They expect a certain image, a certain look or feel with my presence. They want me to look like I have it all together, that everything is going to be okay not matter how bad it has gotten. They may not know that my Instagram pics are staged and cleverly selected to promote this expected image of well-being. But they don’t want to know anything different, so they don’t ask any questions. No one wants to look behind the curtain, not when it comes to my job.
They want the smile, so I give them the smile. They want me to laugh at the proper times, to say the familiar and cozy things that give them reassurance, a sense of feeling at home. They have come to expect those old stories I’ve told a thousand times before, so I fake enthusiasm as I speak them again.
My outward demeanor mocks my internal struggle, but it doesn’t matter what is on the inside. What matters is the external: what they see, what they hear, that is all that matters. So, like an actor on a stage, I press it down and lift my head high and step out again before the crowd to perform.
What they want are the words, those precious words that they’ve come to hear. Does it matter if I’m unsure when I speak them? Does it matter if I even believe them at all? If they knew where my mind was, would they still come? Would they still want to hear me speak the words?
Look, I’m not a fool. I know that it isn’t me they care about or have come to see. That is exactly as it should be. That is part and parcel to this gig. If I had wanted fame and celebrity, I should have pursued a different vocation. No, what they care about is what I say. And if I give the smile and say the rights jokes, it only makes it that much easier to hear what I say. I am just doing my job, and the last bit of pride is that I do it well.
I secretly think that perhaps our modern technology will spare us all the hypocrisy. My job might be better served by some sort of synthetic algorithm, a modern artificially intelligent marvel that will ensure the right word is spoken at the right time for the right circumstance. Mathematical precision will replace human arrogance and hesitation and doubt. We’ve got thousands of years of data to feed the system. Someone will figure it out sooner or later.
I suppose we get a taste of it these days. The local man in my position is often compared to the one on TV or heard on the radio or live streamed over the internet. Surely their words are just as good, just as profound, just as inspiring, if not more so, than my own. I wonder who they listen to. More, I wonder, if it even matters. I wonder why I’m even doing this anymore.
A crisis mounts behind closed doors and my existence, or at least purpose in this moment, seems arbitrary at best. I don’t know if there is any way to fix it, any way to remedy the situation. It simply is what it is. I’ve grown weary and tired. My heart hurts from loss and betrayal. But none if that matters. Like it or not, Sunday morning is coming. And I will be called upon once again.
Of course, I already know what I will do. I’ll do what I must do. What I am obligated to do. What I’ve been trained to do. What I’m called to do. I will rise to speak the words. I will perform one more time in hopes that just one of those words might travel from my own lips to my own ears.
But I’m beginning to fear that it may not work this way.