Musings on Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward

“My eye fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bed clothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde.” Robert Louis Stevenson


I’ve been reading Falling Upward by Richard Rohr as part of a book club on Facebook.  The dismissal of the “Loyal Soldier” motif in Chapter Three of Rohr’s book seemed particularly resonant to me, at this particular season of my life as my Lenten abstinence has focused on trying to control my unruly tongue which always seems to lash out with some clever comment in any situation before giving my brain a chance to ponder. This knee-jerk and instinctive reaction, an instantaneous retort from the shadows of the subconscious, has been my constant companion and frequently prime motivator into action for most of my life.  I have relied upon this “gift” as a means of being the source of mirth and entertainment, even (especially) in the face of otherwise uncomfortable or awkward social situations, and when faced with sudden unexpected conflict my tendency is to smirk and spout off some one-liner.  This personality has served me admirably in the past, a pretty obvious defense mechanism against laying my ego bare in front of a cold and disinterested audience, but I have noticed that these barbs (witticisms and charmingly ironic quips though they sometimes are) are frequently the source of emotional pain in the folks that I care about.

I’ve always joked that growing up in a German family of origin, we showed affection through insulting and making fun of each other, and no doubt I’ve inherited this personality quirk in spades from my father who experiences the same tendency towards verbal diarrhea. And as a young man, this ability to reach lightning fast decisions and opinions in real-time and ahead of my companions has certainly been a great boon. But as I age, perhaps even occasionally growing in depth of spirit and relationship with Christ as well as greyness of beard, I have come to the startling conclusion that these first rapier quick reactions to situations and ideas are generally wrong!  If I allow myself time to think, to chew on the reasons behind the curtain, to pray for Godly wisdom in how I should proceed, I generally am convinced of the opposite line of action than my initial reactive mouthing-off would exhibit.

The travelogue host, occasional celebrity chef, and general sage Anthony Bourdain says “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.” I can totally relate.  My personal “Loyal Soldier” has bamboozled me more often than not, and yet despite the destructive nature of his personality I cling to these vestiges of my old personality through my own sense of loyal desperation to the framework I have built.  Like Henry Jekyll I enjoy keeping Mr Hyde about, as he offers an excellent scape-goat, a means of denying responsibility for the monstrous emotional sins I commit against my family and loved ones. I think perhaps we enjoy the company of monsters too much to slay them outright, or like the baby elephant that is taught from youth that the slender rope is proof against his escape, as we grow into a titanic mastodon we believe that frail tendril will still hold us tight against our escape from its bondage.