GLORY…long before the coming of the tall ships and the Conestoga wagons, a Comanche boy-child hurls his first willow stick at a make-believe Apache enemy and dreams of warrior fame. LOVE…clutching her handful of phosphorus matches for sale on the dirty streets of Paris in 1849, a ragged little matchgirl catches sight of the royal carriage speeding toward the Palais de l’Elysee and imagines herself as a beautiful princess on the way to a ball. WEALTH…across the pond half a century later, a gang of kids in a Boston schoolyard vie for possession of the biggest and most colorful agates in a game of marbles.Fame, love, fortune – the trifecta of life. Been thinking about that in this month of trick-or-treat. Pondering how in any culture at any time, and at any age, we all pursue one or more of that trio. Well…most of us. Some people start out knowing what it takes others a lifetime to learn, i.e. that fame is fleeting, love is fickle and fortune does not confer happiness.
Wish I could share
some of the rending emails and confessions I hear almost every day that go
right to the heart of those conflicts. I am honored by the confidences, but
they weigh on me. And I feel phony when people think I have answers. The
answers that work for me I’m pretty sure would fit few people. Mostly they
would sound inexplicably bleak and totally out of sync with the positive energy
and romantic passion I enjoy. Nevertheless, I’m going to open up a bit for what
good it might do. Back up to the end of the previous paragraph, if you will,
where I wrote that some people start out knowing the lessons of fame, love and
Me, I was dumb on all three counts. Fortunately I had an outsized lust for perfection, and perfection is among life’s first casualties. So, early dreams shot through the heart should’ve cured me. But alas, the Irish in me does not permit surrender. Disillusionment, yes. Abiding cynicism, yes. A lack of trust, hiding in plain sight, nonconformity, ingenious end runs – yes, yes, yes, yes! But never surrender.
So somewhere in my
teen years I disappeared into a smokescreen. A lot of teens are angry for half
a decade or so when they are rudely awakened from their dreams. Reality pulls
no punches, and first failures and disillusionments hit hard. Because what does
it mean to be loved, admired and rewarded by a world that is often false,
faithless and hypocritical?
Whether or not that’s a youthful overreaction, rebellions fade. Either we simply forget our anger or we get distracted by the details of everyday living or – and this is the Holy Grail – we begin to forgive the world. Forgiving the world (which leads to loving the world) can take a long time.
I hear from a lot of people who are in that process of forgiving and loving, even if they don’t recognize it. Their anger and disillusionment have become hollow habits they would like to kick. I help them. And that helps me, because in a lot of ways they are mirroring my experience. More importantly, there is an upside. When you look over the shoulders of enough lives, you come to a point of realization that there are huge benefits to falling short in Fame, Fortune and even Love.
Don’t get me wrong, it is rare, rare, rare that anyone turns down any glimmer of those three shining stars. To do so is almost like stepping off the stage of life as if the play is over. After all, so much of who we want to be is predicated on pursuing those three goals. BUT…the devil is in the details, as they say, and be careful what you wish for; because you don’t have to succeed too wildly with love, fame or wealth to discover that the realities change the calculus.
Long-term love seldom stays romantic or even passionate. And it is not unconditional, if by that you include the daily compromises and adjustments to the natural inclination for freedom and control of one’s life that it requires. To be sure, habit makes it easier, even more secure. The mere idea of marriage can be comforting and comfortable if that’s what you’re used to. But there are benefits to being free as well. The expansion of magic and honesty in one’s life is enhanced by freedom, even if only to pursue the cycle of love again. Much as we want to be satisfied, reaching for that true love connection with all senses keen and circuits on is probably as close to being fully alive as we ever get. And feeling an urgent drive for life keeps us in growth mode as opposed to defense mode – which is just maintaining what you have. I like to define the amount of time we are in growth mode as our true lifespan. Reaching a destination is not always a good thing. Ah, yes, the journey, the journey...
And fame! That’s another marriage. A dependency on the very world whose capricious if not shallow trends and tastes almost always miss the mark. One must be very careful in building reputation, particularly careful about what it’s founded upon. What are you selling or pitching? True humility is not just in order, it is essential for survival! Because if you buy into your own celebration, you’ve missed the point of what other people want. You leave yourself naked in a winter as fickle as snowflakes that will kill you slowly with exposure. In the end, renown is more sincere, lasting and worthwhile if it comes in the form of respect one relationship at a time.
Gee, thanks for raining on the parade, Sully. What are you, a sore loser? I suppose you don’t like filthy lucre either. Nay, nay, maintaining the dream in all things is my message. Never get to the end of your journey or you’ll be leaving the best part behind. However, that said, the biz about fortune is somewhat unique.
Unlike love and fame, fortune is a tangible thing. How then does it become such a psychological jailer as it often does? Owning riches can very easily turn the tables and own you. The outstretched hands, the false friends, the schemes and scams of have-knots, the poisoning of familial relationships, the addiction to the process of gain, the dawning realization that one’s meaning is all tied up in material goods – these and more inevitably attend the person who is habituated to wealth and who must forever stand guard over their treasure. (Pssst!...I only know this second-hand.)
I think I eventually figured out fame and fortune back in those teen years. Love, not so much. Though that was probably what I was most cynical about. I did not even pursue it, because I didn’t believe a soulmate was possible. Foolish strategy. You cannot run run from what you secretly want. So, of course, love found me anyway and made my life plan parenthetical. No regrets, though it left me as cynical as ever. As a footnote, a true soulmate – the love of my life – made herself known to me subsequent to that. I’ve written about her in Sullygrams and columns going back years now, and how the gods of irony colluded with the impossible to launch that. But the point here is that the pure knowledge of what could have been makes all the difference in how I look at love in the present. I am infinitely grateful for that information. A soulmate for me is possible! That changes everything. Without that discovery perhaps the most transcendent magic of all would have remained a doubt in my romantic soul. Knowing where it could have gone makes every new encounter pulse with magnetism. It is there in the throbbing technicolor of life, lifting me from a long-ago cynicism that partitioned my world and denied me too many choices.
Given that so much of my email and communication go to the heart of what I’ve presented here, I hope this lengthy Sullygram was worth your time to read. Hope, too, that it reconciles a little the paradox of realism and romanticism co-existing. As always, I’m grateful for your looking over my shoulder and allowing me to look over yours. My one regret in this gloriously passionate and magical life I enjoy is the failure to share enough of what’s given to me every day. Writing to you is a patch job on that omission, while sharing photos – mustn’t forget the photos – adds to that. And that’s my not so suave segue to the pics for October’s Sullygram:
#1-4 evidence that autumn is stamping its trademarks on my favorite haunts; #5-6 moi and my grandlad; #7 shot of my new deck; #8 a frolic in the ocean at Windgrove, Pete Adams Tasmanian hideaway; #9-11 moonscapes along a favorite bike route near my home; #12 alas, once again this amazing young pitching ace, namely yours truly but slightly riper now, will not be featured in this year’s World Series. I just don’t understand it….
Frost is on the
pumpkins, clarion cries pierce the naked woods, and you can hear the Wizard
Divine’s heart breaking across the universe on crystal nights.
“Trick-or-treat?” asks God-by-any-name. “Oh, let it be both!” I reply. I love
having a choice.
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