Searching for Paradise

Searching for Paradise

I always liked the Steely Dan lyric “They got a name for the winners in the world I want a name when I lose. They call Alabama the crimson tide call me deacon blues.”

Most people feel like they are losers (at some level or at some time in their life) and it turns out this is a powerful identity. Most losers think winning would satisfy them, but it turns out it too can be a hollow identity. Charles Goodstein, a New York Psychiatrist (and Yankee fan) jokingly remarked, “If part of a long-time identity of being a Red Sox fan is a sense of suffering, a sense of not winning, a kind of camaraderie with other losers, you lost some of that. You have to face up to a different kind of identity, of being at least an ephemeral winner¢â‚¬¦Still so firmly anchored in this identity of loser, they may have to unconsciously subvert themselves in other aspects of life apart from their fandom¢â‚¬¦ Who knows? They may screw up on the job, they may get into unbearable arguments with their wives and kids, they may have to suffer in some other fashion. How difficult it is once you’ve lived the life of a masochist to suddenly find there is no one there to whip you any more.”

What he said tongue in cheek is actually how some Red Sox fans are feeling as evidenced by this remark by former Red Sox second baseman Mike Andrews, “I ‘m having trouble dealing with it, (win over NY Yankees) You’re just kind of caught saying, ‘What’s next?’ I don’t want to say it’s a letdown. But it’s certainly something you let become part of your life and it’s gone now, and we need to come up with something new.”

As David Brooks pointed out in “The Paradise Spell” the American quest for something new often focuses on finding a new place. He says the search for paradise is engrained in us and explains our mobility. “Born in abundance, inspired by opportunity, nurtured in imagination, spiritualized by a sense of God’s blessing and call and realized in ordinary life day by day, this Paradise Spell is the controlling ideology of national life. Just out of reach, just beyond the next ridge, just in the farther-out suburb or with the next entrepreneurial scheme, just with the next diet plan or credit card purchase, the next true love or political hero, the next summer home or all-terrain vehicle, the next meditation technique or motivational seminar; just with the right schools, the right moral revival, the right beer and the right set of buddies; just with the next technology or after the next shopping spree — there is this spot you can get to where all tensions will melt, all time pressures will be relieved and happiness can be realized.”

I confess, my own search for something new often takes the form of dreaming about a better place. As recently as this morning I remarked to one of our daughter’s that it would be cool to sell everything and move to Montana. Sadly, I returned home to have the ¢â‚¬Ëœidyllic place dream” shattered by a most disturbing story about Pitcairn Island.

Here is what Dea Birkett, author of “Serpent IN Paradise” reports, “If there’s a Paradise, it should be Pitcairn Island. The island, a mile-by-mile-and-a-half crag of dark volcanic rock marooned in the middle of the South Pacific, is home to just 47 people, mostly descendants of the famed mutineers from the British ship Bounty. The islanders pass their days hoeing peppers and sweet potatoes, fishing for shark from flat-bottomed canoes, and shooting down breadfruit from the trees with their muskets. There are no roads, no cars, no airstrip, no banks, no currency and no office hours¢â‚¬¦. Pitcairn is far from paradise. While distant dreamers imagined the island as an embodiment of perfection, child molesting was endemic. Girls were taken into the banana groves, pinned down and raped, sometimes by more than one man. This week, after a four-week trial, five Pitcairn men – half the men on the island – were found guilty of a horrific string of sexual offenses against minors stretching back more than 40 years (a sixth man pleaded guilty earlier). The island’s mayor, Steve Christian, was convicted on five counts of rape against children as young as 12; he was sentenced yesterday to three years. Another man, Terry Young, was convicted of indecent assault on a 7-year-old, and more prosecutions are planned. Such disturbing crimes are often attributed to the influences of modern society, from pornography on the Internet to the dissolution of the nuclear family. But on the remote island of Pitcairn, you can’t tune in to a single TV channel, while Internet access is only a recent innovation. And the ties of community are very strong; there are only nine families, sharing four surnames. Everything commonly denounced as corrupting is absent. So why is such a pocket-sized island not Paradise, but an outcrop of Hell?

¢â‚¬¦At a distance, a small community like Pitcairn seems an Eden compared to the dangers of urban life. We feel such a self-reliant place will provide a blueprint for a rosier future. But as this week’s verdicts reveal, isolated communities are neither happier nor healthier places to raise our children. Free from the moderating gaze of outsiders and the rule of impartial law, abuse can continue unchecked. There are no police officers or lawyers to turn to, no place to escape. Big amorphous cities, not small homogenous communities, are where we have the opportunity to flourish…If anything, the lesson from Pitcairn Island is, for your children’s sake, live in New York.”

As has been said, the real problem is, “wherever I am, I am there” and I, of course, am a sinner. Turns out it may not be about winning or losing or where you play the game after all¢â‚¬¦it IS about how you play the game.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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