Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for June 29th, 2008

Temptation 7

Posted on June 29, 2008 by jimparedes


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Do you really think it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations which require strength, strength and courage to yield to. — Oscar Wilde

I love quotations, and I love Oscar Wilde, who is one very quotable guy. The other quote I read by him about temptation was actually simpler. It went, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it… I can resist everything but temptation.”

That’s really quite witty and funny. The scope of the temptation he was referring to includes the usual ones — gossip, overeating, laziness, infidelity, drinking, excess, jealousy, pride and the other human weaknesses.

The other quote, however, speaks of something else and these are the greater temptations we are confronted with in the course of our lives. I am talking of something which every person who lives past adolescence will probably face at least once. These temptations are not the kind that prey on our mere human weaknesses. These have a far more noble purpose and, despite their good intentions, they are great vexations to the spirit. They have to be since they push one to choices that are hard to make.

Such temptations are about reversals, about-faces, cancellations, admissions of failure to live up to expectations. They can also be about sudden, drastic changes or redirections that happen in one’s life. These temptations are not aimed at our common weaknesses but at our other vulnerabilities, the issues and truths we hide from ourselves, denials that want to be heard.

These are the temptations that bring us to the brink of what we know of ourselves and what we are afraid of, because we are not yet ready to admit them. And they aim for the jugular because, in a way, they tempt their prey into committing a form of “death by suicide.” How? They lure you into giving up an old identity for a new one, but with a promise of a resurrection in a higher plane.

I speak of people who approached the fork in the road when it presented itself, often under very daunting, painful and dicey circumstances; those who took the daunting step of changing the course of their lives dramatically and proclaiming their newfound selves to the world.

For example, gays who have come out of the closet, or priests leaving the Church; or the opposite, of unlikely people who suddenly embrace the religious life, or couples who after much contemplation and searing honesty decide to separate, or people who turn away from their comfortable, lucrative occupations and embrace a life or career that surprises or shocks everyone, or those who risk their lives to speak the truth under extremely challenging circumstances. In sum: people who risk disappointment for liberation.

To name a few, think of the Duke of Windsor who gave up the throne to marry his love, a commoner and a divorcee. Or the senate witnesses who threw caution to the wind and blurted out what they knew. Or — somewhat less politically correct but dramatic no less — high-profile people who have admitted to being gay or lesbian, at the risk of public condemnation.

For sure, the temptations they succumbed to are of a much higher order. And they must have suffered through the decision-making process where the choices were to remain living a life that may have started out seemingly authentic but was becoming more and more of a lie, or to answer a calling that seems better than the hellish status quo they had found themselves in.

What a predicament. Turning points usually are. To stay on is to be in a sort of a death zone. To move forward may bring a reprieve, a release or a promise of a new, more energized life. Nothing is guaranteed. But before one actually makes the decision, all alternatives and scenarios may seem dire. What brings the person to the brink of deciding is what Oscar Wilde calls “great strength and courage.” Ironically, these transitions involve not just accepting pain but unleashing strengths that we’ve always had but which have remained hidden, waiting to express themselves at the right time.

Going back to the examples above, I imagine every gay person I know who at certain phases in their lives may have struggled to deny who they really are. Realizing how difficult that can be, some may have attempted to maintain a dual identity. But at a certain point, there must have been the great temptation to totally come to terms with their “different” sexuality, accept it and eventually feel the freedom of being themselves. 

I recently had a conversation with an ex-priest whom I know took his vows quite seriously but discovered through the years that his calling may be somewhere else. It takes a lot to accept the higher calling of being true to oneself at the risk of disappointing others.

Comedian George Carlin, who passed away last Monday, realizing how meaningless his safe comedy had become some 20 years ago, put an end to his material and surprised himself and his audience by metamorphosing into a bitingly funny social critic. While he was happy to transform into his new identity, he lost lucrative contracts in Las Vegas because his new material did not sit well with Middle America.

A wise man once cautioned metaphorically that one must not delve into spirituality unless one’s hair is on fire and spirituality is a lake. This accurately describes the great discomfort and disillusionment with one ‘s life that a malcontent must feel which gives him little choice but to succumb to the higher “temptation” and thus be released.

But once one surrenders, there is no turning back. A new life is born and expresses itself. And when that happens, the gods will demand the payback. This involves going public with the message of one’s transformation. We have seen people who have had intense religious conversions convey, shout, preach their message of redemption at every occasion and become quite annoying to the unconvinced. I suppose that’s part of the deal. But to fulfill one’s part better, one must do it, not just with courage, but with convincing power. More than just talking about it, one’s life must be living proof that saying “yes” has renewed and opened one to new paths.

One surrenders to such a monumental and worthwhile temptation like a suicide bomber, taking along as many people as possible, so to speak, by the power of one’s example.

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