Tuesday, September 11, 2012

16 Tons and a Prophet

I have had this song in my head because this week I will be
another year older and deeper in debt. I am not in debt because I am a slave to Company Store so much as Sallie Mae. This was a choice, and sometimes I even try to frame it as a privilege but other times I know that no matter how awesome my education might be and whatever it might give me later on, I will be paying for it for a very long time.

I (have to) believe that my education is worth it. I know it is a privilege to sit here with a pile of books and write academic papers and that one day I will have some more letters after my name that might somehow qualify me as someone who knows stuff. I believe what I believe because of habit and because I was raised this way and only recently have I started to even fathom that some of my largest and most hard-line beliefs are not even my own. My life has bent me in all kinds of ways and I like to think it was because I am well informed or engaged in the political process, but I am beginning to see holes in this logic. Last night as I read my son a few chapters of The Alchemist before bed, I am realizing it's about time I start tuning in to what really makes sense to my own heart, or my own personal legend.

I am not in the desert with a teacher trying to help me manifest my personal legend as the protagonist in the story is. I am just another mom in graduate school, working at a nonprofit trying to do what I can to live the best life I can and sometimes I say I want to help others maximize their potential too but I think most of the time I just try not to be a jerk. Sometimes I fail but I am going to keep trying.

What I am coming to believe these days is that I have to have the awkward talk with whomever it is. I have to accept my debt as a lesson in patience and reciprocity. I have to listen to my own truth even when the loud voices around me are clamoring. It's election season and all I can think of is this:

A prophet once came to a city to convert its inhabitants.  
At first the people listened to his sermons, but they gradually drifted away until there was not a single soul to hear the prophet when he spoke.  
One day a traveler said to him,  “Why do you go on preaching?” 
Said the prophet, 
“In the beginning I hoped to change these people.  
If I still shout, it is only to prevent them from changing me.”

— Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird.


  1. Love your writing. I've never been greatbwith poetry comprehension though.

  2. Thanks, brotherman. I read the poem a long time ago. It stuck in my head. I found it again online years later and now have it posted above my desk at work to remind me to focus on the only thing I do have the power to change: myself.

  3. I relate with your post this week. When I walk the dog in the neighborhood there sits the same beat up car in the same spot on the same street. The bumper sticker attached, “Debt is slavery” is always a reminder for me to stay away from trying to chase material goods that will only begin to own me. I like to think that bumper sticker was put there just for me. Speaking of songs I am thinking of a line from an unknown artist who wants to” get back to ZERO.” To me that is getting out of debt. I know you are getting further into it now and it has troubled your mind a bit.

    You have to get down to get up and you will, and then” nothing will get you down, oh no.” And I thing some debt is better than other debt. You are investing in yourself and your families future and not some material object that will only begin to rust!

  4. Thanks, Levi. "Ain't nothin gonna slow me down, oh no..." Hahaha. And I am pretty sure I did put up that bumper sticker for you. Enjoy!

  5. I also enjoyed your thoughtful blog. Why did I have a song in my head too while writing my blog-aha great minds think alike. Mine was Donna Summer though- I agree I have never been well versed with politics simply because I don't like to argue. My family, mostly mother seems to have a my way or the highway attitude and my dad could go either way depending on what is better for our country. They are both invested in helping oppression and poverty and this I am grateful for. One day I will tell you the story about my husbands student loans, I think we are all in the same boat.

  6. I love your writing Jessica!
    I like the idea of just 'trying not to be a jerk' and not even being good at that all the time. It is so true. We are HUMAN. All of us. We run the rat race when we have to in order to survive so that we can be decent human beings and contribute our small miniscule part to society ...
    HUMAN is the bottom line of us and what we do. We are HUMAN we believe in HUMANS and we treat others as HUMANS.
    What a freakin concept!