Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. -John Watson (some say Plato)
These are wise words. My coworker is worried he’ll be laid off in a few weeks. My friend can’t find a job and is running out of money. Another friend is fighting depression. Another is lonely. In my happiness it’s easy to overlook their pain.
For every demon I see afflicting a friend, there are dozens more beneath the calm exterior of every self-sufficient man I encounter. Everyone, without exception, if fighting a hard battle. Even at the best of times we’re fighting against our passions, our selfishness, our conflicting desires. The flesh is at war with the spirit, and your kind words or hurried tone may deliver grace or destruction in equal measure.
Feed the spirit. Give someone a hug. Say hello. Fight for all men.
“Burn your TV in your yard / gather round it with your friends / warm your hands upon the fire / and start again.” -Toad the Wet Sprocket
I’ve liked this song since the first time I heard it. It’s about minimalism and prioritizing relationships over things. There was always one verse I didn’t understand…”Take the dreams that should have died / the one’s that kept you lying awake / when you should have been alright / and throw ’em all away.”
My dreams? But my dreams make me human. They give me a purpose and destination. Why would I throw them away? I never understood that sentiment until now.
Toad was talking about material dreams – the plans we have about where and how we’ll live, work, and grow. The dreams we’re urged to throw away are the ones that corrupt good relationships, just as money or belongings can come between friends. Material dreams, cash and things aren’t evil, but essential. Yet when they’re loved too much, even more than people, they keeps us from happiness.
I learned this the hard way. A girl and I once dreamed together of a simple life with a garden, an old house, homeschooled kids, love, and charity. Somewhere along our path together, she decided that her dream was an 8-5 and an apartment. She thought my dreams had become too extreme, lacking the comforts she wanted. Instead of talking to me about how our dreams had changed, she just left. She assumed that our lives were now incompatible, and so we needed to separate to pursue ourselves instead of each other. Make no mistake, she wasn’t giving an excuse to make a breakup easier, but really thought she needed to give up a genuine love for the sake of her new dream.
I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me. It’s a cautionary tale. Your material dreams, like your income or possessions will change over the years. They will mature, change, fade away, or come true, but they shouldn’t rule you. The people you love shouldn’t be tied to a material dream anymore than to a place or a financial status. Toad the Wet Sprocket was right – throw away your dreams if they corrupt your relationships with those you love. Learn to compromise. Put love above dreams.
Yesterday I started a commune in the shade laden foothills of the Shenandoah mountains. To say commune is really too generous. It was just the four of us starting over and exchanging the perpetual madness of life for a simplistic joy of living. A small cabin with a waterwheel on 5 acres of rich soil and muddy clay. Picturesque. Pleasant. The work to get here has been overwhelming, but as tribulations often end with greater peace, so did our sweat and difficulty bring us the peace of a better kind of existence. The world was crushing in on us. It seemed…and perhaps was true…that each week brought a new public shooting, a new financial collapse, and a new low for a society striving for perfection of perversion. In short, a new sadness.
This little cabin is my answer to the question “How is Man Meant to Live?” But it’s a fantasy.
I don’t have a cabin in Virginia, a waterwheel, or even a back yard. I have an apartment, an 8-hour workday, a good meal, good friends. A fine life. Still…something is wrong, not with my individual life but with our collective lives. The cabin is a fantasy I share with many others who’ve realized that the system is broken. No cabin in the woods will change that brokenness, but it can be changed. My fantasy is an escape from tragedy, I admit. But it’s also a desire, a seed, a spark, and a beginning of a plan for something better.