In the Desert (of our own making)  By John Watts


“In the desert 

I saw a creature, naked, bestial, 

Who, squatting upon the ground, 

Held his heart in his hands, 

And ate of it. 

I said, “Is it good, friend?” 

“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered; 

“But I like it 

“Because it is bitter, 

“And because it is my heart.”


Looking around, it’s very easy to spot some hugely impressive people doing truly herculean things pretty much on a daily basis.  What you witness can be truly inspirational.  And observing such acts can be a very good thing for our humility as we get to compare and contrast older and younger, richer and poorer people around us as we marvel at, and appreciate their various skill sets and talents.

But in any sample size you examine, you will also notice some exemplary folks fueled by the wrong motivation and excelling for the wrong reasons.  It could be at the workplace, at school, or in one’s neighborhood.

This recalls me of a very impressive 87 year old neighbor lady that lived across the street from me.

She was a macho yard worker blessed with great dexterity and endurance for weeding and raking leaves.  In fact she diligently swept each individual leaf into her bags with a tiny whisk broom and bent down to pluck leaves and weeds up with the flexibility of a gymnast.  Especially the leaves.  All those perpetual offenders that nestle into the street gutter in front of her yard.  She put all of us younger adults to shame with her work ethic and her well preserved athleticism.

And yet she was, for the most part, cheerless about her accomplishments and very dissatisfied.  In fact she would work herself into a frantic state of near exhaustion and panic.

Because the leaves would always fall again.  And she was so unhappy to be living alone and to have a son that never called her.  And the guy who runs the lawn service that used to be so reliable in doing yard work for her had stopped returning her calls and was no longer reliable.  And the next door neighbors had abandoned their responsibilities and no longer took care of their leaves which blow into her yard.

The list went on and on.  Overall she was a very nice neighbor and her work ethic was without question.

But something was missing in her life besides just her far away son.

We can always locate some neighbor, co-worker or classmate that is bitter and dissatisfied.  And we can always identify that same impulse buried in ourselves which threatens to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time.

  Of course while it is very easy to spot in someone else it is much harder to steer clear of it in ourselves.

And isn’t it perverse how we humans tend to turn around and adopt the same negative attribute that we hate in others?  Our lives are truly a work in progress.  Especially when it comes to being a good family person, friend and neighbor.

Think of the scenario of the wronged neighbor that rails with outrage over getting cited for some kind of ticky tack neighborhood violation for the appearance of a parked vehicle who turns around, in the next breath, to complain about the OTHER neighbor down the block who has kept a rusty tire out by his driveway for years and never got a citation.

Or the co-worker who swears there is a conspiracy out to get them and can barely conceal their resentment for various staff members in upper management yet will still complain behind other colleague’s backs to the same upper management.

We tend to validate the same system that we hate for ourselves when it comes to showcasing others it seems!


In fact this steady diet of being discontented and wronged seems to fuel many people and give them added motivation to wake up the next day—much like pro athletes that thrive on bad press clippings from their rivals to keep them sharp and on edge.  It might seem inspirational on an ESPN sports highlight real, but in the long term of a life span, it makes for a very unseemly and hollow life (tragic even).

How many times do we see people stuck in a desert of their own making?  And it seems the more they thirst the more they veer away from the source of the water.

You can try to redirect such folks and politely suggest a different way of thinking so as to change their trajectory.  Sometimes it can diffuse a negative thought cycle and pull someone out of their funk.  Too often though, the same broken record gets played over again as you hear the familiar strains of the same unhealthy perspective and pointless vendettas foisted up as you walk away with a shake of your head.

The moments pass and you can almost fast forward ahead and see the same person stuck on auto pilot down the road–perhaps for the rest of their life, clinging to the same old arguments and illusions.

It’s like that scene in the Poseidon Adventure movie in which the passengers on the ship refuse to listen to reason and continue shuffling down the corridor’s the wrong way to safety like ghosts in a procession.

You can see what’s coming and all you  can do is yell, “Hey you’re going the wrong way.  Turn around!”

I write all this so that all of us can benefit from this Stephen Crane poem and, when it comes to this self-inflicted desert, avoid becoming too enraptured with our own demons.

For far too many, it can become an itch that never stops being scratched until it is too late.

So I wish to close this with a prayer for all of us:  may we choose the right kind of fuel to keep us energized and motivated each and every day and not the corrosive kind that only leads to engine burnout.



About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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