Take A Number

652. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

“A person without a story does not exist.” Shekhar Kapur

Recently, I had to deliver a tax document to the IRS building downtown. Over a year ago I received a letter saying, “Congratulations, you’ve been randomly selected for a special educational audit….” I turns out that it was not a helpful educational audit in store for me but a year of medieval torture. My personal IRS agent has been trying to break me on the wheel. He is new to his job and has something to prove. His investigation is proving fruitless – which has only served to drive him into an income tax fervor, a numbers induced fanaticism – he’s redoubled his efforts, turning over figures, dumping columns, reaching back into my infancy to find anything to justify his time. And through it all I have, despite the stated intention of the audit, remained fairly uneducated and am now distinctly ungrateful for my random selection.

Luckily for me I have an accountant with a sense of humor. She represented me in all of his demands so I’d not met my inquisitor. She told me, “I’ve been doing this for a long time but never met anyone so singly dedicated to a lost cause.” And then she said, “He’s just cold. I think he’s angry about his life and is taking it out on you.” After 12 months – a full year of rooting through my documents, issuing threats, fines, fines revoked, re-requests, forms and re-forms 1120s, 4828, 2848, 6525a, I decided it was time to meet him. He sent a letter demanding that I deliver an original document, the scan that he initially requested was not good enough so he wanted the original and gave me 24 hours to comply (he sent his request via US Mail and I received it 4 days after his deadline). His request for the original was my opportunity to meet this very cold man.

When I first passed through the metal detectors a security guard told me to start my quest on the 34th floor. Exiting the elevator I came to a desk with a “take a number” machine. No human was in sight so I took a number. I realized at that moment that I’d left normal reality and was in Dante’s Inferno. This was the first level of hell. My number flashed on a screen and I was directed to find cubicle 8. Walking down a row of empty cubicles (there were rows of empty cubicles) I came at last to a person imprisoned behind a glass partition. She would not look at me and instructed me to go to the 16th floor. I was descending to the next level. Where was my Virgil?

On the 16th floor, although there were long corridors, I found 3 wall phones next to a locked door. There were no signs. There was not another human. Picking up a phone a person came on the line, listened to my quest and advised me to pick up another phone. My second choice of phone proved no different so I finally found a person through phone number 3 who told me to go to the 24th floor. (note: I am not making this up). On the 24th floor I found an identical set of phones and a single locked door. I looked around to see if I was on Candid Camera; how could I be sure that I’d traveled to another floor? What if this was Ellen DeGeneres’s idea of a joke and I was on live TV and the studio audience was howling at my incredulity? Or, perhaps I’d been hit by a bus and died and this was my version of Sisyphus. It only took two phones to find my tax man. A monotone voice told me that he’d be out in a moment. I made sure there was no food in my teeth – just in case Ellen came around the corner to say, “Isn’t this funny?”

My special agent came timidly out the door. He was very young – someone’s little brother, a son. He was not yet a man and he was shaking. I suddenly realized that he was afraid of me, afraid that I’d yell at him or perhaps hurt him. I knew in that moment that he knew that his audit was unreasonable and mean-spirited. He’d hoped that he’d never have to meet me. The moment was awful for him; filled with shame. I was seeing the Oz behind the curtain and he hated having to reveal himself. He was playing a power-over game with me because he had no real power in his life. I saw it and so did he. I held out my hand and said quietly that I thought it was time that I met him and handed him the original document. As Ann Quinn taught me, I killed him with kindness. Like his counterpart in the cubicle on floor 34, he was unable to look at me. He took the piece of paper and, visibly relieved, he disappeared again behind the door. “I am not in hell,” I thought, “…this man is. This man must come here everyday.”

As I left the building, returning to the land of light and humanity, I felt sick at the system that requires a young man to be a bully in order to feel powerful. His shame was palpable and I am certain I will be hammered because I saw his truth. As a nation we are asking ourselves serious questions about what caused such a horrific act of violence at an elementary school. We look for causes instead of the daily rituals that leave a soul so empty and frustrated that he must flame out of existence and take others with him as the only act of meaning that he can imagine. It is a failure of imagination; life in an empty story. Our rituals have descended to the level of collecting stuff and there is no substance or support to be found there. The daily rituals of our lives are meant to open us to the greater identification with deep meaning and sacred connectivity – with each other and our world. Our daily rituals are meant to bring us to the recognition of the enormity of being alive. I turned back and looked at this building and mourned for the people that must take their hearts from their bodies to go to work everyday; we are a tribe that only pretends to have a story. My heart broke for the young tax man who so early in life has made the choice to not exist.

4 Responses

  1. I truly wanted your story to be an Ellen prank…since it is not…I am praying light and love to that building, wherever it is, that the humans inside can create a story for themselves that brings JOY to them…so shall it be.

  2. I like what you have said here about ritual. I hope you say more. Seems to me rituals/practices are at the heart of living your story.

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