Love With A Capital L

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

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.

In Working Order — February 1, 2021

In Working Order

Throughout the months of COVID isolation, like so many others, we have been swimming in screens. We binge watched the entire The Office and fell hopelessly in love with Jim and Pam. All 23 MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movies, even The Incredible Hulk, which almost nobody watches. Now, we’re moving slowly through the Star Wars saga, including the extras like Solo and The Mandalorian. Our commitment to wholeness required us to suffer through the prequels, disappointing then and only marginally less so now. I do love the new ones, especially The Last Jedi. It’s actually my favorite of the films.

As you know, I’m reading, too. I read another Fredrik Backman novella called “And Every Day The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.” This tiny gem is set inside the head of a man who is suffering from dementia, and losing his memories. Every day the way home to himself and his memories gets longer and longer. Obviously, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s the sort of ache that we need to have form time to time to keep our hearts soft and in working order.

I shouldn’t have read it, not now. You see, there is an unreasonable amount of death and suffering in the circles around me. I could write forever about any of them, but this is the one I will. A man lost his wife, a lovely woman, to cancer a few days ago.

I took him some bread and a card yesterday morning, half hoping he wouldn’t answer the door. (I know that sounds awful, but you know just what I mean.) He didn’t so I left it at the door and left. As I drove away, he passed me in his car. There are certain moments in your life where you see who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming. Usually these transformations happen so slowly we don’t notice. But sometimes we are able to see clearly. I wanted to keep driving. He didn’t see me, I could’ve let my card and bread be enough. I wanted to keep driving even as I was making a u-turn in the street to chase him.

He pulled into his driveway and I followed. We hugged each other, he talked, and when I could stand it no more, we both cried in the front yard.

Some things hit you harder than others. I think I know why this one leveled me the way it did. It was that it was his wife. In the book, he speaks to his deceased wife in his fading mind. And as I sat in that sadness, tears soaking my cheeks, I realized that every love story is our love story. Every lovely wife is my lovely wife. Art is of course about it’s creator but it’s also about everyone else.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader matter because fathers and sons matter, specifically, your father, your son, my dad, my son. My dad wasn’t an evil oppressor of galaxies, but we did have issues where I might have wanted him to be something other than what he was, I might have wanted him to see me as who I was, rather than trying to make me into what he wanted, or seduce me to the dark side of the force. As these things tell us a new story, they’re also reading the story of us to us in language we can understand.

My friend and his wife weren’t art, they were real life and real death. But what’s the difference, really? We’re all telling stories with our lives, finding connections in the dark, noticing hidden relationships, and it is in discovering the things that tie us together that real life truly becomes artwork.

Trash — January 28, 2021

Trash

I read a book early this week. I’m not sure I’ll give you the name because it was absolutely awful and I try not to make this a space where I tear anything down. Maybe I will.

It was written by an author I love, who wrote one of my Top 3 books of all time which was made into my favorite movie. I’ve read much of his other work and loved most of that, too. This book I found in the bargain section back when bookstores were still a thing for $5.97. I was pretty ecstatic because once, my house was swallowed by a flood where I lost everything I owned, including the books.

Not the books! I collected lots of different genres. Different translations of the Bible, some very old and with stunning old famous paintings of the stories (like Daniel in the lions den, the sermon on the mount, and David & Goliath.) They were the sort that you would keep forever and pass down through generations. I have 2 now, one a large print that I received as a gift this Christmas. I also had everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote that I could find. You can tell a lot about yourself and the journey you’re on (and if it’s the journey you think you’re on) by the books you read 10 years ago and now, similar to a map or the Kevin Bacon degrees of separation.

This $5.97 discovery sat on a shelf for years. After finishing Bear Town, Us Against You (its sequel) hadn’t yet arrived, so now was a perfect time for this treasure. I devoured it hungrily and, when I was finished, asked the same question I always do when I finish: What was that? It’s asked in various tones and sometimes in different words. Now what do I do with this thing that is now a part of me? I sat, then I walked through the house and to the kitchen, where I threw this book right into the trash.

I don’t think I’d ever done that before. I’d usually take it to the library or a thrift shop to donate or put it on my shelf, but this one is different. I don’t want anyone else to read it, ever.

Maybe putting it in the trash was wrong. It doesn’t feel that good. It feels like I’ve been disrespectful of the time & effort, of his talent and discipline, of his craft, of his creativity, carelessly casting it aside into the garbage heap of history.

You know why I didn’t like it? A major theme of his work is connection. The characters are misfits in a culture that regards them as less than human. They are alone, isolated, lonely, weird, sometimes schizophrenic, and take wildly drastic measures to find others to break those categories and create new tribes or families. Obviously I find beauty in that. Obviously. I am weird, too, often depressed & lonely, looking for connection and belonging.

This book, though, was the inverse. In the beginning, characters were together, in relationships, and the plot separated them. It was super sad. Everybody lost everything and everyone that mattered to them. I expected a shift at the end where we realized how far off track we had gotten, but there was no shift. No redemption. I don’t need a happy ending, but I do need a sliver of hope that all is not lost.

Now that I write that last paragraph, I can see why I had such a visceral reaction. The country I live in is isolated and alone, divided, and I keep waiting for the shift where we all see how far off track we’ve gotten, but there’s just more hate and rage and space between us.

I guess I threw it away because I simply can’t abide a hopeless narrative, either here in real life or on the page, and I don’t want you to, either.

Funeral — January 26, 2021

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

Bears — January 19, 2021

Bears

Last weekend I finished Beartown, a novel written by my new favorite person in the world, Fredrik Backman. It’s difficult to know if you need to post about everything, and you probably shouldn’t, but I can’t seem to tell the difference and we’re friends, so here we go.

Here’s something to know about me: I love depth, complex themes, ambiguity, and don’t mind violence (mostly, I’ll explain in a second) or salty language at all in art. Fight Club and Pulp Fiction are my favorite movies. I’ve relatively recently started drawing lines at sex on screen and that’s simply because I squarely believe it’s not for me. We can talk about that another time, because it’s too big and complicated to drive by. But the violence I mind very much is of the sexual type. I cannot stomach rape or assault in any case or any context. There is a scene in 300 where a person manipulates, coerces someone else’s wife into a nauseating act and now I can never watch that movie (which I liked a lot) ever again. I barely got through it once. With my growing intolerance for this sort of plot device, I’m noticing that it is not an unusual subject in films I now have to avoid.

A possible exception: Carey Mulligan stars in a new film called Promising Young Woman, where she avenges the rape of her best friend and from there goes on to exact retribution on any similar feeling male she happens to find. At least I think it’s about that, and if it is, I’m in. I’m concerned that the initial act would be too much and that there would be a moral at the end where she gets punished. I don’t want her to be punished.

This is the thing about Beartown, the central points the story revolves around are a hockey game and the rape of a 15 year old girl. Once I realized the latter was coming, I cringed and contemplated leaving it unfinished. He’s such a masterful writer, I continued. I still don’t know if I’m sorry that I did.

If you have read anything here before, you’ve probably heard me write about destroying the walls that separate the imaginary divisions of us and them. We’re all just us. I’m empathetic to a fault, can see every side of every move, which makes me very non-judgy, forgiving and accepting. But I just wrote 2 paragraphs earlier that “I don’t want her to be punished.” I want this revenge fantasy to be consequence-free.

Now, of course it’s not. The best friend will endure consequences forever, will probably always be afraid of the dark. But the violators (I recognize that violators are not all male, but the proportions are so skewed, that’s what we’re concerned with) should absolutely face Carey Mulligan’s brand of justice. They should suffer consequences, too, in addition to the hell of being the kind of someone who would steal from another like that.

Now. Last time I wrote that I could be a CIA executioner or capitol rioter. We’re all us, isn’t that what I said? But here, there’s got to be a line here, right? I guess we all have blind spots. This is mine. Maybe I’m not as non-judgy, forgiving, and accepting as I thought.

Where is that line supposed to be, where we can start to scream for justice? In the Psalms, (in the Holy Bible!), writers asked God to bash the babies of their enemies on rocks, among lots of other awful things. Does that mean I can, too? Is that a holy position to take, this bashing on rocks?

I know, I know. It doesn’t mean I can, and it is most certainly not a holy position just because it’s in a holy book. And apparently, as far as I can tell, that line isn’t ideally supposed to be anywhere in our hearts. (That is not to be confused with political/social justice. Sometimes animals… um… sometimes we belong in cages.) I think it’s in that beautiful holy book because we need to acknowledge & examine each honest human emotion. If we are always hiding our trash in basements or corners, we can’t ever take it out.

The reason racism, sexism, nationalism, and any other -ism persists is because we’re too busy pretending there isn’t a monster under the bed. Who knows why my stomach turns at this particular atrocity more than others (that’s probably for a psychologist to figure out), but it does. Sure, it makes me want to do all sorts of things that would land me in prison, but it does make me want to act and as the oft repeated (and oft ignored) Edmund Burke quote goes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

So. I want to throw up every time any woman is dishonored and something is violently taken that should only be carefully given. I want to completely rework the system in their mercy and favor. I also want to castrate with rusty pliers those that would do the taking. And I also hope & pray to one day (maybe not today, but one day) love the perpetrators like I do the victims. All of these things can be true, and maybe all of these things are holy.

Wormwood — January 15, 2021

Wormwood

2 days ago, I woke up sleepy and instead of working or reading, I watched the Netflix series Wormwood. This odd journey detailed a man’s death, first played to the family and the public as a suicide, then a botched CIA experiment where they gave unwitting participants LSD that caused the suicide, and finally revealed to be an execution perpetrated by the agency itself. It was a day for me and a lifetime of searching/discovery for the man’s son. Not only did the intelligence agency take one man’s life, but many others as collateral damage. They just took longer to die than a fall/jump/throw from a hotel window.

As I watched one disgusting revelation after another, it occurred to me that I wasn’t actually surprised at all. Born post-Watergate and the Vietnam war, I have never known a day where I trusted any government agency or politician for a moment. The show did a masterful job at slowly pulling back the curtain, surely eliciting shock and disbelief from some. Sadly, not from me.

I said to my wife, “and then these 2 guys killed him,” incredulously. These 2 guys believed in something so much that they would heave another person through a window to protect it. Maybe, if the thing being protected is so fragile that it requires such action, it should be allowed to fall. How many deaths over the course of humanity have been attributed to just such blind obedience and disregard for life?

I have a buddy who has been an addict his entire life, practically. When he’s clean, he is quite judgmental of the ones who aren’t. He tells stories of their disease with a familiar air of superiority and condescension, as if they are a completely different species with different wiring and mismatched parts. And I look at him with the same sort of incredulity that I communicated to my special lady about these 2 guys.

What I want to explain to my buddy is that he is them. They are him. It’s unbelievable that he can’t see it, but he has divorced himself from the reality that there is so little that separates his situation from theirs.

But that’s the thing, right? We need to draw lines that separate us from them to maintain that superiority, shaky though it is. We desperately want to be ok, we really want there to be a fundamental difference.

But there’s not.

What makes those 2 guys believe so strongly they would kill? Who knows, but I know I’ve hated another and in the Bible, it says that’s just the same. Maybe it’s fear. Of course it’s fear. The 2 guys protect what they love at all costs. Would I point a gun at an intruder in my own house, while my family slept? Would I pull the trigger? Maybe. I suppose I’d have to get one first, but if I did, maybe I would.

I read these books by Fredrik Backman and perhaps his greatest gift is destroying those walls, those myths that they are so different. The characters in his stories we dislike the most are the most sympathetic, forcing us to examine what lies inside our own hearts. My buddy is wrong, he could be them, and so could I. He is them, and so am I.

2 weeks ago, a protest became a riot inside of the U.S. capitol building, and as I watched on a screen in Pennsylvania, I had thoughts and feelings about those people. Those people. Are we really so different? The same whose marches turned into riots in May were outraged at what happened in D.C. Why? It’s the same impulse. There is an us and we are right and there is a them and they are wrong. We are superior. They are inferior. You see where this line of thinking can take us.

Now, I think those 2 guys were WRONG to throw that guy out of a window, and I’m RIGHT about that. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe a better question would be, what made 2 guys so afraid that they would? What contributed to my buddy’s addiction? What motivated a group of folks to release, as the headline screamed, “tear gas in the rotunda?” I bet I’d be able to understand the answers to those questions, I bet I’d see far more similarities than differences. Maybe we’ve just been asking questions that lead to division and misunderstanding. Maybe we’ve been building ever more walls when we should be tearing them down. And maybe those walls that we’ve erected to keep them out have done the opposite and isolated us from our shared humanity, making us shells of who we could be, who we have been created to be.

Results — January 6, 2021

Results

Of course this is happening. How could it be any other way?

Supporters of President Trump are protesting the results of the election and have entered the building, forcing a lock down which effectively delays the confirmation of November’s vote. Maybe tomorrow, who knows? Eventually, the politicians will certify Joe Biden’s win. Or they won’t and the practice of citizens voting for our leaders will be taken out back and shot, like a suffering wounded animal.

The latest report, 9 minutes ago, says that “Lawmakers given gas masks on the House floor,” because there’s “tear gas in the rotunda.”

I wonder if anyone is embarrassed. Probably not. It’s taken pretty many small, insignificant steps to get to the point where this is just another. At some point in our history, this was inconceivable, just impossible, and now it’s not. Now it’s just what we do.

Politicians will pretend to be shocked. We will, too. As if someone else is driving the cars in the demolition derby. But we’ll all know deep down that this, like Thanos, was inevitable.

Across the street from the elementary school in my town, a banner reads “Trump 2020 No More Bullshit.” I pass 3 more like it on my way to the grocery store. The party of family values and the religious right (“But what about the CHILDREN?!!!?”) now has the signs I have to explain to my kids. Yes, I know there were riots in the streets on the other side of the aisle until the election, and I heard righteous indignation from those who have now apparently brought tear gas into the rotunda. Because the only opinion that matters is mine and the only thing that matters is that I win. Names change, sides change, positions change, principles change. The ones who bring the tear gas change. The ones who are inside change.

It’s all about The Other. Them. They are obviously wrong and misinformed and stubborn lying cheaters who can’t count votes or don’t want to and who knows what’s worse. And then “They” switch sides like musical chairs and the lying cheaters who can’t count now have tear gas. It’s the same us vs. them story that never goes out of style.

But you know it’s all just us and sometimes a year like 2020 where riots or protests (whatever you want to call them today) don’t even make the front page anymore and our values shift with the wind based solely on power and popular opinion can bring bright lights into dark corners and crack us wide open. That’s good. It hurts a lot, but it’s good. Necessary.

Then, the only things that change are our hearts and “They” disappear, we see we’re all just human beings on a rocket ship to ruin unless we can bury hatchets or whatever cliche you prefer. When we’re all just “we” and “us.” We were always going to end up here, but it’s here that we find the absolute most important and exciting question: Now what?

Where do you even start? There’s a joke that’s not really a joke that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” I wonder if this will be the straw that pushes us all one step closer to eating that elephant. I hope so.