I Should Have Been

I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with light. I should have been a cowboy. I should have been dead five times. I should have been true. I should have been a blogger. I should have been watching Treme instead of The Killing. I should have been famous by now. I should have been a rice farmer. I should have been tougher on Romney. I should have been more precise. (...)

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. Eliot

Can it be worth it? Can it be worth all the while? If I swell a progress or start a scene or two, can I be content with that? Can I be content if I don't know where the story is going? Can I be satisfied if I know the end of the story but don't approve of my part in it?

Can I be satisfied with quoting Eliot without qualification? Or must I make a lame joke about freshman year?


There are many men, men like Eliot when he wrote Prufrock, who don't know what story they stand in. Life seems to be one big digression, one big "where do I start?" It is hard for these men to have any sort of contentment because they have no purpose. One can say to oneself, "I have two kids, I live my life for them," but in the end that is not enough. Men who don't know the overarching story they're part of cannot escape the great what's-the-point-of-it-all.

I pretend to know the point of it all. I place the cosmos and myself firmly in a story featuring beginning, conflict, resolution, and ending. Should be pretty sweet knowing the great point of it all. All the people I came from, all the people who will come from me, and I an integral part of it all, placed there for a reason.

Still, relationships at church are kind of awkward, and I'm certainly not appreciated, even though the whole reason we moved here was to help with the plant. Work's okay and I'm grateful to have it but it's just a stopgap sort of thing, And I don't really get along with the in-laws too well. Or my brother, for that matter. And the people around me are so easily offended; I wish they'd grow a pair so that I wouldn't always feel like I'm walking on eggshells. I have to buy new rims for the Volvo that I haven't even completely paid for yet even though I bought it for next to nothing from a friend and now I can't even drive it and the garden's really nice but the fence is falling down and there's a streetlight in front of the house that never goes out and the next door neighbor won't take all that junk out of his yard and the three-year-old's being a brat which takes up a lot of time and why am I here again?


My wife recently posted on the fridge a list of things to be content about. This list is originally from a women's blog (here at Femina). There were ten points, which were pretty all-encompassing and applicable to all, save a few sub-points like being content with your husband or whether or not you're pregnant.

Went down the list, gave myself high marks on eight out of ten. And felt miserable about it. Discontent is something that invades and pervades. I'm content with my home, but not with where I live. Home ruined. And so on. So I decided to treat all ten of Nancy Wilson's points: 10 Ways to Be Content in 2012. This post will deal with the first item, which was:
Be content with your story. That means your birth and upbringing, your parents and your siblings, even your ancestors. Own your people and be content that God has written all of them into your story. Don’t just be content with your story; love your story.

This is one I gave myself pretty high marks on. You guys know that I love my varied roots (as blogged about here). I like where I was born, I like how I was brought up, I like my family and my ancestors. I particularly dig that; I have to admit that having such a unique upbringing can make one feel like a child of destiny.

Except that children of destiny are usually kind of bitchy. The world usually doesn't bother recognizing children of destiny, and doesn't serve itself on a silver platter to the child of destiny, no matter how big of a tantrum he throws.

I might like where I come from, but do I like what I'm doing with what I've been given? Can I be content if I don't? If I cannot be satisfied with what I am doing with the gifts I've been given, I will never cease complaining.

Nancy Wilson's son, in his very excellent (and very Chestertonian) book Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, asks us what we do and who we are once we realize we're in God's story.

What kind of character are you? The irritable dad? The backstabbing friend? The complainer? Someone you wouldn't like if you saw them on-screen?

The men who are afraid when the footman snickers at them are men who don't know who they are. Or more accurately, they are the men who do not want to know who they are. Am I willing to confront my story? I must be, and I must by grace become a better character, or I will drag down those around me, and I will never ever ever stop complaining, which is super-tiresome to be around. So maybe we could help each other out.

Who's not afraid of the footman? Well, the members of the club, wearing fine clothes, ordering what they will, smoking the best cigars. Those who belong, that is. Who else is not afraid of the footman? The repairman who stopped by to work on the stove. The maitre d'. The waiters. The housekeeper. Those who belong.

And perhaps even the guest arriving in a shabby coat belongs here, content to have been invited, told to make himself comfortable, master of his fears and fully himself.

I should have been content with my story. I should have been happy with my role.


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