Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Box

Inside you, there is a box.

It may be a cargo container, or an old shoe box that you taped closed years ago in a move and haven't opened since. It may be heavy and full, packed so tight that it doesn't even shift when you shake it, or it may have just a few things in it. Or just one thing.

One day you will go before a jury of your peers. You have been selecting them yourself, and giving them a place to live, for most of your life. No matter how old you get, how your joints ache, how your skin sags, they will remain young and vital and sharp-eyed and absolutely unable to lie.

Have you seen those shows, the singing, or dancing shows? Often their titles have an accusatory tone: "So You THINK You Can...." The judges hand out soul crushing critiques, taking the dreams of, unfortunately, very ordinary people and cutting their wings off and flaying them, wriggling and naked, before a slavering worldwide audience.

This will be worse, I promise you.

The girl in fifth grade so beautiful you wanted to be her best friend so she would let you brush her hair, the boy always so at ease and confident that he seemed to surf through life on a wave of gold, they'll be there. So will the bullies, of course, the psychos that never tired of infecting you with their corrosive hate, and the teachers that helped them. Your parents might be there, your best friends, that one person you had a crush on for years who never really loved you back, all there. Carefully appointed by you.

Your jury will show you your life, what you have done, and they will show you how to despise it. You will do your song and dance, all the things that you think you are, and they will show you, without mercy, that you are wanting.

And after their judgement has been rendered, when they have lacerated your heart and turned away in disappointment, leaving you raw and bleeding and full of self-loathing, you will retrieve your box, which for some reason you set aside when you went in. You should open it. If you are lucky, one of your jury may look inside the box with you when you do, and point out something particularly interesting.

Here's where it gets tricky. The box contains what you really are, what you have made in this life. The only things that go in the box are the things that you risked your life to make. You might be surprised how few objects there are in the box, or how many. It might contain a rock with eyes drawn on it that's a promise you made to a friend, or a rude carving made out of wood and fire hardened to last that is your marriage. It might contain your art (not the song you sang for the jury - your song, the one you've only sung once for your father, your dance, the one that you do when you are alone and happy), or something you don't even recognize: a bone, a watch gear, an old toy lantern with a sliding switch that somehow still gives off a faint but unwavering light.

That is your life. The song and dance you performed for show is nothing, and the jury was right to reject it. The box contains what is real. The jury will see what is in the box, and they will be unable to refute it, rough hewn or simple though it may be. It will be real, you made it, and no one can take it from you. No verdict is possible.

Whether the box is empty or full, there is still room, and there may still be time, to add one more item. You have to risk your life, but what else do you have? You climb on your bike, or mount your horse, or just stand and walk, away from the seat of judgement. Your jury has been declared void.

You have work to do.