I tend to think life is about security, that when you have a full year’s rent, you can rest. I worry about things too much, I worry about whether or not my ideas are right, I worry about whether or not people like me, I worry about whether or not I am going to get married, and then I worry about whether or not my girl will leave me if I do get married.
Lately I found myself worrying about whether or not my car was fashionable, whether I sounded like an idiot when I spoke in public, whether or not my hair was going to fall out, and all of it, perhaps because I bought into Houston, one thousand square miles of concrete and strip malls and megachurches and cineplexes, none of it real. I mean it is there, it is made of matter, but it is all hype. None of the messages are true or have anything to do with the fact we are spinning around on a planet in a galaxy set somewhere in a cosmos that doesn’t have any edges to it. There doesn’t seem to be any science saying any of this ‘stuff’ matters at all. But it feels like ‘it’ matters, whatever ‘it’ is; it feels like we are supposed to be panicking about things.
I remember driving down I-45 a few months ago and suddenly realising the number of signs that were screaming at me, signs wanting me to buy waterbeds, signs wanting me to watch girls take off their clothes, signs wanting me to eat Mexican food, to eat barbeque, backlit, scrolling signs wanting me to come to church, to join this gym, to see this movie, to finance a car, even if I have no money. And it hit me that amid the screaming noise, amid the messages that said buy this product and I will be made complete, I could hardly know the life that life was meant to be.
….We stood out in the desert this morning, and the chemicals in my brain poured soothingly through the grey matter, as if to massage with fingers the most tender part of my mind, as if to say, this is what a human is supposed to feel. This is what we were made for, to watch the beauty of light fill up the earth’s canvas, to make dirt come alive; like fairy dust, making trees and cacti and humans from the magic of its propulsion. It makes me wonder, now, how easily the brain can be tricked out of what it was supposed to feel, how easily the brain can be tricked by somebody who has a used car to sell, a new perfume, whatever. ‘You will feel what you were made to feel if you buy this thing I am selling.’
But could the thing you and I were supposed to feel, the thing you and I were supposed to be, cost nothing? Paul [my friend] seems to think so, or at least he acts as if this is true. He doesn’t want to stay in a hotel room and catch up on the news. He doesn’t want to rifle through the sports pages and make sure the team he has associated his ego with is doing well. I don’t think he is trying to win anything at all. I just think he is trying to feel what a human is supposed to feel when he stops believing lies.
And maybe when a person doesn’t buy the lies anymore, when a human stops long enough to realise the stuff people say to get us to part with our money often isn’t true, we can finally see the sunrise, smell the wetness in a Gulf breeze, stand in awe at a downpour no less magnificent than a twenty-thousand-foot waterfall, wonder at the physics of a duck paddling itself across the surface of a pond, enjoy the reflection of the sun on the face of the moon, and know ‘This is what I was made to do. This is who I was made to be,’ that life is being given to me as a gift, that light is a metaphor, and God is doing these things to dazzle us.
From chapter 7 of Through Painted Deserts – light, God and beauty on the open road, published by Nelson 2005 [This book is a slightly revised edition of Miller’s first book: Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance. ]