I don’t think often of Mr. Escobar, but he came to mind a few days ago when my writing group spent 12 minutes riffing on the phrase: “The Guy with the Case”.
When my sister and I were young, our mother, breathless, would occasionally run in from the garden and announce, “I just saw Mr. Escobar outside”–adding some detail of the moment, such as “He’s getting a drink from the faucet at the side of the house” or “He’s admiring the pansies by the front walk.” And my sister and I would race outside, hoping that–this time–we would catch a glimpse of the exotic gentleman who allegedly and unpredictably visited our quiet neighborhood on the west end of Montreal Island.
To my surprise, my fellow writers didn’t say anything about Mr. Escobar and his suspicious tendency to never be there when we looked for him. Instead they were struck by the fact that I had grown up with a mother who was so involved in her children’s lives. Their surprise seemed related to their own childhoods with mothers who had not been playful with them.
Finding myself drawn out by their interest, I recalled that our mother also wrote dialogue and sewed costumes for dramatic performances in our back yard.
And I remembered her inventive skill with papier Mache (sheets of newspaper glommed together with flour and water). For years, on Halloween, I donned an orange lion head with a burlap body, and my sister a crocodile head with a green cloth body. (Even when my idea of celebrating Halloween was to collapse on the front lawn twitching, with catchup oozing out of the corners of my mouth, a new generation of kids was out tricking and treating the neighborhood wearing those much admired lion and crocodile costumes). Mom also used papier Mache to repair the rusted out holes in the wheel wells of our cars—a common occurrence (the rust at least) in the long Montreal winters where truckloads of salt were spread on highways and residential streets after every storm.
Looking back, I see how fortunate I was to have this creative presence in my early life. But it took me many years before I was able to make room as an adult for such playful and inventive explorations. Instead I was caught up for many years in my own maladroit attempts to deal with what I thought of as the “real” world.
Like a horse who has been led to the water’s edge, but who doesn’t drink, I had become suspicious of day dreams that didn’t lead anywhere, and of creative whimsy that provided no useful support in dealing with a regimented society which seemed closed to anyone who couldn’t figure out its rules.
Over the years I have noticed that self-doubt about one’s ability to deal with the world, into which we have been born, is far more common than I realized. It now seems to me that, like Dumbo, we must each jump out of the burning building in the circus act of our lives. And once we have jumped, we may discover that we can actually fly.
In my case, I was almost 50 when the perception that I was outside looking in shifted from a sense of exile to recognition that these insurmountable obstacles are actually my best opportunity to become my own person. There is a passage in a book we were studying in a retreat, of which the teacher—looking directly at me–observed “this reminds me particularly of you, Michael”:
“If we are disillusioned with the roles society offers us, and are unwilling or unable to play the competitive game, we can, instead, find roles that are uniquely our own and build within ourselves a new understanding of what it means to be a successful human being. Basing our lives on this knowledge, we can develop our inner resources to the fullest. Even if no one else supports us, even if we can see no material rewards in what we wish to do, we can develop our talents and abilities, and devote them to goals we consider worthwhile.” Tarthang Tulku, Knowledge of Freedom, Time to Change, Dharma Publishing, 1984.
This passage still resonates with me and speaks of a future that is not, and never can be, confined by the limitations we have learned to live with in the past.