In case you’re just joining us, I have, by way of introducing myself to Crosswalk readers, been telling the story of how one day at my job I suddenly and out of virtually nowhere converted to Christianity. I’m just now at the part where I’ve come to realize that instead of the great, stand-up guy that I’d always assumed myself to be, I was actually a bit of a moral cretin.
It feels weird writing about this—not least because I already have written about this: The afterword of my small book, Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang, is the story of my conversion. If I may, then, allow me to finish telling this story via that afterword—which I’ll kick in with right … now!
Then one day I was sitting at my desk at work during a totally typical weekday, feeling regretful about a particularly immature, semi-destructive thing I’d recently done, when this feeling started coming over me that in about four seconds had my undivided attention.
“What the [heck]?” I thought — and the next thing I knew, I was very nearly desperate to be alone somewhere. It felt like warm water was filling me up inside — but downward, starting at just beneath my scalp. Right about when the “water” had moved from my neck to my chest, I knew that whatever was happening to me wasn’t going to stop.
And I could tell it was something spiritual, or psychological — or something basically non-physical.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to a co-worker — and then cut out for an auxiliary supply closet in our office no one ever used. I flipped on its light, closed its door behind me, and waited.
I closed my eyes. The intensity of what was happening made that seem like a good idea.
And what happened, rather all at once, was that I saw what an [unlikeable person] I was. Isn’t that awful? All at once, the truth was before me that instead of being a good guy who’s basically always trying to do the right thing, I was a selfish, emotional weakling who was always doing and saying whatever best served my own needs at the time.
I never lied; but I’d fudge the truth here and there if it didn’t really hurt anybody and would help things roll my way.
I never cheated; but life is complex, and sometimes one has to make deals that more directly serve a Larger Good.
I wanted to help others; but there were so many good shows on TV, especially after a long, rough day at work.
What suddenly became a fact to me was that I’d been fooling myself for so long I’d forgotten the act. I wasn’t the great, honorable person I started out to be, that I’d meant to become — that I actually thought I was. I was just another guy so busy thinking he’s constructing the perfect home that he doesn’t realize how long ago he stopped using a level.
Man, I hate it when that happens.
I hate it when my whole view of myself is suddenly deconstructed and replaced by a view of myself that is so not what I expected.
I hate it when in one second I go from being Batman to being the Penguin.
Actually, though, that wasn’t the worst part. By far.
The worst part was that, accompanying that Less Than Peachy view of myself, was the very real knowledge that I was never, ever, ever going to change.
Ever. Never. Ever.
I was born as I was. I had spent my life as I was. And I would die as I’d always been: small, selfish, and mean as a [angry] penguin.
And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
I’d already spent my whole life trying to. Miserable mediocrity was the best I could do. I could achieve that only when I’d somehow pulled it together enough not to be a completely craven animal.
On a good day I was the Penguin!
And then here’s what happened: I saw my death. I mean, I didn’t see myself, like, writhing around after I’d been hit by a truck on the freeway or anything — I didn’t see how I would die. But I did see, in a sort of direct, open tunnel, the disturbingly short distance between where I was and where I was most certainly going. I saw my mortality. I saw the simple fact that I would die — and that, as surely as one day follows the next, at the moment of my death I wouldn’t be any different than I’d been at any other moment of my life.
I wasn’t going to get better. I wasn’t going to become stronger, or cleaner, or wiser, or smarter, or more honorable. It just wasn’t going to happen. I was thirty-eight. I was who I’d die being. At best.
Oh, but that was a bad, bad moment for me. I can’t even guess at what the second most terrible moment of my life is. Whatever it is, it’s a very distant second.
Okay! That's it! End of that quote!
What an experience.
Tomorrow: The Happy Ending
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