I just read a really profound article. It was at medium.com and called The American Life Is Killing You. It was written by Erik Rittenberry.
Reading it inspired this story, with some of the words taken right from his article.
Jasmine climbed the four steps to the alter, then turned toward the podium and the microphone, the place where the speech she’d written rested next to the program for her dad’s funeral.
But she stopped short. She couldn’t stand over there like she’d rehearsed, like she was supposed to. She couldn’t do anything like she was supposed to.
Not one thing.
So she stood in the middle of the room and turned slowly to face everyone.
All of them.
The podium and the microphone and the speech, untouched.
Just as it should be.
And then she began.
“We are lost,” she said, measured and calm.
But then she saw their faces. She really saw them. Expectant and eager. And she got angry. She got so angry. She bubbled over with it.
“We are super fucking lost and it is killing us. Literally. It is killing us!”
She heard the quiet gasps from the crowd. But she continued.
“Fires,” she called out.
War after war after war.
Plastic all over the ocean.
Unfit bigoted egomaniacs as leaders.
If you came here today for a lovely eulogy about my dad, you are in the wrong place. This isn’t going to work like that. It’s just not, because we live in a society that invests huge amounts of time, money and energy into all of us staying this way.
My dad was. I knew it. You knew it. He may even have known it for a long time before he told me. That’s right. He told me. He told me how lost he was.
But he didn’t do anything about it. And unless I can get through to you today, you won’t either. Because we are all so used to it. We are so accustomed to being lost.
Those few who own everything want us to be this way. They want us to be lost and searching. They want this so we will keep doing the one thing they want most from us.
Buying more stuff!
And so many of us make their job easy because we want to be lost. We want to move through life like Goddamn zombies, unconscious to anything that really matters.
So many of us are enduring chronic illnesses from eating food that isn’t food and maintaining unrewarding jobs with little or no savings but massive amounts of debt and having too many kids with too many toys and electronic devices all over the house so that when we aren’t taking meds from our cabinets full of pharmaceuticals, we can face-plant into social media or video games to help cope with the emptiness of it all.
This is considered normal in America.
This is considered life.
BUT IT IS NOT!
This is miserable and shallow and if you even live into old age the way my dad did not, you won’t live into it happily or with health. You won’t. And on your deathbed I assure you that regret will be with you, asking why you never had the courage to live a life that was true.”
Jasmine took a deep breath and bowed her head. She wondered if she could go on.
And then she did.
“That’s what my dad asked me four days ago. That’s what he asked me.
Why did he never have the courage to live with real meaning and purpose and service to others and to this planet? Why didn’t he wake up?
He asked me why he ignored the truth he knew in his bones and blood, the truth that this fast-paced, consumer-centered culture has transformed our planet into an asphalt wasteland and the constant craving for objects and status is robbing all of us of freedom and magic.
It robbed him. And at sixty-two he’s now gone.
Is that what you want for yourself? Is it?
It must be if you refuse to sit still and get quiet and notice what is happening. It must be if you refuse to see that you are a human being and not a human doing and that this lifestyle so many of us flaunt around, my dad included, is not real.
It is not real!” she yelled, before beginning to weep in the middle of the alter, far from all the words she was supposed to say today about her dad, before she chose to say these ones, the right ones.
The ones he asked her to say.
“This fast food fifty hour work week with kids and spouses you don’t get along with is not natural and not the way it is intended and it is killing so many of us and it is killing this planet too. The fact that millions of us share these same vices and mistakes does not make it all okay. It just makes us all the same kind of insane!
And I think deep down you know it. My dad, on his deathbed last week, told me that he knew it. He knew . . .”
And then Jasmine’s weeping became so powerful that she could not speak and she gasped for breath as her brother left his space in the front pew and quickly traversed the steps to put his arms around her and attempt to walk her back to a place where she wouldn't say the rest.
“No Eric,” she told him. “There’s more. And I’m sorry if this is not what you expected. And I’m sorry to you too Mom,” she said, looking for the first time at her horrified mother. “But Daddy wanted me to say this. He did.
He wanted me to tell you to break free from the prison you are all too content to live in, and that you let one another live in, that you let him live in.
Stop eating yourself to death
and working yourself to death
and yelling yourself to death
and spending yourself to death
and just generally moving through the universe like you are its center.
You are not. There is more to all of this than you. And if you knew that, if you opened yourself up to the connection that is there between all of us, not just those of us in this room, but all of us everywhere, you would not be so lonely, depressed, insecure, uninspired and angry. Instead, life would make sense. If we could just get our heads out of our damn asses and live in our nature we would thrive.
But so many are too thoughtlessly caught up in the facade of culture to see that we are destroying our inner lives and the entire ecosystem that sustains us.
We are destroying everything!
Do you understand this? My dad did. In those last days he understood and he came to me because he knew that I have always understood and he begged for forgiveness and he cried for regret running so deep I think it is part of what stopped his heart.
Do you understand this? Do you?” she cried, bowing her head and reaching for her brother who stood still beside her. She took his hand and she told him that it is absolutely no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. And their father was. And almost everyone in this room is.
“And you’re all going to die with him if you don’t stop. You have to understand that this deluded, industrialized mindset has been manufactured by generation after generation, and it is killing us. We have been carefully and systematically manipulated into becoming insatiable shoppers and eaters and haters, which means we need more money so we have to work more, but nothing is ever really enough so we have to . . .
work even more
and eat even more
and shop even more
and hate even more
and it never fills us up because that’s not how it works.
That is not how it works!
Do you understand me? American corporations know that they can make you want things you don’t need and horrible leaders can make you fear people and ideas that aren’t really a threat to you and they know that you will live in debt and hate and loneliness and anger, but also as a devout consumer, just waiting for the right thing to make it all better.
But there is nothing.
There is not one thing you can buy or eat to make the pain go away. Do you understand me? It all makes the pain worse and so you buy and eat more. You live in fear more. You hate more.
Because what you are seeking can only come from in here,” she said as she turned and touched her brother’s heart.
“You know what my dad told me in between pain-killer induced sleeps?” Jasmine continued. “He told me that we have allowed ourselves to be led very far from the vibrant American spirit of Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. He said that our lives would be so rich if we’d choose to live in the poetry of this earth and one another, but instead we live behind drywall and screens, constantly buying things we don’t need to impress others who are doing the same thing. We don’t give a shit about nature and we are full of diseases of the body and mind that nature not materials could prevent and cure.
But we don’t give a shit.
Roll back a few more environmental protections. As long as industry is doing well right? Just roll ‘em on back. Are you kidding me? How can we do this? How can we pay so little attention to our land and water?
I know how.
We are too busy with soccer camp and car leases and designer clothes and online shopping and fake-happy vacation photos and putting a bunch of poison in our mouths. We are too busy making money to give one shit about this planet that sustains us.
But not for long.
My dad told me in his last hours that what he has always considered reality is nothing but a thin veneer of lies that we’ve all been conditioned to agree upon. He told me that we have all been lured into a trap and most of us know it, but we are too greedy and lazy to get out.
He said that he was.
And he said that we are fools, that he had been a fool all his life. And that it cost him everything. Every single thing.
He told me to tell you to stop!”
Jasmine’s brother embraced her then and they cried for their lost father and for their own searching and for everyone in the room and for everyone everywhere who needs to wake up and understand all of this because there is nothing else to understand. There is truly nothing else.
There is not one other thing to understand.
“Everything you are searching for is already yours. It’s the sky and the ocean and the moon and the trees and your very own soul. And I’m not being a fucking poet here. This is the truth. And you need to know it.
My dad died not because he didn’t know any of this, but because he ignored it. He pushed it away as an inconvenient truth. But do you know what was more inconvenient than slowing down and listening and being?
Having your chest opened up because your arteries are so clogged with grease and stress and exhaustion. That’s more inconvenient.
Dying is more inconvenient.
Dying in debt with a wife you hardly know. That’s more inconvenient.”
Jasmine paused, but did not look at her mother.
She continued, “Knowing with deep sorrow as you are dying that you have not lived the life you were intended to live. That’s fucking inconvenient.”
There was a longer pause then as Jasmine held her brother’s hand and they looked out at the church packed with people who loved her father but didn’t really know him, didn’t know him any better than they know anyone else.
They don’t know themselves either.
She stood there for what seemed like a very long time watching their stunned faces and trying to understand and at the same time . . . understanding everything.
And then finally, with tears streaming down her face for her father and for everyone and for herself too, she whispered the beginning lines from Emily Dickenson,
“Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me.
The carriage held but just Ourselves