Monday, March 27, 2006

A Spirtual Journey is No Picnic

I spoke last evening to my lone remaining college friend, Hank. He is making plans for retirement, something that sends a chill down my spine. I’m happy for his success. As a military officer and research scientist, he’s definitely earned the opportunity for quiet happiness. But our discussion reminded me of an episode of the television show Northern Exposure, when the free-loving, Harley-riding “Chris-in-the-Morning” learned that he had to start taking blood-pressure medicine. The news nearly destroyed him, because it made him face the reality of maturity. Sure, his character was basically the town guru and a notorious learner of everything psychological and metaphysical, but even with all this knowledge, he never really imagined he would grow old. That is how I feel; I honestly never believed I would live this long.

Somewhere in the past few years my life seems to have taken a turn from “just living” to “Spiritual Journey”. But the possibilities of my "Spiritual Journey" are a little daunting because people like Kerouac, Emerson and Thoreau just don't come across as joyful once they had the opportunity to bask in the results of their great search. Some of my friends have said my change had to do with teaching urban poor in St. Louis, others point to over-exposure to the harsh beauty of Montana. Personally, I blame my children.

I grew-up without much understanding of enlightenment or spiritual quests. My parents and church leaders told me what to believe and I followed – it was just easier that way. Now though, I am older, married and have three children; the oldest of which is an eight-year-old girl. Something shocking occurred when she was born – I became a feminist. It was pretty-much an immediate reaction. While holding her in my arms at church, I looked around and for the first-time realized the ramifications of the Apostle Paul’s male-centered style of worship. I was horrified by the notion that mankind could be arrogant enough to place a limit upon her potential. For this reason, my primary motivation with raising my daughter has been based on insuring that she has all the available opportunities to prove her value above the traditional expectations of society. However, my two young sons have summoned another reaction. I have innumerable questions about this life the most important being the ever-clich├ęd, but simply asked question of “Why?” I have utter trepidation at the thought of not being able to answer my sons when they ask questions of a metaphysical nature. I never want them to feel my sense of loss while thrashing in the wind of deeper contemplation.

After many years of exposure to unflattering examples of worldly-measured success; I have adjusted my focus to the self-exploration of religion, philosophy and literature for examples of purpose in this life. This has inevitably led to anger and hurt feelings amongst those friends and family from my past that take my unique approach to life as a form of disrespect to their own choices. It is my estimation, as a father, that I should want my children to succeed beyond my own level. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson that said – “We are farmers, so that our sons may be teachers, so that their sons may be artists”. But I was raised in the southern Midwest and the thought of success is often wrongly gauged. Garrison Keillor is not far off the mark when he spins his stories of Lake Wobegon and alludes to the mediocrity of Midwestern expectations. I’m not too sure that those whom knew me in my youth are not just awaiting my return to their “way of thinking”.

So as my search for significance continues I approach new questions. Can one return to the place where the original insignificant decisions were nurtured and somehow retain the new outlook on life as well? Can a person leave home, find meaning and return to the old place, without falling back into the old life? Will the old acquaintances allow this return on new terms, or will there be resentment that can not be overcome? Furthermore, will I ever find out if the return on my own terms is feasible? Each journey to answer questions of existence seems to only bring new inquiries that quietly gnaw away at me demanding a new search, in a new place, for resolution. - DN


Anonymous said...

while you may blame you kids, north, I have noticed some changes in your attitude ever since you left montana. changed isn't isn't the right word, it's more "grown". you were seemed to be on a sort of journey, but your enthusiasm has grown since you left (or at least it seems like it has.)

Anonymous said...

Awesome Jefferson quote!

Perhaps like Joel from "Exposure" you might find enlightenment once you take up golf!