Thursday, January 13, 2011

The myth of happiness

I've been visiting friends in Thailand for the last month, which is why I haven't posted in a while. About a week ago I visited some friends down on the coast and we went to a blues bar in the "tourist" section of Patia (one of the notorious areas of Thailand). Walking through the streets was like being an extra in some strange movie that combined Blade Runner, Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, Vegas neon, and a bunch of Russians... kinda surreal. It was such a twisted overload that it lacked the ability to entice. If I see an attractive woman on the beach my imagination and hormones can be played with, toss in a few thousand Eurotrash drunks and whore chasers, some decidedly scary tranies, some midgets, a few epic cases of plastic surgery fail that would make Michael Jackson proud, and the open businesslike attitude to buying and selling flesh, and your imagination is refused room to operate... the ugliness of the destination is revealed.

As we sat in the bar and watched the band play I was struck by so many Ironies. The band, and specifically the guitar player, was legit. They were skilled, practiced, artists, who loved what they did, and they made me smile; yet they were playing in a town dedicated to throw away cheep emotions, experiences, and people. Most of the clientele, aside from my pastor friend, his wife, and myself, were middle aged white guys who were on "dates" with young Thai women. No doubt, these dates were arranged in strip clubs and "special purpose" bars with the full knowledge of large muscular people. The guys often looked a little out of place, uncomfortable, even a bit embarrassed to be doing what everyone knew they were doing, yet it was obvious that it wasn't just about sex, at least not for them. They could have stayed in the pealer bars and whore houses protected by the anonymity of their fellow company, but they didn't, they took their purchased girlfriend out on dates, they had conversations, listened to good music, went to restaurants, etc. In other words, they tried to create the thing they truly wanted... relationship. They were creating their own myth.

It was hard to judge these guys, I didn't look down on them, I just felt sad for them (the girlfriends and their employers are part of an entirely different yet not totally disconnected reality). these guys were reaching out for what they could get, they weren't just feeding their lust, they were trying to find a moment of happiness. In a twisted, tragic, and fake environment they were trying to create something normal, something they had probably given up trying to find in the lives they came from.

In places like Patia there are victims and predators, the thing is they are almost always the same people. Everyone is a thief and a starving glutton. The girl from the hills whose family sold here to her pimps when she was 14, is the same person who entices the flush Englishman, so broken from his divorce he will try to find a moment of calm and intimacy in the arms of someone with a willing smile, someone who hides more brokenness and pain than he. The happiness they seek is a myth in the truest sense. It doesn't actually exist in the form they try to create, but the form trying to be recreated does in fact exist, and we all know it. Places like Patia are tragic in the deepest sense, not because they are built on a lie, but because they are built on a truth, a truth that has been twisted and deformed, but a truth none the less. It is the hint of this truth, this healthy desire and need, that gives the depravity of Patia its appeal. If it was just about the physical, if we didn't care about relationship and intimacy, we would all just masturbate and the Patia we know wouldn't exist.

Patia is easy to see when you are in Patia, its brokenness can even scare you, but Patia is much harder to see in San Diego, Mukono, Minnesota, Georga,and England. The thing is, it's there too. It is camouflaged and hidden so it's much less scary, but it twists and distorts the truth in all the same ways and it depends on our healthy desires to survive. It creates new stories and new myths, it tells us that beauty, sex, and money 'are' happiness, rather than the truth that they 'lend' to it but don't create it. It convinces us to buy and sell what no one can afford to sell or purchase, Patia is the pawnbroker of our souls and it destroys or spirits for the whiff of a dream built on a lie that twists a truth. What we need to do is find the truth that the myths are built on, the one Lewis spoke of and was always trying to tell. The question shouldn't be 'Where can we find intimacy, comfort, and happiness?', but rather, 'What is the intimacy, comfort, and happiness we desire?' If we stop listening to everyone else for a moment, look to the part of the myth we truly love, we might be able to figure it out.