My younger son and I were watching "The Shawshank Redemption" for the umpteenth time on TV last night. Here and there, we spliced in comments about what we liked and knew about the movie, which we had seen often enough so that idle chatter was not really much of an interruption or indignity.
"After I die," my son commented idly, "and when I stand at the pearly gates, I want God's voice to sound just like Morgan Freeman." Morgan Freeman is an American actor with a voice as mellow as taffy. In the movie, he plays a joint-lead with Tim Robbins in the tale of an escape from the fictional Shawshank Prison.
My son's comment was pretty much off-the-cuff. It wasn't a hardcore come-to-Jesus profession of his belief in God or heaven, but rather a half-social, half-hopeful remark.
And suddenly I felt as if I were sitting in the presence of a five-year-old who is not sure he believes in Santa Claus, but wouldn't it be nice -- and comforting -- if Santa Claus existed? It was a passing remark, not a profession of faith ... and yet the profession of faith lurked in the background... a social given of sorts, acceptable because, well, so many other people believed the same thing. God, heaven, hell, a post-mortem promise, an over-arching, benevolence salted with some tangy threats.
I was not about to interrupt the movie or our casual enjoyment of it with one of the 'serious' moments I sometimes inflict on my kids. But I could feel myself holding back what I wanted to say, which was ...
It takes courage to be alive. The kind of courage depicted in such cardboard blockbusters as "Pearl Harbor," which my son is partial to, is small potatoes compared to the courage it really takes to be alive. It is not entirely easy to describe that courage, but perhaps one of the easiest ways is to suggest that every man and woman needs to find the place within where there is precisely zero reliance on what anyone else says. Finding such courage and making up your own mind is nothing special ... unless you haven't found it yet. Without laying claim to your own garden, you are leading a shadow life -- always eating supermarket frozen produce.
And how do you go about finding your own place and clarity? I guess you pick something you take seriously or love dearly ... and, for the first time, really investigate it. The object is not to come out with someone else's conclusion, but to come out with your own. How about God? How about the pearly gates? How about Morgan Freeman?
In The Washington Post today, there is an article about a summer camp for the offspring of atheists, agnostics and other 'free'-thinkers. The camp is portrayed as a counterbalance to Bible camps, Christian camps and other God-fearing camps. The camp encourages imagination and thinking. And the first thought into my head was, "They have found their God."
I didn't mean this in some sly or snide or from-an-analytical-distance way. I meant that, for my money, everyone finds or creates the gods they love. And that's OK as far as it goes. Love what you like. Embrace it. Go for broke ... and then ... really go for broke! Really dig in. Really investigate it. Suck the juice out of every nook and cranny. Yes, you can think about it and believe it and love it deeply ... AND never stop investigating it unless you want to live a shadow-life, a life eating the leftovers of others.
Peace and happiness does not come out of somebody else's pantry. It comes out of your own courage to stand under the sky and smile your own smile, walk at your own pace, and breathe without regret. Peace and happiness may be expressed in a million-million limited ways as it rolls off the tongue. But no one can limit peace and happiness.
It takes courage to be alive. It's nothing special, except, as I say, if you decline to muster that courage.