I’ve had the power. Decades ago I was a walking solar panel, soaking up a zillion watts of ego-driven audacity, persona and chutzpa. I was a 200 watt incandescent bulb burning bright, calling everybody within distance to look at me, look at this shining light.
I’m Cecil B. DeMille directing the “Ten Commandments,” dangling from my perch on the catbird seat of a swaying crane sixty feet off the ground, eyeballing the street below through the lens of a 35mm Arriflex, close to fifty actors, crew members, teamsters and uniformed security guards waiting expectantly for me to deliver the word that will set them in motion.
All these people, poised at the ready, waiting for me to say the word. I signal the assistant director… “Stand by” he shouts to the waiting cast and crew…and finally, almost anticlimactically, I raise the megaphone to my lips, Moses on the Mount, Marlborough at Blenheim, Armstrong on the moon… “ACTION.”
Looking back there was nothing harmful in puffing up like a male Frigate bird during mating season but creating three seconds of film for a ho-hum television commercial is not exactly a pathway to spiritual enlightenment.
Problem was, all too often having the power wasn’t so benign, more of a laser ray with malevolent intent and lethal consequences.
I’m on a first name basis with the best directors and producers in the business, sitting in a long legged director’s chair with CREATIVE DIRECTOR stenciled on the canvas back. In New York it’s dinner at Elaine’s and in LA I sit around the pool at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel giving Avery Schreiber and James Whitmore their lines for the commercials we’ll be filming. There’s a picture taken of me wearing tight bell-bottoms and a bright floral body shirt to set off my shaved head and tidily trimmed moustache and goatee.
I’m puffed-up with success, swell-headed and running full speed while the rest of the world is stuck in slow motion. If my barely concealed contempt for the three-buttoned yahoos I boss around is becoming progressively more evident, it’s the price that must be paid for my genius. I am indispensable, am I not?
I had the power and the perquisites that go with it, and I was as close to insufferable as one can get before comeuppance bursts the balloon. News flash: nobody is indispensable.
The axing is gory and painful; my ego smashed like the watermelon in Gallagher’s "Sledge-O-Matic" comedy skit. I am out on my ass with no place to go. I left New York to be a big fish in a small pond and as the kiss-of-death saying goes, “it takes three hours to get from New York to Dallas and three years to get back.”
For years afterwards, I measured success with a crippling formula: how many people could I lord over; how few people did I answer to. It was not a formula for happiness.
Time passed. I wrote my vows for a marriage that promised a dramatically different way of life, and I lived up to them! Slowly, life changed, and so did I.
I confronted the events of the past and identified the events that molded me. I committed to new, positive ways to present myself. There was a glimmer of light when I closed my eyes in meditation, the first glimpse of personal power as a positive force, a source of healing rather than intimidation.
Slowly, two decades later I dared to allow myself to believe that I possessed it.
The circle turned quiet as the speaker suppressed his tears and exposed his vulnerability. His story of abuse spoke volumes: shame and regret, as yet unresolved, creating a belief about himself that belied his true, authentic self. When his words played out and he fell silent, the air in the room was fluid, waves of emotion so strong they seemed visible.
I found myself embracing the group with compassion, talking with fervor of my own experiences with comparable chronicles of childhood disfunction… then moving past the events to how I overcame the wounds they inflicted… how I threw off the grip of victimhood… how I became my authentic self.
Floating above the scene like a Marc Chagall violinist I watched myself in the embrace of a healing soul; his gratitude pouring over me; my light now shining for a man who knew only darkness.
Was that me? I want it to be. I want to be the guy who has gone through the fire, my faded scars tattooed evidence of spirit’s answer to my daily prayer, may I be healed; may I be a source of healing to all beings.
The title of my memoir is, “Can a man change?” I’m not sure I thought it could happen when I first learned how to read the moral compass, but it’s been thirty seven years since the first turn in the road. I’m coming to believe the answer is yes.