We sat side by side at a table in the back of the large, crowded meeting room. I knew his name, and that he was the owner of a large and apparently successful business operation, a man about 50, and a member of the country club, which is what the meeting was about. The room was filled with such men, and in that 20 year period of my life, when I was as far from myself as a bull elephant from the moon, I was one of them.
At that time, I didn't know that the silent screams I kept hearing were from my own spirit crying out in agony from being fettered to a way of life it hated. The shallow existence of success, as defined by people "out there," had been embraced by me but I might as well have been embracing a boa constrictor. Existence had replaced living and the struggle to breathe was becoming more difficult as I realized the emptiness of measuring my value by how much I increased income and material wealth.
It was an existence with values so foreign to the hunger and thirst of my spirit that, when I look back at it today, I see it as a time of bondage in a dark, damp dungeon, complete with chains and dripping water. It was a time of constant fear, of resentment and of pointless busy-ness
fear, because I was constantly looking to the future:
resentment, because I was under the delusion that my misfit existence was somehow forced upon me by circumstances beyond my control;
pointless busyness because even then I could see no spiritual, lasting values to American society In general or specifically, to my part in it.
Everybody out there wants to be somebody, to be important in the eyes of other people so they can be important in their own eyes. To that end, they strive to climb on the merry-go-round with the goal of being able to give the "right" answers to the questions people ask. In America, there are two such questions, and while they may not always be asked aloud, they are always thought and talked about.
"What do you do?" is the first question faced by all grownups in this Neo-European society called America. The answer to that question is supposed to carry with it the necessary fodder to make a person feel good about the self.
That explains why women are seldom satisfied with being labeled as "housewives" or "homemakers," in spite of the singular importance of that particular role to the well-being of future generations. It also explains the proliferation of statements on license plates about the occupation of the driver. The most common letters on such plates are "RN" and "MD," both allegedly prestigious answers to the question on the tip of "everybody's" tongue, "I wonder what that person does?"
Not to leave the children out, what Is the first question put to a child by an adult who has just been introduced? "What are You going to be?" It's too bad that parents don't teach their children to respond, "I am going to be me."
Therein lies the difference between the illusion of freedom espoused by Neo-Europeans and the reality of freedom as it was enjoyed by Native Americans prior to Columbus.
Today, when someone asks me what I am doing, a serenity comes over me that tells me I am where I need to be. My answer is a simple one: "I am living."
The second prestige-building question is "What do You have?" Accumulation of valuables, new cars, a brand new house or two, and money to waste on toys and trinkets is a way of existence peculiar to Neo-Europeans and the society they have nurtured.
What is really strange is that people who have vast accumulations are treated as though their opinions are extremely valuable. When I was part of it, I was invited to be on boards of directors and to endorse political candidates, as though my thoughts were important. Today, when I have nothing, (by American standards) the same organizations that wanted me on their boards don't even have me on their mailing lists.
Having more than you need and then being elevated in the minds of others because of it, was foreign to the way of life lived by Native Americans before the coming of the European. That is why Red Cloud, the unconquered war chief of the Sioux, spoke so bitterly about the ways being forced upon his people after peace was made. "You must begin anew and put away the wisdom of your fathers," he said. "You must lay up food and forget the hungry. When your house is built, your storeroom filled, then look around for a neighbor whom you can take advantage of and seize all he has."
When I look at what was and then at what is, I am forced to ask myself who were the pagan savages and who were the truly civilized people when the Europeans came.
The meeting I was attending that night at the country club had gotten heated up over some trivia about the placement of garbage cans and the man next to me got up and asked for the floor. "Gentlemen," he said, "let's not fight. It's not worth it." Then he sat down and continued to stare at the ice cubes twirling in the drink in his hand.
I don't remember much of what was discussed that night. The meeting adjourned. The man next to me sighed deeply, finished his drink and we walked quietly to the parking lot together.
Later, I learned that he had gone home, closed the garage door and committed suicide. His business was failing, and he could not stand the shame of going bankrupt.