I told my friends I'd like to do recycling for a living, and to start a recycling business. But first I tried for the best recycling job I could find available anywhere - the Massachusetts DEP recycling director job. I had seen the recycling director, Corey DeGeus, had passed away from melanoma at a young age, 30 I think. DEP had appointed an internal "acting" candidate, and I assumed he had the inside shot at the job, and it felt strange as well to declare myself a candidate for Corey's empty office. But I wasn't making any money at the other recycling job, paper was in a total rut, and my new wife was getting her Ph.D, and we had no way to pay rent. So I went in and introduced myself to the Acting recycling director, Jeff Lissack, and just told him I had seen the job posted, assumed he had it, and that I wasn't going to apply for it without talking to him. He liked me, and encouraged me to apply.
I was the luckiest guy to get that job. And the luckiest guy to leave, to have worked hard to grow the position and then leave it to follow my wife, with no job ahead, and no prospects for one. But with the family I have, man oh man. We have been so lucky and so happy, and I'm so proud of all the people I'm with.
To what do I attribute my good fortune? It seems wrong to say that you are lucky because of prayers, because I know people who suffer despite their prayers. But it seems wrong not to thank God for whatever fortune I have. Perhaps I'm a Man of La Mancha, a junk dealer who is not making much money, who is deluded into being grateful for what I have, which is nothing in the big realm of the universe. Perhaps it is the spiritual journey which has created a place where I feel lucky, and loved, and fortunate, and appreciative.
Let me give prayer and spirit its due.
In high school one day I took off and ran randomly into the woods, carrying a New Testament bible, and I fell to my knees and said a random prayer to Jesus. I opened my bible randomly, and read the parable of the sower.
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times...”
That is number two in my list of important days. I was asked about the most important day, however, and I chose the day my mom threw (randomly, it seemed) a book on my bed called the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book. The important thing is that the first chapter, I so identified with Arjuna, who was heralded but shared with Krishna his sadness and despair at waging war. In the second chapter, I was shocked that Krishna put war into perspective, and that I was actually convinced that Arjuna had been wrong in not seeing the big picture in Gods plan. And the Gita spoke of the Atman. And I realized that the Atman was the mustard seed, or the seed in the parable.
Another big day was when I asked my bed-ridden great grandmother, Minnie Freeland, what was the most important thing she had ever learned. She said she was not "wise". I told her that she could not help but be wiser than she once was at my age. She thought about that, and then said "Be true to thine own self". Or "to thine own self be true", or "know thyself". I can't remember, they blend into the same thing for me.
That fit so well with another book my mom threw on my bed, the works of Plato. She recommended I start with the Apology and read more if I like it. I was mesmerized by Socrates describing how much happier he was to learn that he had been wrong, because he felt healed. When he turned out to be right, he said, he had not gained but felt happy for the person who was wrong, that they now had been healed of a wrong idea.
I would also count the evening my mother, who always talked to me at my bedside, told me about heaven and hell. She told me all about how God judges the good people and lets them into heaven, and the bad people go to a hell where they burn in fire for eternity. Then she said that because God loves us, he can't really bear to put anyone in hell. That really just about everyone must wind up in heaven, because a loving and just God would never put someone in hell. Then she said there may be a couple of people in hell. She mentioned Adolph Hitler.
The combination of these three events makes me grateful to God and a believer in the spiritual seed of prayer. But like Arjuna, I am cowed and cannot evangelize, and I really am not capable of imagining that children of another religion could wind up in hell. But like an evangelical, I cannot imagine that any of my luck and happiness could have come without inspiration and grace.
I remember talking to my Grandpa and Grandma, subsistence farmers who worked so hard and led such a faithful churchbuilding life. I spoke to them about the Gita making me a better Christian (and "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" by Trungpa). They expressed some doubt that anyone needed anything more than the bible. I told them that I was totally inspired by Jesus, and told about my moment running into the woods, and the parable of the seed, and I started to describe how the seed was like the Atman. But I just said that I was humbled by the truths in other places, and I could not imagine that a child in another culture who listens to his parents and goes to - mosque or temple or fire, whatever - would be punished in the eyes of Jesus. Then I said that when Jesus dismissed the demons into the swine, that he was accused of using the power of the devil to combat the devil. Jesus said that a house divided cannot stand, and that anything that chases the evil must be good. I said that if the Gita or buddhist text makes me more humble, and less judgemental, and better able to hear God and better able to appreciate Jesus, that it actually gave me faith that the different religions were part of God's orchestra (ok, I'm pretty sure I didn't say THAT, exactly)... and I remember that my grandpa smiled and seemed to appreciate my thoughtful answer. And my grandma said she was happy that I knew scripture, and had no idea that I'd been raised that well, or something.
Another key story is from my great grandfather William "Pawpaw" Freeland, who spoke about the native American belief in heaven and hell. He had worked for decades with Hopi and Navajo in the BIA. He described the belief that we all come to a fork in the road, and that there is absolutely no sign of which path goes to heaven, and which to hell. He said he asked how someone could know which path to take? He said that he was told there was no sign, and no secret, and no way to know. So he asked if that meant it was random who went to heaven, and who went to hell. Not at all, he was told. If you live your life making the right decisions, and doing the right thing, you will out of habit take the right path. But if you have lived your life cheating and doing wrong and making bad decisions, it does not matter how hard you think or try or second guess, you will inevitably, after changing your mind and racking your brain, choose the path to hell.
The danger is always mistaking yourself, your ego, for your soul. "Mr. Robin, with your big head and your lazy nose", wrote Moumajouni Mama. Any path of self improvement is a path of self awareness, is a path with ego at the beginning and the middle and the end.
Here's the big question... how does one appreciate what one has without overusing the word "I", without coming across as self-absorbed? Probably the first step is NOT to publish your belief in your good fortune in a blog, which comes across as some kind of an academy award acceptance speech. Maybe it's too late. Maybe the net effect of the New Testament, the Gita, the Tao, and others is a form of Spirtual Materialism that you cannot escape. If you care about self improvement, you are by definition thinking about yourself. Maybe there's a better way to demonstrate your gratitude. But if I die tomorrow, it will be good to have left this lying around. It's not exactly a road map. But the folks who are bored with this probably haven't read this far anyway.