Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Death of Desire

I was in Philadelphia this past weekend. I ran in the Penn Relays and things went well for me and for my Houston Elite teammates. We repeated as the 4x100 champions in our age category. I am inserting a video link here if you are interested in watching. There is a different angle from a different web site here. We are the team in dark uniforms in lane 7, and I ran the second leg. Yes, that is the shiny head of Seven.

However, it is not my specific intention to write about a track meet today. During the course of the weekend I was struck by a more conceptual thought that I want to process through your helpful brains if I might.

Some of you that have read here for a while might remember how excited I was last year when I returned from the Penn Relays. It was my first year to race with Houston Elite and the victory from 2006 was important to me. The win Friday, in 2007, was just as important but it felt different in a way. I think the way to express it properly is to say ‘the newness of the experience was not present’ and therefore it was not quite as exhilarating.

Another interesting moment that formed a buttress for that thought occurred later in the day Friday. Here is what happened. My team also had a 4x400 relay team entered to race later in the afternoon. I’m not a member of that foursome but I can tell you the team is widely respected, even feared, and they win at Penn consistently. Well, a funny thing happened, as they say, on the way to that particular race. Amid the chaos that is Penn Relays and the 2.5 hour delay brought on by heavy rains, my teammates were not on the track at race time. They literally missed the race because of a time misjudgment. Trust me, it was easy to do and other teams also failed to show.

It seems to me that a lot of us might react to that situation with anger or frustration. They had flown to Philly from Houston for the race. In the cell phone calls that came after the missed race my coach called me and asked me to come down to the awards area. All four members of the team were there when I arrived. They weren’t angry. They weren’t frustrated. They were even a tad jovial and had found smiles for the irony of it all.

What does this story and the earlier story have in common you might be asking? Our coach Bill Collins said this to me, “We missed it and it’s too bad, but what this means is that some other teams that have been trying for years to win at Penn had a chance to do so today and they will take home medals, and they will deserve them.” It took me another half hour to process that attitude, but I can tell you all the team members owned the same feeling. You see, they have won so many times that the ‘new’ has worn off and yet they can still remember the thrill of the first victory and they felt alright in letting another group know that feeling, even if at was at their own expense.

So I want to take the two thoughts and marry them into a singular thought.

I think it is possible that the presence of satisfaction can signal the death of desire. However, it is not a fatalistic statement, nor does it represent a flaw in the nature of being satisfied.

If I look at that thought closely, it’s possible to examine it in two interpretive ways. Many in our culture express a belief that the achievement of satisfaction is the true goal of our life. Is there more to seek than to be completely satisfied? If we imagine a rotund Buddha in motionless seated nirvana are we seeing a human in perfect satisfaction? If so, what then? Will the Buddha not need to eat or think again? Is the Buddha now without desire? Is this our goal, to be without desire?

Extend that thinking to imagine a world without desire. To me its seems reasonable to imagine a stalled civilization, one ‘satisfied’ that all things are as good, noble or as perfect as they might ever become. How many of us believe the US Post Office has reached a perfect status that we can be satisfied with? Do we believe automobile travel is at its safest? Clearly we can develop questions like these for hours on end.

If satisfaction is the death of desire, then maybe satisfaction is not all it’s trumpeted to be?

My thinking is that satisfaction has its place in a balanced equation. It’s important to reach a plateau of satisfaction so we can rest for a moment and reflect on what we have achieved. But dare we sit too long and risk the death of desire?

I imagine it this way. Desire is the road we travel, satisfaction is represented by the places we stop to visit, the friends and sights that give pleasure. Even though we might stop for moments, days or even years, there is always the never ending road of desire that propels us forward to a new place. I trust it’s a better place as well.

What I do know for sure is I would have never run in the Penn Relays without a desire to do so. I would never have met the men that smiled through their disappointment and wished happiness on others simply because they had already known the same happiness themselves. On the other end of that arrangement is a new Penn 4x400 relay champion that might never have been champions on Friday if they had not continued to bring their own desire to the track.

I’m not dismissing satisfaction, I love being satisfied. I am not dismissing desire. It propels me to newer and keener satisfactions and it has revealed qualities in my teammates that make me proud to call them friends.

I’m looking for the balance. Desire that moves me to satisfaction, then a brief rest in the satisfaction. Afterward, anticipating the desire that moves me down the road another distance in a restless search for the better and for, dare I say it? Satisfaction.