The Meaning Makers (#697)

A quick note from Michael:

Today’s tip is excerpted from my first fiction book, It’s Not Too Late: A Story of Hope for Your Marriage. The conversation is taking place between two strangers on a plane – Jack, a relationship therapist whose own marriage is in trouble, and Benjamin, a self-professed “theosophist and facilitator of wonder”.  (This book is not yet available for purchase.)

 

“One of my mentors was a man named Lyndon Duke,” Benjamin continued.  “Lyndon used to say that the meaning of any event can be measured in the difference that it makes – if it doesn’t make any difference, it doesn’t have any meaning.I would actually take that one step further to say that we are the meaning makers – we create the meaning of our lives by the thoughts we think and the stories we tell ourselves.”

“I’m not quite sure what you mean,” I said, grasping the irony of my confusion but having no idea where to go with it.

Benjamin looked away for a moment as if he was trying to decide whether or not to continue.  When he looked back at me, his eyes were shining and alive.

“I remember when my father died, I was absolutely convinced that it was my fault.  I had been studying theosophy and shamanism and done a very powerful visualization for wealth.  I remember feeling the energy build up inside me as I did it and somehow knowing at a cellular level that I had somehow affected the very fabric of the universe.

Less than 24 hours later, I got a phone call that my father had been killed in a car accident, which meant that I would inherit some money.  I was devastated.

For several years, I lived with that guilt like a heavy weight inside my stomach.  I stopped exploring anything remotely esoteric, religious or spiritual, and went about my life as if we’re all alone in the universe.

On the 5th anniversary of his death, my family and I got together for a special commemorative service.  I had mostly lost touch with them, not wanting to spend too much time with them lest they discover what I had done.

After the service, my brother and sister and I went for a walk through the snow-dusted streets of the small town where we had all grown up.  As we walked, my brother, who had always seemed to me to have everything together, began sobbing.  Not just tears – huge racking sobs.  He told us he had a confession to make – he had killed our father.”

I was gripped by Benjamin’s story but with this last sentence my mind began to race.

Was there more to Benjamin than I had previously noticed?  Did his brother really kill their father?  Was he in prison?  Had he killed again?

Before I got very deeply into my thoughts, Benjamin continued.

“Now as you can imagine, my sister and I were shocked and we stopped walking and just stared at him.  He told us how just a few days before my father was in the accident, they had sat down together and my father had asked him to take over the family business.  When my brother declined, my father was devastated.  Three days later he was dead.”

“But that didn’t mean your brother killed him,” I argued, stuck somewhere between compassion and indignation.  “You said he died in a car crash.”

Benjamin smiled wanly and continued with his story.

“That’s what my sister said – just before she confessed that for years she’d been dreading having to tell us that she was responsible for Father’s death.  The morning of his car accident, he’d asked her if she would bring the kids out for a visit.  She wanted to get her nails done that day, so told him that she was so busy with work that she couldn’t.  Unfortunately for her manicure, he offered to drive out himself.  He was on his way to see them when his car was struck by a seventeen year old boy speeding along the winding country road.

My brother comforted her but I just stared at them both in amazement.  When they asked me what was going on, I told them my story.

Well, three more miserable people you could not have found that cold February afternoon.  We were silent for the rest of the walk, having resolved we needed to tell our mother what we had done.

I was almost sick with fear and guilt by the time we got back to my mother’s house, and we sat my mother down to confess our sins.  When we had finished speaking, my mother was in floods of tears.  To our amazement, she then told us how she had been carrying the guilt of his death in her heart for all this time because she had declined to join him for a visit to the grandchildren.

‘To this day’, she said, ‘I regret not having gone with him.  I might not have been able to save him, but at least I wouldn’t have had to go on living without him.’

Suddenly, my brother burst out laughing.  We looked at him in shock and asked him what was going on.

‘I just thought,’ he said, choking out his words between waves of laughter, ‘that the boy who crashed into Father’s car may have spent the past five years thinking he was responsible.  We could have saved him all that pain!’

Somehow that struck all of us as hysterical, and we four killers laughed for nearly fifteen minutes until we were spent with emotion.

In that moment, I felt an extraordinary sense of calm and well-being fill the room.  When I looked around, I could see light everywhere – as though each member of my family was glowing. It was as though my father himself had come in to lend us a bit of his heavenly peace and presence.

By the time I went home that night, my guilt was completely gone, and to my own surprise I stopped by a church and lit a candle for him.  It was the first remotely religious or spiritual act I had engaged in since my father’s death.”

We both sat in silence for a little while, reflecting on the story he had just told.  It was the stewardess who broke the mood by asking if we wanted anything else to drink.

“A cup of tea for me, please,” said Benjamin in that accent I couldn’t quite place.  “And might I say what a splendid job you’re doing – this can’t be the easiest thing in the world to get done right.”

I thought he was being corny, but the stewardess was clearly charmed by him.   When I declined a second whiskey, she went off with a skip in her step.

“I think you might be in there, Benjamin,” I said.

He smiled at the thought.

“Kindness,” he said, “is love made visible.”

 

With love,
Michael

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