The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. — Muhammed Ali
I’m glad to say I’m not a person who looks at the world at 50 the same as I did at 20. At 20 I pretty much had it figured out. At 50 I couldn’t make any sense of the thing.
I’ve been thinking of stories again.
When I was in my thirties, I had a girlfriend who was a practicing Catholic. She went to Mass every Sunday, and sometimes, sweet memory, I went with her.
“I don’t see how you can believe that the Pope’s infallible,” I said to her once.
“I don’t believe the Pope’s infallible,” she said.
“Don’t you have to believe it?” I said.
I had discussed this very point with several friends of mine, all lapsed Catholics since adolescence.
“Your problem is you learned about Catholicism from lapsed Catholics,” she said.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“If you leave the Church when you’re a teen-ager, then you’ll always look at it as a teen-ager. You never see it with adult eyes.”
I thought of this story a few weeks ago when I found myself in the neighborhood of the Greenwood, a park I had grown up around. This particular park had been the scene of a hellish argument between my mother and myself when I was nine.
After that argument, I never sent foot in the park again. As far as I was concerned, it might as well have been made of kryptonite.
“You should check out Greenwood,” I said to myself when I saw the place again. “It’s probably got all kinds of new things in it.”
“Yes,” I said. “I really should. But not today.”
I was still looking at the park, I realized, with the eyes of a nine-year-old.
I am stuck in so many old stories. I can feel them rooting under my skin, rolling this way and that in the back of my head. I’m pretty sure it’s why the world lies to me, and why I can walk around feeling like I’m dreaming.
A nine-year-old has been making all my decisions.
I wonder about my own nine-year-old. You’d think that Nick, adopted at birth, would live a story of abandonment. But his reality is more complex. For Nick, adoption is a thread woven through separation, making leavings and partings more intense for him.
When he was younger, he went through a tell-me-a-Batman-story period. I’d spin crime caper, cops and robbers narratives. But what really drew him in was a tale where things went south between Batman and Robin. Once, they had an argument so bad that Batman left town and wandered alone for years.
“I think it’s time for Robin to forgive Batman so he can go home,” I’d say.
“Not yet,” Nick said. “Maybe next time.”
A STORY THAT COULD BE TRUE
If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.
He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by —
you wonder at their calm.
They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”
— William Stafford
TRUTH OR DARE
A few years ago, a friend told me that he’d learned a method of examining his thoughts by asking four simple questions.
Is it true?
Can I know for sure it’s true?
How does believing it’s true affect what I do?
Who would I be if it weren’t true?
I like these questions. I’ve tried them on my own thoughts, such as the thought that I should avoid Greenwood park. Asking questions one and two is like waking from a dream and writing it down. Three and four? That’s starting a novel. A woman named Byron Katie, who teaches the method, calls it The Work.
It’s nice to uncover stories and write novels. But here’s the real point: to see what’s in front of you, as it is, for fifteen seconds.
Everything is swinging: Heaven, Earth, Water, Fire,
and the Secret One slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw this for fifteen seconds, and became a believer for life.
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“A Story That Could Be True” copyright 1977, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprented from The Way It is: New & Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Used by permission.
Who are you really, wanderer? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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