Into the lights

I hate what I have to be.

Lord knows I am not an ambitious person. Proud, yes. Vain, most likely. Idealistic. But that drive to succeed, to win—-that was never me.

We do what we have to, though. You look at your family and you know that in a world of sudden illness and acts of god and economic downturns and crooks and venal bureaucrats and bad cops and angry neighbors and drunk drivers and just plain bad luck, the only semblance of security they have lies in 1) knowing people; and 2) having money. And so you make a choice: you pin your hopes to someone else’s coattails and pray; or you put on your best suit and and a pair of sunglasses, put out your shingle and you walk out into the light and dare the world to deny that you are All That. “Entrepreneur” is just another word for “Conceals Fear Well”.

Here’s a fact of my life: people like me. I’d be hard pressed to name an enemy I’ve ever had. I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with people, but for some reason I seem to get along with them. I don’t take it for granted. It is an amazing blessing that I don’t think I’m in any way worthy of.

But I can see the writing on the wall when I watch the arc of successful friends. No one gets a free pass. People will say cruel things about me… things they toss off and forget in a moment, but which I will see and remember and agonize over for days. People will laugh at me, or accuse me of having the wrong motivations. It doesn’t matter what I do or say. This is how we treat prominence; how we punish ambition or, (if you like), how we discourage hubris. It is how I have treated notable people in casual, thoughtless blog posts and comments. And found myself very clever at the time.

The first time I ever went on a camp-out with my old Boy Scout troop, a leader accused me (falsely) of lying. I was 12 and I’d never been accused of lying in my life. I broke down and cried. I couldn’t cope with the idea someone could fail to believe me; that someone could believe something about me that wasn’t true. He wasn’t a cruel man. He just didn’t know me. Later he made me troop Chaplain’s Aide. Like I said, people like me.

But now I know more and more people and none of them know me, not well. And statistically speaking, some of them will say harsh things about me. And I will once again be that boy wandering in a cornfield, bawling his eyes out.

And that’s just the way it is, and there is nothing I can do to change it, and for some of them there will be nothing I can do to convince them I am anything other than what they think me to be.

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