I remember standing just offstage about 5 feet away from Dylan one night watching him, listening to him sing. He was dressed in full leather in 100 degree heat, not a single drop of sweat on his face, his gravely voice singing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” His skin hardened by the years and sun as my friend told me he was like a lizard. He was not the same guy I grew up listening to, but a couple of quotes of his still seemed to ring true.
“I was born a long way from where I belong and I am on my way home.”
I know that feeling all too well and it took me years to understand what it really meant. Who knows what he meant by it, but I’ve read enough about him to think we share that understanding.
At first you think there is something missing, and the con game tells you that means something is wrong with you. In psychology they might even call it a disorder. Fortunately for me I took enough classes in psychology and counseling to understand that a disorder simply means you don’t fit. I distinguish a disorder from a true disease where something might truly be wrong.
But not fitting in, feeling like something is missing, can be one of the greatest gifts in life. Maybe we blame our parents for what we did not develop early on. Maybe we blame others for what feels like a hole now.
But Dylan it seems to me got it right. We are all headed home. We are all a promise waiting to be fulfilled. If we would just let go of the need to fit in and to find what fits us instead.
I often try to explain how I live to other people and they mistakenly think I have a bad life, a tough life, maybe even a sad one. They simply don’t understand. I explained to my mom my circumstances this summer and she said exactly that “I’m sorry. It must be tough.” I felt a tear well up in my eye and I replied, “But you know I could never live the way you and dad live.” She simply said “Yes, I know. I just wish you had what I have.” It wasn’t in me to tell her I had no interest in what she had.
Fulfilling one’s promise was never meant to be easy, never meant to be safe. Nature can be cruel. But it is what it is, and I am what I am whatever that is.
But when I realized that pain is simply Nature’s way of telling me I was not protecting myself, was not fulfilling my promise or turning her gift of life into the skills for living, I understood. And I knew when I heard Dylan’s words, “I was born a long way from where I belong and I am on my way home,” I understood that home is where fulfilling my promise leads me. And that offered me peace, eased the pain.
I often read books that no one else I know reads. One of those books is “Defining the Wind” about the origin of the Beaufort Scale for measuring wind. In that book, Huler writes about his experience trying to use the scale, how elegant it was for the sailors in the 1800’s. He also wrote about the new gadgets they’d created in more modern times to know what the wind was and how false they were, how we don’t need them for most things in life. Here’s what he said:
“…our own body is the greatest perceptive instrument ever designed. Not only can it perceive sound, light, movement, temperature, aroma, taste, and time, but it possesses all the processing capacity and speed to organize, categorize, and express that mass of data almost instantly, to then retain and reorganize it, and to find utility and value and meaning.”
And that, my friends, is the difference, the answer, the secret. Not so secret, though, if you know where to look. Here is what actor William Macy said:
“Here’s the thing– you are sufficient. You don’t have to improve yourself. First of all, you’re not going to. In your study of acting you’re not going to become better people. You are sufficient. You’ve got the goods. You are enough. You’re completely emotional enough. What we need from you is your bravery, your will. If you do it right, the journey of the character is strangely similar to the journey of the actor. The fear that the character feels is so similar to fear that you feel. At some point, you have to stop saying to yourself “I am wrong to feel this way. I should be feeling something different.” If you’re feeling it, it’s real. The purpose of technique is always to free your subconscious. That’s why you have a technique, to let the inner stuff out. You want to get out of your head because that’s where you’ll find the truth. You’ve got the goods. You are sufficient.”
I’ve spent a lot of years observing, listening, seeing the difference between people who fulfill their promise, who find “home,” who know that pain is simply data that we are not protecting what’s right about us and those who do not. I’ve witnessed first hand the virus of insecurity because someone was convinced something was wrong with them. It is a virus that turns our life’s work, our meaning, into jobs that Studs Terkel described as “too small for our spirits.” I’ve dated or married women who simply could not see their own beauty or take the pressure they felt from me because I could see it in them. And while I understand all of these people, understand the virus, I cannot accept its existence. My entire life is dedicated to eradicating this virus. I simply wish I was better at it. I simply wish others could see what I see.
I used to be infected. But I stopped listening to that voice in my head. I stopped wanting to possess beauty realizing the experience of it was sufficient. And best of all, I came to understand money cannot buy those experiences. Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees as Paul Valery said and as a result we can only feel those experiences. Thank God for that.
In the first week of my fiftieth year, I have witnessed the virus each and every day in others, especially on my birthday. I took a moment to honor the mother that gave me away. And then I thanked her for giving birth to my promise, a long way from where I belong. I am still headed home. But I am sufficient and what used to feel like a hole inside of me is simply Nothing, the greatest thing of all. The stillness, space, and silence, where Nature’s whisper calls me to wonder, to seek beauty, and in doing so see truth.
And what’s truth? The truth is I still have a ways to go, that I am still turning those gifts of life into the skills to live my life, the life inside me free of the virus. As Van Morrison sang “I am free because I see.” No need to name things, but to feel what I see. And when I feel pain, it is also Nature’s warning that I am not doing enough, not that something is wrong with me. Wonder seeks beauty to find truth that turns back into wonder…and on it goes…
And that leads to what is truly mine…moments…As Joseph Campbell said, as one person specifically taught me one moment on a beach:
“The central point of the world is where movement and stillness come together. Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity and experiencing the eternal aspect of what you’re doing in the temporal experience.”
And as photographer Sam Abell said describing photography:
“Stay this moment…it was hard learning to be between the photographs not knowing when the next one would appear. Above all it has been hard learning to live with the mental images of scenes that I saw and failed to photograph. Stay this moment. It’s the heartfelt, passionate feeling when life is achingly beautiful or funny or poignant. Powerful you might say.”
Powerful. Energy doing what matters. And when I understood the virus of insecurity, when I saw the damage of the voice in our heads and stopped listening, the time between moments, the space between the notes simply turned into what defines the music of my life. Anyone can play the notes. It is what we do in the silence that makes the difference. It is that silence that guarantees I will not miss the moments that matter most. No regrets.
As Bob Dylan said “You don’t need a weatherman to tell you what the weather is.”
You’ve got the goods. You are sufficient.
P. S. One of the best audiobooks I have ever listened to is Chronicles: Volume One by Dylan. It is narrated by Sean Penn. It is amazing. Listen to the book instead of reading it. You can get it on itunes or audible.com,