The Going Up Was Worth The Coming Down (5026)

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans,
Wearing yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile.
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams,
Which he spent like they was going out of style,
And he keeps right on a’changing for the better or the worse,
Searching for a shrine he’s never found,
Never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse,
Or if the going up was worth the coming down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker,
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher,
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today.
Running from his devils, Lord, and reaching for the stars,
And losing all he’s loved along the way.
But if this world keeps right on turning for the better or the worse,
And all he ever gets is older and around,
From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse,
The going up was worth the comin’ down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker,
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher,
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

The lyrics are by Kris Kristofferson. The song is “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.” It appeared on his second album released in 1971, “The Silver Tongued Devil and I.” The man can write. This song has so many great lines it’s tough to single in on any one of them. You know me, few things captivate me like a great lyric and this song could supply at least half a dozen episodes.

Many people have experienced it. Both the going up and the coming down.

Sometimes I get on a biography roll. Reading them. Watching them on TV. A week or so ago while doing some writing and other computer work I decided to stay tuned to the NFL Network and watch a series of episodes of A Football Life. It featured coaches. Mike Ditka. Mike Holmgren. Marty Schottenheimer. Don Shula. Jimmy Johnson. Bill Cowher. And more. It was a nice biography marathon.

Great football coaches. Different each and every one. Some won more than others. But Mike Ditka, perhaps the fiercest of them all – certainly the biggest bull in the china closet – used Kristofferson’s line at the end of his episode, “The going up was worth the comin’ down.”

I was in my early teens when I first heard Kristofferson. We mostly knew him for the song made famous by Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee.” He was flying helicopters in southern Louisiana for an off-shore oil company when he wrote it. For some reason, I remember that. I likely read it in Rolling Stone. And likely remember it because I was living in Louisiana.

Even as a kid I was a sucker for a good line. Kristofferson could write great lines. Not surprising since he was a Rhode scholar at Oxford and proficient in the English language. He had 2 of the 3 skills I most admire: language and music. Art, specifically cartooning, is the 3rd. For all I know Kris is a great closet cartoonist. Wouldn’t that be something? 😉

Going up. Coming down.

Of course, going up is worth coming down – assuming you survive the coming down. Velocity will determine that. If you come down fast enough, you’ll hit hard enough…it’ll kill ya! Worth it? Well, it depends.

It depends on how high you went and how old you are when you come down. Ideally, you go very high, stay there for years, and toward the end of your natural life – say somewhere around 100 – you crash and burn. Totally worth it!

But if you go up to step ladder height and you’re not yet a teenager, but you fall and hit your head, killing yourself (or worse)…so NOT worth it. But I doubt Kris was scrutinizing the line so much. Many good lines can be ruined by over examination. Just take ’em as they come and don’t rob them of their glory.

Up. Down.

Ebb. Flow.

Plus. Minus.

On. Off.

Good. Bad.

Happy. Sad.

Life is made up of contrasting experiences and emotions. Life isn’t a hi-light reel. Or a brilliant Instagram moment. It’s a lot of defeat, angst, and wrestling with what to do. The going up is fueled because we’re tired of being down!

Coming down is the price paid for climbing up. We all know that going up won’t result in a permanent condition, but still we give it all we’ve got because the time spent there is worth it.

Like all forms of entropy, coming down can be a permanent condition. Well, there’s always new lows to achieve I suppose, but defeat can absolutely be a lifelong obsession if we allow it.

When people we love lose their way whether it’s physical sickness, mental illness, addiction or any number of other maladies that can ruin us…we often make a wishful declaration about their need to hit rock bottom.

“I hope they hit rock bottom and realize what they need to change before it’s too late.”

Rock bottom is that proverbial place that can help us see more clearly. It’s only proverbial in the sense that we have a hard time quantifying it, but we know it when we see it. It’s a real place with an improper description. Rock bottom implies it’s as low as a person can go, but mostly we realize there’s always a new lower level to which one can sink. Ruin and despair have no bottom.

But elation and success have no limit either. How high is high enough? Nobody knows because nobody ever arrived. The capacity for human improvement is never fully realized. Measure it any way you choose and the best you’ll be able to do is to compare it to somebody else. What a flimsy way to measure it. Your current state may best mine, but that offers little insights on what either of us is capable of. What’s possible for you may be impossible for me. And vice versa. In the end, how you stack up to me, or anybody else is of no consequence.

Then why do we spend so much time examining the going up and the going down of other people?

Because the comparisons help us feel better about ourselves. Or worse. Sometimes we enjoy feeling worse. Sometimes we don’t.

The irony of ironies is that most of our comparisons are to people we don’t really know or care about. That Instagram influencer. That book author. That keynote speaker. That CEO. That YouTube star.

It’s the people on the list. Any list.

The top 1000 influencers.

The top 30 under 30. The top 40 under 40.

The Fortune 100. The Fortune 500.

Guruism. Hero worship. It’s likely more envy than worship for many.

We’re down compared to their up. There goes optimism. Enter all the negative emotions of feeling like we’re doing something wrong. The whole world is on some exotic vacation while I’m struggling to make the car payment each month. It’s the reality we see.

Completely fake, but it’s still the story we tell ourselves. The view we think accurately depicts how pathetic we truly are. Nevermind that REM is still singing the anthem to the universe, “Everybody hurts…sometimes.”

So we see the coming down. Maybe even cheering it along when it happens. That whole build them up so we can knock them down thing we seem to enjoy as a sport.

We’re not in the news so there’s that! Thankful we’re not in their shoes. Never mind that we still owe $87 on our credit card for these shoes, but those idiots could be headed to prison. Whew! Our life isn’t so bad after all.

All the conflicting thoughts and ideas we hold – at the same time – is fascinating. Envious of the rich and famous. Relief that we’re so much better than the rich and infamous. Drawn to the interesting people while simultaneously yearning for some peaceful monotony where we can just be with people we love.

Hello Ying, meet Yang.

It’s the push-pull of our lives. The going up versus the coming down. The climbing up versus the falling down.

Must we fall down? Well, we’re puzzled by those who choose to climb down. The ones who walk away from what we perceive to be a grand life — why in the world would they do that? Something must be wrong with them? You don’t climb down when you’re at the top. You wait until you’re pushed, or you fall because you just couldn’t maintain your footing at that altitude any longer. Again, it’s the story we prefer. Mostly because we may not feel we’ve ever experienced going up.

We’re wrong. Deluded.

What if THIS is up?

There’s a phenomenon I understood back in my 20’s. Namely, that the water level of how we live is tough to change. We think when we earn a certain income, then we’ll feel like we’re up. That’s what success certainly will feel like.

But when we arrive there it feels no different than any other altitude we’ve ever occupied. Within mere months (folks who claim to know tell us within 90 days or so) our lives are pretty much as before. Warts and all.

Even lottery winners who gain vast sums learn the hard way that life largely goes unchanged except for new toys and new heartaches. Just today I saw that a 24-year-old young man, Manuel Franco, in Wisconsin won the Powerball lottery.

Franco is taking the $477 million lump sum payment from Wisconsin Lottery. He told reporters he does not plan to play Powerball again.

Odds are his life will be forever changed. Odds are his life won’t be changed for the better, but we’ll see. He’s got much more to fret and worry about now. Like him, we only imagine the upside of such events. “Wouldn’t it be great?” we think. Parts of it might. But it makes me wonder if the going up is worth the coming down. It isn’t always.

I’ve been married to the same woman for over 41 years. It’s been intentional. I love her. She’s likely tired of me. 😉

I know people who can’t imagine such a life. BORING! Unexciting.

The other day I was talking with somebody about my hope to see at least the beginning of a shift. A shift away from pundits, gurus, and influencers. A shift away from so many feeling the need to brag about themselves and how special they are compared to the rest of us mere mortals. A shift away from the pompous arrogance that permeates probably every culture on the planet.

What would I love to see in its place?

A shift to focus on the collective. A shift toward the realization that a single exceptional life isn’t restricted to a person we think has lived an interesting life because of some extraordinary circumstances or accomplishes. But rather a shift toward focusing on the collective power that fuels every individual life on the planet.

A focus on the WE rather than I.

I’m optimistic but realistic. It won’t likely happen, but it’s a nice thought. And I bring it up because of this going up and coming down roller coaster that depicts all our lives.

Some can view my marriage as mundane, boring and uneventful. Never mind that I’m kinda drawn to mundane, boring and uneventful. 😀

A man who has been married 3 times may well have more stories to tell. And perhaps more interesting stories.

Which of us is up? Which of us is down? One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

Kristofferson got it right. The going up was worth the coming down. It’s called living. We’re all doing it. Some better than others. Some wiser than others. Some doing it as well as they can. Others not trying very hard at all to do it well.

My conclusion isn’t so profound really. Can we be better human beings? Can we provide value to others? Can we serve our family and friends? Or do we provide problems for others? Do we provide pain and suffering? Are we trying to serve others, or are we too busy serving ourselves – and lamenting why others aren’t serving us better?

Optimism. Pessimism.

Doing our best to lean toward wisdom.

Doing our best to lean into whatever impulses fuel our desires. Never mind about you. It’s about me.

You gotta serve somebody. It seems to me the going up is worth the coming down if we get that part of it right. If we get it wrong, then it’s not likely going to matter. Our life is just one downward spiral of selfishness.

It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the landing.

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