In the mid 1990s, the leader of one of the world’s most popular musical enterprises shook up the assumptions many had about his life when he was found dead with a shotgun laying across his body. It was concluded that he had committed suicide. His “success” at what he did was rather obvious to the superficial observer, many of whom longed for the kind of fame/notoriety that this artist had achieved. My reflections on this event, and others like it at the time, led me to pen the following:
“Heard your songs… Empathized with your lust
Sung along like a chorus must
Seen the litany… Of your strain
In lines recurring like water in rain
And I’m wondering… Wondering… Wondering why
You keep using new words… To tell the same lie
Heard your songs…. Recognized their thrust
Sung along like a chorus must
Known your emotions… As they touched our strife
Like the sharp edges of a butcher’s knife
And I keep wondering… Wondering… Wondering why
You think the same potion… Will cause a new high
Heard your songs
Sung them over… and again
You have drained all the juice
From your joy… and your pain
It seems you have achieved all you set out to gain
And so I’m wondering… Wondering… Wondering why
Instead of truly living
You have chosen
As I was thinking about a timely topic for this Summer’s reflection, we learned of the apparent suicide of another cultural icon, a man who came to be regarded by many as the Elvis of our culinary culture. This man came across as a person who was doing what he loved. To the casual observer, he seemed rather comfortable in his own skin. Sampling food from various countries was his thing; we in turn were attracted to what appeared to be his voracious appetite for life in its many cultural variations. It seems we were wrong…
The prevalence of suicidal behavior has become a focus of our common experience. In the past two decades we have seen a fifty percent increase in suicides among women, and an over twenty percent increase among men in the United States. The reasons for taking one’s own life are many and complex, but they are generally related to an inability to cope in the face of various stressors with which we are confronted in our various circumstances.
The assumptions that once informed our conversations about the “‘sacredness of life” seem to have worn thin in a culture that thrives on an all-consuming materialism. In addition to this inconvenient truth, we must come to terms with the role that our tendency to victimize those whom we perceive as being different continues to play in pushing some “over the edge”. Not to be ignored in this conversation is a growing philosophical orientation that insists on one’s right to end one’s life regardless of any moral or other objections that are raised.
My thoughts about this subject led me to read again an essay I wrote and published in my book “OF PARADISE DESPISED… And lives that bought into a lie” titled “The Hunger Within”. It focuses on the threat posed to our existence by the absence of a meaningful life, a life in which our commitment to lifting others up becomes the vehicle for our own upliftment.
The following reflections are inspired in part by certain observations from this essay.
There is an abiding emptiness that we experience at crucial points on this journey through our humanity. It is not the common hunger that we know as the result of being materially famished. What is at stake here is both the diminishing of our essential vitality, and a real threat to the continuation of our physical presence in the world.
The quality of our lives here and now, and the survival of our spiritual essence in perpetuity are matters of real concern that deserve our sustained attention. Long after our physicality expresses itself as dust, our spiritual essence will continue to be through eternity. That spiritual essence is the particular dynamic in how we are remembered. I am not speaking here about memory as just a mental function. What I want to make a loud noise about are the expressions of ourselves by which we stamp our presence in this realm. What I am mumbling about are the declarations of our souls that persist when the body ceases to be.
At the prodding of this hunger, we come to this place in our existence where there is the most profound sense of emptiness. After all else has been accounted for in the hierarchy of our needs, we are forced to recognize the need for that constant replenishing that can only come from our Ultimate Source. This Source finds expression in our coming together to make each other better. The person who comes to know this unfullfilledness of which I speak recognizes it as a wanting to be more, rather than as a desire to have more. We can be more when we recognize and engage with the us that facilitates the expression of our common humanity.
There is that juncture in our life’s journey where we are challenged to come to terms with the clichéd ontological dilemma… To be or not to be. For some persons this is that place where they feel without doubt that they must either choose to continue to live, or end it all. When confronted with as critical a circumstance as this, we may find ourselves fortunate enough to embrace the providential fact that it’s not just about us. This is that wilderness between all the places we have been that did not meet our expectations, and the ‘’promised land’’ in our experience. It is where we are confronted with the proverbial “burning bush’’ of unrealized truth, and are summoned to to take stock of the quality of the ground under our feet.
At critical points in our life journey we can be lulled into a precarious daze by any number of heartbreaking occurrences. Failed relationships, disappointing outcomes in our business affairs, disease, sudden misfortune; these among other spirit-depressing events can take us to the brink of that unforgiving precipice. For those who have ears to hear it is in this moment that the unmistakable prodding of the ominous “I AM” calls to our attention the critical fact that if we are to continue to be, we must fill our lives – with other lives. The wisdom of lives well lived confirm the substantial-ness of the oft repeated refrain: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world”. Lucky, or maybe more aptly, fortunate, because this is the proven formula for how we can save our own lives!
We may dilly-dally with the resolution of the hunger that is characteristic of this critical spiritual circumstance, but resolve it we must. One might go as far as to say that its resolution is an evolutionary necessity. Herein lays the outline of a dynamic new paradigm for our lives in which instead of living selfishly we learn the ontological imperative of selflessness. Instead of continuing to tout the cliched “rugged individualism” that is destined to fail us, we instead embrace a communalism that adds to our lives other lives that can make us more whole. Hard as we try to be, no person is an island.
As we work our way through each life experience we come to realize that it is more important to give of ourselves, than to have for ourselves. With eyes wide open, and ears tuned to a more holistic reality, we come to embrace empathy instead of succumbing to self-pity. With the growing consciousness of an evolving spirit, we develop the ability to separate our needs from the things by which we have come to define ourselves and our lives in a culture of materialism. We come to realize, eventually, that there is a filling that results from fasting; a fulfillment that only comes when we engage in the process of emptying ourselves of the bloatedness of the vanity that consumes us.
In our evolving reality we get to a place where the assumptions that we have lived by get turned upside down. Our priorities get turned inside out in a way that those looking on might find disturbing. Some goals that we had set, or that were set for us, get totally up-ended; and when the dust of our unsettling clears we come to discover something wonderful. Just when we thought we were all spent, a new perspective on life enlivens us. And as we move forward, we come to have an intimate experience with the fact that resurrection and resurgence are ever-present dynamics in the multifaceted drama that is our humanity.
This essential hunger of the soul that we all at some point come to know can therefore become the fuel that moves us to greater things… to a more fulfilling life. It is the impetus of a spirit in transition from a state of self-absorption to a life of selflessness. It is a hunger which, when resolved, leads to the expansion of the social dimensions of our existence, and inevitably to the broadening of our spiritual horizons. That broadening of our horizons, that satisfaction that we long for, is a function of our collective commitment to the work of healing our world. We are called to this task by a chorus of hopefulness… a hopefulness expressed in the well known song of Michael Jackson and company :
“Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make it a better place
For you and for me”.
Yes, there are people dying, if we care enough for the living let’s work to make the world a better place for you, for me.. for us all.
R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham
President/CEO, FIGTREE ENTERPRISES, INC.
Copyright 2017 Figtree Enterprises, Inc.