John Corson's Blog

WRITING & RANTING
for July 14, 2021

A LIFE OF QUIET DESPERATION

Do any of you readers (yes, all two of you) recall the words of Henry David Thoreau in his book: Walden, where he says the famous and oft quoted line: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"?  Many people have cited this sentence and I have heard it often on television programs and in movies. To my surprise, I see that it is always referred to approvingly, as a correct and insightful claim that expresses their own view. It is also commonly mentioned in written form; as well, it appears in art, as in, for example, Peter Weir's beautiful 1989 film, Dead Poets Society.

Well, as I sit here in my home office brooding about how I feel today, these words hit me. In fact, I was thinking about that Jesse Stone movie, starring Tom Selleck wherein guest star Gloria Rubin looks at Selleck's character who was about to go out searching for some clue to a crime. She sees him dressing and about to check his gun to make sure it had rounds in the magazine and one chambered and says: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." That scene came to my mind about ten minutes before sitting down here and typing these words.

In that movie: Innocents Lost, Jesse is without a job, having been forced into retirement and busies himself looking into the death of a friend, a young girl who went down the deep slide into drugs, sex and then - an apparent overdose, which Jesse doesn't buy. He thinks she was murdered with the overdose. Jesse's determination in uncovering the truth is what kept him going, even into the next movie where he is restored to full duty as the Police Chief in the tiny Massachusetts town of Paradise.

That one scene, with its one line is pounding my brain. What does it mean?

One psychologist I read said Thoreau thinks misplaced value is the cause: "We feel a void in our lives, and we attempt to fill it with things like money, possessions, and accolades. We think these things will make us happy." Thus, Jesse Stone thinks if he can solve the death of his friend and not let the current Police Chief's theory that her death was a suicide his life would have more meaning.

Thoreau argues that the value we attach to possessions and status is misplaced.  They aren’t the key to happiness, and they may hurt more than they help.  To him, happiness lies instead in a simple life stripped to the essentials.  To find it, we must shed our false values and live austerely, with no luxury and only meager comforts. Thoreau attempted to do just that in his minimalist excursion at Walden Pond.

Thoreau’s basically right: Misplaced value contributes to “quiet desperation.”   But it’s not the end of the story: it’s possible to value all the right things and still lead a quietly desperate life. What Thoreau’s missing is resignation.  We lead lives of quiet desperation when we resign ourselves to dissatisfaction.  Quiet desperation is acceptance of–and surrendering to–circumstances. Quietly desperate lives are frustrated, passive, and apathetic. They’re unfulfilled and unrealized.

Mine is a life of quiet desperation. I am dissatisfied. I have accepted and surrendered to my circumstances. The difference between me and Jesse Stone is that he wasn't satisfied until he got results - the results he knew were correct. He went after it. I do not.

My ministry at Windsor Baptist Church is proof. Here we have a church in which its active membership is 80 percent retired and over 65. The other 20 percent are caught up in their own world of outside responsibilities with little to no time to devote to work in the church. The larger, more active and growing churches are served my younger men and women and have 80 percent of their active members under 65, giving a little time to the church (a little by a lot looks like a lot).

I am over 65 years of age. No church that is in need of a pastor hires a person for the job who is perceived to be that close to retirement. NEWS FLASH: The new number one vocation wherein the person performing its responsibilities cannot afford to retire - ever- is the pastorate. One never hears or reads of someone in their upper sixties through their seventies retire from their churches anymore. So, hey, I wouldn't mind going to another church, even though I am moving into my upper 60's. It won't happen though.

So I am not even looking or inquiring into a change of venue because it would be a colossal waste of time and energy. I haven't updated my resume in seven years. I am finishing my first ten years with WBC and will be there for another ten years (unless most of my current members die out or become shut-in or incapacitated. Then we would be talking about closing the church down). Where my values are misplaced is simply using the lack of growth in the church as my measuring stick for success. Indeed, almost every pastor does this. We are mostly drawn to the scale of success and can only measure it by numbers; quality can't be judged or used as a measurement, because it is difficult to interpret. Numbers, they say, don't lie.

The question for me is: "Have I resigned myself to the dissatisfaction? Most of the time I think so. In many of the Jesse Stone movies, a statement is often spoken by any of the characters that goes like this: "You can only do what you can do."

I know that statement means we all have limitation and that we should resign ourselves to those limitations. But even in those resignations, there is desperation rearing its ugly head from time to time. When mine rears its head, you can usually find me hiding in my office, or sitting out by the resting place of my beloved Princess. I can only do what I can do - nothing more!

So, I was given a little information card with six things to look for if I think my life is desperate. I was told I might be leading one if:

  1. You’ve worked hard to reach a place of comfort and security — but you’re still dissatisfied.  You’re comfortable, but you feel trapped.  Every path away seems to go downhill.
  2. You’ve convinced yourself you’re not talented, creative, disciplined, or lucky enough to pursue your dreams.  You think you’re not one of the chosen few, so you’ve resigned yourself to mediocrity.
  3. You’ve accepted the power your fears hold over you, and you work within their constraints.  You concede to your fears rather than confronting them.  You refuse to do anything scary and new.  
  4. You’re your own worst naysayer.  You focus on how your plans will fail rather than on how to make them work.  You expend great energy rationalizing inaction.  You’ve decided your past failures predict future ones.  
  5. You’ve adopted a fatalistic attitude.  Rather than working to improve your situation, you sit idly, hoping to get a lucky break.  Rather than working to help yourself, you wait for others to help you.
  6. You’ve decided you missed your chance.  You’re too old, too committed, or too set in your ways to turn back now.  Instead you sit and watch younger and more-free people do what you want to do.

Well, I've got the last five down to a "T".

I have often found myself in the shoes of the character Jesse Stone. His often repeated phrase: "Paradise is my last stop, there is nowhere to go from here" or "I get off the bus here" applies 300% to me. Windsor Baptist Church is my last church, there is nowhere to go from here. But Jesse did take the advice of his Psychiatrist Dr. Dix who told him: "If you've got nothing to do, find something to do. If it isn't important., make it important." Then he goes out and finds an unsolved homicide from thirteen years back, makes it important and solves the crime!

I can't seem to find something important at this juncture of my life. Which is why I have resigned myself to frustration, passivity and have an unfulfilled life. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.

If you have read this to this point, you must remember that this blog is intended to get things off of my chest. I do not believe a single member of my church reads these, nor knows of this blog, much less this entire website. I write these words for my personal therapy.

When I am with family or friends. If there are more than just me and one other, I am usually interrupted or have someone look away or change the subject abruptly. That is because what I have to say is not important to others. Two or more people at the table with me means that one can strike up a different conversation or break in with a totally different subject or question without so much as an excuse me. It happens all the time. I know I have topics that may not interest many, or ask a question that others may not deem relevant or important. I just need to learn to keep my mouth shut and see if my silence can get anyone's attention. Maybe I can be brought back into the circle of attention for one or two seconds to give a reply to the usual question, "You're quiet. Is there anything on your mind?" I would have to say "Nothing you want to hear about."

That's another reason for my quiet desperation.

Now that I have used this time as my personal therapeutic session, I shall stop. I have gotten everything off of my chest now. At least for the time being.

Blog for July 13 Blog for July 15

Blogging

Blogs are about the blogger. It's as if he or she merely toots their own horns about the things they do, say and love.

My life is boring. I read, I watch Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. I listen to Andrew Wilkow. I engage in some conversation with those who are willing to listen (they being masochistic and enjoy killing themselves with my banter).

I plan on just laying out the things that bother me and the things I love. Nothing in-between. I hope you find whatever I put here amusing.