There’s an old story, a joke kind of, about a man sitting on a rooftop in the middle of a flooded city. The water is continuing to rise, and he’s sitting there watching it get closer and closer to his feet. Pretty soon, a boat comes by and the driver of the boat says, “We’re so glad we found you! Come in the boat and we’ll get all of us to safety!” The man smiles at the captain of the boat and says, “I’m okay. God will save me.” And the boat goes away.
The water keeps rising, and pretty soon another boat comes by. The captain sees the man on the roof and sees that the water is up to the man’s knees. He pulls the boat over and hollers, “The water’s getting really high! It’s good we came by and found you! Get in and we’ll go where it’s dry!” The man smiles again and points to the sky. “I’m okay. God will save me.” The captain shakes his head and moves on, rescuing other people on other rooftops as he goes.
The water gets even higher and the man is standing all the way at the highest point on his roof, but now the water’s up to his hips. A third boat comes by and the captain yells, “There’s no more time! Get in the boat, quick!” Once again, the man smiles and waves the boat on, saying, “God will save me. Just you wait and see.”
The water rises over the man’s head, and he drowns.
In heaven, the man meets God. He asks God, “Why didn’t you save me? I had faith that you would pull me from the flood? Was I wrong?”
God smiles warmly at the man and says, “No, my son, you were not wrong to have faith. For the faithful, I always provide a way. That’s why I sent three boats.”
* * * *
Ego is a funny thing. By ego, I mean that part of us that reaches for recognition, for expected results, for that which we believe is right for and due to us. It is that part of our minds and hearts that sees importance or durability in our names, significance in our actions. It is that part of us that believes we are somehow in control.
* * * *
When I was in my late twenties, I began writing a novel. Most of the narrative I conveyed through multi-layered and sometimes repeating flashbacks (I was reading Milan Kundera at the time, and felt inspired). The protagonist of the story was a gay man who had lost a former lover of his. As part of the dying man’s last wishes, this ex asked the protagonist to repeat the road trip on which they had first met. He reluctantly agrees, and, after the funeral, goes driving alone. The geography of his drive recalls memories from their long acquaintance, and the story gets told.
It was a pretty good novel. The tone of the story was even and clear; the design of the book had a certain sense of structure; the characters were interesting, the relationships believable. And about three-quarters of the way through, I stopped writing. I could see the book developing, and I could feel myself coming close to finishing. But I didn’t want to finish.
“Why?” Years later, a friend of mine asked about my reasoning. We were sitting in a hotel room in between sessions at a writing conference.
“Because I don’t want to be a gay writer,” I said. To be plain, I felt that if I published a work of gay fiction as my first book, I would forever be labeled as a gay writer, and every writing effort after that would have to follow a theme. A gay theme. I wanted to do more. I wanted to resist the label. I had more potential, I told myself and the whole universe, than being a gay writer.
“But,” said my friend. “You are gay. And you’re a writer. That makes you a gay writer, doesn’t it?”
* * * *
The ego is happiest when we are setting expectations for ourselves. When we decide we’re going to be famous, or we’re better at barbecue than our neighbor, or that we’re just the kind of person who never gains weight, or we’re vegan because we know better than the carnivorous majority… The stories about ourselves that the ego loves to hear the most are those stories that give it a sense of place, purpose; a name; a certainty.
When an opportunity comes along that doesn’t look like the opportunity we expected – and maybe one that runs contrary to what we believe about ourselves – the ego rebels. “I will not get in that boat,” it says, despite the rising water. “I will not be a gay writer,” it says. The ego’s decisions about itself can be arbitrary, or they can be based on stories that our parents told about us, our friends tell about us, and that we’ve adopted because they suit us.
* * * *
I never really wanted to be a psychic. Gifted though I was in this way, I resisted the call until only very recently. My ego told me that I was more important than a psychic – I was a best-selling novelist, and (or) a brilliant teacher first. It told me that I would do things that would garner the praise of crowds of people… and good money, too. A psychic is a “fortune-teller,” my ego reminded me, and most of them are frauds and counterfeits. Do you want to be a fraud? A humbug?
But after years of writing – non-gay writing, of course – and years of teaching, I found that my head was getting sore from the brick wall-beating of almost two decades. I gave in, followed the call, and became a psychic. And, honestly, I love it. More than anything I’ve done before. My ego still rises up now and then to confront me, to beg me, plead with me to do something that will earn me (and it) more recognition. For now, I am good at not listening. Mostly.
This past week, I wrote a short book. I wrote just over 20,000 words in three days. Pretty good words, too. The book was the first of what I might call “psychic assignments.” That is, I felt directed, rather than inspired, to write this book. My own meditations revealed, and were confirmed by another psychic, that I should write a book that took answers from the ether. That reflected wisdom from voices beyond my own. That was, in essence, channeled.
Now, even as a psychic, I have a hard time with the idea of channeling. It seems flimsy, non-evidential, and oddly self-indulgent. Yet, I have had clear experiences since hefting the mantle of psychic on my shoulders that validate the concept – and the reality of channeling. So, write a channeled book, I was told.
At the end of the week, I spoke with another friend of mine. I told her that I had not written a channeled book; instead, I’d written what seemed a more meritorious compromise. Something between a channeled and an authored book. Something I could put my name to. Something that, if one day published, would not pin me as a channeling writer, a psychic author.
She asked me if I had the same problem being a channeling writer as I had being a gay writer. And my ego put its fingers in its ears when my friend questioned further:
“Are you ever going to stop resisting what comes naturally to you because you’re afraid what people will think?”
In other words, I just might have waved away another boat, so certain that I can do this by myself – my way.
* * * *
Today is my birthday. I’m 41. Birthdays are the holidays of the ego. What other day during the year can we assume attention, self-indulgence, praise and well-wishes from all our family and friends – even those we don’t hear from except on our birthdays? We get presents just for being alive, for bringing to others all our characteristics and personality traits; gifts for having been born; presents for presence. The ego bathes in the ministrations of others, the prerogative of its own holiday, the power of veto it has on all activities that day, the childlike joy of being at center stage. What you say on your birthday is more often right than on other days of the year; how you behave is more adorable and defining; you are handsomer, age less, and are funnier and more insightful on your birthday.
Today is my birthday. I expected to have adventures lavished on me today. To go to my birthday movie, to go shopping, to indulge in food I don’t normally eat. I can do no wrong today; I have unlimited power and energy.
But, I woke up with a cold. Now I will spend most of the day sitting at home, eating healthy food, conserving my energy. My ego doesn’t get its day today.
* * * *
Sometimes, the things that seem to get in our way are actually opportunities. Being a gay writer might not be so bad, really; knowing I can channel wisdom from another source doesn’t necessarily ruin my credibility; having a cold on my birthday just might give me the chance to back off from my ego and enjoy the day without expectations.
God always sends a boat. Even when you don’t think you need one.