I ASSUME WE’RE all familiar with the tendency to blame others and outside circumstances for our failures and problems.
Paradoxically, however, there’s also a tendency to take our difficulties in life as problems of our own personal invention, problems we feel we have caused and should be able to fix, a tendency to take total personal blame for failure, for broken relationships, etc.
We imagine somehow that if we had done things differently, then this or that would or wouldn’t have happened … as if we could escape having problems, as if we can fix the world.
It’s a kind of reverse hubris.
But try looking at this tendency from another angle, namely, that these are the problems of the creative process itself; these are nature’s problems manifesting themselves in and through us.
The collision of forces in us is not something purely of our personal invention; we don’t have that much control … and our tendency to blame ourselves is a sideways desire to have more control.
Here’s a poem that speaks to me of this condition, a poem that compares our life to a liquid mixture that we drink, with the blend of joy and sorrow in that drink being determined by forces beyond us. The poem, “How Beautiful the Beloved” is written by Gregory Orr:
Lots of sorrow and a little joy.
Lots of joy and only a bit
Who can know
The formula beforehand?
We don’t get to watch
While it’s mixed. No one tells us
What’s in it.
We lift it
To our lips — azure elixir
That burns our throats to crystal.
We find ourselves mysteriously here on this planet; we are not asked in advance about our time and place; rather, we awaken to discover a pre-made set of conditions and circumstances, some agreeable and pleasing, others not so much.
This is the drink that life asks that we lift to our lips. When we drink it, our throats are burned to crystal.
So the question: Beginning to taste this drink, will we willingly drink it all?
Because of certain inevitable painful conditions of life, we might be tempted to refuse this “azure elixir.”
Further, rather than play the hand that is dealt us with all our strength and spirit, we might waste time and leak energy wishing we were prettier, or taller, or smarter, or stronger, or better coordinated, or differently shaped, or born to different parents, or born in a different time or place.
But “comparison-shopping” is not the way to make it when it comes to determining whether your life has value and is worth living, or whether you can be happy.
As it turns out, the place of meaning is the place where you are, and it has to do with playing the hand that is dealt you to the best of your ability.
Some of you will remember the popular singer and comedian from many years ago, Jimmy Durante, who died in 1980 at the age of 86.
Jimmy Durante had an awful voice … clipped, gravelly, frog-like. The question was once put to him: “How have you made a singing career with such a voice?”
“Well,” he croaked, “them’s the conditions which prevail.”
In other words, he used what he had … and what a prince he was with that frog-like voice of his.
There are many conditions in life in general and in our personal lives that we cannot change. To blame ourselves for these conditions is misplaced.
And there are other conditions in life where we have some influence. The greatest influence we can have is to play the hand that is dealt to the best of our ability.
In this way, we take our place in life; we contribute to life, and we have a real experience of life in all its complexities and uncertainties.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Bruce Bode is minister of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. His email is [email protected]