I can remember moments in my childhood when I was doing some bizarre thing or another and I would happen to catch my parents watching me. They wouldn’t say anything; maybe chuckle or smile. I’d ask “what?” but they’d never reply. They would just have that look. I now understand that thoughtful gaze. I look at my boys the same way sometimes and I just think, “Wow… What lies ahead?” I wonder what paths they will choose…who they will become… what kind of lives they will lead… but most often, I wonder what fire will burn deep inside of them. What will be the thing that drives them? What will be their great passions in life?… Will they pursue them?
We spent the holiday on Monday running around together. And as I watched the boys and searched their actions for any hints or signs of internal fire, I contemplated the great many contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I asked myself “What if he didn’t share his dream? What if he hadn’t heeded the call to service and followed the convictions of his heart?” There were way too many possibilities for me to fully explore… I was just certain that the absence of his patience and diplomacy; his strength and courage; and his vision and hope during that important time would have drastically affected the civil rights movement. The echoes of his work and his inspiration have circled the globe several times over. Could someone else have carried that torch? Might other groups or individuals have surfaced at later points that could have put us back on or near the path he blazed? Maybe, maybe not; of course it’s impossible to say. I can’t fully imagine the world had he not followed his heart; I can only say I am glad to know the reality that exists today because he did. And as I contemplated the prospect of Dr. King not following his fire, I began to run through the same exercise with other prominent figures in history and the potential bleakness that might have been…then on to a smaller scale…to me; to my sons.
I believe we all have God-given talents and abilities. I don’t know that they are always revealed in ways we expect or at times we find convenient. They may not be the talents or gifts we would have preferred to receive or any that we find immediately useful…but they are what they need to be, and at times they may even be intended to serve others rather than ourselves. God lights fires within us to do certain things or to walk certain paths…call it passion; call it heart; call it drive… however you associate with it or relate to it, it is the unquenchable fire that moves you toward a specific goal. Sometimes those fires align with your talents and abilities. Sometimes those fires shine as passion’s bright lights to attract the people with the right talents and abilities to you in order to get things accomplished. So I watch them in hopes of catching a glimpse of a flicker of the flame… to help them recognize it within themselves, and to harness the fire and help to focus and guide it if I can.
Passions and enthusiasms ebb and flow, but once that fire is lit, it remains constantly within when the other interests fade. It can’t be ignored, but it can be denied. I don’t want them to live with the regrets of not following through and wondering what could have been if they had devoted their lives to developing their talents and fueling their fires. Langston Hughes captures the concept in A Dream Deferred. He suggests that even if the “dream” (or fire) can be disregarded, it will remain in some form as a reminder in its “deferred” state…even to the point of explosion; potentially consuming it’s carrier. No… I’d rather they embrace whatever it is at the moment of recognition and hold on tightly down whatever corridors that path takes them. If God lights the fire, He will light the way.
I love to write. I always have. I am drawn to it… it is my fire. I received some advice once…well, several times through many iterations of the same conversation with various parties. It was sound advice. It was simple. It took me a few years to hear it, but I finally heard it. The conversation(s) went like this:
Me: “I really want to write. I feel like that is what I should be doing.”
Friend: “So write.”
Me: “No, you don’t understand… it’s complicated. I can’t just write. I don’t have a lot of time, I work too much, there’s no money in it, excuse, excuse, excuse…”
Friend: “But, you feel like you have to write? like you should be writing?”
Friend: “Hmm. So write.”
So right. I have to write. I may never make a living writing, but I’ve stopped making excuses for not doing it. I will encourage them to follow whatever their passions describe, and pray they have the courage to stay the course. I am eternally grateful for those conversations and for that message. It is what I will say to my sons when they tell me about their fire. So write. So sing. So cure. So think. So run. So help. So teach. So preach. So heal. So fight. So move… So live.
Thank you for coming along for the ride…