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I Have a Tendency to Give Up

May 25, 2010

I give up on people.  I give up on government.  I give up on God.  I give up on myself.  And then I am reminded of a story I once heard:

There once was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

So the father divided the property between them.  It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country.  There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had.  After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt.  He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs.  He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

That brought him to his senses.  He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death.  I’m going back to my father.  I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son.  Take me on as a hired hand.’  He got right up and went home to his father.

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him.  His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

But the father wasn’t listening.  He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him.  Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it.  We’re going to feast!  We’re going to have a wonderful time!  My son is here—given up for dead and now alive!  Given up for lost and now found!’  And they began to have a wonderful time.

All this time his older son was out in the field.  When the day’s work was done he came in.  As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing.  Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on.  He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in.  His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen.  The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends?  Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate.  This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’

For years I focused on the younger son in this story.  We even have a name for him – Prodigal.  Yet, we haven’t given the older son a name.  Let’s call him, “Jackass,” for he is actually the main character in the story, and he needs a name. 

At precisely 6:32AM this morning I was sitting in my car when I was reminded of Jackass.  (Thanks Matt!) Unfortunately, it is because I readily identify with him.  In fact, in my own screenplay, I occasionally write him into my own character.  I need to stop doing that.  You see, the younger son did spend his money on whores.  He did piss all of his inheritance away in search of highs and hookers, but… he eventually came home.  He looked up from the pile of pig S that was his existence, and he decided to come clean.  A celebration was the only thing the father could do!  “The younger son was lost, but now he is found!” 

This is usually the point in the story where I have a tendency to check out.  I imagine sitting in my cushioned theatre seat, applauding, perhaps fighting through the tears of joy to squeak out, “Bravo! Bravo!”  Drop the curtain, cue Glen Miller, and bring up the house lights so I can make my way to the exit without stubbing my toe.

That isn’t how the story ends, though.  We have a final scene where Jackass gets his shot at cinematic gold, and he doesn’t disappoint.  True to older brother form, he bitches and moans about where his party was.  “Look at how I’ve busted my tail!  And you cater in County Line Barbeque for this little punk!  I give up!  Screw it.  I’m done.” 

Now you can drop the curtain, strike up the big band, and bring up the lights… Yeah, not the same warm fuzzies for me either. 

You see I have a tendency to give up.  I give up because I’m giving to get mine in the first place.  My motivation is selfish, and ironically, I am just like the younger son, only I don’t have the stones to call it for what it is and start walking.  Too often I am on an adventure in missing the point, and I appreciate stories like this one.  They get my heart moving back in the right direction – the one where I am less likely to give up.

By the way, the story does have a happy ending.  You see, Jackass has what’s coming to him, and when he figures it out… it is going to be one helluva party!

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