Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 5, 2008

Wind-Swept & Worn Out

"Even among these rocks,/Our peace in His will" ---------------------------------- Ash Wednesday (1930), T.S. Eliot
“Even among these rocks, / Our peace in His will…” -Ash Wednesday (1930), T.S. Eliot

“On a stormy sea of moving emotion,/ tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean. /I set a course for winds of fortune/but I hear the voices say: /Carry on my wayward son./ There’ll be peace when you are done./ Lay your weary head to rest./ Don’t you cry no more.”

Carry On Wayward Son (1976), Kansas (Livgren)

I’m down at the beach again this morning, once again hunting for something elusive: peace. Answers. A sign for which direction to “set my course”.

Choppy waves and tropical depressions in my soul can never be ignored for long. For example, I was awakened at about 4am this morning by a really weird dream. I’d already been up during the night several times, probably because I’m taking steroids to clear a three-week-old poison ivy condition out of my system. It ended up covering about 20% of my body with rashes and open sores before it started to subside. It’s without question the most serious medical condition I’ve had to endure in my life (which probably makes me pretty lucky, I know). So my body just hasn’t felt right, which can’t help but effect my spiritual and emotional state as well.

The organic lesson in all of this is that from now on I will hopefully be much more compassionate toward those with chronic pain. It’s been hard for me to move around normally, sleep normally, concentrate on work, or be of much help to Sue or anyone else.

In exposing my pain, rather than hiding it, I take away some of its power over me. I also learn much about shame, how our wounds (both emotional and physical) tend to make us hide and protect ourselves, how they can make us shut out the very ones who love us and want to help.

Which brings me back to this morning’s dream. In it, I was talking to Johhny Depp. Only he wasn’t exactly Johnny Depp, he was George Jung, the real-life drug dealer Johnny played in the movie Blow. We spoke as if he was a close friend, like a cousin or someone I’d known for years. In the course of our conversation, he tried to get me to put on a Clifford the Big Red Dog costume so I could help him conduct some illegal activity. Like a terrorist act, a robbery — it wasn’t clear. He had partners, and he needed my help just to guard the door. He said they’d kill him if he backed out. Maybe even kill me. I said I wasn’t going to help, but I wasn’t going to leave him there to deal with his “partners” alone.

“Kill me now, or let them kill me later. I’m not leaving,” I said. And there was no fear. I meant it.

It was all very melodramatic and tear-filled, the way certain dreams are. And implausible, of course. Yet it’s an excellent metaphor for both the internal battles I’ve been in of late, and the political/cultural wars going on around the world every day (like the contract murder of Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim by an Egyptian millionaire/politician… a bizarre reminder that what’s most personal can also become deeply political and far-reaching under the right circumstances). Also, I doubt I’ll ever find a better metaphor for nonviolent resistance than the image/memory of sticking with Johnny Depp in my dream.

I got up after the dream and wrote down the dialogue, as best I could remember it, and embellished it with made-up details as they came to me. I ended up with 4+ manuscript pages, filled with expletives and raw emotion. The scene would be the essential climax of what may turn into a one-act play or screenplay, if I can manage it. Presently, it reads like “Quentin Tarantino meets Paul Schrader“. (BTW, I met Schrader once, at a speaking engagement he did at Old St. Pat’s church in Chicago. Great writer, pretty good director. He’s the quietly powerful guy behind Taxi Driver, Affliction, Last Temptation of Christ… just a ton of great dramas. Plus he’s a Calvinist from Grand Rapids, MI who has spent a lifetime working out questions of fate vs. free will, and other Christian themes, up on the cinema screen for all to see).

In other words, my dream/play is a study of conscience and values, and what a fully actualized man will do when the chips are down. He won’t take the easy way out, won’t run, but won’t succumb to violent methods of problem-solving as a viable option either.

Maybe I’ll call it Brother’s Keeper. Has that name been taken yet?


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