The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
The Arts are tough.
People who succeed in the Arts tend to be tough also —not necessarily in personality, although that’s certainly possible—but in staying the course, keeping on keeping on, and so forth. It’s a highly personal business and when rejected (which is often) the rejection feels personal. Did we mention The Arts are tough?
A couple years into my undergraduate studies in voice performance, things weren’t going so well. I was getting pretty well beat up by classes, work, schedule, life – even though I lived in Oklahoma at the time, it was most certainly not a beautiful day, nor was everything going my way…
So that day, I decided to take a long drive out through the country to clear my head and see some countryside. After you’ve been staring at the three walls of a theater and TV studio for so long you just kind of start to go bonkers. Life was beating me up at the moment; the change of pace would be nice.
The drive terminated at my grandma and grandpa’s house. Although elderly and retired, they had reared nine children though the Depression (my mom was one of those) had farmed, worked with their hands and generally had a good—but tough—life. I knew two things: there’d be food on the table, and they’d listen…well, grandma would, anyway… Whenever I showed up like this, grandpa always seemed to find something to do outside.
As I munched and moaned, she listened. That made me feel better, of course, and I also drew strength from the simple, honest way they lived: her kitchen smelled of a curious mixture of natural gas, buttermilk and grease. It had been this was since I was a lap child, my mother holding me up to the table to see what everyone else was eating.
Herds of cats hovered at the back door, always anxious for what she would pour into the large pans in the yard at mid-morning. Beyond the yard, chickens clucked, and grandpa hammered…on whatever it was he was hammering on that day, getting ready to ride out to check on the farm he no longer worked, but to oversee my uncle who now lived on and ran the farm for him.
It seemed much more peaceful than my harried, frantic existence as a struggling young artist and grandma, ever the patient listener, heard me out.
Then, at some point, she turned away from the sink (there was no dishwasher) and walked across the kitchen drying her hands on her apron as she walked. In a quiet, soft voice with a gentle Okie accent she said:
Mark, if you never run into the Devil, it’s because you’re going the same way he is.
I sat stunned for a moment, not at all expecting this bit of homespun wisdom to hit me like it did. But in another moment, I knew she was right.
Right – all the clichés are true: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Keep on keeping on. When you’re going through hell – keep going! And one of my favorite quotes of The Prophet: In this world you shall have trouble.
After sitting in silence for a minute, I stood, and with renewed determination, I thanked grandma, strode to my car and headed back into the battle.
And maybe, just maybe, I was stronger in those broken places. . .