Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Kong — April 8, 2021

Kong

Last weekend I saw the movie Godzilla vs Kong.

First thing to know about me, while you might think it’s just the kind of movie I’d like, it’s not. There are roughly 2,500 movies in existence with King Kong and/or Godzilla in the title, I haven’t liked one. This wasn’t an exception. My sons loved it, so I said I did, too. I want them to like mostly everything, to not become one of those insufferable snobs who thinks it’s cool to hate. I used to be that guy. I’d tell them (and anyone else who would listen to me self-righteously pontificate) about dialogue and plot holes and blah blah blah and they’d feel silly for loving it and who wins in that? No one. I don’t believe in “guilty pleasures,” either. We can like anything we like and there’s absolutely no guilt in that. Unless it’s that song “Watermelon Sugar,” by that boy that I think used to be in One Direction. Anything else, have fun, man. Life is heavy a lot of the time, if monsters pro wrestling each other is your deal, this is your movie, enjoy!!!

That’s my review of the movie itself, but I’m writing this to tell you how much I LOVED going to the theater to see Godzilla vs Kong. I was overjoyed to buy tickets and popcorn and sit in a mostly empty deafening theater with other actual flesh-and-blood human beings having an experience together.

COVID stole a lot of things from us, and to take them back inch by inch is wonderfully satisfying. Our friends have been on screens and telephones, hugs are virtual, smiles have been obscured by masks. Theaters have been closed. There has been so much loss in these past 13 months, a monster movie in the theater is hardly the most important, but sometimes it’s the little things we might consider trivial at another time that perfectly capture the pain or the hope in any situation.

One time a flood destroyed my home and all of my things and that was horrible, but it was months later when I had a wedding to attend and realized I didn’t have dress socks that broke me into a million pieces. I wept loudly, bitterly in my truck along the highway. Dress socks were hardly the most valuable thing we lost, but as symbols go, it was priceless.

Godzilla and Kong ushered in a new mindset for me, for us, that pointed to a reality outside of quarantines and pandemics. It illuminated a hope that we would be together again, that we would connect, that we would hold each other’s hands in our own, that we would be human again.

And as far as experiences go, I can’t imagine one better than Godzilla vs Kong.

Last Blockbuster — April 2, 2021

Last Blockbuster

I’ve been so nostalgic lately. Many of the documentaries I’ve watched and are now recommended for me by whatever AI algorithm know this well. Shopping malls, toy stores, 80’s movies and tv shows populate all of my home screens. The latest was The Last Blockbuster, a tidy history lesson on the rise and subsequent fall of video stores. There’s just 1 Blockbuster left in existence, teetering on the edge of extinction.

Now, why would anybody go to a physical store to rent a movie anymore? Maybe a better question is, why would anybody go to a physical store for anything anymore?

I do think there’s an answer for this better question. But first…

There was a record store in my town that I went to at the very least once a week. It was regularly busted for illegal drug sales, but that’s not why I went. I was/am not an illegal drug guy, except for that one time. I went for the records which turned into cassettes which turned into compact discs (of which we said on more than 100 occasions, “how could there be a new format that’s better than this??”) This one day I walked through the door, bell ringing, and the record store guy Joe (who incidentally fronted a local band that was super cool) stopped me 2 steps inside and said he had a disc for me. I asked what it was and he didn’t tell me, just said it was for me. I paid and left immediately.

Exactly like romantic set-ups, you can find out a lot about yourself by how others see you. If you had set me up with the Angel, I would know you see me as the perfect man, handsome and awesome in every way;) Conversely, if you had arranged a blind date for me with a mountain troll, I would figure you see me in a light that isn’t quite so complimentary.

How did this fellow see me? What was this album that was “for me” and would I see it the same way? It was the Smoking Popes Born To Quit and it remains one of my favorite records of all time.

It’s entirely possible the algorithm would have recommended Born To Quit, but the algorithm isn’t the singer in a band. The algorithm doesn’t know my sister or what I look like, doesn’t know that I shave my head, love kisses, hugs and Three’s Company, like you do. The truth is, it doesn’t care, either. It only cares if I buy something or if I can be used as a product to sell to advertisers.

Blockbuster and malls have something Amazon don’t, and can’t: Joe the lead singer of the Neverminds. And me – I was a record store guy, too, and a very very good one. It doesn’t have a bench outside where I would skip my college classes and sit anxiously until they’d open the steel gate and FINALLY let me in on New Release Tuesday. It doesn’t have another person standing in front of the Smiths section for me to talk to. It doesn’t have anyone to talk to, ever.

Sure, they’re not perfect. Record store guys aren’t all Joe, sometimes they’re awful and mean and don’t have the slightest clue what they’re talking about. Sometimes the mall isn’t what you want it to be. Sometimes the movie you want isn’t there, sometimes the store is closed, sometimes late fees, sometimes sometimes sometimes. Of course they’re not perfect, but neither am I. You know, these retail stores are a lot like people; messy, temperamental, quirky. They aren’t ever exactly what we expect. But maybe it’s the imperfections, the individuality, the personality, the heart, that make them so great. Just like us.

How To — March 23, 2021

How To

Several years ago, I was working full-time delivering medical equipment, pastoring a new local church, a full-time husband & daddy, and working far more than full-time discovering and becoming who I was/am. Even though I loved all of it, individually, I was teetering on the precipice of a complete breakdown nearly every moment of every day. The illustration that makes sense is of trying to fit a gallon of water into a shot glass.

Eventually, I scaled back the medical delivery to part-time (while still juggling the unholy on call responsibilities, which years later, cause me to shudder. No kidding. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the nightmare of thinking my phone is ringing.) which helped a little, though not as much as was necessary. My life was still a gallon and I was still a shot glass.

Many of my friends have greater capacities than mine, like a tumbler or a Big Gulp. The Angel does, too. Maybe you do. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about this. We all are created differently, different gifts, talents, passions, and different capacities.

It’s entirely probable that my capacity was reduced by the sheer number of should’s inside, like ice cubes filling a glass before one drop of liquid could find room. Wildly important should’s like responsibilities in providing for this family, safety, security, and on and on…then stepping outside, less important should’s like ‘what will people think?!??’ When you devote so much energy and space to the negative loops of b.s. in your head, it leaves very little for elements like purpose, meaning, and life. I needed a push, either out of the boat or back into the cabin, straddling both was tearing me apart.

Then the book How To Be Here, written by Rob Bell, was released. How To Be Here was about quitting your job delivering medical equipment and taking your shot at all of those things that make you feel alive. Among other things, of course.

“Your Ikigai is your reason for being. If you’re like a lot of people, the moment the words path and vocation and calling come into the conversation, let alone a new word like Ikigai, a thousand questions come to mind. Questions about paychecks and responsibility and passion and what you wish you could do if only you didn’t have those bills to pay.”

Maybe the book wasn’t about medical equipment delivery at all, but as I picked it up to reread it today, it sure sounds like it. Books can be like anything, tied to a certain time or event. Like how if you’re a certain age, it’s impossible to hear “Stairway To Heaven” without thinking of school dances full of butterflies and self-consciousness. This book is a very good friend who walked into my life when I was in desperate need like a hurricane, gently rested both hands on my back, whispered in my ear that I could, and then shoved me into a brand new life.

Hardly anything has been easy in the transition, but it has been awesome and I just wanted to thank Rob Bell and my very good friend How To Be Here.

Fixing — March 9, 2021

Fixing

There is a documentary on Netflix called “How To Fix A Drug Scandal.” Like all Netflix documentaries, it’s great – well made and endlessly fascinating. It’s about 2 women in 2 different Massachusetts drug labs who, in different ways, cheated the system and cost thousands (thousands!!!) of people their freedom. Now, maybe those people were guilty and maybe they weren’t, but they certainly were treated unfairly by a group of federal & state employees concerned with ease, comfortability and their own positions of power. It was gross. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

There is something important I learned in it, though, that I do wish to talk about.

I lost a buddy to a drug addiction last month, and it was heartbreaking. Addiction is heartbreaking. 1 of the women tasked with testing the drugs seized in arrests turned out to be a very serious drug addict herself. She was an over-achiever throughout school, valedictorian of her high school class, extraordinary athlete, college degree, great job. At that great job, she became a user. How did that happen? I used to think drug addicts looked a certain way or followed a certain template, but I was wrong. They look just like me.

I know 2 attorneys that are awesome. Outside of the 2 of them, I have to admit that attorneys have historically held a poor reputation in my head. It’s not a reputation that is set in stone or anything, but nonetheless poor. The narrative had gone that defense attorneys are the morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, who will do and say anything. I know that’s harsh, but this opinion has sadly been reinforced over years of perceived example. The defense attorneys in this doc may actually be morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, but as they explained their call, it sounded noble and beautiful. Their behavior sure was noble and beautiful. By the end, I wanted to become a defense attorney. I wonder if those years of “perceived example” were just that, perceptions based on easy generalizations and lazy cliche.

This reminds me of the story of Jonah in the Bible. All of the characters who are supposed to be the good guys, aren’t, and the characters who are not, are. It’s jarring and confusing. The prosecutors are elected officials who should be wearing white hats while keeping us safe from the villains. Except, they’re the ones unfairly meting out a perverted mis-representation of “justice” to those unlucky enough to cross their desks. It becomes more and more difficult to know who is trustworthy. And as that ground shifts, our anxiety grows.

I guess I have usually wanted to understand which end is up, who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them,’ who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The problem is, as we discover, there is no us and them, just us. I could be the prosecutors or the drug addicts. Another problem is that an honest faith journey includes an endless process of watching ideas (set in stone, absolutely figured out and under control) that we believed, no, that we knew, spectacularly annihilated. Those idea that are exposed as much too small and fit into very inadequate boxes.

It seems to me that we’re made (and when I say we, I mean all things) for expansion and these boxes we create out of our fears lead to contraction, where it’s not only the boxes that are tiny and restricting, it’s our lives. We’re faced with a choice, hold on with white knuckles to a fading paradigm or release it to become something closer to truth.

It’s nice, being wrong so often. I don’t really need boxes anyway.

Forged Religion — March 4, 2021

Forged Religion

There is a new Netflix documentary called…well, I don’t know what it’s called. Give me a second. It’s called Murder Among the Mormons and it’s about old, cool, found documents, LDS church history, pipe bombs and ultimately deception.

While it all occurred during my life, I didn’t remember any of it and it played like drama and twisted and surprised me at every revelation. I loved every minute of it, though that’s pretty awful to say that about any murder anywhere. What does that say about me? I mean I loved the series. Is that better? Maybe only a little, but I really don’t want to talk about the questionable ethics of death as entertainment.

What I do want to talk about (there may or may not be spoilers here) is how lies and secrecy wreck everything. The LDS church followed a practice of suppressing any information that might contradict the gold plates of church history and doctrine, which brought to mind the words of the wise turtle Oogway (in King Fu Panda), “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” By trying so hard to squash inconvenient truth (whether it is actually truth or not) to protect a faith system so fragile, the result is the exact opposite. If the foundations of our lives can be destroyed by a letter about a magical white salamander, then maybe the foundation deserves to be ground into dust and reconsidered.

Religious systems are an interesting creation. We erect walls and then fight and kill over their position, protecting our power and status and mountains of money. What starts as an beautiful expression of love and worship towards God morphs into a massive altar to our own abilities and desires. No wonder we all run from the whole sordid mess, throw the baby out with the bathwater, and struggle to build new walls of purpose and meaning without faith. Religion isn’t Yahweh, the LDS isn’t Jesus, and we are not and have never been gods. Once we can figure that out, we can loosen our grip on our doctrines and trust the Truth of God to be bigger and more resilient than some guy in a hidden room inventing pretend letters, diaries and origins. In other words, trust God to be God, even without our arrogant ‘protection.’

Superheroes, etc. — March 1, 2021

Superheroes, etc.

We’ve seen 8 episodes of Wandavision now. What once was confusing and gimmicky is now clear and focused, the gimmick has faded into a deep character-driven exploration of grief. We all knew this, probably, but the genre hasn’t historically been a space for deep character-driven anything. At least that’s what we all have been led to believe. To say you’re a superhero guy implies you’re stunted emotionally and especially socially, living in your parents basement wishing for a girl who likes action figures and cosplay as much as you do.

Aside on cosplay: The last time I participated in anything that could be called cosplay was when I was 8, with a lightsaber and bathrobe or a towel safety-pinned around my neck. Good times, man. But if that’s what your deal is, I’m down with that. I don’t live in my parents basement, either. I am married with 2 kids, and haven’t played with action figures since high school. I loved it then and would probably love it still. I don’t think I’m stunted in any way. I wouldn’t, though, would I?

But I really love superhero movies and would sign a petition to classify them as films, nowadays every bit as nuanced and layered as any random indie film nobody sees and is critically adored. They just use a different delivery device. Peanut butter is still peanut butter if it’s on celery or an apple or a cracker or a chocolate bar. Courage, fear, friendship, kindness, and love are real if they’re in your town or Hogwart’s.

This has taken a while to come to grips for me, as a fairly insufferable snob with negative opinions on popularity. If everyone likes it, I figure it’s like white bread or McDonald’s hamburgers; nothing to love but nothing to hate, inoffensive, safe, produced for mass consumption. But Endgame raked in 2 billion dollars and everybody saw it and screamed with joy when Captain America held Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor). It’s hard for me to understand that sometimes everyone likes something because it’s actually very good.

While we’re talking about that hammer, when Thor regained it and woke up to the idea that he could still be “worthy,” who didn’t understand? Who hasn’t felt the inadequacy of “Am I good enough?” Even the god of thunder feels like me and you. This is the sort of arc that takes half a dozen movies to move from sickening arrogance to heartbreaking insecurity. Have any of your friends fallen apart because the image they wrongly based their entire value on turned out to be pretense? If I am not what I do, what I can produce, then what am I? Of course, it’s as true and relatably human in a cubicle or corner office as it is in the last son of Krypton.

We live in a culture that needs it NOW, spoon-fed with a tidy conclusion – and that was always perceived as the realm of superhero stories. Our hero would vanquish the villain as the credits rolled. Infinity War ended with half of all living creatures reduced to dust and we had to wait a year for any other resolution. That first story in the Marvel universe took 23 (!!) films. That’s why it mattered soo much and was sooo devastating when Tony Stark made the sacrifice he did.

Wandavision took 4 episodes before anything happened that even considered making sense of the sitcoms from different decades. Many of us checked out, but those who stayed are now being rewarded with a richly imagined psychological drama. Vision says at one point, “what is grief but love persevered?” Of course, I cried then. So did you and everybody else because Wanda is now our sister, dealing with the kind of loss and suffering that breaks us into a million pieces. Does the fact that the lovely her life is dead somehow hurt less if she can fly? The decision to do this on a weekly tv show tied into and through the previous films allows us to truly know her story, and as it turns out, it’s ours.

I could write forever about Rocket and his loneliness or the Quill/Yondu father-son dynamic or Gamora wrestling with the sins of her own father or Natasha wrestling with her past and if she’s done too much and gone too far to ever return… but I won’t. You already know.

Jokers — February 23, 2021

Jokers

So, last week was another week in 2021, which is shaping up to be even more of a bear than 2020. I’m soon going to be able to stop that sentence immediately after “last week was another week,” and we’ll all know what that means.

I lost a buddy I knew last week to a drug overdose. (This was the “horrible thing” I referenced in last week’s post on pyramid schemes and discouragement.) He left behind a wife and 2 small children. He struggled with addiction since high school, maybe earlier, and his was one of those stories that they say will end in a jail cell or a coffin. 2 days before his overdose, he posted a long grateful note of thanks to God on Facebook. It was his 7 months clean anniversary.

It’s common to wonder in situations like this, why? Why was he so disturbed, so sick? What was so bad that he would spend his life in the familiar pattern of detox and relapse? Or the question I asked of my own dad, that will surely haunt his family, why weren’t we enough? Where did these demons even come from?

I know some of those answers in my buddy’s case, if all that he had shared over the past 4 years had been true. This is not a certainty, of course. His service was for a person I never knew and barely recognized. If there weren’t pictures, I would have questioned if I stepped into the wrong church. But with this, for some reason I believe him. Like so many, the damage inflicted upon him by his family of origin (broken, dysfunctional in every way) was crushing, ultimately leading to his death. They dutifully carried on what are called generational curses. Midnight Oil, in the terrific song “Forgotten Years,” sing, “Few of the sins of the father, are visited upon the son.” In this case, it was significantly more than “few.” It was an avalanche of excrement for him to dig out of, too much in fact, and he simply could not.

Now. I have to be very careful when I get overwhelmed with the weight of loss and sadness, it can be pretty oppressive and increase my already hyper-sensitive soul. And there, on my dresser, was a borrowed copy of the movie Joker. I had good advice from the Angel to, under no circumstances, watch it while in this state. Very good advice that I ignored.

This movie was, essentially, a re-imagining of my buddy’s life. Abuse, neglect, illness, loneliness, depression, on and on – the Joker turned his violence outward and my buddy directed his mostly at himself. But other than that difference, it was the downward spiral of self-loathing that looked for all the world completely inevitable.

Was it?

One of the arguments against both is that, at some point, we have the choice and responsibility to build something new, something better. Maybe that’s simplistic ‘bootstrap’ psychology from those who have never been in that sort of darkness. (I happen to know that darkness, so total that the hope that there could ever be light again has faded and been replaced with emptiness.) But maybe it’s not.

We have the ability to choose life, don’t we? I know it doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate.

If you’re familiar with me or my work, you’d think this is the point where I start painting pictures of love conquering all, detailing pyramid schemes of love, how love drives out that fear, how a small perspective shift and a bit of imagination and a hug will break those chains… but I’m not going to do that here. I just don’t feel like it this morning.

I believe those things I usually say, I have to. Otherwise, I’d have to resign myself to the robotic hopeless futures of those 2 sweet boys, and that is something I can not, something I will not.

Joker is a fictional character, but his story is real for so many of us. But it’s a really bad story and one that we have to believe can change. The 4 minute mile was impossible until it wasn’t. It just has to start with one (or an army of us) who keeps running into the impossibility.

One Of Those — February 15, 2021

One Of Those

Last week another horrible thing happened. Yet another. I’m telling you, there is no truth to the phrase, “we aren’t given any more than we can handle.” Sometimes, we are, we just don’t get to tell the story afterwards.

This has been a hard year, 2021 is taking over right where 2020 left off. I heard a man (I’m pretty sure it was Hank Fortener) say once that he was in a time of incredible stretching. Me, too. I am stretched to the point where my muscles feel like they’re about to tear into shreds. The kind of tearing that never can be put back together. But then again, I happen to be one of those insufferable types who stubbornly holds on to hope anyway. Maybe those muscles won’t tear at all, and instead the stretching will create a new strength. It doesn’t feel like that, but that’s sort of what hope is, isn’t it?

I’m learning that we will most often choose the option that hurts us the most. Of course, it might feel good now, but it leaves lasting scars. I lie but everybody finds out (everybody always finds out) and the consequences are bigger and far more painful than had I never lied in the first place. I do it anyway. I eat a bunch of sugar that tastes fantastic but (now that I’m no longer 12) I’ll feel rotten for 3 days. I eat it anyway. I stay in the relationship that leaves me feeling worthless and used because of course it’s easier than leaving but it also validates the suspicion I have that I am worthless and unloveable. I keep going to those sites where I have to erase the history but can’t erase the shame. I keep sinking a needle into my arm or wherever still has veins even though my marriage and family is feeling the polar opposite of high and picking up the pieces of that wreckage is impossible. I know this and make that choice anyway.

It seems like our deep self-loathing is insurmountable. My big dumb idea is for a pyramid scheme of love, where I love 2 people and they each love 2 people and so on until everybody is loved and we begin to act out of that abundance rather than our searing emptiness. It’s a dumb idea. Especially when all evidence points to our desperate need to cling to our brokenness, to choose self-hate over self-love, at all costs.

The big flaw in “love others as you love yourself” is that we don’t love ourselves. Maybe we are already loving others exactly like we love ourselves – not at all.

So. I’m sad today (and for the last few days). Do you know why I cry these tears? Because my eyes are wide open and my heart is in perfect working order. Why isn’t everybody?

Here’s the thing. When my heart isn’t broken and I am seeing clearly (instead of through these blurry pools where my eyes used to be), I know my pyramid scheme idea is a good one. Well, maybe it’s not a good one, but I really like it. I’m a man who sees a beach full of drying starfish and throws them back into the water 1 at a time. Maybe it won’t make a difference in the grand scheme…yeah, sigh…maybe it won’t. But I’m still that person doing it anyway. What I can tell you is that sometimes you will love someone and walk next to them and they kill themselves anyway. Yes, that’s true and real and happened last week. And you will, like me, wonder during restless nights if you could’ve/should’ve done more, if you should’ve walked closer for longer. And maybe if we did, they would’ve killed themselves anyway.

So we’ll sit on the beach for a little while looking at all the starfish wondering why in the world they keep ending up here. And then we’ll stand up and pick one up and throw it back into the water. And then another. And then 2 more. And then we’ll start dreaming again, wondering why a pyramid scheme couldn’t work, why love couldn’t work. Now maybe it couldn’t, but the way we’re going sure isn’t working, and it’s all I have.

Sports, etc. — February 11, 2021

Sports, etc.

I write so many posts on sports because I grew up on a steady diet of sports, and often the things we eat when we are young remain integral to our lives. Teams, players, won-loss records, ERA, batting average, and second-guessing were often the only way my dad and I could relate and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely LOVE it. One year in the NFL playoffs, after I was out of the house and married to my Angel, Peyton Manning had a first half that was unbelievable, something like 5 straight TD drives, where he looked like a space alien brought here to play football. I was alone in my living room and called my dad. Just a father and son loving Peyton Manning together…

So, I love sports. Maybe I really just love my dad and the 2 have gotten mixed up over a lifetime into where I can’t tell the difference, and now he’s gone but sports are here and that’s going to have to be good enough.

Anyway. I can also see now that sports are primarily windows and illustrations – instead of ERA, points per game, completions percentage, sacks and batting average, I care far more about character, drive, and the human condition, perfectly displayed and refined on the practice field, bench, and weight room.

Both of my boys play basketball, and some days come home very frustrated and very angry. I understand this. There are some other boys on the team that, well…

Adolescence is marked by fear and insecurity, right? We are awkward and riddled with anxiety and acne, growing into the people we will become – but we’re scared to death that those people we’re becoming are somehow not enough. Of what? Whatever, we just live our lives wondering if we measure up. This leads kids to fight and claw and try to annihilate the ones standing nearby in a fruitless quest to appear better in proximity.

The most arrogant, condescending and nasty of us, it’s easy to see, are the ones who are most viciously ruled by this inadequacy. In schools, playgrounds, fields and courts – then later workplaces, offices, and conference rooms – this behavior is totally predictable.

I understand this, too.

I know what it is to wake up in fear, wondering if today will be the day I am exposed, that they ‘find out’ (whoever ‘they’ are and whatever they ‘find out.’) Faced with fear, we fight. We rip and claw at others to prove our dominance.

We sit and talk about these other boys, they vent and I listen.

I know these boys they talk about and the weight under which they are struggling that threatens every second to squish them. I want to hug these kids, hold them and tell them they are ok, that they are enough. I also know they won’t listen, will probably alienate everyone around them until they are alone and hollow, exhausted from the constant image-creating. I know how hard it is to see through the too-small eyeholes in the masks we wear.

When I was young, I wanted these other boys to get what they deserve. I wanted to give them what they deserve. Now, I still do, but the thing they deserve has changed. I don’t want them fed knuckle sandwiches anymore (though I always fear that’s where their path will lead them, though not from me), I want them loved, unconditionally and beyond reason, for no other reason than that they too are children of the King.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said to love our enemies, the ones that are hardest to love, the ones that make it their business to make others feel small and embarrassed and worthless, the ones who pretend, the ones who bully our kids at school.

This impossible-sounding command is only possible if we can see them as they actually are, without their carefully curated disguises, as frightened children.

I want my boys to have these eyes that can see. I want to have these eyes that can see, too.

Now that we’re here, I also want those boys to have the eyes to see themselves as they are, as He does. We are walking this path together, and if Jesus is to be believed (and I truly believe He is), this kind of overwhelming love will drive out the fear and we can all begin the healing. Let’s imagine that, just for a second, for a day, forever…

Us Against You —

Us Against You

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how much I love the author Fredrik Backman. Last month I read and wrote about Beartown, a devastating novel about a community and a horrible thing that happens that threatens to tear it to shreds. Reading it was a rough experience. So you can imagine how surprised I was to be reading its sequel, Us Against You. The story continues to detail the fallout from this horrible thing in this community. We often think the horrible things are like band aids; we tear them off and then throw it in the garbage and we don’t have a band aid anymore. It’s really more like a tattoo; it might fade but that’s about the best case scenario. It will probably leave traces behind so we can always see where it was, how and when we got it and how much it hurt. We are different afterwards, changed.

This horrible thing leads to a vastly transformed landscape. Relationships deteriorate between spouses, parents & children, neighbors, teammates. Maybe the most damaged is the relationship they have with themselves and the people they thought they were.

I learned a lot about me through these 800 pages across 2 books, about who I am and who I want to be and how far apart those people still are, sometimes.

These characters are faced with decisions to respond, to stand…or not.

The choice to speak or not. To move forward or not. To build or destroy.

Some make great decisions that cause them such unbelievable pain and loss.

Some act in shameful ways and their careers advance, their teams win.

Sometimes relationships fall apart for no more complex reason than we don’t hold them together.

We don’t know how to come home, so we stand on the porch unable to turn the handle while those inside ache at our absence as if we were worlds apart instead of on the other side of the door.

The whole narrative could’ve changed, reconciliation was still possible, if only we could turn the knob. If only we could take 1 step, tell the truth, say something, stop. If only.

This horrible thing happened between 2 people and ravaged an entire town for generations. There are no victimless crimes. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the horrible thing was the only ravager. The entire town, over generations, carelessly set the scene for this horrible thing between 2 people. Everything is connected. By the end, it was so hard to tell who were the victims and who were the perpetrators, but this writer didn’t seem to mind leaving it to me to figure that out. And (with the exception of 1 15 year-old girl) I couldn’t. What I discovered is that it’s a lot like real life, that the brainless simplicity of us/them is never adequate. Maybe its authenticity is what made it so uncomfortable.

This is a very difficult post to write, not because I can’t think of anything to say, but because there’s just too much. My head and heart are overflowing with ideas that I delete, false starts and a screen that is blurry through new tears.

Earlier, I typed “the whole narrative could’ve changed,” and I think that’s what is so heartbreaking to me. It takes work and attention, food and water, but often we don’t have those to give, for whatever reason. So the distance between us grows and we stop seeing, stop listening, stop saying.

The books were amazing. I’m sad but, like always, hopeful. This story in Beartown is our story and like that one, we can change it. We don’t have to stop listening, seeing, saying. We don’t have to stay on the porch, we can come in and fall in love again. One Sunday there was an empty tomb, a moment where everything changed forever, and there can be one today, too.