Truth – where it comes from, and where it goes
Truth is always the shortest distance between two points but can seldom be apprehended by walking in a straight line.
I was only 13 when I learned about hypocrisy and the mesmerizing effect that dominance had on some people. My time as a Boy Scout had a profound influence on me -- it gave me the desire to achieve, to push myself to accomplish tasks I had never thought possible. When I completed the requirements for Eagle Scout, I was the youngest boy to achieve that goal in the nation at that time.
It was a fantastic achievement that gave me a corresponding glimpse into the dark side of humanity -- which turned me quite bitter for a period of time. The father of a close friend, also a Scout, was resentful that I was about to achieve the rank before his son did. I had one last step, a personal appearance before a Board of Review, elders of the community who had a deep and abiding knowledge of what it meant to achieve this rank.
He went to the board to protest, saying that I had not waited the proper periods of time between ranks, and should not be permitted the review. His arguments were fallacious and born of envy. I approached him directly to speak to him, to illustrate on a calendar that I did indeed complete the appropriate periods of time between each rank, but my arguments passed through him like water through a sieve. Finally, my father called the head of the Board of Review and explained everything to them clearly.
Although head of the committee was inexorably intertwined in business with my friend’s father, he relented, and my final interview was granted. I was so distraught during the process that my mother gave me half a Valium. The review was a success, and I was awarded the highest ranking, although my tribulations were far from over. He tried to convince me to delay the public ceremony to celebrate the achievement until his son could also earn the rank. The bitterness inside me began to boil and I turned his suggestion down flatly – as flat as the earth used to be.
Each year a scout troop must renew its charter – a public celebration of high order, during which many accomplishments are acknowledged, and several luminary awards are distributed. Unbeknownst to me, I was to receive the Daniel S. Hinerfeld award that evening for Scout of the Year. His father seethed with envy and anger. After my friend achieved his rank of Eagle Scout, he (and his cousin) became less active in scouting, eventually dropping out entirely.
When next January brought another Charter Night, I was floored to hear that both together (who were completely inactive during the previous year) were jointly awarded the Scout of the Year honorarium. To be clear, both friends were unaware of what was happening, and felt more than a little awkward as they approached the podium to accept an award that they knew they had not earned. His father was relentless in his determination to equal or surpass anything I had achieved, whether or not his son had deserved it. It was a cruel lesson – but it hardened me to the foibles of narcissism, hypocrisy and the petty politicking that can permeate our lives at a moment’s notice.
At the announcement I got up, turned around, and left the auditorium -- got on my bicycle and pedaled home quietly. I told my parents what had happened and withdrew from scouting the next day. I was unable to reconcile these political machinations, unaware that this type of behavior was the norm, not the exception for certain people.
This series of events coerced me to turn inward for several years. While I continued to associate with the people I grew up with, I kept most of them at a distance, unwilling to permit that aberrant situation to replicate itself again.
At 16 I began to associate with a different group, a very different bunch of people, much to the dismay and consternation of my parents. These weren’t bad people at all, but they were not of my parent’s religious preference, and that created a divide that I was never able to overcome with them. My parents became the same hypocrites I despised, and I found myself trapped in an unending loop that recycled itself every 24 hours.
This duality, Jews on one side of the field, Christians on the other, did not play out well for me after I left the microcosm I grew up in.
Across the street was warmth, kindness, acceptance, and generosity. I almost had to look these words up in a dictionary since I never experienced them on my side of North Dawes Avenue. Had I had an inkling of who Jesus was, the puzzle might have solved itself.
I spent the most time around Dave’s family. I saw them as the models for all of Norman Rockwell’s paintings in Life Magazine. A calm and quiet father, but understanding and all-wise; easily able to break these concepts down into bite sized morsels our psyches could quickly absorb. I learned more from him one evening watching him smoke his pipe that in a whole semester of guns and butter Economics.
While I could be a snide, cynical, and very sarcastic little squirt, none of these traits my parents so dearly taught me were permitted to surface in the presence of my new friend’s parents.
To help me reflect deeper, Dave poured me a Seagram’s and grapefruit juice cocktail one Friday evening while his parents were out on the town. We were prepping for the dance at the firehouse down the block and fortifying our constitution with a concoction that would soon come to be used in emergency rooms across the fruited plains as a quick and safe emetic, I struggled to keep mine down until the alcohol had retuned my brain to the proper key. ‘A’ above high ‘G’, I believe.
In a moment that would become familiar to me later in life, I was able to step outside myself while dancing, and examine the environs, my place in it, and the fun we shared as a unit. Pretty cool at 17.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, you might want to consider it. The Upside Down World discovered by the children therein is a perfect metaphor for what I found at the end of the evening when I returned home.
My parent’s goal was to pass along the tools of the trade they shared: lying, cheating, and stealing. Dad taught me all about the notion of infidelity by whimsically recounting how, not two weeks after I was born, he was in a bathtub with two French whores outside of Paris, I guess sharing my baby pictures. My mother was blacklisted by every lawyer in a 75 mile radius of Kingston because she never paid her bills.
Even without distinct religious values to guide me, I knew all of this was intrinsically wrong. While I never pretended to be an angel, and it would take nearly 30 more years to formally adopt a relationship with God, my conscience seemed to at least point me in the right direction.
The 60’s were no help at all. Moral equivalents. Moral ambiguity. Rank hedonism, and narcissistic disregard for the consequences of actions. It is somewhat normal to rebel against our parent’s generation. Without a good grasp of history and the ability to place events into the context of time, it is too easy to ignore the same mistake being made over and over again, looking fervently for new results (yeah, I know that’s the classic definition of insanity). To further complicate the search for truth, the late 70’s brought forth Outcome Based Education, the first formalized presentation of putting the cart-before-the-horse. In this absolutely hideous plan to distort the learning process, adults (or a dolt, as I like to call them), defined the end result first, and then worked backwards to determine how to reach that goal.
If you stood the entire notion of science on its head, this is what you would get. A backwards reaching hypothesis that confirms the results before they can occur naturally. I think we call that sophistry today. This laid the groundwork for the abolition of science, history, and literature – precisely where our educational system stands today.
Fortunately, as someone who spent more time observing the culture than participating in it (the blessing of photography), I was able to somewhat abstract myself from the process. This did not make me immune from the influence. Much like our archetypal yearly ‘flu shot’, it did not prevent me from becoming infected, it only ensured my symptomatic response would not be as fierce as the rest of the population.
One thought hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks not long after graduation – this philosophy crap had to go. My B.A. (specifically existential phenomenology, jointly awarded with the photojournalism degree I had earned) had me looking over my shoulder at every turn. I was spending far too much time debating and analyzing (in my head) the events before me. Rather than living, I was thinking, all the time. However, purging this mindset was not an easy task and took nearly 30 years to achieve the Japanese concept of Mushin – the empty mind.
It was only with the birth of our daughter that I was able to finally free myself of too much reflection. The biggest rut that any of us face is the notion that we are center of the universe and all things natural revolve around our perception, contemplation, and articulation of life as it unfolds.
“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
Our defining moments are punctuated by the ability to gracefully handle a crisis, especially a set of circumstance that we have never experienced before. What I was to ultimately learn, and bet everything on, was the capacity to trust in God’s mercy during difficult times. Unwavering faith is the only way to weather the storm.
All of us, every last one of us, can walk on water. Temerity is not required. The love of God’s love for each of us is all that is essential. This is not a leap of faith. It is a leap to faith.