Being Alive Is The Only Way To Know You Were Dead

The chorus from the song Cardiff Giant by mewithoutYou contains a sentiment which has played through my mind a lot.

I often wonder if I’ve already died.

I keep looking back to my late twenties and wonder if I died back then. I wonder if I squandered freedom.

Subliminally, I think I died.

Superficially, I obtained multiple degrees (family cheers), I got the start of a technically skilled career (society cheers), and I even materialistically helped stimulate the economy by buying a car with said start of career (auto-makers cheer).

Prepared during my late teens and early 20’s with my arsenal of bibles, books and blogs, I knew I was entering my late 20’s (and the rest of my life?) with Jesus centered ways pinned to my chest.

I had my worn down Blue Like Jazz book. I had my copy of Irresistible Revolution. My NIV bible had my notes in the margins and underlined verses. My blog roll was a who’s who of Christian blogging at it’s finest (and worst) of the mid-2000’s. Blogging’s golden years.

I put in the work I needed to position myself to be in the world but not of it.

Vocation would eventually line up, I kept telling myself. My degrees could be justified in several ways once I started doing the tough, missional like work in my field. And I was certain I would be volunteering for key places doing incredible community development work.

But I wonder if I died somewhere before.

Which death had I died?

A death for freedom? Or a death for fear?


Cubicle sitting and eating
Desk + Fast Food

Death is cunning because it just sort of slinks in and sits back. It really doesn’t have to do much after a nudge.

I didn’t account for cubicle sitting. Sitting and sitting and sitting. I realize in college and for the previous 25 years in my life there were things like recess or the end of the 45 minute class. Or even the class of physical activity in and of itself. The desk job life was nothing I prepared for.

Sitting at work all day and doing a job would lead me to medicate at the fast food line carousel. Enabled, ironically, by the payment received for sitting at the desk and doing work.

An additional 60lbs later, the outward manifestation of my death was showing.

I also didn’t account for brain drain and video game indulgence. I played countless hours of video games after coming home from work. The last thing I wanted to do was think more, so why not mindlessly button mash? Quick dopamine surges to the brain in the form of taking the imaginary hockey team you manage to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third year in a row. Besides, healthier more put together people my age play way more video games than I do.

Another outward expression I had died at some point, pacified by a fake digital world.

I hardly needed to be coached about not buying a new car. Used will always be the best bet, if I even need a car at all. Financially it would make sense. But by the time I was done test driving the newest model car it wasn’t even logic anymore. New car it was.

More outward expressions I had died along the way. Shane Claiborne would be mad.

And there were the denials.

When leaving work early on a Wednesday a co-worker asked where I was heading off to. Instead of answering plainly “I’m heading off to worship band practice at the church I attend,” I would say “oh, off to something I got to do.”

Not only did ‘something’ satisfy the curiosity of my colleague, but it satisfied my dying state.

When writing up a meet the staff blog post about me, one of the interview questions was “Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?” I said that I have been playing the guitar since the age of seven.

But why, over two years into this job, would something so central to my core be a surprise to my co-workers? Why would this be something I need to hide from people?

What a weird surprise. I had slowly killed the musician in me the more I justified the pursuit of a career.

I don’t think I have to wonder too much if I had died.

Right now death is pissed off.

I came alive again. I woke up slowly inside safe, small community talking about several of the above items, while they were happening.

Only when you are alive do you know how dead you were.

All that preparation ahead of time in my life prior to my late 20’s didn’t go for not. All that digging into who Jesus really is and how I am to navigate this world was deeply embedded in me.

The problem was I didn’t allow any of it to release. I was letting death deal blows while life suffocated inside.

But now I am alive.

20170713_125520
Life + Value

I am alive because the fast food line doesn’t control me anymore. The 60lbs put on is now 80lbs I’ve lost over the past two years.

The guitar isn’t just back in my hands, it never left, but it is truly a mark of worship to the God who gave me the ability to play in the first place.

My down time isn’t spent playing video games to decompress, but to continue self educating myself with books I’ve always wanted to read.

And death hates this so much.

I often wonder if I’ve already died.

Well, I did die.

But now. Now. I am alive.


I leave you with what the singer of mewithoutYou has to say about this song, not only what I took from it. It’s a song off an album about a circus train derailing in 1878. Hence why he mentions the animals in the following interview responding to Cardiff Giant:

“That song is a dialogue between the tiger and the peacock, both of whom stayed in captivity for different reasons. The tiger was very deliberate in remaining because of his sense of internal freedom regardless of external circumstances, but the peacock just feels kind of stuck. And the first time it’s the peacock saying “I often wonder if I’ve already died,” meaning a sense of having squandered her freedom—she missed the opportunity to escape and she’s stuck in this life that has no purpose or growth. And then the tiger responds in the second chorus saying the same thing, but it means almost the exact opposite—the tiger is wondering if the ego has been annihilated, if the self has been totally surrendered, and the tiger has been taken to some new, higher level of consciousness or reality. So it’s taking the same exact sentence and flipping it on its head.

I was the peacock certainly. Death had me trapped and was convincing me I squandered my freedom. Give up. You’re dead.

But I’m the tiger now. Death got me for sure. But it never got me internally. Death can’t trap me anymore. I am surrounded by too much life, life abundant.

 

Remember The Actual Lesson

It’s an all too familiar story. In fact I’ll shorten the setup.

  • College undergrad is walking around aimlessly on campus.
  • Doesn’t know what they will major in, which of course, determines the rest of their entire lives.
  • Wanders into the department doors of a subject matter they’ve never heard of but by title alone sounds very intriguing.

There I was, standing in the Urban Studies department office, no more than a glorified windowless closet in the main campus’s equivalent of a high school building. Urban studies. Hmmm, I wonder what this is. I mean, I picked up the pamphlet a couple times, and I knew I loved tall buildings, main streets, and walkability before I knew walkability was a word.20171009_102936

The undergrad director at the time was in his office and gladly welcomed my unannounced visit. After stating what could be the most repeatable line any college professor hears, “hi, my name is ____, and I have no idea what I am majoring in,” this professor launches. I mean, he must have either been caffeinated or just waiting for this moment. I’m certain there’s no way I was the first to do this to him. But what followed gave me the sense he was just muddling through his day until I showed up.

A few things were said about urban studies. Maybe a couple. I think you’re obligated to at least address a person’s direct question at first to be polite.

Then he started to make his transition. It flowed rather naturally. Although, as I would discover later on after taking a course with him, he had indeed been preparing.

His message to me, paraphrased:

Do you want to change the world? Do you want to make an impact? People like Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi changed the world by finding something bigger than themselves and throwing their all into it. Something they couldn’t direct on their own, but something they certainly could bring hope to others by their actions. Do you want to do something lasting which changes the lives in your own life?

I don’t think we actually came back to urban studies after that. He may have handed me the brochure.

All I knew while he was talking was this: I need to take any course I can with this guy. If this is how he is when I just waltz into his office, I can only imagine what a class is like.

Not long after I signed up for the co-major of urban studies. A co-major meaning it didn’t have enough core classes to be a full major, so I still needed to pick a major.

Which he then suggested something audacious. Pick something I really like. What a strange concept. So I picked history because I love, love, love history. I also loved seeing the faces people would make after I told them I was in college and they asked “what is your major?” My answer made their starting smile which read ‘good for you kid, being responsible and stuff by going to college’ turn to shear terror of ‘God bless your soul and future career.’

I figured I would go on and obtain a masters in urban planning (which I would). But here is what I neglected.

Somewhere along the way I allowed his message to be hijacked by all the usual trappings. His message to me that day was not ‘sign up to urban studies.’ His message was ‘change the world you live in, help people in your life, and grow into the person you really need to become.’

It wasn’t go get your masters in urban planning.

It was go do what you like and help others while you’re at it.

What Do People Ask You For?

Over the past year I notice people ask me to give them the following for free:

  • Information, articles, and my yet-to-be-written book on how I lost a significant amount of weight.
  • Tips to learn songs on the guitar efficiently, what my approach to learning a song involves.
  • Advice on how to advertise a business by providing a clear message.
  • Reasons why I believe in God, despite everything happening in the world around us (and in us).
  • Encouragement to make major life decisions.

No one has asked me to give them, for free, a map displaying demographic data.

Which is odd because this is all I ever put down on a career resume. It was, for a while, how I answered the obligatory societal question “what do you do?”20161231_132446

The free part is an important intentional emphasis by the way. It’s an indicator how people sense pure enjoyment and passion coming from me regarding those subject areas, along with expert knowledge. They see my face light up after I’m asked for information on the issues listed above. And I freely give what I know about all of it.

Again, no one has asked me how to make a map.

What do people ask you for? I believe the answer to this question is a major signal leading you in the direction you should head towards.