Sunday, May 31, 2015
For starters, my neighbor, Joe, a 60-something, came across the street to show me the award he had won during yesterday's graduation ceremonies at a local community college. He was wriggling with smiles.
Finally, he had gotten his ticket punched in the world of counseling elderly citizens, an activity he likes but had found himself shut out of for lack of a socially-approved certificate. For months, he gritted and ground his teeth, churning out academic analyses and learning long words and ... well, playing the game. Along the way, he would come across the street to sound off on all the younger students who didn't have a clue -- but knew a lot of lingo -- about the very real problems that life can serve up. They were sincere but also, in the end, tiresome.
Well, Joe's home free now and looking forward to scouting the terrain in Canada where he has a home -- seeking to set up some schooling for hearing-impaired people (his daughter has a cochlear implant). I wouldn't be surprised if he felt a bit of postpartum depression yesterday: The baby had been delivered and, as with all endeavors at last completed ... now what? But he was wreathed in smiles and I smiled with him. Good for Joe!
In the afternoon, an envelope reading "do not fold" was left on the porch. It was addressed to my younger son and when I brought it into the house and gave it to him, he said, "at last!"
So what was it, I asked? He ran a rending finger along the lip of the envelope and withdrew a handful of documents, the most impressive of which was acknowledgment of him as a minister in the "Universal Life Church." There were also smaller certificates he could put in the car window announcing that the person parked here was a minister or a religious-press representative. I recognized these latter as useful tools when seeking a parking space on a crowded day when police-department officials might be handing out tickets to the unwary and unwise. A minister or religious functionary might not stop the cops, but it might slow them down.
"Now I can marry people," my son said, though he didn't seem to have anyone specific in mind. Nuptials seemed to be at the top of his pleasure list after having sent off $30 to an Internet site and receiving an accreditation that seemed flimsy at best -- a kind of raspberry to the officious world of religion: If anyone can become a minister for thirty bucks, what was all that schooling that others worked so hard to master about?
I like a good tweak -- a good rat fuck -- as well as the next person, but my son's ministerial packet made me pause. On the one hand certification of accomplishment is an accomplishment others may or may not acknowledge. But what is the price of accomplishment? Is it merely to wow others, to receive their genuflects, to bask and wallow and be well-thought-of by a group that wanted to think well of itself? That's certainly one approach ... perhaps all too common: I've got a gold star and you've got a gold star so we can be social companions who, without saying so, can implicitly exclude those without gold stars. And who knows, maybe a gold star actually does prove something. But what?
My son's documentation certainly did not imply he had expended the sweat equity other "ministers" might have. On the other hand, is there some reason anyone can't be -- or isn't -- a minister?
What does anyone have when they actually have it? And the best I could figure was that now there was a responsibility to shoulder. Nothing can ever be relegated to some settled past, a comfortable and assured cushion of smug satisfaction.
And I wanted to tell my son that although he might be inclined to brag on his new-found status, he should be careful: Someone might actually believe he was a minister and come to him in great sorrow and seeking relief because he was a "minister." I wanted him to recognize the responsibility he had to set aside his plumage and be prepared to sooth and smooth and help out in reality what otherwise was just a rat-fuck silliness. His status might be fun, but if someone took it to the next credulous level ... well, there's a time for fun and a time to serious up and be kind.
What spiritual persuasion does not contain within it the tale of some thief or other rapscallion who dons some holy clothing as a means of hiding his identity from those who would punish him? He tricks those in pursuit and then, bit by bit, is himself tricked by the very trick he has played. He play-acts decency and goodness and becomes decent and good.
What spiritual aspirant, even though s/he is not a rapscallion, does not seek to somehow trick a spiritual discipline and bring it under a personal control ... only to find him- or herself tricked? Everyone starts out by fakin' it, by making the moves and talking the talk ... and then, with luck, is tricked out of that trickery.
I do not worry too seriously about my son. First of all, he is likely to forget all about his new-found status. Second, even if, for some reason, he chooses to follow it to another level, he will probably make the same errors as anyone on a spiritual path might make but in the end will come out OK because he is, before he ever got a gold star, a kind person.
Same for Joe.
Same for my son.
Riding into the sunset of accredited accomplishment amounts to riding into the dawn.
Or that's what I choose to think.