Upon seeing the anger in the eyes of a menial laborer working in atrocious conditions, author Gregory David Roberts says to the fry cook with his eyes, “I’m sorry that you have to do this work, I’m sorry that your world, your life, is so hot and dark and unremembered, I’m sorry that I’m intruding…”
With those lines, the author not only captured my interest in the book, but, most importantly, the kinship of my agony for the “incarceration” of countless souls who live unremembered and hopeless in darkness and drudgery.
Even though my personal agony was small by comparison, for years I felt imprisoned in mediocrity and anonymity, doing a job I didn’t like. Now, I cannot stand to see anything in a cage. I feel the silent rage of so many: refugees, strangers I encounter, and others I know well.
My prayer is that those of us who remember the pain will bring…
However and whenever we can.
This is one of the major themes of Gregory David Robert’s experience as portrayed in the book (soon to be movie), Shantaram. Also in Tim Tebow’s book, Shaken. Although, one book deals with the dark realities of life and the other, mostly with those of a fallen football player, the lesson is the same; losing is often the win we need for the long-haul. Accept the pain of losing as it comes, and our character development and re-direction will have countless beneficiaries.
I was pleasantly surprised with that reality recently when my challenged nephew was invited to an event sponsored by Tim Tebow’s ministries; ministries that would not exist if Tim Tebow had not been kicked off of three NFL teams.
Feeling the Monday morning pressure? It’s no coincidence that in some countries, more heart attacks happen at 9 AM on Monday morning than any other time of the week. Many of us start dreading Monday as soon as we wake up on Sunday.
An easy way to open this pressure valve is to find your pressure-to-pleasure question. The following have worked well for me:
- How can I have fun while I work?
- How can I make this task a challenge to myself?
- How can I utilize my gifts more fully as I work?
- How can I bring my entire, unique self to this task?
- How can I appreciate the difference I am making today?
Patrick Lencioni, in the book Three Signs of a Miserable Job, attests that these are the signs:
- Performance is unnoticed
- Performance is unrewarded
- Performance is irrelevant
If we must stay on a job where we feel unnoticed, unrewarded, or irrelevant, we will have to find a way to do those things for ourselves.
“Not loneliness, but solitude. Not suffering, but endurance, the discovery of grim kinship with the rocks and sky. And the finding here of a harsh peace that would transcend bodily discomfort, a healing instead of the wounds of the soul.”
– Diana Gabaldon (referring to Jamie Frazer from the Outlander series)
It’s fiction, although, through the character of Jamie Frazer, author Diana Gabaldon challenges us to strength, resilience, and patience in difficult circumstances.
I am not lonely. I am learning solitude.
I am not suffering. I am learning endurance and kinship with creation.
I am not wounded. I am learning a harsh peace that transcends pain and discomfort.
We can label this as way too unreal or romantic, or we can look and learn from countless men and women throughout history who have raised the bar by conquering their circumstances.
Do I need to list their names?
Nothing shakes me out of my self-centeredness, ethnocentrism, and poor-me problems more than reading biographies and fiction about the struggles of passionate men and women in other times and places. The first book that called me out on my bull#h*t was Les Miserables. When I read it many years ago, the plights of Jean Valjean, Fantine, and Cosette, representing the real problems of the time period, shook me hardily out of the illusion of my “difficult life.” Other books followed suit: Roots, Tale of Two Cities, A Good Earth, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Hiding Place, etc. And, more currently, Jungle of Stone, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Endurance, Pillars of the Earth, Outlander, The Glass Castle, Same Kind of Different as Me, and countless others.
I hope you don’t have the same tendency that I have to become a small-minded cry-baby. But if you ever do, I hope you will let a book rescue you.
Occasionally, someone tells a story that changes your life.
I can’t quit thinking about this book, not only because of the harrowing adventures it took to discover the lost Mayan Civilization and the brave and brilliant Stevens and Catherwood that made it their calling, but because the vastness of a “universe,” I had been only remotely aware of, has expanded my own. Jungle of Stone.
Confronted by these two noble, gifted, driven, and humble explorers, I am inspired and humbled by my lack of knowledge, scope, tenacity, and awareness. Thanks, William Carlsen, for excavating the story for me and forcing me out of my own “backyard.”
Even if you have no interest in ancient history or archeology, the life-stories of John Lloyd Stevens and Frederick Catherwood will enlarge your existence.
There is room for misunderstanding in every story, especially if I just have the headline or, even, the who, what, where, when, and how.
It’s still oh so easy to be self-righteous, insensitive, despairing, or harsh in my conclusions, cheating someone out of the benefit of a doubt that I so cherish myself. The stories I tell myself about others, myself, or God often lack the most important element: the element of the mystery inside the story.
Gene McGuire’s new book Unshackled: From Ruin to Redemption is a great reminder of the remarkable mystery hidden in the story. Gene served thirty-five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, yet managed to come out with this big smile and a great future. Now, that is mysterious…and worth an investigation into the other parts of the story!
In Kate Braestrup’s book Here If You Need Me she tells the story of coping with her husband’s premature death through the lens of her work as a Maine Game Warden Chaplain.
I resonated with her description of the “parallel worlds” of light and darkness and the “hinge” of death or tragedy that can swing us suddenly from one into the other.
We can live casually, surrounded by the comfort of things and people we love, but, we must always remember the temporal nature of this state. Things will change; our whole life will swing into uncharted territory. And, I am convinced, along with Kate, that if we want to know where God is in all of the upheaval, we must look for love…
…in whatever world we find ourselves.
I cannot read a book, take time to hear another’s story, or let a movie give me its message, without coming back to my regular life changed. Forrest Gander captured this truth in his intro to the new book of Neruda’s lost poems:
“The truth is that I disappeared from myself. I was concentrated entirely into the durable moment of translation–which begins in humility, a sublimation of the self so extreme that the music of someone else’s mind might be heard. And for a while, no remnant of me existed outside of that moment.” – Forrest Gander (translator of The Lost Neruda Poems)
When my friend gave me this book, I wasn’t very excited about reading obscure love poems, yet the book begin to change me in the prologue when the translator mentioned the same skepticism when asked to translate the work.
Today will change me…if I allow it. It will improve me if I listen to the music of someone else’s mind intently enough to receive the gifts they offer and translate them to my own journey home.
In her book, Thick Face, Black Heart, Asian-American best-selling author Chin-Ning Chu was painfully honest about her life:
“One morning, years ago, I woke up with an overwhelming feeling of aloneness overtaking my soul. I felt as if my spirit were covered by layers of dark clouds. I lived but made no difference to the world… I stood alone in the pit of my soul. I felt the world could do very well without me. I didn’t see any hope, only despair. Then I picked up a book my parents had given me long ago: one I had never read…“
In Soaring, Chu heard the message that saved her life.
The author said, “if one is destined for great accomplishments, the preparation for the journey will be extensive.” She embraced the message, deciding that her pain had not been wasted. I’m glad she did, because I would need her book many years later.