The Costumes We Wear

I always had the best costume, an expert at disguise.

” I’ve walked these streets
In a spectacle of wealth & poverty
In the diamond market
The scarlet welcome carpet
That they just rolled out for me”

Uh oh, Natalie Merchant pandora. Brings me back to Lubbock, Texas where my Aunt Brenda and I would listen to everything from Tom Petty to yes, Natalie Merchant. “Carnival” transfixed me. Natalie’s tragic walk through the sad carnival resonated with my 8 year old soul. Ashamed that my first spiritual experience occurred at the hands of such a feminine artist, I stuffed the feeling into my back pocket.

That feeling would outgrow every back pocket, every pair of pants. Basketball, accounting, money. Eventually, and sometimes quite rapidly, these things lost the requisite meaning to obscure my true self.

As a child, my favorite animal was the wolf. Grey fur, the trademark howl, and those bright, white fangs were all nice throw-ins. However, I loved the wolf because I empathized with the slander exacted upon its character. Wolves were tortured souls in desperate need of a second chance.

Years later, I remember gazing out the window as our family zoomed south on US 59 to a baseball game or perhaps a museum. My forehead, my eyes, were pulled in by the 15 mile stretch of slums hugging the interstate. The interstate stood rigid, never acquiescing to the ghetto’s call for affection, attention of any kind. Like a distant, busy father the highway had places to go. No time for stopping, embracing.

I wondered what happened in those neighborhoods, what the hungry child thought as he lay awake.

Did he, like me, long for that girl in home room he had been crushing on since elementary? Or did his mind process the poverty and uncertainty surrounding him?

Did he dream about the NBA just as I did? Or was it closer to a burning desire?

Did his stomach growling clinch both the stomach and the heart or did the physical ailment of hunger stomp over any emotions?

His family left starving, forgotten, how did his Father feel? Was his Father so starving and forgotten that he forgot there was an alternative?

Did children, gazing through dirty clothes lines out to the indifferent highway, see the callous, carnival procession?

I believed that, for the wolf and the starving children of Houston, my feelings of sympathy and concern would better the condition of the suffering.

Years passed. I still read grisly newspaper accounts of murders, robberies, with well-hidden remorse. I searched for Wheatley, Sam Houston, Jones High School, all the tough schools, as I scanned the high school box scores each morning. I secretly rooted for them, holding the misinformed idea that my concern, unaccompanied by action, made a difference.

College came and went. Had fun. Did nothing.

I started an accounting career. Still, these feelings, concerns, lay dormant in my back pocket.

It wasn’t until I volunteered with Junior Achievement that I started to shed the costume. These kids, the same kids I worried about, didn’t need my concern. They just needed someone to witness their genius. The creativity, ambition, boldness I witnessed told me exactly what I needed to know.  I needed to rip my feelings, concerns out of my back pocket, shred them into a million pieces.

Just like many adults and, in my case, children, I was once an expert of disguise.

The Wolf Inside Us

A Native American elder transferring wisdom upon his grandson described his daily conflict well.  “I have two wolves fighting in my heart .  One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful.  The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.”  The grandson asked, “Which wolf will win the fight?”.  The wise elder responded, “The one I feed.”