Dan Holden's Creative Writing
As in, the path of my childhood was no longer there. My way was no longer in that church.
What had been laid out right before me, for so many years, with so many footsteps, tire tracks and mud holes was indisputably, a path. But it was no longer My Path.
From that day on I could never, ever return to that path without knowing, full well, that it could only lead me to someone else’s destination, but definitely not mine.
Not that I knew what my destination was, really, but I just knew with complete clarity that it didn’t involve retracing someone else’s footsteps. Sittin’ in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination...
Yes the path of my childhood, of military bases and Cub Scouts, of penny loafers and dress coats, of Church and First Communion, was behind me. Gone was the path of public schools and Catechism, hearing aids and curly hair, inadequacy and angst. Gone was the path of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
When I was a child, Jesus was magnificent, and I actually wanted to be like him. Wherever my father’s military assignments took him, we followed, and there He was, housed in gorgeous cathedrals, resplendent in white robes, long hair and perfect beard, and always those half-raised hands, a gesture both welcoming and reassuring, peaceful and powerful.
We prayed to Him in Latin and English, we sang to Him in Framingham and Bamburg, we knelt to Him in Sunday school and on the altar, and we ate and drank of His body and blood from sea to shining sea but mostly … mostly, we read and we listened and we mimicked the collected congregants.
And for a child raised in the 1960s, it was a perfectly easy transition from genuflection and the Sign of the Cross to the wild, wonderful world of Rock and Roll.
It was so easy to put down the hymnal and pick up the album cover, to slide from memorizing Mark, Matthew and James to singing refrains with Peter, Paul and Mary. How many roads must a man walk down...
The defining event for me, perhaps, was the debut of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. With her iconic “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” Yvonne Elliman made it easy to believe that a prostitute could fall for Jesus, Carl Anderson’s title song showed me that Judas might have been a reluctant skeptic, and Ted Neeley’s powerful Gesthemane really did make me consider the humanity – and fallibility – of Christ.
Subtly but importantly, they redefined the New Testament and blew the lid off dogma.
Just that quickly, John Lennon became a perfect shoe-in for the Savior, Jerry Garcia took over for God, and Pink Floyd outperformed the Holy Spirit.
Imagine no religion, I wonder if you can.
My father said he fought in Viet Nam because the communists were godless and godless people couldn’t be allowed to take over the world. Much later, he reluctantly acknowledged that the whole engagement was probably misguided, that a half a million young men didn’t need to be put at risk that way to keep China out of Southeast Asia.
By then of course, the stage had been set for a generational breakdown of government versus peaceniks, police versus civil rights activists, fathers versus sons.
The tension would have been overwhelming had it not been for another important element: the mind-bending rabbit hole of psychotropic drugs. From grass to acid, heroin to cocaine, I immersed myself gleefully in all. Maybe I wasn’t going to be an astronaut, – my childhood dream – but I could still be an explorer, and nirvana might only be one more dose away.
It wasn’t, of course. Because nirvana isn’t a destination. It’s not even a state of mind, but a journey.
I didn’t know that at the time, but it did occur to me later, after years of stumbling and fumbling through creative writing courses laced with drug-induced capitulations to Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey and Bob Dylan.
Like many other addicts before me, I discovered the dredges, the underbelly of America, where transportation of stolen property often involves hookers, where everyone has an equal right to assault and possession is nine-tenths of a felony, especially if you are packing heat.
I discovered a world of disappointment and depression, false hope and false friends, deception and dishonesty. It certainly wasn’t the path I had intended to be on – but for a while, it seemed like mine. Because somewhere down that road, I told myself, I will find meaning, I will find purpose and perhaps even a message, something of profound value that I could share, Jesus-like, with the world.
I could have saved myself the effort. Jesus certainly did.
But who was that guy, anyway: Jesus. Was he a cosmic superhero?
Somewhere between Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell, I realized that religion is a human-centric attempt to define our place in a very, very big universe, and that our definition might, perhaps be just a tad inadequate to the task.
The further my mind escaped the bounds of childhood indoctrination, the less this system made sense. Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion.
And yet, at some fantastic cross-road of mystery and quandary, there was a place for such stories. There was a need and a purpose.
And our story – Catholicism – was just one among many, just as valid, just as tenuous.
It’s been suggested by researchers that our brains are hardwired to accept the mythology of religion; that somehow, our belief in the unknowable plays an intrinsic role in the survival of our species. That would certainly explain the need.
And then one day, I realized that my trip down this long and winding road was taking me too close to death, and I had to make a course correction or all would be lost.
Tomorrow, on the 26th of December, 2012, I will have put exactly 10,000 days between myself and the last time I used any form of mind-altering drugs. Sometimes I wonder if I quit the gig too early, but today I am sure that true understanding has to involve not just escape from dogma, but a return to clarity as well.
So I went back to school and got a master’s degree in journalism.
For better than a quarter of a century, I served the great American system of capitalism in various forms. As a member of the journalistic fourth estate, covering the bleeding edge in Silicon Valley. As a card-carrying high technology public relations plebe. And finally, returning to my roots as a creative writer, scraping by more through the goodwill of my friends than by my own success.
Because some time ago, I returned to the realization that what we do in the here and now brings meaning to our lives.
A path is nothing more than a way until it is given meaning, and that doesn’t come from walking or even doing. It’s a spiritual contribution, a way of connecting with the world that involves giving the best of yourself.
That was very much my reasoning when I volunteered to act as the guardian of a seven-month old girl who was at risk in the hands of her drug-dependent mother, and that was my thinking five years later when I fully adopted her and two of her younger sisters as a single parent.
You get out of life what you put into it.
The path becomes a place of beauty when you fill it with beautiful things.
Not things in the sense of material stuff, but spiritual stuff. Love.
Today my path is love. I’m not really very good at it, but I guess that’s why they call it a path.
I’m sure some people wonder what that makes me. Am I still a Catholic? Am I agnostic, atheist? Am I a reluctant skeptic?
I don’t think I am any of these things.
For now, I believe in the power of spirituality. Of living by spiritual principles like love, honesty, compassion, and sharing.
I will gleefully say happy birthday Jesus, but why not Buddha and Muhammad, too? Why not celebrate every great mind, because they all showed us very important paths and contributed their very best to our world.
Socrates and Galileo.
Martin Luther and Martin Luther King.
Mary Magdalene and Mother Theresa.
Steven Hawking and Steven Spielberg.
Anyway, I get it that today is Jesus’ day. It’s only right to celebrate his path. After all it has been incredibly inspiring to almost everyone who has heard of it.
So, Happy Birthday Jesus, and thanks for showing me Your Way.
I really am a huge fan.