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Derek Best has contributed to several publications, including Macleans Magazine Canada, and Omni Magazine, USA. He is has also produced many documentary films for Television. For many years, he has been interested in A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical thought system, and maintains the official website for that organization. "ACIM", he says "is central to my personal way of seeing the world." This site is strictly personal however. Derek has an eclectic range of interests, and writes about them here as the mood strikes him.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sorry, I'm tied up.

Sometimes you just don't know how to think about something. Half of you wants to see it one way, the other half tugs in another direction. After a while you distance yourself from the internal conflict and start giving your thoughts glib labels like "the right-minded thought" and "the wrong-minded thought". Then you are alarmed to find you really don't know which is which, and the whole thing is a great gray area.

I have a friend Mark (not his real name). I met him a few years ago in a coffee shop somewhere. He's about 55. I remember we chatted a bit about China because I overheard him say he'd been there. It seems he and his wife went to Guangzhou to adopt a small girl. Since then they have divorced, and he now pays child-support. I could only imagine how acrimonious the divorce must have been; he had no reservations about telling me he didn't even have visitation rights. He was struggling in a dead end sales job trying to raise money to buy a house, so he could gain "credibility and respectability" and win back some role in the life of his daughter. All this on a first meeting! The striking thing about Mark was his voice. It was an effortless deep resonant baritone, like a radio announcer on steroids. It had that enviable Richard Burton/James Earl Jones quality that could simply read the city phone book out loud and make you listen in enchantment. He combined it with a slow, deliberate, oratorical speaking style, and the result was - I felt I was speaking with the Oracle. Nothing he told me sounded ordinary or commonplace, even though bitter divorces and child-support are not exactly rare.

Time went by and I ran into him quite often - always in that coffee shop. I guess I go there a lot, but so did he. In fact he used it as a kind of headquarters where he held court with anyone who would listen, about marriage, divorce, world affairs, politics, economics, education -- whatever you wanted to discuss, he had a strong opinion. Talking with Mark I always felt slightly puny and inferior, like a tiny dog yapping to be heard. It was the pure authority of his voice. I don't think he deliberately tried to drown people out: he just spoke normally and it happened. He made me doubt my rightness.

If you analyzed Mark's opinions about the world, they always distilled down to one thing: he was a victim. All politicians were corrupt and we are the victims. The economy is in a mess and we are the victims. The Church is corrupt and we suffer. His ex-wife was a heartless bitch and he was the victim. His job was thankless, his employer was unappreciative, and he was exploited. His car was broken down and unreliable because the car-dealer is a crook and he was cheated. His credit history was a mess because he was a victim of the divorce and the court-system which had forced him to borrow beyond his means. He had no decent home-life because the place he was living was "a dump." The city in which we lived was for "losers." It had no culture and no social life. The people were all provincialites with no real clue. The local economy was dreadful and it was impossible to make a good living here. "I've got to get out of here!" he would say regularly. "I want to get back to Baltimore. It's a different world there." As you read all this you might be forgiven for thinking this guy sounds like a real loser. You would be right. Stripped of all color and tone, the facts point to the classic victim syndrome. But -- oh my -- the color and the tone were so significant. A story that would have said: "I'm a bum" on other lips, seemed to say "I'm a wounded god" coming from him.

Mark was a regular churchgoer even though he had nothing positive to say about his church-friends. Once he asked me if he could go to an ACIM meeting with me. It was amusing to watch the faces of the others at the meeting when it was Mark's turn to read. I think they took him for the new messiah, such was the richness of his voice. In fact he had no acquaintance with the material at all. It was just another city phone-book to him. After the meeting we went for a meal (I paid of course: he never had money) and he engaged me in a fierce debate about the metaphysics of the Course, calling it "sophistry." It makes perfect sense for someone with a victim mindset to be angry about a book that teaches us we made-up all our own problems.

He began a new job, driving for a limousine company. He could work his own hours, and if he applied himself he could earn good money. From then on whenever I saw him in the coffee house he was sleeping. He would stop by there after a 16 hour driving shift and fall asleep in the chair. I would tap him to wake him up and say "Hi," but there was never any joy on his face, just weariness and disgust at the great weight he perceived he had to bear. Usually he would mutter "I need to get home and get some sleep" for about an hour, before finally getting up and lurching off like a defeated heavyweight.

More about Mark. He'd obviously had a "good" education. he could hold forth on most issues. How many people do you know who could accuse the Course of "sophistry?" I wish I knew a few more. He was quite overweight and becoming more so. You get to a stage of weight gain where none of your clothes fit you, and you either can't afford new ones, or you don't want to buy them because it would be admitting defeat. So you look shabby. So you feel shabby. You don't look after yourself. You don't shave. You don't trim your hair. You don't eat well. You gain more weight. You don't exercise. Movement becomes more of an effort. Slowly your breathing becomes labored. Slowly your arteries are clogging. He smoked. Every ten minutes, no matter what the weather, he had to go outside and light up. He drank far too much coffee. It seems his whole life was broken into alternating ten-minute cycles of caffeine and nicotine. Yet somehow he always managed to convey an air of exiled nobility; not really a loser on a slow decline, but a great man with a great past and a future, taking temporary respite in the land of ordinary people.

How do you feel about Mark so far? Have you judged him yet? Something in me made me keep a flame of hope alight for him. I wanted to see him through these difficult times...
But I see now that was predicated on the assumption these times would end someday...

I will post more of this story in a few days.


Anonymous marian said...

One person's exiled nobility is another person's insufferable blowhard.

I don't know if this is a set-up or not (no offense, but I've come to expect that from you, dear Derek), but I do understand what it means to take a liking to someone who is not an obvious choice for a friend.

Anyway, good to have you back. And to give you the cliche you are after: Are we not all exiled nobility?

11:06 AM  


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