I was browsing my Evernote files today, part of a two-week commitment to consume no new articles until I’ve read the old ones, and I found something I’d forgotten about entirely. Most of you know I wax eloquent from time to time on subjects like getting old, sticking to unpleasant tasks, and Sheer Cussedness. This article I found was one of those. The interesting thing to me was that although I could remember having written it, I couldn’t conjure up the attitude I would have had to do so. I feel very different about things now than I did then. Though I can’t blame myself for feeling that way then, nor do I in any way want to run down people that feel this way, I do marvel at how much my life has changed since I wrote it. I’ve come some way from it, in what I think is a positive direction. Then I looked at the date.
October 27, 2014.
Not even three months ago. I was, and still am, stunned by this. I had thought that at that point, just three days before Hallowe’en, I was much closer to how I feel now than apparently I was. C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, has this passage:
“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
Here it is, in my own life, absolutely clearly. I spent a long time doing what I should, but not how I should, and I was miserable. When I finally listened to my good friends, my dear (and smoking hot) wife, and my God, and did the right thing the right way, I was almost instantly happier, and looking back the joy of it has made the rough places smoother. I have always been happy, or at least, I’ve thought I had been happier than I apparently was, for longer than I was. This forgotten post is a good reminder, and it’s a perspective that deserves a hearing. So here is my post, that I never put up, from October 27 of last year:
I almost didn’t write this. I almost opened up my loan origination software and started running numbers for a potential client that I’m 90% sure I’m going to recommend he not do a loan with me, because that’s the job that pays most of the bills.
That’s this post. That’s what this is about: what if Mr. Incredible just went back to work in his cubicle?
What if Bruce Willis dismisses his curiosity about his uncanny invulnerability as silly imagination?
Or Will Hunting doesn’t have to see about a girl? Or Clark Kent thinks football is really important?
What if Hermione Granger’s envelope never came? Harry Potter was going to get his no matter what. Ron Weasely would, too; everyone in his family was a wizard. But Hermione is the glue that sticks the whole thing together, the brightest witch of her age, and she’s muggle-born. She would never have known.
Worse, what happens if the letter is delayed by a few years? She goes to a regular school, gets excellent grades (of course), maybe valedictorian, ends up at a research school doing research on mitochondrial division in deep-sea organisms. Then the owl comes. What does she do?
She doesn’t go, is what.
Mr. Incredible pays the pathetic bills. Bruce Willis goes to work and comes home, like always. Superman makes it to Canton. Hermione Granger gets a couple articles published in scholarly magazines, makes a hundred grand or so a year, has a couple of kids in the suburbs.
Everyone would say they made solid choices. Good, sensible ones. They stayed out of trouble, kept their families going, did quality work in their fields. Unremarkable, even laudable lives. And that’s most of the people I know. That’s me, sort of (my life is less laudable than most).
A few years back we were driving up a canyon here local and talking about superpowers. I told the kids that they had them. They were smaller then, and listened to me. They believed me. “What are they?” they asked, and I said “I have no idea. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. Maybe you can throw fireballs.” “Wow!” they said, “that would be so epic! But I can’t do that.” “Really?” I said. “How often have you tried?”
They never had tried. Nor would they ever have. Why would they? So they spent the next twenty minutes trying. “Maybe you just aren’t saying the right words, or thinking the right thing,” I said. “You just have to keep trying.”
But we don’t do that, do we? Maybe we can fly, but we’re not going to jump off a building to find out. Maybe we’re bulletproof, or sharkproof. Maybe we can write the kind of novel that changes the world. How would we ever know?
We wouldn’t. Mr. Incredible had been a superhero, and was now confronting the idea that it’s hard to eat superpowers, and mortgage companies are all kryptonite, all the way down. The confrontation would have killed him, had his nemesis not tried to do it quicker. There’s a movie for you – Syndrome, instead of trying to kill Mr. Incredible by defeating his strength, left him to die in a cube farm. You want revenge? Don’t poke him. Leave him and let the world do your work for you.
Most of us don’t try enough things to ever know if we have any power at all, let alone “super” power. That’s a tragedy. But the worse one, I think, is that some of us find out we have a superpower, but so late that we feel powerless to do anything with it. What would I do if I were Spider Man, all of a sudden? I’ll tell you. I’d sit here at this desk and write mortgages. I don’t want to be a cop, there are no buildings in Lehi that one can legitimately swing from, and super strength might make me a hit at parties, but it’s not going to make me a career.
Is that sad? Yeah, it is. Even I know it. Heck, I know what my superpower is, and I use it a couple times a week in very limited, not to say invisible ways. I’ve only used it on a larger scale maybe three times in my life, all huge, ringing successes, all of them experiences I’ll never forget and that changed the person I am (and I daresay some of the people involved), but they were separated by so many years that it wasn’t until the last one that I dared to admit that something might be going on beyond just blind luck. And even now, I don’t have any idea what to do with it. I don’t have any real method of employing it that doesn’t eat up huge amounts of time and energy I need for other things – noble, important things like raising a family and keeping my business going so that I and others can eat. There’s value in that. Most of the time there’s even beauty and power in it.
What would I want to go to Hogwarts for? I’m busy.
The inspirational sting-in-the-tail here would be for me to say, “kids, try so many things while you’re young that you at least know what your superpower MIGHT be. Don’t wait. You won’t be able to try things forever.” That’s a good message. I could also say, “Anyone, any age, can find their superpower and pursue it and make the world a better place,” and that’s true, too, but there’s a hollowness to it, an unreality. It might be true that you have a superpower, but like my kids throwing fireballs, it might be that in the end it was just too complicated to keep trying every possible thing to make it happen. For some people, it can work. For most of us, though, it can’t. That’s depressing to me, today. Today, I want a wand.
Instead, I’ll post this and then I’ll open up my loan origination software and (probably not) write a mortgage. And then I’ll prep for class tomorrow, and go home and play with my children. And I will not think about Harry Potter and Ron Weasely, whoever they are. I will ignore the mysterious envelope, not correct the mathematical proof on the board, refuse to put on the suit.
I have work to do.
I finish reading this, and I want to say this: if you believe you have no superpower, you are wrong. If you have one you don’t believe is worth pursuing, you’re wrong. If you believe that your life has tied you in a straitjacket and that makes it impossible for you to do what you are miraculous at, you are wrong. I was wrong. The above might make a fun story to write (and I suspect I’ll do that here shortly), but it won’t be a true one.
Maybe you’ll never support a family on your wild-eyed fantasy. So what? Spider-Man doesn’t get flowers for Mary Jane from web-swinging. He’s a photographer. Superman is a reporter. Mr. Incredible…well, I don’t know what he does anymore. But I bet that when he goes to replace his house (remember the end of the film?), he’s going to have to use homeowners’ insurance money just like all the rest of us. But they’re still super, when they can be.
Well, what do you know. So am I.
I’ll be watching for your fireball, too.