Hey Ahab hoist that sail
You gotta stand up straight
When you ride that whale.
Elton John & Leon Russell, "Hey Ahab"
* * *
Aurelius predates Mr. John and Mr. Melville when he writes, "Straight. Not straightened." The idea being that if one is in command of one's thoughts, one's life, then Life will not need to straighten you out, to knock that silly grin off your face.
But we're fucked, us fuckers, aren't we? We are the crooked man who walked a crooked mile, who found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. Like the crooked man in the Mother Goose rhyme, we compound our crookedness, our fuckedness, with every step we take. Why? Because we refuse the tonic of standing up straight, of facing our fears, of embracing the obstacle. Ahab's fight wasn't with the whale. It was with his missing leg. It is easy to sail to your doom and drag others down with you. Easy to remain bent by the blows you take in Life. Harder to stand up straight.
Didn't think I could connect Elton John, Captain Ahab and Mother Goose, did you?
* * *
My attorney has the look and demeanor of a former football player - a down lineman - and he uses his considerable size and presence to great advantage in the court. In the beginning even I was intimidated by him. The wreck of the divorce itself was simply too petty to be believed. Dozens and dozens of motions were flown at me seeking every sort of punishment, payment, and humiliation. All failed. My guy was/is good. It was, however, a harrowing time.
One day I was sitting across from him trying to sort out the tail end of the proceedings when he said, "You certainly know how to take a punch." If I had to identify the moment I began to stand up straight, I'd pick that one.
The entire process of divorce is one of failure. You don't wind up in court because it all worked out. Mistakes were made in judgment, trust and personal responsibility. It is ripe with regret, anger and retribution. Even the most amicable ones hide a thick layer of loss. Yet this one seemed particularly fecund. I remember wondering why it had to play out the way it did, because there was no reason for it.
While it is the easier thing to do to blame the other side in all contests, I refuse to do so. It is also easy to beat one's breast and moan, "Mea culpa, mea cilpa." But I have no such belief. Rather, it was simply Life asking me if I was up to the task of living my life, if I could, to borrow Elton's line, stand up straight and ride the whale. The pummeling I took, the various depths and layers of wounded pride, outrage, shame and frustration, help beat me back into shape the way an anvil and hammer will straighten steel.
I had been a crooked man living in a crooked house, avoiding my life. Now Life came straight at me. Thank God.
* * *
There are as many way to fall off track as there are ways to get back on. Though divorce is hardly new, nor its traps and snares unknown, it is the thing I had to go through to find my way back to my life. I was fucked. Odd as it seems, the futility of the process unfucked me, got me to stand up straight and recognize that I can do nothing about the decisions and actions of others. All that I can do is take care of my own thoughts, words and deeds.
This is the open door of freedom. From here I am responsible for the shape, texture and direction of my life - not another, not anything external, just me. You must understand this one thing: there will always be outside influences and events that will limit you, impinge on your life, your ability to stand up straight - always. The key is to respond to those events and influences out of a deep sense of Self, out of a well of integrity, out of a willingness to stand up straight and ride whatever whale is demanded of you with the unshakable joy that comes when you know who you are.
Can you name your whale?
Ride, baby. Ride.