“In the midst of my skeptical, cynical, often pessimistic nature exists a slender capacity to believe, if only temporarily, in a guiding, unseen power, and whenever this happens, I go with it. That’s what inspiration is. You don’t get it from the gods. You make it.”
The minute I read what Mr. Eugenides said, I knew it to be true. Ding!
Ding. Transitive Verb. “1. To cause to clang, as by striking.” Easy to spell and the only vowel in the word was the ‘i’ [note to reader: hold that thought…we’ll come back to it later].
As I sit here, with the Bob Mintzer Big Band – Homage to Count Basie wailing in my headphones, I’m calling up a file in my mind, the one that holds the incredible memories of a day out with my dad when I was maybe 12. This looms large in my Pantheon because it was the first time he asked me to come with him to go suit shopping at Eisenstein’s on Roosevelt Road here in Chicago. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do you think I was excited? Out of the blue, there I was, finally poised on the verge of stepping across some kind of magical line that meant the polyester Easter suits from Sears were now behind me, forever. COOL!
But just as suddenly as my face split into a smile, it hit me – what did I know about suits? Dad even had a salesman, Benjamin. My brain is silently yelling me in its quiet voice, ‘What are you doing? Don’t choke…be cool…easy there’.
No need. I was in the hands of a pro. A short and dapper Jewish gentleman, Benjamin’s uniform seemed to be always be a well-made suit and vest he’d wear without the jacket (as I discovered over the next ten years I bought his suits). With measuring tape draped around his neck like the Seal of Office, you just knew…this guy knew his stuff. “What can I show you today?” Right out of the chute, Dad explained to Benjamin that he wanted him to help us buy me my first real suit. Both of them must have simultaneously seen my ‘bambi, caught in headlights‘ look. All I can remember is my dad’s oddly nonchalant way of quieting me down: “Just go for what goes ‘ding’”.
Now noting Benjamin’s classy (but obvious) validation of my father’s counsel, the three of us (my first posse, don’t you know) began to walk the endless racks that constituted Benjamin’s domain. Before long, and with three or four selections draped over his arm, he led us back to the dressing rooms past the 3-sided mirror that was to be my stage. Opening that dressing room door, I stepped out in the first contender to be my new suit. Standing on what seemed almost to be a conductors platform, me and my gym shoes were now 8” off the floor. Inhaling, I looked up and the evaluation began. I have vivid laser-like memories of everything we did that day together. But you know what? What I remember best is my dad’s bit of wisdom shared my way that day. “When it goes ‘ding’, that’s the one”.
I’ve relied on the Ding Factor ever since. It doesn’t happen often which is why I pay attention to it. I can’t cause it. It isn’t something that can be anticipated, but when it happens? All I hear is, ‘Dan. Pay attention’.
I’ve wondered lately about the anatomy of Ding. How is it that Ding has never disappointed me? How does ‘it‘ know? Is it in my head or my heart? What causes it to sound at one particular rare moment and stay silent during all the rest of the time passing for mundane? Enquiring minds want to know. Why won’t Ding serve me all the time? Wouldn’t it be great if Ding showed up each and every time I was confronted with a decision? And maybe more to to the point, how is it that I so instantly trust it when it happens?
Whatever the reasons, such moments of decisive clarity can be few and far between. Recently I had the chance to watch Matt Damon in the movie, We Bought a Zoo. I’ll let you enjoy the marvelous story-telling for yourself, except to say there was one moment that froze me back in time. Without giving the context away, Damon’s character, Benjamin Mee, tells his son: “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Unanticipated, wholly accurate and needing no other defense, Mee’s statement lit my fuse and a one-word blast. Ding. And I knew it to be true.
But believing can be difficult. I remember wondering what Freud might say about me as a strict evangelical kid and the one word I was having trouble spelling at school was ‘believe’. Seriously and for whatever reason, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t grasp how the ‘i’ and the ‘e’ worked whenever they stood next to each other. It was a real concern. Why couldn’t I get this? It was becoming all I could think about. What do I do? Clearly, the whole ‘trial and error’ thing wasn’t going well. Sensing my panic, my teacher tried another approach. Instead of worrying about how to spell it, I was asked if I wanted to make it fun by learning a trick on spelling one of the few words I could never seem to memorize. A trick? I’m in. What is it? I can hear Miss Adams voice as she said, “I before Everyone else; ‘i’ before ‘e’. Believe.”
I don’t think we are born lying. More often, we’re born screaming, bloody and covered with slime, but not lying. While I’ll grant you the moment of birth image is not likely to make the Hallmark Card Editorial Board’s Top Ten Cover Illustrations list, we know right away what is true. Even as infants, we are equally culpable when it dawns on our rapidly developing brains that the best way to get picked up, is to keep screaming. Practice does make perfect, even in infancy.
And yet, who among us hasn’t conspired in some way to perpetuate the whole Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy thing for the kids…especially the little ones.
Remarkably, and in spite of everything I just said, little kids by and large, believe that everything they’re taught is true. All of which brings us back to the Santa thing…like I said, plenty of truth shading to go around for everyone – irrespective of culture or ethnicity. But even if the source is (allegedly) imaginary, you can’t deny the electric levels rising in any kid as Christmas gets close. Kids believe. Milk and cookies? Check. Stockings? Check. Off to bed to lay wide-awake. Check. I marvel at the power the mere mention of Santa can invoke. Why? Because they believe.
Compounding all of this is our innate ability to believe what we want. Like the time you got a new car (or something) and suddenly became aware of all the other Chevy’s just like yours. They were always there, but now, you view them as an affirmation of your wisdom at selecting that particular model of automobile. What changed? You were paying attention.
It’s so simple I’ve missed it plenty of times: What you chose to focus on determines where you find the Truth you need, when you need it. It has nothing to do with some kind of empirical scientific formula and it’s not likely to come in the form of some kind of miraculous E-Mail delivered directly to your in-box from an emanating Cosmos. That said, it doesn’t mean a miracle isn’t happening inside you. For me, the awe-inspiring miracle in all of this, is each of us having a Soul capable of such feats of mental, physical and spiritual gymnastics. Or are we, in the words of Dr. Spock, simply being “illogical”?
That I can, and do, believe is compelling evidence enough. And here’s the thing. It really is up to us…each of us. What we choose to believe unleashes power from somewhere deep and bubbly inside. My hunch is wherever it comes from, it lives next door to our free moral agency. It really is up to us. Miraculous.
I opened the post with a quote from Jeffrey Eugenides. In the Oprah link, you can read about how he tapped into his belief that he could finish his life’s work in the face of…well, I’ve said too much already. Point is, the imagery of an owl became instrumental in propelling his writing forward. Not unlike my vowel trick, owls were his avenue. Let’s join the article, already in progress:
”The owl is sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom. Traditionally, the owl represents vigilance, knowledge and sagacity. Morris tells us that, for the ancient Greeks, the appearance of an owl was a good omen.
Likewise, my happening upon all those flea-market owls isn’t that remarkable. As I’ve since learned from my collecting habit, there are always owl figurines for sale at flea markets. I’d just never noticed them before. That’s how coincidence works: The signs from God people are always claiming to find are really a function of their own brain’s selecting, from the myriad objects in the world, those that cohere to the story they’re telling themselves.”
At first blush, I took Eugenides as being anti-religion. But I wonder if it’s really as simple as him speaking to the same Truth as served by organized religion. They both profess to want much of the same thing when it’s all done and said. OMG. They are on the same side! Who knew?
So my challenge to myself this week is to run towards what is coming at me. My choice is not some kind of reckless commitment to a collision course. It is the uniquely personal decision to face and embrace. And down deep? I know it’s the right thing to do. Love validates it. It is in me. God likes it. And in my heart of hearts, I instantly know it to be true. You believe. You.
But wait, there’s more. The next part is where the magic starts. It’s in that moment…those ’20-seconds’ when you begin to do the ‘doing’ part. It is the universal spark of transformation – of anything and anyone – for good or bad. It’s all in the choices we make.
One of my favorite bits on MSNBC is the package in which Martin Bashir points out that nowhere else but in America does he see this intense blend of Individuality coupled with being part of a larger Collective. He goes on to say that when other places in the world experience a disaster or terrorist event, you see people running away. In America, you see people running towards it. We help. It’s in our wiring. Watch Bashir’s clip for yourself and see if you don’t see what I mean. He’s describing what is the best in who we are as a nation of individuals. It is who we are.
We instinctively run towards that and those we love. My humble plan is to turn around and run at some love with the family in IN. It’s been too long. Uncle Lee is waiting. Lots to talk about. Lots to eat. I am grateful for that too. Me? I’m going to be listening this week. You?
Whatever comes at you this week, my wish is you’ll be large; brave and answer the bell when you hear it. Besides, you know it’s for you anyway.
Rent it. Get it on-demand. Go to the video store. See this movie. You really owe it to yourself to take the time to witness Cameron Crowe’s award-winning story. A grounded roller coaster ride through the life of a family with a dad and two young kids who are coping with the death of their mom, I can’t endorse this enough. A really well written story Crowe demonstrates a superb subtle brush stroke in bringing the story to life on the screen. Want a jolt of all that is good? See this movie.
Read more about it at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1389137/
FALL READING LIST: http://www.oprah.com/packages/reading-room.html
If you don’t have the urge to pick up a book, here’s a mini-dose of reading that might just rock your world. Go on…I dare you. ‘Martha Beck: How to Silence Your Inner Critic Once and for All‘: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-to-Believe-in-Yourself-Stop-Negative-Thinking. It’s an easy read that provides some concrete ideas for changing the view you have of your landscape.
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: Great Horned Owl: http://photoramas.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/great-horned-owl.jpg; Ding Bike Bell: http://rollingorangebikes.com/ding-dong-bell/; Definition of DING. “1. To cause to clang, as by striking.”: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ding; neck-tie: http://everygirliscrazyaboutasharpdressedman.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/make-or-break/; schematic: http://gramlich.net/projects/mrspeedcontrol/revision_c/index.html; spelling%20bee: http://www.edgalaxy.com/journal/2011/3/10/online-spelling-bee-challenges-your-students-will-love.html; Car Kiddy: http://www.screanews.us/ScreaNews/ScreaNews1005/WheelsLoved.htm; Ancient Native American depictions of Owl: http://www.richardcassaro.com/tag/yale-owls; Eugenides quote (November 14, 2012 – Thought For The Day – Oprah.com newsletter – www.Oprah.com: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Jeffrey-Eugenides-How-to-Believe-in-Yourself; Owl Source and Owl Inset: http://www.public-domain-image.com/animals/birds/owl/slides/owl.html;
Martin Bashir on American Individualism and its sense of Community:
Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on being able to eat. I’ve grown fond of it over the years. But having ‘food security’ is not a given – Here’s a trusted avenue where you can do your part. And if you need someone to help you, same drill. Take it. It’s a great way to cut through all the data and get to where you need to be so you can feed yourself and your family or someone else you know that may be in deeper peril than they let anyone know. I’m just saying…’food for thought’: http://feedingamerica.org/foodbank-results.aspx
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