Used To Rule The World

A friend of mine was telling me of his recent work, something that makes him proud, as if he was engaged in something significant. And I think he is spot on.

Terry is a physician, having spent many days as a healer of folks. My sense is he loves that work, though as any doctor will tell you, if you will only listen, medicine has changed. A lot!

My father-in-law, who birthed half of Atlanta, was an “old-school” doc. He was an ObGyn but truth was, back in the day, he was the internist, psychiatrist, and just about anything else a woman patient needed. Dr. Grimes was the type doctor who would spend time with his patients, listening, carefully “attending” to the women who would visit his office for care. He was one who you would trust with your fears, your pain, your hopes and dreams. He was the type of doctor that nurses, and finally the business manager, would have to cajole to keep them on schedule, on track, to keep the flow moving. Otherwise, he would bog down in the care of the patient. This was years before the advent of efficiency and productivity charts that measure the work of a physician. He measured it by the smiles on peoples’ faces as they left his office. He was the kind of doctor you wanted.

My friend, Terry is like that, He cares deeply for his patients, and even gives care away to his friends when the need arises. He is a good man, way before you might add any other qualifying word such as a physician, or doctor.

In retirement, Terry has taken up another vocation, though, in my book, it’s the same healing vocation. You see, it’s his calling.

He loves photography, specifically portrait work of people. That doesn’t surprise me as he has spent his career looking deeply into the face of his patients.

Recently, he has been working with an addiction rehabilitation center. He has evolved a process that is genius. He takes pictures of people who have just come to the therapeutic setting. And then later, he takes their portrait photograph at the end of the healing process. “Before” and “After”. The portraits tell a story of those who have made the journey across the river, or desert, of addiction, to a new land, the land of sobriety. If one takes the time to look, as Terry does, there is a new life in the face of the one who faced the demons and lived to tell about it. It’s a face of life and hope.

What is captured is different for each person. The wear of addiction on the human face is generally not erased. But there is a spirit present that was not evident at the beginning. The camera catches the shadows in the facial contours, but reveals the new spark that has returned. This is evidence that a soulful transformation has begun, and that’s good news.

Terry and I are working on a huge project together with some other dreamers, and it too is about transformation.

It is a designed experience for folks who need to find their way again in this thing we call life. To recapture their sense of call, of purpose, while mid-stream. It involves facing whatever is confronting you in this present moment of your life. It asks one to look deeply, below the waterline of one’s life, to see what one is dragging along behind you, your “story”, including all the characters who inhabit it. The program prompts you to be honest as to what is “running “your life, whether by default or whoever owns your soul. It invites you to pause and sense the voice that is calling you now, as you regain the energizing pull and push of purpose. And then, the design intends to unleash your person in service to this world. It’s a tall order, but we believe in the process and are designing a pilot project for the beginning of 2022.

Last week, in our design and planning meeting, Terry was talking about his passion for his work of capturing the spirit of the folks in recovery in his portrait work. In my free association, a song came to my mind, not an odd happening for me. My brain seems to be filled, or infested, with lyrics.

The song is Used to Rule the World. It was written by Randall Bramlett, a multi-talented musician that I know and who played on one of my son’s albums. He wrote this song for himself to perform, but blues legend, Bonnie Raitt, picked it up to be the first song on an album she recorded, Slipstream. I like Randall’s funky version, but I prefer Bonnie’s take even better, for obvious reasons, betraying my taste in music, and women.

The song is basically a litany of people that have lost control of their lives. Randall invokes the characters of a businessman, a preacher, a socialite, and my favorite, Miss South Carolina 1975… I think I dated her. Each one, who represents a part of our society who might suppose that they had achieved some status, some position, some “cred”, wakes up to find that they have, in fact, lost it, this prestige that they thought they had. They have started to “wake up” and smell the proverbial coffee, that they are part of a new group of affiliation that they would have never applied for membership in.

Randall puts it graphically, as if he knows this all too well, just like I do: you’re mystified as you find yourself standing with other souls, who “used to rule the world”. The phrase grabbed me the first time I heard it, and it’s never let go.

It’s a humbling thing to see the illusions of your “hold” on reality slip, or plunge away from your grasp. You are faced with a sobering realization that you are not in control. For many, this comes in the aftermath of an addiction that now controls your life. For others, it’s a fairy tale marriage that winds up on the rocks. Or, I’ve seen people with great skill suddenly fall, sometimes just because of fate, and their place on the top of the heap that Sinatra crows about is gone. It’s humbling, I said, but in fact, it is a recognition of the true lay of the land we call “existence”. “Ruling the world” sounds pretty sweet at first glance, but the price is high, and the rewards, illusory.

I know something about “ruling the world”, only to find out you are just like everyone else, fallible and broken. So does Terry. My hunch is that his attraction to this holy work of portraiture is intended not only to catch a glimpse of the broken person who is fresh out of tricks by which he/she ruled the world, but more importantly, to catch the shimmer of the childlike spirit that has returned to this creature of God. It is a portrait of healing.

Transformation is what I have tried to be about most of my life. I love to see it happen in people’s lives, and feel called to assist and midwife in that process of rebirth. That’s what motivates this odd band of angels I am working with on this project. I am looking forward to the launch in January, and hoping Terry brings his camera.

Strike a pose.

4 thoughts on “Used To Rule The World

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