“Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven.” -Wikipedia’s definition of “purgatory”
I’ve never actually met anyone who truly believes in purgatory, yet I feel that the general population is familiar with the idea of it.
On the final episode of Lost, the people from the Island who had ultimately lived their lives for the goodwill of others instead of greed and selfishness, reunited and reminisced in purgatory before entering Heaven together.
For those who are not Lost fanatics but like the band Coldplay, in their song “42,” some of the most memorable lyrics include the refrain, “You thought you might be a ghost; you didn’t get to Heaven but you made it close.”
Most of us don’t believe in the actual place, but for me at least, there is something pretty fascinating about the concept. I think it’s so easy in this life, in this culture, in this country, to feel like we are lost, or at least that we don’t belong wherever “here” is. We want to think that we deserve to transcend this lowly and boring situation, asking the question:
“What am I supposed to learn from this? Why am I here?”
My life has been filled with stretches like that. Even right now, my wife and I are having to adjust back to the busyness of our full-time jobs in Nashville, this time with a kid; which is a completely new balancing act for us. We are having to figure out and work out our new lifestyles and schedules, making time not only for the three of us, but for the two of us, as well.
It’s a purification process that is not easy; but it is necessary. We can see how natural it can be to let your kid consume your leftover energy and thoughts, slacking on making conscious efforts to keep the marriage relationship fresh and engaging. But we don’t want our lives to end up like Everybody Loves Raymond.
Ultimately, we are being forced to mature our marriage relationship. This “forced maturity” is sort of the whole point of purgatory. You suffer until you overcome.
Not that I am constantly immature or naive, or maybe I am (?), but I am always needing to grow in a way that I never could have without entering my newest purgatory.
But really, the more I think of the literary device we know as purgatory, the more it just seems like a straight forward yet abstract way to describe life itself; the condition or process of purification or temporary punishmentin which, we are made ready for Heaven, at best.
We may figuratively compare our lives to hell at times, but really, hell is an eternal end; it’s never-ending loneliness and destruction. Purgatory is temporary.
I don’t mind viewing life as purgatory. Until I pass on in to the afterlife, I will always have much more growing up to do, more necessary suffering, and one more level of maturity to reach- even if I live to be 80.
“So take your lessons hard… and when your car crash comes don‘t be misled.” Convince yourself that everything is alright, ’cause it already is.” – “For Nancy” by Pete Yorn
In last week’s cliffhanger episode, I closed by saying that I was counting on a miracle in order to remain in Alabama, knowing that our savings we had been living off of since December 4th would be running out in the next few weeks and that every door and window had closed for us regarding a long term job. And more importantly, I needed a job with good insurance, since there are 3 of us now. I avoid drama at all costs, but in order to be true to the reality of “dad from day one”, I couldn’t play down the real life happenings of coming to terms with the fact that our leap of faith may end with us moving back to Nashville, despite all our efforts to move to Alabama.
That was last Wednesday. It literally felt like my world was collapsing in on me, which I realize is no comparison to the literal collapsing that occurred in Japan last week, but still, it was the most intense thing I have ever lived through. Maybe a better comparison is that it was like being in a car wreck, where I was in the driver’s seat, running the car through a guard rail, causing my family to be flipped upside down a few times as the car rolled over, not knowing if we were looking up or down.
It helped me to literally understand the phrase, “hell of a week”. I never so literally felt such a heavy, demonic presence around me. Not like dark storm clouds and a violent storm; more like a silent, heavy overcast. It was so subtle, yet terrifying. I truly felt that my family was caught between two spiritual worlds- with one army that wanted us here and one army that wanted us gone. With that being said, there must be some serious unseen reason why my family should or shouldn’t be living here in Alabama.
But as I had always expected, the scarier that things got in my real life during this move, it would only make it that much more obvious when God miraculously provided for us. In order for this real life story to be more legit, it had to be obvious that it was no coincidence if things worked out in the end. I, the protagonist, had to be that desperate and completely dependent for God’s intervention. And I couldn’t just paint God as a genie who grants wishes. Also, like Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, I had to be willing to give it all up. I had to become humbled more than I ever have before.
As I put it last week, “Perhaps there’s a thin line between bravery and foolishness. The way I see it, that thin line in my case is actually having a steady job.” I could also compare it to that “bankrupt/million/bankrupt” wedge on Wheel of Fortune.
That was last Wednesday. Less than 24 hours later, in what felt like a loopy dream, I found myself in a job interview at the place I truly had my heart set on when I moved here. (Interestingly, this is not the position I referred to last week; this is something completely different.) It’s a Marketing position for one of the world’s largest playground equipment companies. I know it’s the perfect fit for me. Today I took my drug test, so unless there was something extra in the brownies last night, I start this coming Monday (March 28th).
But… the good news isn’t over yet. God is more creative than that for this story.
Something else happened in the past week that is pretty dang awesome. Something that I didn’t initiate. Instead, out of nowhere, I was approached. It’s bigger than just simply having one of my articles or “dad from day one” entries being published in a magazine. I don’t think it would be wise to give away all the details at this point, but just know that it involves me signing a contract, it will take “dad from day one” to a whole new level and audience, it means I will be teaming up with a major publishing company (in a regular paying gig), and it should officially begin within the next month or two…
So, that is what has happened since “Part 1″. What a week. Granted, I realize now more than ever, there is no where telling where anyone may end up for the duration of their lives. I honestly never would have believed that I would ever have moved back to Alabama, or more importantly, that I would ever want to. But as far as my own plans, I want roots again. I want solid ground. I want anchorage. I don’t want to even think about moving again.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all this dramatic struggle is a necessary part of the story of “dad from day one”. With rare exceptions like the movie Napoleon Dynamite, a strong plot is vital to build a solid story line- not to mention, it’s absolutely necessary for character development.
So, will we be moving Jack back to Nashville? With an exciting and fulfilling job starting Monday here in Fort Payne, a big secret “dad from day one” reveal coming up in the next month or so, and a juicy income tax return coming our way soon, I suppose it’s as safe as possible to say that we can keep our anchor down in Alabama.
It’s the ultimate irony that we moved to Alabama to settle down, yet it has been such an unsettling experience until now. And it’s pretty interesting, too, how these doors opened the very week that the winter season ended and the spring season began. Man, the symbolism. The dead of winter surrenders to the resurrected life of spring.
Please, God, let this good ending and new beginning be real.
“You got to go through hell before you get to heaven… ’Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay.” – “Jet Airliner” by The Steve Miller Band
Ironically, while waiting for my first child to be born I am accompanied by thoughts of the finality of my own life. Having a baby is such a huge milestone, such a life-changing event, that my mind skips decades ahead to when my kid will graduate high school, to when I will be a grandparent, and ultimately, to my inevitable passing into eternity. In my mind, all those big events are strung together like bubbly Christmas lights from 1988.
My wife and I have this agreement that concerning our own inevitable deaths, we will die healthy but of “natural causes” in our sleep, both at age 92, holding hands. And I would assume that most happily married people would wish for the same thing- to be able to raise their children with their spouse, to grow old with their family, and to pass this life in our right minds – not lonely and suffering in a nursing home. I don’t consider a sudden brain aneurism, a car accident, or being mauled by a bear while hiking through the woods. No, you see, I have carefully planned out my own “natural causes” death in a romantic and perfect way.
And that’s the only way I can think about the end of my life- with optimism. Assuming I will live a long, happy life, giving all I can to my family. It’s the only way I can think, because even now, two months before Baby Jack is scheduled to arrive, I am responsible for another life. I have to be here to take care of him. And my wife.
I truly am incapable of trying to fathom how so many people in the world don’t have a solid understanding (or at least some kind of basic perspective) of what happens after this life, and that they don’t think about it on a daily basis like I do. How the afterlife is completely something to be considered, how beyond heaven and hell issues, this dream of life is the prequel to eternity. And now, already, a new soul has been created, and I had something to do with that. I have changed the course of eternity.
This baby is not just a body; he’s got a soul. A soul that will need guidance for this life and the eternal one. And I have to be here for that. Even if these thoughts may seem dark and depressing to some, I refuse to ignore the reality that life and death are intertwined. As much as I “try not to take life too seriously” like all those stupid bumper stickers and annoying e-mail forwards tell me, I still take life seriously enough to think about this stuff.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:
It took me 12 straight days to teach myself to solve the Rubik’s Cube; it was during this time that my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby. Of course, we didn’t tell anyone until over a month later, but during my “learn to solve a Rubik’s Cube” phase, I had several people crack themselves up with this joke: “If you’ve got the time and patience to solve that thing, it’s time for you to have a kid!” And they were right. My instincts were making it obvious that like so many actors, the time eventually arrives when it’s time to dabble with directing.
(Cue the song “In My Life” by The Beatles as the proper soundtrack as you read the rest of this post. It’s officially my favorite song ever.)
I can look back on my life with satisfaction, knowing that my accomplishments have outweighed my failures and regrets. I have met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world (most of whom are facebook friends). I understand the meaning of life. I am solid in my beliefs on the afterlife. I have married the woman I am meant to be with. I can now solve the Rubik’s Cube in two minutes and twenty-five seconds. And though this paragraph may resemble a goodbye letter to the world as I prepare for my life to come to an end like I’m 90 years old, I recognize that in some ways life as I know it will end, as it transforms into a new one. A more meaningful one. From “me” to “dad”.
On top of all this, I’m about a half a year away from turning 30, so yeah, I’d say it’s time for things to stop being about me so much and more about someone else. I have been the protagonist, but soon I will become a full-time director. All of life has prepared me to this new role. The cynic could see it as circular reasoning- that you spend your youth learning how to become a responsible adult, and then once you do, you just do it all over again with modified little reruns of yourself running around.
But I would say the cynic is still under the assumption that life is all about him- that life either simply ends when he dies or that hopefully when he dies, he’s been “good enough to get to Heaven” or that at least Hell won’t be that bad, but instead just a big party where the temperature is slightly hotter than desired while Jimmy Buffett plays an eternal concert and the margaritas are never-ending.
If anything, I could see how raising a kid will be a redeeming and cleansing process, helping me to see how little I truly know, helping me to appreciate my family and childhood teachers more, helping me to straighten out my priorities even more, helping me to ultimately give more than I take. I could see how this baby will ironically make me a better adult. And how the humility of changing diapers is only a small part of this evolution of my life.
And yes, Baby Jack will probably already know how to solve a Rubik’s Cube before he gets to Kindergarten.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography: