jacob nordby

Calling All Reluctant Heroes

I’m sitting here in a warm coffee shop on a Monday morning while my hometown of Boise, Idaho wakes up. It’s cold outside but this place is comfortable and friendly.

It’s hard for me to believe that just outside these doors and across the “sweet land of liberty” known as America there is a ferocious war going on. This is a battle for our collective soul. It’s a great question that we are struggling to answer about who we really are and if we are willing to step out of comfort zones to prove it.

Truth is, I hate war. War is stupid. War leaves wreckage behind it. I want no part of the battle that pits families and friends against each other and spills their blood on the soil.

I’m reluctant to say anything. I have achieved a comfortable recluse status and I enjoy my life of writing and teaching and nature and friends and thinking. If I stand and pick up my sword to fight—to speak out about right and wrong—I know what it will mean. It will mean the end of comfortable neutrality.

Know what I mean?

In the Blessed Are the Weird book, I wrote a chapter titled "Misfits". Here’s a paragraph that is taking on new meaning for me:

One of the primary archetypes in many legends is the Reluctant Hero. A reluctant hero is an ordinary man or woman—usually with a great wound or chaotic past that makes them resistant to any idea that they might be worthy to perform acts of heroism or service. During the tale, they are called into action against their protests. They rise to the occasion, and although they are often beaten and bloody by the story’s end, they avenge a wrong or vanquish a foe. They often deal with inner demons, weaknesses, and doubts about whether or not they will succeed in their mission. Their misgivings, insecurities, and general ordinariness allow us to identify with them and believe that perhaps we, too, might be heroes-in-waiting.

What I’m suggesting here is that you and I are being called out of our comfort to be the heroes we've been waiting for.

This is actually our time. Right now.

But if that’s true, what can we do?  If you are at all like me, you can have your heart stirred by burning rhetoric and then go home later and wonder, “Now what?”

I can’t sit here and write out a policy prescription that will fix the broken mess that we face. I’m not a politician and generally loathe political discussions because it means expending tremendous energy on a cynical game when the real action is happening somewhere else, behind the scenes.

I do know that sitting comfortably on the sidelines is no longer an option. I do know that sharing political memes isn’t enough. Having outraged conversations with likeminded friends won’t do the trick.

Truth is, I don’t want to mess with it. I’m mostly libertarian—live and let live. Know what I mean?

The trouble right now is that we have to “mess with it.”

This brings to mind an exchange between Frodo and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

This isn’t happening in some other place or time. It’s now. It’s here.

For me, this is not a political issue. It’s not Democrat or Republican, Left or Right. It’s not Hillary or Trump. 

This is a human problem.

We are asking ourselves whether or not we have learned any goddamned thing over the last twenty or thirty thousand years—anything at all.

The truth is, the world wants its soul back.

A great and deadly menace has arrived at the borders of Middle Earth.

The only way to stand up against the tsunami of fear and soullessness is to get radically clear about the most basic things that make us human, and then refuse to take any action that violates our birthright.

It’s lovely to live in our version of Tolkein’s Shire; enjoying a way of life that is envied by the rest of the world, sleeping peacefully in our beds at night, sipping lattes at Starbucks, and letting the people “over there” deal with their problems.

But our time is calling for heroes—quiet, reluctant, peace-loving heroes—to stand up and decide. We have to decide what it means to have a soul.

Many of us say that we believe in love. We hum along when John Lennon sings “…imagine all the people, sharing all the world… yoohooo-ooooo.” We want the world to be a better place.

Now it’s time to prove that we want that more than our own comfort.

“But how?” I can hear everyone who cares asking, “How?”

I don’t know, but I do know that we have to ask that question over and over again until "what" and "how" becomes clear.

If you are hearing this call to stand up, rather than just throwing up your hands at the enormity of what we face, please join me in asking

  • What makes me human?

  • What do I love?

  • What will I never give up?

  • What requires me to say ‘no!’?

  • What am I willing to die (and live passionately) for?

  • What shall I do?”

Ask these questions over and over again until the shape of right action emerges from the smoke and fog of war—until we know for sure what must be done.

You are a hero-in-waiting. You and I were born in such times and now is when we can choose to shine.

As Tolkein said in the voice of the wise old wizard Gandalf, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

Jacob Nordby is an award winning novelist, essayist, and podcast host. He is the author of the new release, Blessed Are the Weird - A Manifesto for Creatives. He leads a worldwide conversation on social media via his Facebook author page and Blessed Are the Weird community page. He is the founder and teacher of the Creative UnBootcamp online course for writers (and those who want to be), and founder of the indie press Manifesto Publishing House.

Irreducible

Irreducible

by Jacob Nordby

What's left of me cannot be reduced any further.

This lump in my throat, this ache in my heart. The irreducible emptiness in bed next to me. This love and everything that I am and always have been, but am now carved down to the essentials of it.

I’m naked. Irreducible. Can’t take any more clothes off. Exposed. I walk around in the world this way, behind a swaddle of the things I hide behind. A smile, my shoulders square, facing the wind and sun.

My eyes. Irreducible.

Inexorable in asking everything.

Why?

Who are you?

What’s left here?

This beauty and everything, the breathing and talking.

What's left of me is irreducible. 

That means it is strong.

That means that I am walking on the ground with these bare feet, feeling the good earth and the sharp gravel and grass. 

Strong. Simple. Distilled. Lacking the fluff, the small talk, the layer of static that makes everyone comfortable.

And I woke up at 3 am again but couldn't sleep, which is how it sometimes is and I don't mind, really, if I can find something to enjoy at an hour like this that won't also destroy me. 

So I watched the first episode of the last season of Rectify. That beautiful show about a man who lost himself in solitary confinement for twenty years and is now trying to find a way, a place, a self in this world.

He's living in a halfway house this season. Far from home. Banished from his native state. The man who runs the home is Ray.

I won't try to tell the whole story here but you can read a pretty good write up about it in this other person's article on Culturess.com.

But Ray catches Daniel coming back in from a devastatingly awkward day in the world. He won't let Daniel slip away into his room. Not yet. They need to talk.

Daniel resists. No one could possibly understand him, he thinks. He has suffered the loss of self so deeply in the traumas of his past that he doesn't have any idea who he is—at least not in the easy, seamless way that most people unreflectively see themselves.

ray

ray

In fact, accused of a crime that he most likely did not commit (that question, itself, is part of the tension that this series delivers so well) and locked in a solitary confinement death row cell since his teen years, he isn't even sure whether he did or did not murder the girl. Isn't sure about his own mind and what it is telling him. Isn't sure if maybe he has accepted the story about himself that others, with their own agendas, have told him.

Ray asks the devastating question, "Do you deserve to live?"

daniel

daniel

Daniel just shakes his head, looks away, tears now running down his cheeks.

Ray doesn't stop. "After all you've been through. After all that punishment. After all that suffering. Your one life. Do you deserve to live it? And just because you don't remember or know for sure whether you killed that girl or not... that doesn't mean you did it, either. Right?"

Daniel gives a tiny, reluctant nod.

"Maybe you ought to lean the other way for awhile. That you didn't do it," Ray says.

He closes, "This may sound hokey as shit, but... you gotta figure out some way to love yourself."

And that is the irreducible truth. Right there.

You gotta figure out some way to love yourself. You gotta figure out some way to forgive—and be forgiven, too. You gotta figure out some way to believe that maybe you are innocent and deserve a place in this world.

And there's no possible way that can happen without the terrible process of reduction that scrapes and burns everything away down to the charred bones of our souls; down to the living, solid realization that we are, in fact, real. That we cannot be reduced away. That we are here and deserve to be. That we belong.

I do.

You do.

We do. We deserve to live this life. Live it well. Live it as the art it can be. Live it with radical love and with the roots of us digging deeply into the soil of life and being nourished by it.

Whatever we have done to get here (to this moment); whatever coping or covering or flinching or running we've done to survive... we deserve healing. We deserve to forgive ourselves. We deserve to live.

You can't be reduced to a set of facts and stats on a sheet about your life. You are not the sum of your mistakes. You are not an equation that must forever work out the balance of painful karma. None of us is.

We deserve laughter and love and the thunder roll heartbeat of knowing for sure that we are doing it all the way.

That is the irreducible truth.

Jacob Nordby lives in Boise, Idaho.