Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In search of the Heart of Gold-(A Thanksgiving Essay)

I want to live,
I want to give
I've been a miner
for a heart of gold.
It's these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching
for a heart of gold
And I'm getting old.
Neil Young- Heart of Gold

For the last several years, I’ve made a point of writing one of these essays on Thanksgiving. It’s one of those holidays that inspires a little deeper thinking. At least for me. It makes you take stock of where you are, who you’re spending time with, and the things you are grateful for. This year is no different.

But let me back up a little…

My whole life I’ve been haunted by a song.

The song is ‘Heart of Gold’ by Neil Young. It’s followed me around. I remember hearing it on a long and lonely road trip across the country when I was 21. I heard it again on a bus on the way to my father’s funeral. It’s popped up again and again in my life at strange times, and it’s always made me stop and think about my life and where it was I was going.

There must be a reason.

Cut to a decade ago. I was in a major transitionary period in my life and feeling a little lost. Although I had just finished a Master’s degree, I had no real career plans, and decided to spend the summer up on Mackinac Island to try and figure it all out. I was sitting in a bar having a beer too many, and trying hard not to think about my life and my progressive sense of self-pity. I looked up and saw a singer on a stage, he looked like a pleasant enough fellow and I stopped to give him my attention. His first song?

Heart of Gold by Neil Young.

I thought about the song in detail in that moment. It’s about a man getting older who is searching for some kind of goodness in life. A heart of gold.

I finally got it. That’s what I wanted too. It’s why I decided to study psychology and be a counselor in the first place. I wanted something real. Something good. It seemed like I was meeting too many mean people. Seeing too much indifference. Encountering too much selfishness.

It occurred to me as I was sitting there having those beers, that I was guilty of all of those things myself. That perhaps the way I saw other people was simply a reflection of something going on inside myself. We view the world through our own distorted lens, and often we find what we expect to find. At that moment, it occurred to me that I needed to change. Not the world. Not the people I was meeting. Myself. My way of looking at the world..

At the end of that summer I began volunteering in nursing homes. I was poor, I drove a shitty car, and I lived in a little apartment facing a brick wall.

It was the happiest year of my life

I still hear the song Heart of Gold from time to time, and when I do I’m reminded of this. It’s so easy to drift towards complacency, to apathy, to stagnation. I’ve done it over and over and over in my life. I have an epiphany, start paying more attention for a while, and then drift back into inaction.

When I do, the universe sends me a song.

So this Thanksgiving, after the Turkey and the stuffing and the bourbon, I’m going to sit quietly and listen again to this song. I’m going to remember that the way I see other people is simply a reflection of the way I’m choosing to live my life. I am going to remind myself that historically periods of sadness, depression, and complacency in my life have been a result of forgetting this lesson. I’m going to celebrate all the people in my life, and make a point of seeing the good things. Even in the people that drive me crazy from time to time. I’m going to remember that as a therapist, it is also my job to explain this to others. That pessimism is a choice. That cynicism is a choice. That If you want something to change. Change something. Complaining never helped someone realize a dream or get the girl or change the world. Action does. OUR action.

Don’t expect the world to come to you. It won’t…

In the meantime, I’ll continue to humbly try and be a better person and remember on this Thanksgiving to count my blessings and be grateful.

I’ll keep on searching for the heart of gold.

And I’m getting’ old…