Love With A Capital L

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

Ruth Ryan — November 30, 2022

Ruth Ryan

I took a short break from cult documentaries to watch the Netflix documentary on major league pitcher Nolan Ryan, Facing Nolan. If you were a ballplayer around that time, as I was, it would have been impossible to not love Nolan Ryan. He was the ultimate strikeout pitcher – the defensive flip side of the home run hitter – who threw a million miles an hour and had the confidence of all great strikeout pitchers. My very favorite moments in baseball were when a fastball pitcher faced a fastball hitter and both were absolutely positive that they were better. The pitcher threw fastballs, the hitter swung as hard as he could at those fastballs, and that’s how we figured things out. I was a pitcher who threw hard enough, so Nolan Ryan was a hero of mine.

The documentary was great (if unremarkable on it’s own) and brought back truckloads of memories. Sports, like songs, are time machines, precisely transporting us to who we were when we first experienced them. I remembered my dad, my room, the posters on the wall, my Swatch phone, my Nintendo, my bad haircuts and pegged acid-washed jeans, like I was there again.

Titled Facing Nolan, it would be understandable if you guessed Nolan Ryan was the subject, but you would be wrong, like I was. The real hero was Ruth Ryan, Nolan’s wife. 15 year-old me looked up to Nolan, but 47 year-old me sees Ruth as being the one we could emulate. I only cared about Nolan because he had freakish athletic gifts and an unparalleled work ethic, I never thought about if he was faithful to his wife, honest, a good friend or dad. It doesn’t matter anymore to me if someone is famous because they led the league in strikeouts (well, it doesn’t matter much;). I know now that it matters much more if we are rich in character and love, measuring our lives by the people around us.

The myth of the self-made man is make-believe, a fallacy dreamed up in marketers and filmmakers minds to sell products. They know very well, as long as we try to fill ourselves with stuff (experiences, cars, money, sneakers, etc) as islands, we can never be satisfied, so we will continue to buy and buy, moving on to the Next Big Thing to quench our insatiable thirst for more.

Nolan could be a hall of famer (he is) and have all the records (he does), but what if he got that predictable call from the Hall of Fame in an empty room with no one to celebrate with or to call? We can build more and bigger buildings to hold all of our countless possessions and have nothing at all.

Nolan was my hero then, but for the wrong reasons. His house was a home and his life was full of people to love, and who loved him. That was the real significance of his life, and all of our lives. I just don’t want to wake up some day and find out that I wasted my days trying to hold things instead of hands.

Church on a Thursday — November 22, 2022

Church on a Thursday

Last night I took my son Samuel to see his first live music show. 2 artists (American Authors and the unfortunately named Phillip Phillips) in the Midtown Arts Center in the state capital. Adding to the excitement of the adventure, there wasn’t any parking and the building was barely marked and so easily missed that we weren’t entirely sure we had arrived even as we were walking inside.

So, we go in and sit and wait for the doors to the concert area to open, watching people and talking like friends. It is a beautiful under-acknowledged gift to actually like your children. Of course, we love them, we sort of have to. Also of course, there are times they drive us craazy. But to like them? That is an unguaranteed, unexpected, overwhelming blessing that is not to be overlooked.

American Authors opened – they were the reason we went, he feels like he discovered them and loves them like they’re pretty much his secret – and were terrific. He even got his picture taken with them that I’ll show you when I see you. But they played this one song, Deep Water, that is providing the thread that stitched us all, the entire night, this entire season of our lives, together, and is sliding seamlessly into the narrative of our communities (at church, work, school, towns & cities.)

Before I give you the lyrics, there’s a story in the Bible where the prophet Elijah is fleeing an evil king and queen and ends up hiding in a cave. He thinks he’s alone, but it’s there that he is ministered to by God – definitely not alone. Elijah is scared and complains that he’s being chased, and why is he being chased, what is going on, why why why, and that he’s the only one left. God answers the way God usually answers, without answering any of Elijah’s questions, BUT what He does is tell Elijah that there are more just like him and where to find them. God knows what we so easily forget; we don’t need answers, we just need someone to hold our hand. We just need someone to walk alongside. We just need someone to listen, to care, and to love (and who will love us.)

Now, Deep Water – the singer-songwriter referenced some heavy struggles (the deep water of the title) and his gratitude for the people who willingly waded into that water, sometimes to rescue, other times just to tread the same water in which he was treading.

“Please, tell me I won’t wash away. When it pulls me under, Will you make me stronger? Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water? Take me farther, give me one day longer Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water? When I’m sinking like a stone, At least I know I’m not alone.”

It’s not a superficial pretending that there isn’t water, or that the water isn’t deep, or that he wasn’t sinking like a stone. There was, it was, and he was. It’s not the need to fix that overflows from our fearful uncomfortability of this deep water. It’s only presence, sensitive to the times where we can “tell [him he] won’t wash away,” “make [him] stronger,” to “be [his] breath,” or to simply be in the water when he’s “sinking like a stone.”

This is our call.

I looked through watery eyes at my son who is, and will be again, in deep water. Just like the rest of us in that room and in every room. I pray that he has a tribe who will hold him up and be his breath, and that he can become the kind of person who will be theirs.

The most beautiful thing about a concert is that we are all there, we are all now, connected by the purity of our shared love. Life can be hard and we can think we are very, very different, but in the dark, on a Thursday night, affirming the creative spark that has been generously given by our Creator, we were all human, nothing more and nothing less.

Then, Phil Phil performed his biggest hit, Home, with these lyrics: “Hold on to me as we go, As we roll down this unfamiliar road. And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along, Just know you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home. Settle down, it’ll all be clear. Don’t pay no mind to the demons, They fill you with fear. The trouble, it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.”

Well, this is just great, now I’m writing through watery eyes as I think about him again, about those who I have held onto as we go, who have been my breath, who found me when I was lost, about you. I know I’m not alone, you have all made this place my home.

The thing that gives me the most hope is my love pyramid scheme dream. If we can do this for each other, and we have, and we will continue, eventually we can all know we’re not alone and that we are all extravagantly loved.

Alternative Conclusions — November 16, 2022

Alternative Conclusions

Michael J Fox has been married to Tracy Pollan for 34 years. I remember her on Family Ties. I’m happy they’re still married. It’s always impressive when 2 people can stay in relationship for long periods of time, especially in one as close as a marriage. There are many, many reasons a couple wouldn’t make it, would become a statistic, and only one they would, so whenever I see it, I am encouraged in my own marriage and it gives me hope for all of us.

What I mean by that second one – hope for all of us – is that it’s obviously a boom time for division in this country, in this culture, where any disagreement or difference becomes a crack that soon evolves into a huge chasm that will separate us forever. So how does Alex P Keaton and a co-worker build a marriage that lasts, through kids, new jobs, and now Parkinson’s disease?

By most accounts, he’s a good person, but good people have bad moments, days, seasons, years. I imagine a debilitating disease like his, where his body no longer listens and behaves, easily feeds more and more of the bad – annoyance, anger, frustration, everything running the spectrum of human emotion. I’m pretty hard to live with without a good excuse, just because. So how? What’s the secret?

In a People magazine (remember magazines??) article, Tracy Pollan says, “We assume the best.”

You know how a somebody sends you a text and, even as you are reading it, you’ve given it a tone and ascribed a complete story to his/her motivation? It’s almost never a soft tone or great story. Or someone is walking your direction and you tighten up a little bit, expecting aggression, so the slightest action, however innocuous, becomes evidence to your fear-based hypothesis.

I’ve been working this out in my soul for months (maybe the years and years since my twenties), if you’ve read this space lately, you know about my hyper-focus on perspective. Yesterday I was invited to a ‘clergy’ breakfast at the local high school (I said I would go before I could talk myself out of it) and wasn’t looking forward. Religious people make me uncomfortable. The stories of what I would experience ran rampant through my head – not one of them positive. I was irritated before I even had an opportunity to be irritated.

So I turned up the CD (remember cds??) in my car – Madonna (remember Madonna??), ‘Like A Prayer’ on repeat, I love when she sings “just like a dream, you are not what you seem,” and sing along as loud as I can – and remembered. The Bible seems to have the word remember as a sort of refrain, there are things we do to remember. We remember because it usually leads to a perspective shift and eventually gratitude. Like, “This time was horrible, I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I did, and now when I remember that, I can probably weather today, too.” I happen to see the ‘how I made it’ as a gift and something for which to be thankful, so I lift my eyes and take another step.

Just because religious people have historically made me uncomfortable, maybe they won’t today. I am not who I was, and maybe they aren’t either. The meeting was good, for the record, but maybe it wouldn’t have been if I continued in the same old footprints. I wonder how many times we tell the same stories in the same tones that only lead down dark paths in our souls, leaving no room for alternative conclusions.

If we assume the best of each other, is it possible that we might find those alternative conclusions are actually not conclusions at all, but beginnings of conversation, understanding, and relationships? Maybe and maybe not, but it can’t be worse.

How Many Tricks Can a Pig Do In 1 Minute? — November 2, 2022

How Many Tricks Can a Pig Do In 1 Minute?

178 people named Hirokazu Tanaka came together in Tokyo on Saturday to break the Guinness World Record for largest gathering of people with the same first and last name, breaking a group of Martha Stewarts. That’s fascinating for lots of reasons. Hirokazu Tanaka? I don’t know 1 Martha Stewart (of course, there is the celebrity, but I don’t personally know even one), for people with that name to hold a world record and to have never crossed paths with one seems unlikely in retrospect. Maybe I have and just didn’t know. And, there’s a world record for this?

Most toothpicks in a beard (3,500), most tricks by a pig in one minute (13), longest duration spinning a basketball on a toothbrush (1 min 8 secs). People are very strange. I don’t know why any of these things matter enough to be noteworthy. Do we really need to know how many cans a parrot can open in a minute (35)? More importantly, do we care? How fast can someone burst 3 balloons using just their back (6 secs) or how many t-shirts can someone remove while heading a soccer ball (22)? I don’t think I care, yet here we are, so maybe I do.

Last week, in this space, I wrote about perspective. Is the world actually falling apart or are we looking only for pieces of the sky on the ground? Is today really a worse, more frightening time to live, or are we simply building a case and finding evidence to support that hypothesis? DO we see the world as it is, or as we are?

I pastor a church and teach the Bible. One of the most dangerous paths to travel is to seek and twist verses to match my already held beliefs, instead of discovering what they mean and bringing my ideas to them. (I do recognize it’s mostly impossible to read/teach an unbiased version of anything. Everything is colored by our experiences and filtered through our minds, hearts & souls. It is the height of arrogance to think we have the right answers on everything, untouched by footprints in the snow. It’s like those who think marketing doesn’t affect them. But we can, and must, try to find truth while remaining open to the very real possibility that the opinions we currently hold could, in fact, be wrong.)

Anyway, back to parrots opening cans, gatherings of Hirokazu Tanakas, and finding what we’re searching for. We read these stories and can come to a great number of conclusions that are not exactly complimentary. But we can also see them from a different angle, which is where I generally choose to stand. Human beings are amazing; interesting, quirky, and endlessly amusing. What makes someone wonder how many tricks their pig can do??? And then, makes them reach out to preserve that number for posterity?

What makes someone choose to be a nurse, or a therapist, or makes them get out of bed at 4am to workout? Why does she have that particular tattoo or listen to that podcast? What is it about that song or singer or movie that makes him love it the way he does? Why do we pick dogs or cats or bunnies or snakes as pets? What is your favorite color or dessert or topping on pizza?

And we are constantly growing and becoming, so the answers to those questions today will certainly (hopefully) not be the answers next year. I married the Angel and every day I learn more about her, every day I am surprised. We’ve been together for almost 25 years.

I get to pastor a church, and that means that one of the best parts of my job is getting to talk with, learn about/from others, and connect. I ask a million questions and listen to what they say, how they move, how their face scrunches up or eyes water, how they shift uncomfortably in their seats. It’s so great because you are so great.

The point is, it’s sometimes easy to think people are awful, untrustworthy, selfish, and sometimes we are. But that’s not all we are. There are other, much larger pieces to us that are smart, funny, generous, loyal, honest. Maybe if we could only open our eyes to those parts a bit more often, the world around us might transform to meet our imaginations, and then there would be less nasty political ads to mourn and more super weird world records to celebrate.

Stone Etchings — October 28, 2022

Stone Etchings

I’ve been thinking lately. The world around us has been crazy. I recognize that election cycles bring this sort of angry division to the forefront, but it certainly isn’t solely in and political discourse and nasty advertisements. It’s on Facebook and highways and in grocery stores and schools, Tuesday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Nowhere is exempt from this rage-filled polarization, seeping into the culture and transforming it into it’s own image.

Or is it?

Of course I see the mean posts, condescending looks, the (physical, emotional, spiritual) violence. How could I miss them? But they remain exceptions. I mostly find people to be kind, gracious, smart, funny, and generous.

Once I read that negative experiences print on our souls immediately, positive experiences take much longer to make an impact. This is why you can get 900 hearts or thumbs up and forget them, and 1 mean face emoji and wonder why for the rest of the day, week, year. That 1 mean face seems to weigh significantly more than 900 hearts.

Is that why the 1 person that cut us off on the road today stings in our brain while the rest of the relatively capable, conscientious drivers (99.99%) are unnoticed? Or the umpire’s 1 bad call trumps the 200 good ones?

I am not saying that the bad calls or dangerous risky drivers are unimportant. I’m not saying hateful posts are not problematic, or that the horrible incidents of violence should be ignored. They are symptoms of a broken world, of which we are all a part. We act out of our insecurities and fear just the same as the people that lead the news, and they all must be studied and addressed, all must be given their proper, loving attention.

What I think I am saying is that those heartbreaking incidents don’t have to steal our hope or drive us into despair. That person’s cutting remark isn’t proof that people are all awful. True, that person might be (or they might not be, they might be overwhelmed or tired or depressed or anything), but it isn’t a judgment on everyone.

My idea is that we probably get what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for fantastic songs, we’ll find them. Or smiles or empathy or help or respect or love. People hold doors open, let you go first, say hi, and are willing to spot your bench press.

The songs that suck are still there (Coldplay’s will, sadly, always exist;) but they don’t have to occupy as much of us and color as much of our outlook as we usually let them. Some marriages will still end in divorce, but lots and lots of marriages are inspiring and fulfilling. Some days it rains and the weather forecasters are shockingly wrong, and those errors stick out in our minds, but they are right waaaay more often, probably 352 days of the year.

It’s not that the good moments don’t print, it’s just that they take longer. The key is to give them that time. When someone says your shoes are nice, maybe we don’t shrug it off or tell them they’re wrong (like we so regularly do), maybe we just say “thanks,” and take a breath and appreciate our shoes and the person with the compliment with whom we should spend more time. Or look at the heart reaction on the picture of your dinner, think about the person who sent it, and count to 15. Or 100. However long it takes. Take the time to feel the softness of the skin on someone’s hand when you hold it, or the sweetness of their lips in a kiss. We all know there’s no one to vote for, but we get to vote – do we ever take the time to acknowledge how extraordinary that is?

It’s the difference between entitlement and gratitude, I suppose, and we won’t always get on the right side of that divide, but usually all it takes is some attention to the beautiful things to regain perspective. To look up and around. My son is going to have a high school “Senior Night” at the football game tonight, and if you listen carefully, wherever you are, you might hear my heart break. But I will be there, fully present. I have been there, truly been there, every day of his life so far, and I have thoroughly enjoyed those days. And yes, it’s sad that he’s not my baby boy anymore, but he’s not my baby boy anymore and that is no small gift. I will hold this moment tonight with 2 hands, I’ll cry and I’ll laugh, mourn and celebrate, and give it all the time it needs to etch into me in stone.

Last Season’s Clothes — October 19, 2022

Last Season’s Clothes

So we’re all on a path, right? A long, sometimes wonderful, sometimes very rough, usually some level of uncomfortable, journey of growth and transformation. Sometimes we start on our own search for discovery, realization, and revelation. Sometimes we need to be kicked.

This is completely natural. This process comes standard from the factory, it’s built into everything. From Joseph Campbell’s literary Heroes Journey to Star Wars, the 4 part invitation of the Gospels (what Alexander Shaia calls the Quadratos) to Google.

But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy.

If you take a long view, my life has followed a gradual line up and to the right, walking into becoming more and more myself. Of course there have been too many steps backwards (actually, who decides how many is too many – maybe it was just the right amount of stops and starts, the perfect number of falls and skinned knees) and that gradual line has been marked with spikes up as well as down, where I was thrust into periods of great ‘stretching.’ In the last week, it would appear that I happen to be in one of those right about now.

How it feels is like my clothes don’t fit anymore. They’re tight, restrictive, and leave me tugging at the seams, akwardly trying to adjust the garments or myself, in a doomed effort to stay in yesterday’s size. Like I said, it’s not the first or the last time.

How it feels is that I’m tired, which is to say, restless and uninspired, bored. And my life, my family, my community – they are anything but boring. It’s a mostly spiritual lethargy, and historically means I’m about to be kicked. So I do what I do, I sit down, metaphorically speaking. I sit down like a petulant toddler in the middle of this narrow path I’m on.

A very good friend said to me this morning, he had something to say but I wasn’t going to like it. I already knew what he would say, but sometimes you just need to hear it out loud. He said, “move.” I don’t think he meant pack my stuff and leave Pennsylvania, unless he did, but I’m pretty sure it was less specific. Move. Listen & do something new and fresh. Create. Climb up on the roof of my soul and jump off.

He’s right. I’m not sure when we talk about the people that impact us, we say, “he/she watched a lot of tv (or took tons of naps or had so many subscriptions to porn sites or was drunk every night or whatever, you get the point) and that was SOOOO awesome.” Those people took chances and followed the divine call on their lives (and nobody’s call is sitcom reruns, porn or alcohol), whatever it was. That call looks different for all of us, but we all have one.

I don’t think mine is to become a social media influencer or a boxer. The only thing I ever wanted to invent is weight sensitive windshield wipers that worked when they sensed a certain amount of water, but it turns out that already exists. I can’t sing or cook or complete higher math equations. I probably am here to love others up close in relationships (as opposed to loving others a million at a time, like…well, like somebody. I wonder if there is any way to love others other than face to face, one at a time. Anyway.) and I can’t do that from the ground with these clothes on.

It’s weird that the clothes that fit so well last season are so constricting now, and this space on the path used to seem so far away. We think when we get somewhere, we’ll have ‘made it,’ but as we soon discover, we’ve simply made it here, then there’s a new challenge, a new beginning, a new mountain to climb. We are thankful to have gotten here, content but not complacent. We have to choose to keep growing, keep stepping into the cycle. Otherwise, we stay where we are, lose our flavor and our light dims.

So here I go. I don’t know what this means, for me or for anyone else, but I do know I am, we are, in great hands. It reminds me of the last page of Chuck Palahniuk’s book Choke, where the characters muse, “I wonder what we’ll build.” It’s the phrase of anticipation and hope, as if everything will be different but that new everything will be wonderful.

HOCO 2022 — October 10, 2022

HOCO 2022

My oldest son, in his senior year, went to his first Homecoming dance. I’m not convinced he would have, but as luck would have it, he was approached to escort one of the ladies on the homecoming court. She was quite lovely, so of course he said yes, and then proceeded to ask her to the dance.

If you’re not aware, asking a young woman to this dance is a PRODUCTION. Gone are the days when, after several weeks of battle with the fear of humiliating rejection, you would take a deep breath and ask, “do you wanna go to the homecoming dance with me?” And then wait what seemed like months for the answer. The same familiar fear of embarrassment remains, but now, the young man must create an adequately clever sign (somehow appearing light-hearted AND committed) and venture to the girl’s house to pop the question.

Anyway, she said yes, they both looked gorgeous, went (as friends, as far as I know) and had a wonderful time. That’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the story of 2 other boys that I do not know. (The Angel & I were permitted to attend the dance – much to my boy’s horror – for pictures as the court and their escorts were announced.)

The first boy was very tall and very thin. He was dancing with his date, a girl, in a shockingly intimate fashion. (I recognize that I sometimes sound like everyone’s parents, old, old, old. I suppose that’s ok, I am someone’s parent and, there’s no way around it, pretty old.) I felt like I was watching something not meant for my eyes, for anyone else’s eyes. She was wearing a red dress. And so was he.

The next boy brought a girl who was wearing a too-short, shiny dress, carefully multi-colored hair, pulling him by the hand through the crowd, past the group of out of place parents, to reach her friends. He had scraggly unkempt patches of facial hair, disheveled hair, wore sneakers, jeans, and the piece de resistance, a Champion t-shirt.

The contrast was striking and obvious. One was totally respectful of his date, the formality of the evening, and himself. The other wore a t-shirt. One offered his special girl his most significant possession, the gift of his time – the time to plan, search for, and choose an appropriate oufit. The other wore dirty sneakers. One was unconventional, but clearly intentional. He lavished his undivided attention on his date, before just as much as during the actual event, who must’ve felt like the only woman in the world to him (which is exactly how every woman should feel to the man lucky enough to be taking her out). The other, an immature child, couldn’t even manage to shave.

Now, I have no interest in participating in the discussion of whether he should or should not have worn a dress. What is far more important to me is what’s happening underneath the skin rather than what we put over it.

Wide disrespect for everyone and everything and selfishness are direct descendants of insecurity and inadequacy. He simply can’t see others because he’s too busy looking for himself and who he is. And until he finds him, this silly facade will have to do, and for at least 1 night, the uniform of a sad pretender was a t-shirt. I have a giant soft spot in my heart for him because I know exactly the violence & pain of the “not enough” loop in my head. I didn’t wear t-shirts to formals or anything, my inadequacy manifested in different ways, whispered rather than screamed. But we know our own kinds, and can hear similar heartaches.

Maybe a red dress isn’t your preference, but this young man was nothing more or less than who he is right now. Maybe he won’t always wear a dress, or maybe he will. Like all of us, he’ll grow and change in lots of ways throughout his life, but one thing I hope sticks is his kind, passionate, thoughtfulness. The world needs more of that, more like him, no matter what they’re wearing.

Tragedy — September 26, 2022

Tragedy

This weekend, I watched a Netflix documentary series that was one of the most depressing things I have ever witnessed. And what I’m going to try to do is find beauty and hope in it. Try.

First, let me tell you about what I did Saturday. We (my family and some visiting in-laws) piled in a car and went to the local amusement park. It’s local but it’s also known around the whole world. That’s always an interesting dichotomy to reconcile in my head. Something extraordinarily famous is in my backyard, making it feel familiar and routine, like if Lady Gaga was your sister.

(But I always write about taking amazing things for granted, like kissing the Angel and kindness and Morrissey, so I won’t today.)

What was striking about this park is the extent of the corporate greed on display. I recognize this is nothing new in commercial America, where industry is built at the altar of MORE. Parking fees and food prices are obscene and attendees are shoehorned in until actually riding rollercoasters is nearly impossible, as receipts pile up. I rode 3 rides and waited an hour and a half for the privilege of buying hot dogs.

I am not an idiot. I have a business degree and a working knowledge of insurance and hidden costs. I don’t even have a problem with rising profits. This “wonderland” provides a service that is specific and fantastic, they should all get filthy rich on it. My problem is the contempt they showed for me and all of the other suckers who essentially paid to stand on their property. I can take the fact that I am not their #1 priority. So, I’m educated as a business major and a marketer, but I was raised in the ‘90’s to distrust and rage against any, and all, machines. Especially the machines that can’t even manage to even pretend that I’m in their top 20 list of importance.

Which brings me to the Woodstock 99 documentary, Trainwreck. This is, first and foremost, a story of dollars > people. But it’s also a story of people who are either a) treated like animals because they are, or b) behaving like animals because they’re treated like animals. I happen to believe it’s the second. Probably even the sweetest bunny rabbit will bite if it’s cornered and beaten for long enough. Most of us will lash out if we are hated loudly enough. Maybe we wouldn’t set the town on fire, but we might kick the dumb insincere peace and love signs down. And it does take a special kind of monster to sexually assault another simply because they are in close enough proximity to do so.

Which brings me to the thread that ties all of these together. Simply because we can doesn’t mean we should. Because the amusement park is the only game in town doesn’t mean a 1,000% markup on popcorn is any less offensive. Because the Woodstock promoters can have 1 water fountain for every 100,000 people doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, and because some frat boy can grope a woman (and much, much worse) without being stopped doesn’t make it less abhorrent.

Now. There is a bright side. “Mob mentality” was referenced over and over in the doc, and that same concept applies to board rooms and management meetings. We all think so (or we think we all think so), so we all go along. We say, “we could probably raise prices another 100% before it begins to keep anyone away,” and we look around for agreement, salivating over bonuses and perks, drowning out any voices of dissent, and we end up raising them 125%. We see those neanderthals setting fires and pulling down towers and the internal voice that objects goes silent and, the next thing we know, we’re turning over nearby cars and trying to break into ATMs.

We’re social creatures, looking for belonging and acceptance. The good news about this is if we were to, say, replace the violence for generosity, switch anger for care. You know when you’re around someone relentlessly positive and hopeful, you feel buoyant and like maybe this ship doesn’t have to sink? Same principle. If we, just 2 or 3 of us to start, were to treat the women in our midst with respect instead of trying to rip their clothes off at a concert, maybe everyone would. Probably everyone would. Certainly everyone would. And those that wouldn’t would find their actions met with strong resistance and protection. If we would begin to love each other, treat each other like the treasures we are, then we could make new paths that are easier for the rest of us to tread. And then Woodstock might really be about the beauty of humanity and its creative spirit and we’d all be rich beyond our wildest imagination.

When Nothing Changes — September 20, 2022

When Nothing Changes

Last week I spoke about marriage, relationships, and the importance of not believing the story is over with the commitment, with the “I do.” But sometimes we do, things fall apart, and we wake up to the reality that what we have is miles away from what we had, or what we wanted, or dreamed we’d have. This is not exclusive to marriage. Our children, careers, health (whether mental, physical, spiritual, and/or financial), and on and on, all are susceptible to this heartbreaking disappointment.

I’ve struggled with food (sugar, mostly) & weight for almost my entire life. I would lose some weight, then once I would reach a goal, or “arrive,” then I would lose focus and over time, get back to a situation where I would have to lose some weight again. Obviously, I’m not the only one, the diet industry is massive and thrives on this sort of behavior. We’ve all been in jobs where they’re not what we signed up for – or they are, but we hoped they’d change, or hoped we could change them. We have relationships that have fallen into abuse, or infidelity, or disrepair.

Somehow, these circumstances (whatever they are) become uncomfortable, or unfulfilling, or destructive. And then what? What do we do?

We want to lose weight and don’t transform our lifestyles, don’t alter our behavior in the kitchen. We hate our jobs, yet resign to mindless routine. Our marriages are eroding and we continue to walk the same steps in the same old snow. There are a million examples, as unique as we are, but the heart posture is the same; despair. It is what it is. Really? Is it?

What if we could restore our families? What if we could reconnect with our spouses? Or find purpose in our careers? Treat our bodies with care and respect? All of this is totally possible, but none of it can happen while we’re stuck in the same ruts made by the same thinking and apathy that caused them. We don’t make new lives at a wishing well alone, don’t create new worlds saying “new worlds” while grasping with white knuckles to the old ones.

Nothing changes if nothing changes. We live these loops, rather than risk taking steps into unknown. These things require dreams and imagination, but not only dreams and imagination. They are the vital beginning, but then, they need to pass into action. Otherwise, the dreams will die, our imagination gets sucked away, and we mourn for the promise of what yesterday was and what tomorrow could be.

I think it’s time to break those soul-crushing loops, and they are simple enough to destroy. All it takes is the courage to move. All it takes is leaving the wide worn path we’ve been walking down. Of course it’s scary, taking (and missing) shots, stepping (and falling) into darkness, making new futures, but we’re all in this together. And to paraphrase the great philosopher Tim McGrath (of Rise Against) says, “let’s take this one step at a time, I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine.”

Love Stories — September 14, 2022

Love Stories

I’m reading a book called Just Like You, by Nick Hornby. This is the same author who wrote High Fidelity (one of the greatest works of art this planet has ever seen) and About A Boy. He’s written many other books (fiction and non-) and they are all fantastic, as is this one. I can’t understand why it’s taken me so long to finish, every time I pick it up, I don’t want to put it back down. It’s about an older woman (and by older, she is years younger than I am now, so it stings a little to write ‘older woman’), Lucy, who is falling into a relationship with a younger man named Joseph. The back cover says it’s “brilliantly observed, warm, tender, but also brutally funny,” and that’s true. It’s also a pretty great description of everything else he’s written.

I’m thinking now about how many (all) love stories detail the beginnings & ends of relationships. As they start, and feelings grow, the conversations brilliant, clumsy, each word & phrase carefully studied, every touch charged with electricity, tomorrows are uncertain and wildly exciting. The characters wonder if, maybe drift away and run back, and the story ends with some sort of commitment. The other, heartbreaking kind illustrates what happens when that love, that commitment, screeches to an emotional train wreck. The heightened passion that contained such promise transforms into screamed insults, abuse, broken dishes & furniture. The tears have a different cause, the soundtrack changes keys. The first part is a rom-com, the last is award bait.

The only phase that doesn’t warrant telling is the middle, unless it’s marked by infidelity, secrets, lies, homicidal nannies and boiled rabbits. It would seem a happy marriage is either unbearably boring, or a unicorn, stunning but imaginary.

But that’s simply not true, and maybe the widespread cultural acceptance of such a damaging belief is the very reason it persists.

We meet cute, ride a wave of romantic emotion, hearts in our eyes, get married and settle into a monotonous routine. We take the other for granted and “remember when” things were new and fresh, our best feet and underwear forward, and lament as this person in front of us gets sick, has morning breath, in-laws, period panties, and hogs the bed and all of the covers. We think we know them, their dreams, heartbreaks, and their stories, the pursuit ends, and wonder when everything fell apart.

The truth is, we broke when we thought we fell in love and stopped falling in love. When the wedding vows folded into the end credits. Our relationships got boring because we got boring, and we got boring because we thought there was nothing left to do, thought there were no areas of our partner left unexplored. We stopped talking, asking questions, listening. We thought our love story ended, so it did.

Playing guitar doesn’t get less interesting the more someone plays. Shooting percentages don’t go down with more and more practice. The artwork of a carpenter doesn’t suffer as they continue to build.

Percentages go down, artwork suffers, and things get less interesting as less interest is given. If you think sex is worse the more it happens, and that the first time is the best time, I don’t know what to tell you. When bodies and souls learn each other, and move together as one, as 2 people love in spirit as well as flesh…that sort of beautiful dance is not the fumbling of beginners any more than Hendrix’s is the fretwork of a novice, or Steph Curry’s jump shot is one of a weekend warrior at the local gym.

Conversations still crackle with energy, a kiss still is sweeter than lemon pie, coming home still carries the quake of anticipation – if only we allow them. We are all endless fountains of changing currents, the people we were as we exchanged rings are not the people we are now. We’re still just as fascinating as we were on the first date, except tonight, we have history and experience as well as surprise and novelty. She’s still as strong, he’s still as funny. Her smile still makes you lose your memory, his sharp intellect still amazes you. If only we allow it. If only we pay attention. If only we don’t stop falling in love. If only we keep choosing to love the other, every moment of every day.

Marriage & commitment is far from boring, it moves and carries us and gives us new blessings and wonders every day. It’s not easy, nothing worthwhile ever is, and it sometimes hurts like crazy. But we are in this forever and no amount of hurt can ever wear the shine off of the 10 million hours we’ve given to each other. Boring? Not even close. It’s totally real and it’s spectacular. If only we let it.