On the shelf in my office sits – stands, really – a 5” action figure of Carl Gustav Jung. He is wearing a gray suit and black tie. His glasses are pushed up on his forehead. Carl is smiling.
I acquired Carl The Action Figure on Christmas Day, a few years ago. Just reached into my stocking, and pulled him out. A nod from my younger sister, the licensed psychologist, told me she was the culprit. She knows I’m a huge fan of the life’s work of C.G. Jung.
I smiled. Then laughed. Then shook my head and blurted out, “My prayer is that God would spare me from such fame that I would someday be made into an action figure!”
And then we all laughed.
But today, sitting, staring up at Carl on the bookshelf, I am aware that my glib stab at humor was also utterly sincere.
I mean, how embarrassing to be an action figure! As Carl looks down from the perspective of eternity, surely he rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Standing next to him, of course, is Elvis, saying “I feel you, man,” as an endless parade of Elvis Impersonators parades around Las Vegas.
When I was a boy, I dreamed often of fame. It made perfect sense to imagine that I would someday be famous. That I should be.
I stood in my room and pretended to be Paul McCartney. Played basketball in my driveway, and pretended I was in the NBA. Played football in high school, and pretended we were the Green Bay Packers. I near memorized Bill Cosby routines from vinyl records and saw myself some day on stage … famous.
Turns out fame had no plans for my destiny. Not even a tease. Today, in stark contrast to my youth, I count my anonymity and ordinariness as blessings. These things make me rich. And free.
As the late actress Carrie Fischer once said: “Celebrity is just obscurity biding its time.”
In college, I traveled north from Flagstaff, Arizona to the Navajo Indian reservation. There, along the highway, the tribesmen and women would sell handmade goods, jewelry, leather goods and other art. Kneeling on the ground next to a table of turquoise and silver jewelry was a sand painter.
With an audience of tourists, the artist did his magic. With deft and genius hands he scattered colored sands in a platform tray. Before our eyes emerged a beautiful landscape of the artist’s homeland. Trees, clouds, dunes. The picture simply manifested.
A tourist asked the artist, “What will you do with it?”
Without a word, the artist lifted the back of the tray to a sharp angle. The breathtaking picture collapsed with a scratchy woosh. It was gone. Vanished. Our memory of it was all we had left to possess.
In unison we all exclaimed a disappointed “Ohhh ….”
“Such is life,” the wisdom voice said deep within me. And, just to emphasize the immutable truth, “Such is your life.”
Ah, yes. We journey until we find the grace to stop clutching after being Someone. We gratefully embrace being … No One.
In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul says the world “is in bondage to decay.” (Romans 8:21) And he is right about that. So, so right.
My grandchildren will, I think, remember me. Perhaps they will even tell a few stories about me to their grandchildren. But, no more than a few generations after that, I will be no more than a photograph in a shoebox stashed in some closet. Or gathering cyber-dust on some hard drive. Maybe.
Eventually, even the shoebox and the hard drive will be relinquished, discarded and gone. My life – and yours – will be sooner or later be lifted by The Artist as a fragile sandpainting and surrendered to The Mystery.
Everything decays, ages, dies, disappears. Except for love.
Legacy, schmegacy. It doesn’t matter what I leave behind, save for love. Because love does not decay. Want to make a real contribution with the beautiful, unmerited gift of your own life? Then love someone. Be faithful in that love. Sacrificial. Ridiculously forgiving. Self-forgetting and courageously open-hearted. Give thanks for the suffering that is love’s inevitable companion.
Scatter the sands of love across the canvas of your life. Because there is no force in the universe that can budge those grains of sand. They are forever. Together they build the road that is your journey back home.
I know these things to be true. But, for the record, at 62 years-old, I still sometimes pretend to be Paul McCartney.
(You may drop Steven Kalas a note at email@example.com. StevenKalas is a therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the book “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.”)