DJ’s first words were, “Hey, dudes, lighten up!”
We are all that way. We’d rather not face the fact that, without some kind of transcendence, the life that we were so in love with in our youth – is meaningless.
Every person has to face this fact when he gets about my age. I am absolutely convinced that King Solomon was having a mid-life crisis when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.
I absolutely LOVE this book. It speaks to me, at this point in my life, like no other. Yet, it is probably the most passed-over book in the Bible. On its surface, it’s incredibly depressing (like Billy Crystal’s speech). Except for a hippy-trippy song by The Byrds, the book remains mostly ignored, even in sermons. Christians and Jews would much rather present a positive view of life – the kinds found in other portions of the Torah and the Bible.
Yet, I love it for two reasons: it provides a backdrop for our happy ending that appears later, and it holds up a harsh mirror to the belief of people who say that this world and these lives are all there is. Like the picture of Dorian Gray, the youthful, vibrant picture of life they try to sell us is revealed as a lie. Any meaning they try to assign to this life is revealed as bull.
Solomon helped us get to the point where we could find what’s really important by stripping away what is not important. The world introduces a lot of noise that must be filtered out before we can get to the truth.
Riches? Solomon was rich beyond measure, yet when he surveyed it all, he deemed it meaningless. It could not fill the hole in his heart. He knew that he would leave it all here when he died, and in the end, it would all be for nothing. I discovered the same thing.
Pleasure? Solomon was king – his will was the law of the land. He could do anything he wanted, take anyone he wanted, deny himself nothing. During a period of his life (probably his young adulthood), he filled his days with the pursuit of pleasure. He found that it was good at the time, but always left him feeling empty, needing the next fix. It gave him nothing tangible and of lasting worth. I discovered the same thing.
Wisdom? Solomon was wiser than any man who had come before. Yet, although his wisdom mostly prevented him from doing stupid or evil things, it did nothing to change the hearts of his subjects. They still murdered and stole and lied – he could not “outsmart” it. He could not fix the world’s woes through education and “awareness”. Even HE continued to mess up from time to time. AND – his wisdom showed him the truth: the grave awaits the wise and the ignorant. Wisdom is nice to have, but it will not save us, nor will it give our lives meaning. I discovered the same thing.
But there is another theme throughout the book: there is nothing new under the sun. This view is only possible if we take a step back from our busy lives and take the “longer” view. If we see the entire sweep of history, even eternity, and if we take out the particular, we can see that the same things happen over and over again, generation to generation.
We usually do not see this, because we are able to convince ourselves that our present concerns are unique and of extreme importance. If we take a “long” view, we realize how silly we were to get all worked up over things that didn’t really matter in the long run.
Every generation acts as if it is the first to discover that war is bad and sex is pleasurable. This tickles me.
It also tickles me how, throughout history, mankind has convinced himself that he has evolved from his savage, ignorant beginnings.
Have you ever considered our behavior concerning global warming? (This is NOT a scientific criticism, I leave that to smarter people than me. I’m more interested in people’s behavior). Let’s be clear: it gets hot in the summer. Tornadoes happen in the spring. Hurricanes have been plaguing the seas in the late summer since the dawn of time. Some areas flood, some have drought.
Yet, we are convinced that we are unique, that our times are unique. We take our secular sages’ and prophets’ word for it and so easily embrace the concept that weather that has been happening since the dawn of time is happening because we have done something wrong and made the mountain god angry. Oh, we are too sophisticated to call the great force of vengeance we worship a ‘god’, but sociologically, our language and behavior are no different than the ‘savages” who quake at the rain and make sacrifices to appease their angry god.
There is a freedom, a kind of peace, in stepping out of the temporal and seeing the longer view. It allows you to clear the noise and get to what really is important. You notice things.
When we started this journey, I highlighted the critical issues of our time, and why the 2008 election is the most important election in my lifetime. Read them again and ponder them, for they are of extreme importance to us all. As we are reminded often, history will judge us, and our children will never forgive us if we choose unwisely.
The only problem is, those issues aren’t from today, they are from 1972.
Read them again. There is, it would seem, nothing new under the sun.
And, let me tell you, when I think of my father and his advancing years, when I try to earn the right to tell the story of his life, I couldn’t care less how my father voted in the “overwhelmingly important” election of 1972. I try, but I just don’t care if he voted for Nixon or McGovern. It really doesn’t matter to me as his son. It’s just not something I think about.
I think about how he manned up when he became a young father.
I think of how he loved his wife with the intensity of one whose life depends on it.
I think of how he loved John Denver, and the Eagles, and Jim Croce.
I think of how he once literally ran into a burning building to save my brother.
I think of how he never gave up on me, even though I was very strange and hard to love.
I think of how he never quit on life, even though life threw more at him than most people can bear.
I think of how he loved nature (especially the beach), and could never be at peace until he was out of the city.
I remember autumn cookouts and summer trips to the mountains or the beach. I remember ALL the sporting events he went to, no matter how tired he was. I remember a love for fried eggs over medium and chocolate covered cherries. I remember how he has never been above a little silliness every now and then.
There is so much more, and my fervent prayer is that we will still have lots more time, and hopefully we will get have enough talks so I can fill in the blanks of his story.
I might even get around to asking him how he voted in 1972.
In City Slickers, Curly tells Mitch that the secret to life is finding that “one thing” that will make your life meaningful. I have found it, and that allows me to laugh at the truthfulness in Ecclesiastes without despair. I’ve made no secret what my one thing is, but that’s a conversation for another time.
But I’d like you to think about what is important, and what is not. What will your loved ones (and others) think about as you pass to eternity?
Find that, and hold it like a precious jewel.
Thank you for indulging me in this conversation.