This is the story of Jonah. Not the reluctant prophet who took a time-out in a whale, but a man named after him by a mother who should have known better.
Like his Biblical namesake, Jonah had a calling. Not to preach, but to create something. If you asked him about it, at twenty-three the conversation would have gone something like this:
“What are you making, Jonah?”
“Oh, I’m working on mumblemublemutter.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You know, just a rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb.”
“Alright, it’s a decorative mailbox! Okay!?!”
Young and self-conscious, Jonah gave in to embarassment and stopped making his mailboxes. He became an electrician instead, which is a job that’s much easier to explain at parties. He married Marie-Claire, joined the local football team, and was content most of the time.
But Jonah was haunted by mailboxes. In his dreams he invented mailboxes shaped like Kodiac bears, mailboxes that brought the mail to the front door in a model train, mailboxes that played carillons when parcels arrived.
Through his twenties, Jonah tried with some success to suppress the dreams and live his unconscious life in as ordinary and normal a way as his conscious life. It was easier when the kids arrived; the never-ending activity kept him busy.
On his thirtieth birthday, Jonah surprised everyone…
…including himself, by getting a tattoo. It wasn’t the idea that was shocking – tattoos not being terribly rare amongst electricians – but what it said.
When asked to explain why he’d gotten this quote by James Lowell on his arm, Jonah could only say, “I dunno. I just liked it.”
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
But still, Jonah was an average bloke with an average life… if you didn’t count the dreams of mailboxes.
Everything was ordinary for a long time, but Jonah got pretty damn twitchy in his late thirties. He started sleeping badly and drinking one too many beers on the couch at night. He fought with Marie-Claire and yelled at the kids. One day the younger, Harry, said: “I don’t want to be around you, Dad. You’re mean.”
Jonah started crying and couldn’t stop for a very long time.
He started going to a therapist, on the quiet for fear that the other guys would find out. She was nice enough but didn’t help, so he tried another one.
Three sessions in, Brian asked, “Do you remember your dreams? And why did you look so ashamed when I asked you that?”
Soon the therapy sessions stopped being about feeling his feelings, and started being about mailboxes.
Brian asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you followed this dream and started making mailboxes again?”
“And what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t follow that dream?”
“Which is scarier?”
“Yeah, I thought so.”
Jonah quit the footy team and started locking himself in the garage.
Six weekends later, he sheepishly asked his family to come out and have a look at something.
It was a tree, three foot high and strangely familiar, with a treehouse at the top where mail went in. Marie-Claire’s forehead creased and then she shouted, “It’s one of the trees of Lothlórien! From Lord of the Rings! Oh Jonah, it’s beautiful!”
His grin went from embarassed to excited. “You like it? I mean, I made it for you.”
Marie-Claire and the kids looked shocked, from Jonah to the tree and back. “You made this, darling? Really? I know you said you used to make a few mailboxes when you were younger. But this is… amazing! You made it from scratch?”
“Yeah. I was thinking I’d make a few more, if that’s cool.”
Three years later, Jonah quit his job to make mailboxes full time. For reasons he never consciously understood, his first professional design was a whale.
The moral of the story
Magnificence is fucking scary.
I don’t think it’s rare because few people have the talent to create it, I believe it’s rare because so few people have the guts to go for it.
It’s up to you to decide whether the persistent discomfort of selling yourself short is more or less uncomfortable than the soul vertigo of reaching for greatness.
Which do you choose?
If you’ve chosen to strive for magnificence (and you’d prefer not to take as long about it as Jonah), then Goddamn Radiant is for you.