Monday, July 11, 2011

To My Fellow Pilgrim

I wrote this as a response to something a friend wrote...but it seems to fit lots of other friends, too. I have a feeling it may fit more than I realize. No "wisdom"...just some thoughts...

PILGRIM: 1. A person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. 2. A traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.

To my fellow pilgrim,

I read your recent post and my heart is heavy for you.

I, too, am on some kind of new journey through some kind of new wilderness and am struggling to make sense of it. I tend to enjoy these wrestling matches in some kind of masochistic way, but even so, I don’t wish them on anyone else. These things hurt. They get pretty sloppy. In my experience, they require a lot of rebuilding afterward.

But I promise you, they lead somewhere.

I won’t presume to know where your path is taking you. I feel confident that our paths, while very similar in their effects on us, remain very different in the specifics. And I am fairly certain they will lead us to very different destinations. But, nonetheless, we are both on a pilgrimage. That gives us solidarity. A musician friend of mine once said, “We can rejoice in each other’s sharing of pain”. We don’t have to provide answers; sometimes it’s enough just to know that others are struggling through what Dr. Cornell West calls “the funk of life”.

In “The Matrix”, Morpheus offers Neo two options: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland. And, I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

People like us always take the red pill. Always. We have to.

“The worst prison is ignorance.” - Joe Bageant

However, sometimes I think it might not be so bad.

Later on in “The Matrix”, Cypher says to Neo, “I know what you're thinking, 'cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?”

Later still, Cypher goes a step further and tells Morpheus: “If you'd told us the truth, we would've told you to shove that red pill right up your ass.”

I feel like that a lot. I’m surrounded by people who don’t seem to feel the way I do about things, who aren’t bothered by the things that bother me, and who aren’t motivated by what motivates me. They seem isolated and numb. I often wish I could just feel like that. Why can’t I just be….happy?

One of our mutual friends once told me that this restlessness we feel is put inside of us for a reason.

For a while I believed that outright. Now, I believe it…with conditions. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure what those conditions are. Some days I’d still settle for a blue pill.

I don’t know the specifics of your African expedition and I don’t need to (though I am willing to listen). It sounds as if it left you in the same place that our mutual revolution left me. That experience itself didn’t “destroy” anything. But it’s led to a WHOLE LOT of shifting. Rethinking. Painful rethinking.

You mention fear, pride, and deep doubt. Deep doubt is gnawing at my bones. Doubt in almost every single thing. Disappointment is there, too; in people, systems, and beliefs. For the moment I don’t feel fear. It’s the first time ever that I haven’t felt fear in that one particular aspect of my being. I feel a defiant faith in this area. Not faith as one might define it…I mean faith simply in the “stepping into the unknown” aspect. But is this defiant faith just pride? For the first time, that possibility of being so immensely wrong doesn’t faze me. It doesn’t scare me.

I’m angry. I know you’ve been angry. I know you’re in a different place of processing than anger.

But, I’m angry that you have to go through this at all. Just as you indicated, everywhere I turn someone’s heart is broken. It literally seems like every person I know is engaged in an epic wrestling match with some existential crisis. If it’s not an unfair life situation (illness, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, betrayal), then it’s a complete and catastrophic crisis of faith or a forced redefinition of their identity – sometimes both.

I don’t know what’s happening. But something is.

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr. Jones?” - Bob Dylan

One of my goals has always been to teach you that life is tough; an unavoidable truth. I’ve also hoped to always encourage you – in spite of my potentially better judgment – to always take the red pill; to seek the truth and pay the painful price it may cost to wrestle with what you may find.

My other main concern has been to make you aware that you are not alone. You may, as you have indicated, feel isolated from some; but you are not alone. You may not be able to engage in the things that move you at this moment; but you are not the only one. Life is a journey and many souls take the blue pill and shield themselves. I do believe that some truly are simply that isolated. But, I feel like the bigger majority feel the way we do, they just can’t manage the thought of the red pill. As you beautifully said, they are “Trying to convince people of what we ourselves don’t even believe in.”

You are not alone. You ARE OK. And you will be OK. You’ll get better at these things and you’ll see the next one coming a little more than you did this one. (Yes, there will be more than one of these pilgrimages.)

Life is going to hurt like a mother. There’s no way around that. I wish there was. I wish I could shield my daughter and all of the students that I’ve worked with from these things, but I can’t. And the truth is I’d be doing you a disservice if I did.

You’re used to me saying I don’t have answers. They wouldn’t help even if I did. I just want to validate what you’re’ saying. And I want you to know that you’re not alone.

If I can help in any way, don’t hesitate to let me know.

I’m proud of you, my friend.

And I want to tell you that you ARE bold. You are bold to write about these things. Everyone feels them; whether they acknowledge it – or whether they even recognize it – or not. But, it takes a bold and brave person to share them. Please don’t stop doing that. Regardless of where we may stand in our faiths, I believe that the whole human experience is based on consciously experiencing life together; and the crux of that is being real with one another. This is REAL LIFE.

I admire you for tackling it head-on.

This whole long, rambling thing is just to say that. And that I appreciate your honestly. And that you’re not alone. And that my family and I love you. Lots of others do, too.

When you’re ready, pick up your camera again. But don’t force it. It’ll come.

Just keep hanging in there. You may feel like you’re in a corner, but you’re not. Those blue pill folks walking through life like they don’t feel these things…they’re in a corner. They’ve allowed themselves to be put there and they’re not making noise. Keep wrestling.

“I am a pilgrim and a stranger, wanderin' through this wearisome land...”


  1. "People like us always take the red pill. Always. We have to."


    "Listen to your fear but don't obey it."

    Thanks for sharing Ryan. The above is a link and a quote from Seth Godin's blog post from today; I thought it was applicable. I've been on quite a journey to do just this, to listen to my fear but to not let I dictate my actions. I'm getting better but I'm not quite there yet. (will we ever really get there??)

    (Hopefully the link will work but you might have to copy and paste. It's a quick read and it's worth it.)