Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels(1,212)

July 19th, 2011

It happened every day about five o’clock—after summer football practice. My family lived across the road from the local high school and all the young football players would drove out of the practice, screeching their tires and roaring their engines as they careened down the street past our home, frightening the neighborhood. My mother would always remark sarcastically, “There go the conquering heroes! Hell on wheels!”

Well, I was only seven years old at the time and the only two words that stuck in my mind were “conquering” and “hell.” So whenever I saw these young men on the street, with their duck-tail hair-dos, white tee-shirts ala James Dean, and seemingly permanent sneers, I was scared to death of them because I thought they were going to jump out, grab me and take me down to the depths of perdition.

That is how powerful a parent’s words are to a child. So that is why, as a grown man, I still have to be careful about what I think—to make sure it’s my own perception and not merely a memory from my childhood.

Life basically breaks down into three compartments: (1) memories, which are part of my upbringing—principles and attitudes I was taught as truths (which, unless I have challenged or replaced them, still live within me as if they were spoken yesterday); and (2) impressions—because as the Bible says, “man looks on the outward appearance,” so I have a human tendency to pre-judge a situation based on those appearances before they have a chance to play out before me. And then (3) I have my own experience, consisting of personal encounters with people and situations which have given me my rendition of truth.

Once again: a memory, an impression and an experience.

Let me tell you—it was a long time before I realized that those high school boys were not the sons of Satan. They were just a bunch of immature kids, fueled by the energy of brand-new rock-and-roll, and frustrated because they just got yelled at by a bunch of coaches who were blowing off steam. I’m sure my mother even knew that, but her words were much more critical, and landed on fertile ears that were prepared to cause that critical seed to grow disproportionately.

This is why I suggest that you make a list. Here’s a quick example: I will guarantee you that most of the people in our country have never spent three days living with people of another race. So since we don’t have an experience of understanding them on a day-to-day basis in a natural habitat, how do we garner our opinions on what they like and what they don’t like? It comes from our memory—and what your parents taught you about black people, white people or Mexicans still exists within you unless you have replaced it with your own living experience. When you add an impression into the mix—what we think an individual looks like—you get the seeds of prejudice, which grows a whole crop of bigotry.

Make the list.

What do you really think about politics?

What do you think about God? Have you had an experience with Him or just a memory during upbringing and an impression of what a good American should feel?

· How about money?

· How about love?

· How about sex?

· How about young people?

· How about old people?

If you do not have personal first-hand, experience that can be shared as an anecdote—as evidence—then you’re living off a memory or an impression. It is what causes intolerance, births intolerance and nurtures intolerance through a childhood of submission to an adulthood of replication.

I made my list about fifteen years ago. I was shocked—because I saw that many of the things I believed, and even things I was pursuing, were applications of my parents’ ideas or else rebellion against them.

So I started with what was my own experience and have tried to expand that vista to as many circumstances as possible. Gradually I have been able to construct life according to Jonathan Richard Cring instead of a Xerox of my mother and father or a clouded impression of a human being who only views the exterior.

“Hell on wheels?” No. Not really.

Now, let me warn you of one thing—making your own list does complicate life a bit. You have to buy more containers to hold ideas than the four or five big boxes you were given by your upbringing. But it is well worth the journey—to separate off our moments as special instead of collecting them like fireflies in a jar.

Make the list. Ask yourself, “Does what I feel about this subject come from a memory from my childhood? Merely an impression of being human without having any divine guidance, or is it the by-product of my own experience?”

It’s well worth the time. Doggone it, any occasion we have to make our lives our own is an amazing day.

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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