Sitting in the interminable traffic I had been listening to music and the lyrics of a Billy Joel song had sparked a train of thought. Switching off the stereo I explored it a little, allowing the thoughts to conjure images and wander off at tangential angles. The song had a simple and, at the time of its release, controversial story, but some of the lyrics fit so well with some of the core tenets of the School that I had to take notice. Take the religious element out and it ceases to be controversial at all… just thought provoking.
They showed you a statue and told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
But they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done…
Isn’t that exactly how so very many of us are caught by ‘the system’? The statue… the idol… is success. It doesn’t matter in what… but within the parameters of our allotted field… be that businessman, housewife, artist or artisan… we are expected to aim for and achieve a measure of ‘success’ that is comprehensible to the world. The housewife must have the pristine home; the businessman is measured by the material trappings of commercial acumen, the artist by the name he carves for himself. The temple is the cage that this need to conform imposes upon us and its name is acquiescence. We accept the bars of this cage, one by one, first from our parents, schools and culture, then, once we pass a point of critical mass, we are blinded to the fact that the temple we have built is a prison and blithely… proudly… keep adding the bars of our own cage. Our dreams take second place and the things we might have really wanted to do slip further and further down our list of priorities.
We ain’t too pretty, we ain’t too proud.
We might be laughing’ a bit too loud.
Ah! But that never hurt no one…
Not only that, but many of the very qualities that would have allowed us to do the things we might have done are leached from us by the pressure of conforming to that standard we have been set and have accepted as a goal. All our energy is channelled into the business of achieving; we grow tired, the passion wanes, the embarrassment at stepping outside the accepted bounds grows; we are afraid of looking like idiots, of being laughed at, of not being good enough… of failing or letting people down… even of being seen to be different. And that last applies in some subversive and surprising ways. Many who look like rebels to one section of society are simply conforming to another set of standards. We forget how to play because we are too busy ‘playing the game.’ In a nutshell, we can lose ourselves. That’s a hell of a price to pay.
The stained glass curtain you’re hiding’ behind-
Never lets in the sun…
Of course, while we are doing as we ‘should’, behaving as expected, the world nods in approval and we feel pretty good. Basking the approbation we increase our efforts… much as we did as children, being good to earn our parents’ praise. Even when that nagging yearning reminds us of a different life we might have chosen, that ‘stained glass curtain’, that sense of virtuous compliance with expectations… both the world’s and our own… colours our vision of life, casting pretty shadows that prevent us from seeing through the window to where we might play, and forms a multihued veil behind which we can hide from the touch of the Light.
We are almost afraid of that Light, even when we glimpse it through a crack in the glass. It makes us uneasy in our safe little world, reminding us of a life that seems beyond our reach… a place where we could play, instead of playing the game, where there is freedom to dream and to reach for the stars… a place where we can laugh for sheer joy at the daily miracle of a sunrise instead of politely because it is ‘expected’. A place where we can simply be ourselves and revel in life itself. Yet we are afraid, conditioned by the cage, not knowing any more how to be that self we have lost. Even when the cage door stands unlocked.
We all have those cages on some level. Some are veritable fortresses, some mere gilded filigree… but they all have the bars that enclose. Bars called duty, need and responsibility form the framework upon which the heavier bars of ambition, image and ego are added, one by one and breaking free without breaking faith is no simple thing. Some of the bars must remain, but we can open the door, walk beyond the curtain… cease our self-imposed slavery to expectation. We can learn that we may move between a cage which, when open, is no more than a shelter, and the clear space beyond … because neither are the whole story. There is a freedom in that ability to move between the two.
It was the title that had first set me thinking, though. Looked at in this way, ‘the good’ are those who in the eyes of the world conform to social standards, achieve in visible manner and are probably pillars of the community. Yet there are many such who have no access to joy. Their life of the heart, their inner child has been bound and fettered early as they knuckled down and worked hard. When, having achieved and attained, they look around at the ‘things that they might have done’, they are lost… adrift in their own forgetting. You could say that they ‘died’ young, often before they have ever lived. The ‘sinners’ in this scenario are those who walk a less conventional path, or who have retained a sense of the ridiculous, nurtured their inner child and remembered how to play, just for the sake of playing. They have an inner light that shines and, like moths, they draw us. They too have their cages, but they can see the open door and move between inner and outer at will and carry laughter with them.
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
The sinners are much more fun…
You know that only the good die young!