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.

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.

Morrissey — September 2, 2022

Morrissey

Lately I’ve been listening to a steady stream of Morrissey/Smiths albums. He has been my favorite singer & songwriter since I was 13ish, and this sort of thing happens from time to time. I’ll think, you know, I’d like to hear Bigmouth Strikes Again (“Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every teeth in your head” remains the 2nd greatest first line ever in a popular song. The greatest is, of course, from There Is A Light That Never Goes Out: “Take me out tonight,” and continues, “where there’s music and there’s people and they’re young and alive. Driving in your car I never, never want to go home, because I haven’t got one, anymore”) and then it’s several weeks later and I haven’t listened to anything else. I’m never sorry. It makes me feel like me, if you can understand what I mean.

Like so far today, I had a terrific workout, met with a friend for great conversation, played 2 board games with my son, read a little and wrote a lot. I’ll make dinner, eat with the other 3 in my house, and spend some quiet time connecting with the Angel later on. In every moment, this feels like the best version of me. If we had watched me from a distance together, I’d say what we saw is exactly who I am. I’d say the same thing about Morrissey’s voice. If you want a deep insight into who I am, you could do worse than to listen to tracks 10-13 (He Knows I’d Love To See Him, Yes I Am Blind, Lucky Lisp, and Suedehead) on the Bona Drag album. Incidentally, I actually don’t count it as an album, it’s more of a collection – if I did, it may unseat The Queen Is Dead as my very favorite album.

Maybe you care and maybe you don’t, but what I’m wondering is if we pick the things we like because we’re a certain way, OR if we’re a certain way because we pick the things we like.

I am hyper sensitive and given to depression. You could also say that about the entire Morrissey/Smiths catalog. Did I find it because I was predisposed, because I was looking for something that fit? Or did I find it purely by accident, and through its influence, I became someone it fit?

This goes for everything – movies, books, paintings, as well as college majors, interests, even people. Did I find the Angel because I was looking for someone just like her or did I find her and, because she’s so awesome, she became my type? Why did I fall in love so deeply with Jesus? Why do I like Catfish and documentaries on cults so much? Are they finding me, kicking down doors and rearranging the furniture in my mind, or am I looking for them, inviting them into the already existing decor?

I think probably the answer is different now than when I was 13, right?

We’re pretty well formed by now. Of course, we learn & grow & change our minds about things. I vote differently now than I did when I was 25, I value some things more than I used to, but you wouldn’t feel like I’m a totally different person. All the things that make me who I am feel like they are in place (I recognize these are scary words, as they usually lead to uncomfortable transformation), and I happen to like the man I am. I’ll just become more of him, more of who I’m created to be. I couldn’t always say I liked me that much, if at all, but I do now, and that is a cool thing to write.

Anyway, did I like Unloveable and Never Had No One Ever because I felt so alone, or…

You know, it really doesn’t matter at all. These things provide the texture of our lives, bestow such breathtaking beauty on our unpredictable, wildly dynamic lives as they mark the people, places, and events that matter. I don’t care why Morrissey became such a humongous part of my life, I’m just so thankful he did.

Authentic Presence — July 7, 2022

Authentic Presence

In the new reality, we can see Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness opening weekend and then stream it about a month later. This is an ocean away from “how it was when I was young,” where we would see a movie in a theater and maybe a year later we could rent the VHS tape. We would always rent, because owning a copy would be $100+!!!!!

And there were those special weekends where my mom would take my sister and I to the video store to rent a VCR and as many movies as we could carry for hours and hours of varying levels of attention. There’s only so much one can take at a sitting.

Anyway, this time around I LOVED the Dr Strange movie. I liked it well enough the first time, but upon a second viewing, it was exponentially better. So, why is that? The movie didn’t change, I wonder if I did. And how much could I have reasonably changed in a month?

These Marvel movies now all have surprise cameos and shocking deaths and spoilers for the jaw-dropping reveals. We already know that the new Guardians of the Galaxy will break our hearts, we just don’t know exactly how. And that instills a certain amount of anxiety. And when we go to these movies, we’re watching, waiting for the rug to be pulled, or if Jim from the office & Some Good News is the new Reed Richards (he is), or if Tom Cruise will be in it (he isn’t), or if somebody dies (…).

The second (or 3rd or 100th) time, I know the answers to those questions. I’m not surprised anymore, there’s no breathless anticipation waiting for the next thing, so I am free to hear dialogue I missed, see unappreciated cinematic subtleties, and enjoy the performances of some very fine actors.

Now, why do I care about any of this?

I sometimes get the privilege of officiating weddings, and I always remind the bride and groom, parents, attendants, and everyone else I see to not miss any of this moment, to be fully present. In the Bible, Jacob wakes up from a dream with the revelation that “God was in this place and I was unaware.” I don’t want us to be unaware of anything. I don’t want us to wake up, saying, “oh man, I totally missed it,” like we often do.

I am also married, and it’s easy to take the Angel for granted. And I have 2 sons who were once 2 years old and now are not. 2 years old was a good, no, GREAT, age with a ton of significant moments. They don’t nap on my chest anymore (which was so awesome), and the last time they did, I didn’t know it was the last time, so I may have been thinking about what I’d do when they got up. Or what I had to do tomorrow. Or yesterday.

This morning I was driving with the windows down, that song, “Numb Little Bug,” which I like a lot, on the radio, and then it was over and that thing happened where we get somewhere and don’t remember any of the journey. You see, I was hurrying to grab something the Angel had forgotten and return it to her. Then I ran it over to her and got back in my car, without pausing to soak her in for an extra few minutes. I missed half an hour of a sacred moment. But they’re all sacred moments, right?

Anticipation is fun, and when you get the secret about Bruce Willis in the 6th Sense – it’s just amazing. But there has to be a way to marry excitement with attention. And there has to be surprise without anxiety. Where the 1st and 3rd time through Strange coexist. Where we are connected, eyes wide, listening instead of hearing, seeing instead of looking, untethered to the regret/nostalgia of the past and the worry/fear of the future, only here, only now. Can it really be as simple as authentic presence; an open-handed approach to living this beautiful life? I’m starting to think it probably is.

And I Am A Material Girl — May 16, 2022

And I Am A Material Girl

Just a few short months ago, I would have written a full series of posts on how much I disliked Madonna, how I thought she was sickeningly overrated. In fact, maybe I did. I don’t remember. But I do remember laying out terribly detailed arguments against her to anyone who would listen. Then, in a surprising twist, my sister had the 2 disc greatest hits set Celebration buried in a mountain of cds she had given me as trash for a project which I had intended to take on.

I would have immediately moved it to my garbage can, but track 1 on disc 2 is Dress You Up, and if you are alive, you love Dress You Up. I stopped fighting the losing battle against that song (pretending I didn’t love it, pretending I didn’t sing along at the top of my lungs) a long time ago. So I put the discs in my car only planning to listen to Dress You Up on repeat 15 or 20 times before they found their way to the landfill.

But a strange thing happened when I was late to repeat track 1 – track 2 began. Track 2 is Material Girl. We all know Material Girl is an embarrassing relic of the ‘80’s, bubble gum, disposable, pure sugar superficiality. Isn’t it????

“‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mister Right,” is a great line. Then, “Experience has made me rich and now they’re after me” is fine (better than fine, actually) but the way she sings “’Cause everybody’s living in a material world and I am a material girl,” is transcendent. My series of nasty posts would’ve surely included a huge section on Material Girl. And they would’ve been absolutely wrong. Vogue, Hung Up, Music, Borderline, Everybody, Burning Up, Cherish, I could go on and on, (don’t even get me started on Holiday) and the cds stay in for weeks until I can summon the superhuman strength to push eject.

Sigh, Madonna is awesome, but there is a bigger point here. Sometimes we are so familiar with something that thing loses it’s power. We take it totally for granted, we treat it as an everyday, common occurrence. We begin to see miracles as routine. The tremendous beauty of a sunrise or -set fails to register a second look. A hug, a wink, The Shawshank Redemption, my mom, Morrissey, throwing & catching baseballs, Oreos, so much just passes by unnoticed.

I remember the first time I kissed the Angel. I was wildly nervous and overwhelmed that I would ever have the opportunity to kiss such a lovely woman, and then we did and then we got married and we did a million more times and I am mostly no longer nervous and not overwhelmed enough at this even more lovely woman. When I think about her and her soft lips now, married nearly 22 years, she is way better than Material Girl, or even Holiday, I just forgot for many of those years.

I wonder how many things are like that in my life. The first time I held my boy Samuel, I wept at the enormity of this new life, how much I loved him, how much I prayed/dreamed for him, and what all of it meant. Tonight he and I had an argument over grades. Grades!??!?? He is the most wonderful young man, can I really be missing these day over a test score?

I know there’s room for grades AND appreciation, arguments AND gratitude, but too often it’s just grades and arguments. The Bible talks about ears to hear and eyes to see, and I think Material Girl is probably what those verses mean. We sometimes need new ears and eyes and lips to experience the familiar as brand new, so we can see our lives as the mind-blowing gifts they truly are.

Inertia — April 28, 2022

Inertia

These last few weeks, I’ve been a little… Well, it’s a little like running on a treadmill. More of a walk than a run, actually. The late winter months are usually pretty hard on my spirit, so recently I’ve made allowance for this heart sickness. A friend said last week in a contemplative retreat, “be excessively gentle with yourself,” and that’s what I’m doing.

Since I began this post last week – which was supposed to be about inertia and how if I get up and start working immediately, or jump out of bed, get dressed and go to the gym before my body can even argue, that seems to snowball for the rest of the day. And the opposite. If I come downstairs and sit down and watch an episode of Catfish first, it’s exponentially more difficult to get up and go. And it gets harder and harder the more things get between stagnation and movement. Right? It’s this way for all of us because of the simple concept of inertia: and object in motion tends to stay in motion and and object at rest tends to stay at rest.

Either of these is ok. I place no judgment on rest and no pride in motion, like we can easily do. I am being excessively gentle with myself.

But as last week’s post runs into late this week, my body is more and more achy and sore, my mind more and more dull, and my soul heavier and heavier, I wonder if this is simple inertia. Not that I’d have any idea what else it could be. Maybe I’m still wheeling this low grade illness around mindlessly like luggage at an airport.

Yesterday, at the Target, I spent an unreasonable amount of time scouring the supplements for anything that would address my non-specific symptoms. Of course, non-specificity breeds non-specificity, so that was obviously unsuccessful. As if there would be a bottle that said, “For General Blah.” Maybe there is, there seems to be bottles for everything else, but if there was, I’m not sure I’d take it. If they can’t tell me clearly what it’s for, then…

I still do the things I do, I’m still writing this post, lifting weights (though they are significant;y lighter weights than 2 months ago), still laugh easy, still sit outside and watch high school baseball games in the frigid cold. I am being excessively gentle with myself.

You know one of the most important things I’ve learned? In the past, I’d cancel appointments and hide away, but I don’t do that anymore, and that helps a lot. The Bible says it’s “not good” for us to be alone, and that’s really true. I agree that people are the worst, but people are also the absolute best. (A cool thing is that a very good friend is likely concerned and texting me as she reads these words. So to her: I am fine, just a little non-specific blah. Everyone should have beautiful friends like I do.) So I’ll keep connecting and wheeling this baggage around, driving the principle of inertia (or let it drive me). Maybe the low grade will fade imperceptibly, little by little, until it disappears altogether. Probably.

I’ll keep being excessively gentle with myself and I hope you are, too.