Thursday, April 17, 2008
It's my Birthday today!
"Do you feel you've accomplished enough in life?"
Ask your average male this question and, as sure as B16 (aka Pope Benedict of Rome) will say the word "sex" at least once today, you'll get a spirited no. Ask your average male in his 30s and all of Mt. Olympus will laugh its head off, roaring and cackling with the obviousness of the answer till a god accidentally falls off a nearby cliff and then capriciously punishes humans for making him suffer so; and we, unsure whether we're being punished with a worser version of spring, summer, fall or winter, will call it global warming for the time being.
That's the question I was asking myself this morning as I lugged my 1970s golf bag down the fairway of hole six. Do I feel I've accomplished enough in my life now that I've turned 36?
I was playing my birthday round of 9 at the Hancock public golf course. I had behind me a black dude that reminded me of Bagger Vance--who played like Bagger Vance--breathing down my neck. I couldn't go faster because of two, golf cart-riding dudes poking in front of me. And we were the only four people on the whole course on this wind-swishing and swirling morning.
I didn't want to stress. I hate stressing on the golf course. I wanted to relax, chill, hang. Mosey. I wanted to meditate about life, in particular mine. And now I couldn't meditate because Bagger-Tiger-Otherworldly-Old-Guy black dude was hitting the green off of every tee. (I have no idea how to write correct golf syntax?!)
Then I thought, WWETWD?
What Would Eldrick Tiger Woods Do? He would ignore everybody. He would go zen deep inside. He would play the game he always wanted to play. So I did what Tiger would do.
The Bagger-stunt-man actually dropped out after hole 5. When I saw he packed it up for real I breathed a full-lunged sigh of relief. Ahhhh. Silence. Solitude.
And now the questions of life.
So, David, you're 36 today. What have you accomplished in life?
I really hate that question. The voice in my head asks it every year; every year since I was 19, every year always the same: Have you accomplished enough? Have you accomplished enough to feel satisfied--satisfied that you're not wasting your time? Are you doing enough to feel vindicated, validated? I think it's a satanic voice. The answer is pretty much: no. "No, I'm not doing enough. It isn't enough, it's never enough. I need to have done more."
Of course I haven't accomplished enough. But by what standards? Mine. My infinitely unsatisfied standard.
I'm also an emotionally drunken bumper car these days. I oscillate between elation and disappointment with the symposium. I married only three months ago this Sunday and I'm still adjusting to this together life. I end my tenure as arts pastor in five weeks; five weeks out of 12 years. And I'm not sure it's ending how I thought or imagined it would end.
This Sunday I preach on "Putting off the old man" and I've yet to decide what illustration from my life, what vice of mine I'm going to enlist. I'm really bummed that I'm no longer going to be preaching on a regular basis. It's taken me so long to learn how to do it well there's a melancholy sadness now that its abruptly ending.
Phaedra and I go on full-time support starting June 1 and we need to raise it by then. I'm not sure what the fat I'm actually going to do about Ph.D. studies now that Jeremy has translated, to use King James Language, to Duke. Our hearts ache to live overseas. Both of us grew up as expats (Guatemala and Scotland respectively) and we feel this is a rare window of opportunity to get out for a season.
I'm tired, and I'm tired of being tired, and there comes this question again: "Do you feel you've accomplished enough?"
I decided that I would bogey hole 6. Par for this hole is four strokes, so I aimed to click it in five, one over. I needed a concrete goal. I needed one thing I could accomplish.
I drove the ball off the tee straight, not great but not bad either. With an 8-iron I hit into the wind, forty yards to the right of the green. With my third stroke I pitched it onto the green. And then I had to decide: Do I go for par or do I stick with my goal? I was close enough to attempt par. I stuck with my goal. I two-putted into the hole. A bogey.
I climbed the tee mound on hole 7. Behind me lay 38th street with its mid-morning, buzzing, up and down travail of cars. My hair was matted with sweat under my cap. I stretched my sore fingers, out and in. A swirling breeze under partly cloudy skies, temperatures lying low in the 70s, kept things cool. I was quiet now. A gentleness settled in my spirit.
I pulled out a 2-iron. Head down, still, forearm straight, knees slightly bent, torso hovering over the long bronze angle of iron, mentally envisioning the line of flight, I cocked back, then swung fluidly down, rushing through and up and over, right ankle twisting, grinding into the ground, iron now lying over my left shoulder, resting, its work done, watching, waiting, eyes squinting, my spirit quiet.
I had clocked ball to within 25 yards of the green. Amazing. I couldn't believe it. From there I pitched it onto the green within 3 inches of the hole. I laughed out loud. Rock n roll! I hoisted my pitching wedge up high to acknowledge all the applause, heads nodding, lips pursed, saying, "That was a good shot, Taylor, that was a very good shot." Thank you, thank you. I tipped my hat to the invisible crowd. I waved it at the passing cars. I had almost eagled hole 7.
Where were Mike Akel and Jeffrey Travis to behold such talent, to know that I had almost accomplished an eagle on hole 7? They were in Los Angeles, far, far away.
I parred hole 8 and then, with no one behind or before me, in the everlasting pleasure of my all-encompassing solitude, heart happy and full from my early morning birthday golf, I played four balls off of tea #9, each in turn, rocketing left, slicing and sailing right, screaming wildly away from me, pooching and choking chunks of earth, all the way eventually down into one little hole 264 yards away. I bogeyed and double bogeyed and wacked a line-drive with jet force into an oak tree thirty yards to the other side of the green and scraped my Top-Flite1 out of the pond and cheated by kicking my ball off a patch of rocky soil and then, before raising my hat to thank all my amazing invisible fans, I rummaged through the woods by the creek for extra balls to replace the two that I'd lost along the way. I found none.
It's my birthday today and I'm 36.
My parents gave me an 1829 edition of John Wesley's journal. My awesome gardner-artist wife, Phaedra, whom I love now more than the day I married her, gave me an illustrated book of Russian Orthodox icons (14th-17th century) and a travel-size icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov. My nephews and nieces hollered a raucous, discordant happy birthday into my voice mail. I have beautiful alstroemeria and Hawaiian pincushion flowers brightening up my reading nook. Tonight we attend a performance of Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance.
It's my birthday today and it's my first as a married man.
As I was praying on the fairway of hole 6, asking God if there was another way of thinking about the passing of the years, I sensed that the Holy Spirit was with me, listening to me, listening to my heart, wobbly as it was under the pressure of this question: "Have you accomplished enough in your life?" And I felt like He answered me, right there, on the golf course. He gave me a little gift. He offered me, not an answer, but a different question.
"Do you feel like you are leaning more fully--more fully this year than last year--into your calling?"
"That's a great question," I thought to myself, suddenly very happy.
And I felt a great levity blowing into my soul, both in the sense of lightness, countering heaviness, and laughter, countering despair. I felt relieved! I can do this. I can learn to be free from this omnipresent pressure on men in their 30s to be incontestably and publicly successful, if not already, then certainly on their way to such success. But that first question is poison. It has nothing to do with Jesus' world. Nothing. Nothing at all. It accuses and perpetually finds us guilty: No, I haven't accomplished enough to feel good about myself.
But this second question, this one I can answer joyfully: Yes. Yes, I think I am, as best as I can tell. For as much as can be reasonably expected of any 36-year old man I am leaning more fully, more weightily into my calling. I've more to go, but that's the thrill of it all! There's always more solidness ahead of me, always more life. There's always an eternally filling, expanding, weighty but not burdensome, light but not flimsy or flacky, true David-ness to be had, an "ever filling up of the always fullness of God."
I'm at home now. It's raining outside, by the sound of it pretty hard. It's 12:01 am. It's April 18, the day after my birthday. Phaedra is sitting in her favorite black chair reading Ron Hansen's Atticus. I have more life to live tomorrow morning.
(PHOTO: That's me sitting as golf lord of my back yard. My fig tree is hallowing me. And this here below is Phaedra and me, giving expression to how we felt about a rather cheesy, corny, over-the-top Michael Flatley, Irish-riverdancy, Las Vegas-meets-Branson, Missouri, LORD OF THE FLASHY PANTS DANCE.)