He turned thirty-five last SundayThat song came to mind today after spending an hour of conversation with someone I'd never met before. It's really not fair to call him an old hippie, but that's what he reminded me of, especially when I got my first look at him. Receding salt and pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail. Goatee. Tough, leathery skin. And a look in his eyes that seemed to convey many years of going against the grain of society. But he wasn't a leftover from a time of naive protest. He wasn't an idealist, trying to change the world. He wasn't a man who "tuned out" almost forty years ago. He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met.
In his hair he found some gray
But he still ain't changed his lifestyle
He likes it better the old way
So he grows a little garden in the back yard by the fence
He's consuming what he's
growing nowadays in self defense
He get's out there in the twilight zone
sometimes when it just don't make no sense
He gets off on country music
cause disco left him cold
He's got young friends into new wave
but he's just too d**n old
And he dreams at night of Woodstock
and the day John Lennon died
how the music made him happy
and the silence made him cry
Yea he thinks of John sometimes
and he has to wonder why
== Chorus ==
He's an old hippie
and he don't know what to do
should hang on to the old
should he grab on to the new
he's an old hippie
his new life is just a bust
he ain't trying to change nobody
he just trying real hard to adjust
I'll call him Mack, although the name doesn't seem to fit him. A more thoughtful moniker would be more apropos. But to keep things simple and confidential, Mack it shall be.
Talking with Mack would have made me take up blogging, even if I wasn't already doing it. He has a very reflective manner about him. Carrying on an intelligent conversation with him brings one to the point of self-reflection. My assignment was to interview Mack, but I took more away from the conversation than I ever imagined I would have.
Mack is the product of an abusive home. Things weren't good when his dad was home, so he started spending a lot of time in the woods beyond his backyard while growing up. He felt a real connection with God's creation, although I'm not sure Mack ever understood the "God" part of nature. The woods was his refuge and his comfort zone. He said that Show and Tell was always his best subject at school because he would bring in all of the cool things he'd find in the woods.
After struggling to pay for two years of college, Mack was offered a full-ride scholarship -- in drama. His mom had pushed him into the arts every chance she had, and Mack was pretty good at it. It wasn't his first love. Nature and the Great Outdoors still held that rank. But being offered a free education, Mack took it. After graduation he was moderately successful as a professional actor -- even doing some TV and movie work. But something wasn't right.
Somehow Mack found his way back to nature. He taught himself how to start a fire with sticks of wood and how to dress hides. He told me he's still trying to get back all the knowledge he had as a 4th grader. But he's a wealth of knowledge, and he's trying to pass it on to a world who doesn't seem to be interested in learning it.
He's turned to teaching about nature in a historical setting. Schools will bring him in to teach how Native Americans used to do things. But as Mack says, "It's not just Native Americans, it's how all of our ancestors used to do things." The old ways mean something to Mack. But in a world of Blackberries, pet spas and gated communities, nobody wants to listen.
I found Mack to be a very private person -- which made interviewing him rather tricky. He doesn't brag about having worked in the entertainment industry. People have known him for years without the slightest inkling of a show business background. He is also the direct opposite of materialistic. He admitted that he's a failure as a businessman, but that it really doesn't matter to him. He's not in it for the money.
Maybe it's that lack of greed in Mack that makes him stand out from the crowd. Perhaps it's the sad intensity that comes across as he recounts the road he's travelled. Whatever it is, Mack seems very genuine.
He's not a religious man, he told me. He had it and lost it, returned to it, then lost it again. But he calls himself "very spiritual" and I believe that. As a Christian, I saw in him what I would like to see in other Christians and even in myself -- only with a clearer understanding of the Divine. But it wasn't my job to hand him a Chick Tract or even engage in apologetic debate. It was my turn to listen and to learn from Mack's experience and wonder how he missed God in the process.
Mack is a little paranoid. He's into preparedness. You know, the "What do you do if..." kinda stuff. And I'd sure love to have him around if my county was nuked and I was trying to figure out how to build a shelter and cook whatever was lying around. But all the preparedness brings him back to his "home" -- the outdoors. Nature.
For three weeks in the summertime, Mack has the time of his life. He takes small groups of kids with troubled backgrounds and teaches them about what he loves. While no one else around will listen, these kids connect with him. Mack looks into the eyes of an eleven year-old boy with a horrible home life, and the two connect in a way nobody else can even understand. Without even giving details, the two understand. Mack says he sees hope in kids' eyes. He shows youth that there is more to this life than the trouble that kid has at home. I saw the end of one of those sessions today. He really reaches kids.
The preacher in me sees evangelism methods in the way Mack reaches the lost. Mack sees it as reaching the ones whom society has given up on and who may well have given up on themselves. Mack gives them earthly hope, not eternal hope. But somehow the hope he gives is strangely similar to the realization that we are loved by God.
Mack said that he is into what is real, not what is unreal. To him, that means that the falseness of materialism and greed and fame and glamour isn't worth the time we devote to it. What Mack calls real is nature. The stuff that has been there for years and years and will be around for years and years after we've gone. Although he's not coming from a Christian perspective, the Church -- and by that I mean all Christians -- should be a little closer to Mack's point of view. Is a worship service only to be held in a building with padded seats and air-conditioning? As I sat on a bench beneath some shady trees on a summer day, speaking with a man with little regard for Christianity... I could sense God's presence. I could picture Jesus laughing with drunks and hookers. I could hear Him telling the Twelve, "How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom." I could imagine a choir of Jewish children singing,
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"
I sometimes feel that I spend a lot of time teaching people who do not care to learn and talking to people who do not care to listen. Mack feels that way too. Kindred spirits, we are. He, a old hippie-looking naturalist in the midst of an unnatural culture. I, a struggling God-pleaser in the midst of self-pleasing culture.