The season of Lent is traditionally, for many people, a season of quitting; of giving up something as a way of finding something else. My problem with Lent is that If there is anything that I am bad at (and I am bad at many things) right at the top of the list is probably the process of quitting. I am simply not a quitter. I don't give up. In poker, I never fold; in relationship, I keep pushing on through the place where things are obviously over; in business, I can't let go despite the fact that I am going broke, nothing is working, and all hope was lost long ago. After Katrina, in New Orleans there was a sign on the wall of one of the businesses that was struggling to come back to life. I found a picture of that sign while I was living in exile away from New Orleans and I adopted it's theme as my personal clarion call.
My friend Zach is constantly reminding me of the John Cleese line from the movie Clockwise, when he exclaims, "It's not the despair, Lord, I can stand the despair... It's the hope!" This really does tend to be my problem. Even when I know I need to quit, when I know I should quit, when I know it's really important to get moving and get going. I am still paralyzed by the hope that something will happen, something will change, something good will come out of the current catastrophic situation.
Last night, on my way home from San Francisco, after a wonderful day of doing not much of anything in particular with my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, I listened to the Sondheim & Lapine show, Sunday In The Park With George for the first time in a very long time. At the heart of the musical stands the difficult problem of sticking with or leaving, hoping, or moving on; or perhaps, as it is explained in the penultimate number of the show, hoping and moving on at the same time.
I have always been plagued by George's frustration and struggle with coming up with a way of living and creating that is at the same time new and his own. One of the reasons this show so moved me 30 years ago, and continues to do so today, is that it reaches right down inside my soul and speaks directly to my biggest personal, life-long struggle, doing wonderful, original work, and living a life of heart and meaning and depth and soul.
I just don't know how to do both, but I want to so badly that there are times (like now) when I simply want to shriek in agony at the frustration of my ignorance and inability to figure out what to do and how to do it. Perhaps the best advice comes in Marie's comment at the beginning of this scene when she says, "You meant to tell me to be where I was, not some place in the past or the future. I worried too much about tomorrow. I thought the world could be perfect. I was wrong."
Right now, I am indeed seeking to be where I am, accepting the possibility of moving on despite an extreme lack of clarity, and hoping that in the process I can indeed discover what really is mine to be and do. I am also aware that this is really not enough. Life exists on a fulcrum between Be Here Now and Where Are You Going. Stay too long on one side or the other and all kinds of problems ensue. The true beauty of living can only be made manifest in that combination of elements that George recites at the beginning and end of the play, order, design, tension, balance, light... Harmony.
Somewhere between Never Give Up and Move On there's a place of Harmony and that is the place I'm hoping to find during this seasonal time of searching. It's a process of knowing when to stick and knowing when to quit. It's a place of living in the moment and dreaming of the future. It's a place of big dreams and daily realities.
As Bruce Cockburn sings... "It's hard to live."
For another take on all this, I've had Elton John and Leon Russel's song, Hey Ahab, on constant play in my head and on my iTunes for the past three months. Beyond the emotional connection that links both determination and wisdom with the real life struggles of Leon Russell in recent years, it really is just about the best rock and soul song to come down the pike in a very long time.
Deep in the belly of my own big fish these days, I keep looking for that sign that says "Hope Allowed!" I still want to hang onto that hope, but I also need to understand when it's time to "catch a ride outta here!" To move on to the next thing, while still honoring, and loving, and somehow being glad of what I have done and where I have been.
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