flight risk


[This post will be part of the forthcoming book.]

There is a troubadour here at the bakery-cafe this afternoon where I do my work. His backpack, sleeping mat and mini guitar are all right in front of my face. I’m reminded of a few weeks ago, when I spoke of my desire on my commute to work to keep driving and not look back. I’m envious of a glorified hobo. I don’t know his life, what circumstances landed him in that position. It’s probably not as glamorous as I think it to be at the moment, and I’ve known enough starving artists, writers and musicians to know better. Philosophers without classrooms and clergy without pulpits can understand, too. I suppose this means I can relate on four different levels.

Really, I could make it to Memphis by midnight. From there, down Highway 82 to I-10 to Tallahassee by Monday evening. Atlanta is four hours from there, perhaps hang out in South Carolina until I’m slapped in the face by the fact that I’ve abandoned everything for no reason.

Would that be courage or cowardice?

We don’t have a comfortable life here in the holy city, but it’s not bad. I’m in with the man and have great opportunities at work. I’m slowly getting back into shape after years of having life crush my spirit and will to do anything to improve myself. Seneca can be trusted to be out of his kennel for more than two hours at a time.

Yet, seeing a man who has forsaken a comfortable life for whatever reason within or without his control makes me want to stare at an open road from the driver’s seat.

Courage and cowardice are very misunderstood things. Often, the outcome–that which cannot be known at the outset of the decision–determines virtue from vice. Would I run because I have anxieties that mentally deafen? Or would I run because it’s me seizing the opportunity to hit a reset button–whether or not one really exists–on my life? Is it cowardly to endure, or to escape that which demands endurance?

When we bailed on Stevens Point a few years ago for Kansas City, I tend to think of it as courageous: after having endured a scorched earth treatment from the denomination, it was time to pack up and get out of Dodge. Certainly, those self-interested, self-proclaimed ecclesiastical vanguards probably thought I was slinking out of there like a tail-tucked puppy, a coward. Was it one or the other? It was both, thus neither. It just was.

A well-resourced person under arrest is considered a flight risk, is typically denied bail and remanded to jail for prosecution. If such a suspect flees the country, is she a coward because she is escaping the legal process, or courageous because she has the will to be free? Was Laurie Bembenek a hero or a villain? In the absence of knowing enough to say one way or the other, we oughtn’t put an adjective with it. We’re only getting better at adding adjectives when we really shouldn’t. People lionize public figures who really should never be held with any regard, while many noble, wonderful people go their entire lives without ever receiving a bit of adulation.

Possibilities are destroyed on a daily basis, until all that is left is a cell to which we have remanded ourselves. Fleeing, then, is an attempt to jump universes: to jump from one spider web of possibilities to another. Like Vincent Freeman becoming Jerome Morrow, one escapes one life to pursue another. It’s undeniably romantic, particularly in this American age when we go to college, rack up debt and spend the balance of our lives paying those debts off. The outstretched hand inviting someone to be stolen away is enticing. I like to think of myself as a principled man, but that desire to wander, that desire which runs counter to everything I believe I am, is so appealing.

— “Are there any options?”  — “Sadly, no.”

I am courageous and a coward.

And even flying from one life to another is futile, because we are all destroying possibilities to build and furnish our cells. Life marches on to its relentless cadence; we swim like salmon to the spawning place, where we die. The cell we build is a casket. Thus we are to live prudently, interact faithfully, love carefully and realize that the life we lead will often result in us being courageous cowards. What we do with that knowledge will ensure that one of the two descriptors will endure, or at least leave our life in someone else’s field of vision long enough to inspire someone write about it.

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