Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The virtue of passion..

Martin Luther king Jr, the celebrated Civil rights activist is known throughout the civilized world for his historic “I have a dream…” address, delivered on August 28th 1963, against the majestic backdrop of Lincoln memorial to more than tens of thousands of citizens who stood along Capitol hill, awestruck, inspired and transformed by the passion and intensity that those simple words evoked, when they gushed forth from the deep throated southern voice of Dr king. It is an exhortation that ranks amongst the most celebrated orations in recorded Human history, and without any question of doubt, galvanized an entire nation, nay - the whole of Mankind to rise above divisions based on skin and color and to strive to create an egalitarian society. But to me, personally, there is one more speech, or more of a sermon rather, delivered in a small Baptist church in Chicago that is closer to my heart. It resonates even more truly of the spiritual dimension and kind of Man Dr King really was. Listen to these electric sentences as these issued from the lips of this God inspired man:

‘What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill
Be a scrub in the valley—but be
The best little scrub on the side of the hill,

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway just be a trail
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or fail—

Be the best of whatever you are.
And when you do this, when you do this, you’ve mastered the length of life. (Yes)’

There cannot be a more truthful utterance than these powerful, heartfelt words. Life is all about passion about one’s vocation. The part, the role that one chooses is to be performed with aplomb, excellence, and an involvement that is not enforced, but realized in the depths within.. Interestingly, the etymological Latin root of the word “passion” is suffering, or to suffer. It is the kind of inward pain that one feels when we have pushed ourselves to exceed boundaries. Like the lingering pain and sourness in our muscles, when we manage to sneak in a few more minutes at the tread mill, or stretch that extra yard during a swim - passion is a painful sense of bliss that wells up within us, far surpassing any actual outcome of the task itself. Christian theology symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus as a passionate endurance of immense redemptive pain, or the myriad epics across cultures depict their heroes, heroines and villains as passionate beings who give everything they have in love, hate, sex, jealousy or war. Every act is a celebration - a complete obedience to one’s nature… In fact, the division of labor into castes was based on this principle, and not with the any subversive idea. Plato’s Republic, the utopia for the world - was conceived along these same lines as well. These structures of Communal living were born out of a deep understanding that society is dependent on each individual’s contribution to it. Just as we cannot have ‘absolute” Good, without the notion of “absolute” evil, so much so, every occupation has an intrinsic place in Man’s social life juxtaposed with each other. These roles and vocations are as Joseph Campbell beautifully phrases it - “The masks of God”, and it is the goal of every mystical religion to make man understand this abiding truth, that these roles need only be played ‘sincerely’, and not seriously. Because, the moment we become serious, we confuse roles with the person playing it, and thus is born the unfolding catastrophe of ideological warfare that is likely to bring man to the brink of annihilation.

Well, the genesis of this ruminative essay was born out of my conversation with a cab driver, who drove me to Denver airport last week. He was a middle aged Moroccan Muslim: A thin man, with fair complexion and dark penetrating eyes. He was at the Hotel lobby, 10 p.m. – on the dot… Apparently, he had just finished his fast (Its ramzan time…) and had rushed to pick me up. He was profusely apologetic that he couldn't come ten minutes earlier, which I believe, he usually does. Throughout my ride, he spoke with me with an interest, an enthusiasm, a passion about the vocation of cab driving – that held me in his thrall. He said, he considered it his scared duty to ply people from one place to another, and he could not bear to see anyone uncomfortable in his car. He was very articulate, and I learnt that he was cargo manager with a major airline, before 9/11 changed everything for him. I could not but feel that he was genuine in his emotions, and when he dropped me at the terminal, I asked him the fare. He said something very profound to me “Sir, Money is a not a measure of service, it is but a byproduct. I know the meter says eighty odd dollars, but I would accept whatever you wish to pay. I would only want you to come back and give me another opportunity to serve you more...” I was transfixed, and of course, paid him the actual fare. He waited for me to get into the terminal, then got back to his car, waved and drove away with a warm smile, guileless smile on his face…

Here was a man who loved what he was doing. God bless his creed……

God bless…

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