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The Gatekeeper

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul reveals the shocking, electrifying secret of his increasingly intimate friendships with two beautiful women who are both 40 or more years younger than him.

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THE CRITICS RAVE! “Plasma! Help! I need plasma! I’ve been shot! I’ve been hit by Paul Sunstone’s ‘The Gatekeeper’.  And not in a good way.  Not even close to being shot in a good way.”  — Arun Ghani, India’s Blogs and Beyond, “The Herald and News”, Hyderabad, India.

THE CRITICS GO WILD! “Reading ‘The Gatekeeper’ is like being helplessly strapped into a chair on the bridge of the Federation Star Ship Enterprise as she warps straight into the soul-sucking black hole at the very galactic core of all that is evil in blogging today.”  —  Merriweather Sterling, Blogs of the Day, “The Daily Burtie”, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, UK.

THE CRITICS SWOON! “An appalling read. Watching Paul Sunstone try to describe his way through his relationship with Terese and Marysa reminded me of back in ’98 when the two mile long Southern Pacific out of Canyon City jumped tracks at Royal Gorge Bridge and plunged 1000 feet into the Arkansas River. Took 37 minutes for the last car to hit the water. Plenty of time for all of us to get popcorn.  Popcorn was the only way to endure the horror of witnessing it all. ‘The Gatekeeper’, starts out just as horrifying as the Royal Gorge Derailment of ’98.  Then it gets worse.  So much worse than the Derailment of ’98.  Paul Sunstone has gone beyond anything imaginable.  He has gone beyond even the power of popcorn to ameliorate the horror of his vision for ‘improving’ the lives of two innocent and unsuspecting young women.” — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

(About a 23 minute read)

“All proselytizing is a form of condemnation”  —  Sha’Tara.

I. Stranger, tell me now for I must know, What is the most righteous and holy way to corrupt and ruin the youth?

The very best jokes — much like the very best humans — have at least enough truth in them to make them timeless.  Worth retelling even when they become familiar quotes and grow old.  Case in point:

“There are three kinds of men.  The ones that learn by readin’.  The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” — Will Rogers.

On a bit darker note, some jokes are the junk food version of the above.  They have a wee bit of truth in them, but not nearly enough to be considered timeless.  Worse, they are mostly false. Pretty much in the same way potato chips contain a wee bit of nutrition, but are mostly fats and carbs.

When first Terese, and later Marysa, suddenly pounced themselves on my life from out of nowhere, I felt faintly like I imagine a deer must feel being pounced on by a mountain lion — or perhaps two mountain lions.   You don’t give up, you feel you still have a chance of survival, but the situation greatly inclines you towards becoming alarmed.

You see, I am somewhat accustomed to being pounced on by lions.  But almost never two at once.  In the 20 or so years I’ve been something akin to a choice target of lions, getting pounced on by two lions at once has happened perhaps only a half dozen times.

In my aloof and hidden panic, I began joking to them that I was their almost godly mentor.  But the joke didn’t seem anywhere near to being timeless to me.  Rather telling the joke always unsettled me a bit — even after repeated tellings.  Unsettled my stomach, so to speak, like junk food.

The essential challenge to me was this:  What kind of relationship should I shoot for with the lions after we had finished exchanging the formalities of predators and prey introducing themselves to each other?  Assuming, of course, that I even survived the ancient and honored formalities?

I don’t think the mentoring role can be wholly avoided.  Not given the profound, but often masked, curiosity of youth, and the equally profound — but only thinly masked, if at all — fact that I am a born to teach.  Teaching comes naturally to me.   The instinct to teach, that is, but not the skills. I would have ended up an university professor, perhaps, had not some random events screwed that one up.

Given their curiosity and my instinct, you might thing a mentoring relationship would be an easy thing to fall into here.  But “mentoring” has a flaw to it.  A flaw that I find repugnant and ugly.

There is far, far too much superior/inferior poison in most mentoring relationships.  At least to my tastes.

I’m not speaking lightly here. Almost any kind of ranking of humans is at its golden best a necessary evil to me.  Ranking violates my notion of the ideal human.  It’s a direct, full frontal, mechanized assault on what I see as both the ideal human and the platform from which we best launch ourselves at achieving any real meaning, purpose, and passion in life.

“Screw ranks! Screw mentoring the two young women!”  That’s what I would love to shout. There is far too much proselytizing in mentoring people.  Far too much subtle but implicit condemnation of the mentee who does not accept and embrace the alleged master’s necessarily myopic views. Far too much ranking in the mentor/mentee relationship.

Unfortunately, there’s that curiosity/instinct thingie.  The thingie that must be taken into account here, too.

The curious thing about humans is that we seem to have a born instinct to respect our elders.  Yes, I know elders timelessly complain that the youth don’t respect them, but that just goes to show the complexity of the respect relationship – – rather than it’s non-existence.

In truth, the kids these days do, most of them, respect their elders.  In their own way — admittedly an insufferable way — most kids respect their elders.

In truth, that’s why so many kids these days are confused, messed up, and headed for cliffs.

In truth, ours is an age of junk food and junk truths both.  And too many elders are too careless or too lazy  or too themselves confused to tell kids more than than junk truths about life.  Too careless, lazy, or confused to give them anything better than junk maps to guide them the rest of their days.

That’s the truth as I see it.  I might be right.  I might be wrong.

I might be right.  I might be wrong.  But I would be dishonest to say that is not the truth as I see it.  I would be a liar to say that’s not what I believe to be true.

I believe if you can teach a young man or woman that they should seek in life to be authentic to the truths they themselves cannot doubt are true — if you can get that much across to them, you can be permitted to die with a smile on your face.  Maybe not a grin, but permitted to die with a smile.

But almost no young people — nor anyone else — is able to hear those words and then learn from them how to be true to the truth as they see it.  Those words are deceptive.  Deceptively simple looking.

In truth saying “be authentic to the truths you see” is like saying, “The goal of tennis is to get the ball over the net”.  No one who merely learns to ape the words is likely to get a real ball over a real net with the necessary consistency to win a game.  Almost always, a bit of coaching is required to truly learn how to be authentic to the truths you see.

II.  Stranger, tell me now for I must know, be there any annoying camel/lions that prey upon the weak and the infirm in the vicinity of your proud and arrogant city?

The days when I took in just about anyone — saint or sinner — who knocked on my door are long gone now.   I’m picky now about who I answer the door for.  With both old and young, I’m picky now.  I’ve become a royal dick about it.

I want my old folks to be more or less authentic to themselves.  I want them to be modest in the most important (to me) sense of that word — unpretentious, down to earth.  And I want them to be mostly true to themselves.  They can be grouches about it.  They can be irritable old grouches.  They can even be very different from me in views and opinions. They can even be disagreeing, irritable old grouches — and some of them are — but I want my older friends modest and true to themselves.

There is a beauty in authenticity.  Even disagreeing, irritable old grouches can radiate that beauty when they are being authentic to themselves.

I’m different with young folks.  I am reconciled to the fact there are key, important ways in which almost all young people are more false to themselves than true, and that to weed them out on that grounds would be unfair.

It would be unfair because those are the years of our lives when we are all but required to be untrue to ourselves if we’re going to learn things in any thorough way. For there is a sense in which you must believe something is true in order to thoroughly understand it.  Only fairly well educated people have been taught how to achieve deep understanding of something without first judging it true.

In the “growing  years” we must naturally be what Nietzsche called “camels”.  We must be willing to take upon our backs any burden.  But the adolescent and early adult years are different than childhood.  They are transitional years.  In Nietzsche’s terms, they are years in which the camel is fading away to be replaced by the lion.

The lion is that ferocious spirit in the adolescent and young adult person that naturally preys on — that naturally senses out and attacks — any and everything in the world it deems false and untrue.

It is the lion that manifests itself as the eternal battle cry of adolescence and young adulthood.  “Hypocrisy!”  Hypocrisy above all else, but also, “Lies!”, and even sometimes, “Treason!”.  The natural lens through which adolescents and young adults so often see the world.

“Hypocrite! Liar! Traitor!  You are lying to me, you motherfucker!  I hate you.  I am never going to be like you!”

Old people forget their own youth, see the lion bounding towards them, and scream in fright, “Today’s youth have no respect for their elders!”  But that is far from the truth in my experience. The Eternal Youth even today disrespects only those elders he or she deems false and untrue.  The lion preys for the most part only on the weak and the infirm.

Youth is that curious hybrid the camel/lion.  The camel wanes and the lion waxes in strength over the course of our youth, but for the duration of our youth we are freaks.  We are camel/lions.  No wonder just about every young person secretly feels he or she is some kind of misfit.

When a youth knocks at my door, I admit him or her.  I admit to one degree or another most youths who knock at my door.

It’s my fatal flaw.  My personal tragedy at work  The Eternal Fool in me.  I was born to try to teach someone — just about anyone — something — just about anything.  It is my instinct to open the door in the forlorn hope that the stranger knocking on it is honestly curious and open to understanding the world as seen through the lens of one of the fools they will meet in life.

I am fully aware that I cannot be perfectly confident I am teaching them the truth about anything.  I am acutely aware of that, and I am just as acutely aware that I have a duty to both them and to myself to teach them only the truths that I cannot doubt are true. The truths that I myself really believe are true .  That is the best I can do.  The very best.

It is up to youth to figure out whether or not anything I teach them is true for me is also true for them.

That’s the deal the deer makes with the lions.  “Don’t eat me and I will teach you the world as I see it.  You will have then the food of an honest teacher.  But do not be fool enough to leave it in your bellies undigested, for then it can become poisonous.   It is your duty to yourself to digest it.

“If you are fool enough to let me see you leaving food undigested in your belly, you will empower my magical ability to escape from the claws and teeth even of lions.  I will ruthlessly escape any claws, any teeth, any friendship, or even any affection,  if I see you not obeying your duty to yourself, for the sight of undigested food in the belly of lions discourages me, disheartens me, just as much as it does any other honest and true person.”

You cannot in fairness demand that youth be as true to themselves as you can in fairness demand that age be true, but you can in fairness demand that youth be true to the truth as they see it.

You can demand that the annoying and obnoxious lions be true to themselves in one way, and one way only — that they be true to the truth as they have the power to see the truth.  That they pursue that which they cannot personally doubt.

If they fail at that one core and essential task — that one truly sacred task of youth — then it becomes your sorrowful duty both to yourself and to them to leave. At least leave them in your capacity as a mentor. You might still wish to stay with them as a friend.  But there is nothing you can really teach someone if they do not digest what you try to teach them.

III. Stranger, tell me now for I must know, which are the laws, sacred customs, and gods of your land that I must violate and profane in order to do that which is righteous and good by the two annoying camel/lions who now threaten to eat me?

In terms of Star Wars, both Marysa and Terese are Luke Skywalker.  Luke just as he is starting out.  Luke before Luke even suspects he’s begun his adventure — perhaps the biggest adventure of his life.

Star Wars is profoundly based on the scholarship and views of the mythologist Joseph Campbell.  In Campbell’s language, Terese and Marysa are the heroes of their stories. The stories that in old age each one of them might come to see in enough perspective to recognize as among the most important stories of their lives.

If they are lucky, Marysa and Terese will both be as brave as Luke Skywalker, for they will need to be brave to accept the challenge that now faces them.  The same challenge that faces everyone around their ages.  Dickens timelessly begins David Copperfield with the core, central,  and eternal question of human nature:  “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

It’s a real question.  Very much still up in the air with both women.  Neither one has decided yet whether they will accept the adventure now offered them,  or whether they will try to stay home all their lives.

Home looks safe.  Home still looks safe.  But the days when home — when being purely a camel — really was safe are long gone now for both Marysa and Terese.  Neither young woman has fully grasped that fact yet. But home is no longer safe.

If the two are like most of the people I myself know nowadays,  they will try to stay home. They will make nearly every effort to stay home.  That will be their decision if they are average, normal, ordinary young people these days.  Or any people, of any age, that I myself have come across.

If one, the other, or both of them decide to stay home, I will most likely still remain friends with them.  Both women have a lot going for them as friends.  Kindness, intelligence, wit, etc.  What’s not to love about them?   Stay home, leave home that’s their decision, not mine to make, nor even to judge.

Whatever decisions Terese or Marysa make, it will not be my right, nor my place, to sit on a high bench in arrogant judgment of them.

But I’m 62.  I don’t know enough about life, but I certainly know what happens to the majority of people — the homebodies.  It’s hard to miss what happens to them by the time you get to be my age.  They turn into what would have been Oscar Wilde’s definition of a zombie — had zombies been invented by his time.  “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” They still walk through life, these homebodies, but in some key way or ways, they are the walking dead of the world.

As Bob Dylan sang, they go through their lives, “busy dying”.

Here’s what I have seen:  Homebody after homebody complaining their life lacks meaning, importance, significance to anyone, even to themselves.  Homebody after homebody complaining at every age,  28, 36, 42 — complaining at every post-pubic age that life is too dull and too boring, that they wanted more, that they expected more, and that they didn’t get what they had expected, what they had hoped for in life.

Here’s what I have seen:  Homebody after homebody complaining their friends are untrue, that they didn’t find love, or that they found it only to lose it, that they have no passions in life, that they don’t know what to do about it but sit on their couches, eat chips, drink fructose. watch their screens, and grow obese until death do them apart.  Until in death, they are at last released from their usually understated misery.  Released from their lives of quiet desperation.

That in a nutshell is the fate of at least two thirds of us, according to my best guess.  The fate that — to the best I can — I have described here without any obscuring smoke.  Without any of the normal, polite, comforting, obscuring smoke.

People for the past 20 or more years have been complaining to me that’s how they really feel about their lives.  For 20 or more years, I have been an ear to more people than I can count.  What I have just told you is a summary of what at least two thirds of them tell me is life to them.

It is currently up to Terese and Marysa to decide for themselves whether that will be their fate too.  Both think I have come into their lives as a friend.  And that is true.  I have indeed come into their lives as a friend.  But a friend with a portfolio. I am in Joseph Campbell’s terms “The Gatekeeper”.

The Gatekeeper figure, the “Keeper of the Key”,  is the person who shows the young hero the door they must open to properly begin their adventure.  Without the Gatekeeper, the hero is unlikely to find the proper door.  Or the road, path, etc.  In Star Wars, I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, nominally Luke’s mentor.

If either Terese or Marysa are brave enough to want to become the heroes of their own lives, I will for a short while loom large and crucially important in their lives in the role of the Gatekeeper.  Otherwise, I will just do my best to be a good friend to them.

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, ever since the role was more or less dumped in my lap by a fateful decision I made to pick from three coffee shops near to where I lived the one that served the cheapest cup of coffee.

My effort to save a few cents off the price of a cup of coffee was in some ways a life changing decision.  The shop I picked to save about 12 cents a cup was the shop favored by the more misfitted students of Palmer High School, which was located just a block away. The kids who didn’t fit in with all the rest. Whose lives up until then had left them a little stir crazy, a little hungry for something better.

My first 200 friends and acquaintances in Colorado Springs were almost all of them high school students met at the coffee shop with the cheapest cup.  I at no point made a conscious decision to start playing confident, advisor, and mentor to young people — and to now and then playing Gatekeeper.  It’s a role half assigned to me by them, half instinctively fallen into by me.

I’ve been at it at least 20 years.  I’ve learned in 20 years a lot about how to go about both jobs.  Mentor and Gatekeeper.  I’m more or less average as a mentor.  But as a Gatekeeper, I excel.

In my eyes, Terese and Marysa have a decision to make.  In their cases, refusing to make the decision is as good as deciding the issue in the negative.  They will make the decision sooner or later, one way or another.  They cannot escape it.

If they chose the road of life’s true greatest adventure, the Glory Road, then I will emerge as their guide to where the road begins.  I will emerge as the one who points to them the door they themselves must now pass through to properly begin their adventure. I will offer them the key to their door.

But to place their feet upon the road, to pass through the door, is not a decision I have any right to make for them.  My furthest, most far reaching right at most is to no more than merely inform them of the most likely consequences of the two options, the only options, they truly have.  The real choice, the fateful choice is theirs to make, and only theirs to make.

D. H. Lawrence somewhere wrote that the most genuine, most real, most urgent duty of youth is — not to seek to be better lions — but to seek out what he called, “The Unexpected Door”.  The Unexpected Door that few people, and fewer youths, even suspect exists, but that any human who wants to live passionately, fully, and meaningfully needs to find and to pass though.

Many people find that door on their own.  Many in number, but relatively few in the larger accounting of things.  Without someone in our lives taking on the role of Gatekeeper for us, most of us can only trust to chance or instinct we will find the door.

Most Gatekeepers are more or less blind to what they are doing.  I am one who is not blind to the role I have played before in a relative few people’s lives, and might possibly play once again, this time in Terese’s and Marysa’s lives.  Now and then some person or another has even congratulated me for the role I nowadays play sighted, but that I began playing blindly more or less 20 years ago.

No one truly decides on the conscious level to become the hero of their own lives.  Any merely conscious decision is likely to be a fake decision, a fool’s decision.  A decision that will evaporate like water in a desert over a relatively brief time.

The true decision is always made out of our conscious sight in the much deeper reaches of our minds.  Consciously, Terese and Marysa can only become of aware of their decisions once their decisions have been made. That could take a day, or that could take a year or more.  Nothing can be done to rush it.

At the moment, neither one of them is quite fully aware that they will soon be making the most fateful decision a human can make. Whether to be true to themselves and authentic — or whether to live as someone else.  Whether to live passionately or to live as a ghost of themselves with ghostly passions, ghostly purposes, ghostly lives, and even  ghostly loves.

Yet, despite all the weighty consequences of their decision, my potential role is a minor one. Insignificant when compared to the people who at the end of their lives they might look back and deem of genuine and true importance to them.  No notable poets sing of Gatekeepers, no wealthy producers fund films of Gatekeepers, no famous directors dream of filming stories of Gatekeepers, no great authors write world class literature of Gatekeepers. The role is too minor, too insignificant when compared to all the other people one will meet and know.

The best I can guess is to say the odds might be as good as 50/50 that Terese, Marysa, or both will need my brief services. I base my guess on my experiences of the many people who came before them, and not all of them youths. Whatever Marysa or Terese decide, I will not judge them for it.  It’s not my right to do that, but I wouldn’t do it even if I had the right to judge.

In Sky Wars, I am Obi-Wan Kenobi.  In Lord of the Rings, I am Gandalf.  In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I am The Gatekeeper.  And I am waiting.  Waiting now to hear the news of two heroes, who I hope are both brave and beautiful, and of their fateful decisions. Waiting now to hear their news.

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