Love With A Capital L

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

Perfect — December 17, 2021

Perfect

In my last post, about youth basketball, I wrote: “Incidentally, what keeps me up at night is what I may have done to instill this perfectionism in him. I tried to encourage risk, value failure, while celebrating each win. I never withheld my affection or punished a loss, always gave a soft place to land, always threw my arms around him no matter the game/test result. Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe nothing.”

(I wonder how long I can call them “youth” sports. They are in high school, they are teenagers. They are still youths, but when does that stop and I can safely just call this “sports?” The summer after graduation? College?)

Anyway. While thinking about that paragraph, well… Have you ever been to the eye doctor? You know when you’re sitting behind that Clockwork Orange-esque device and it’s clicking and the letters either come into focus or quickly blur? This paragraph was the click where the G’s and Q’s become striking in their clarity.

What keeps me up at night is what I may have done to instill this perfectionism in him. What keeps me up at night is what I may have done wrong. What keeps me up at night is what I may not have done perfectly and how, ultimately, everything everywhere that happens is mine to control. I wonder where he would’ve possibly gotten the notion that he had to be perfect.

I know where this unhealthy perspective comes from, at least for me. I wanted to get it right, be awesome, because only then could I justify my worth. I hesitate to write the next sentence because my mom reads this, but the truth is that I always came after my dad’s addictions. I desperately wanted to be first, and when I was pitching well, or if I went 3 for 4 and drove in 3 runs, I was. I know he didn’t intend any of this, didn’t try to build an insecure little boy with this mountain of inadequacy to unwind. Like all of us (except for the sociopaths, of which I’m convinced there are very very few), he did his best and I loved him to the moon.

But all of life became a proving ground for my right to be here, where I had to be awesome to find a seat at the table. I had to be the best everything, ball player, funniest, coolest, whatever, which turned me into a big fat pleaser who wasn’t particularly any of those things, except an actor who would contort into any shape you wanted me to be.

Maybe you don’t believe in God or Jesus or faith or anything at all, (and that’s cool, we’re all on different paths), but as I began to fall in love with Jesus, I began to discover that my worth wasn’t tied to my performance at all. That I was good enough, loved, that I belonged as I was, as I am. Of course, this wasn’t overnight. That was 23 years, half of my life, ago, and I’m still writing sentences like the one earlier.

But here’s the cool thing. I was totally honest as I wrote that paragraph this week, and that honesty allowed the click. The boy I used to be was mistaken about his worth. He was depressed and unsure of himself and I’d really like to wrap him up in my arms and let him cry. The problem then was so little of my behavior was authentic, so much was a show, image making and fake. That dishonesty keep me fumbling in the dark for years and years.

Maybe nobody will ever read this, but it’s all true. I overshare because I’m through hiding, everything is dragged into the light and exposed. Of course it’s sometimes scary, but when it is, I know it’s absolutely necessary. I could go on forever and ever about awakening to the man that I’ve been able to meet, vital baby step by vital baby step, but it’s times like these where I can face truth without shame and (here’s the best part) give me a break.

I have responsibility, but not control. Maybe I’ve modeled an unhealthy posture, but I can also model steps towards something brand new. Nothing’s set in stone, today isn’t just yesterday, part 2, we can unwind. He’s a beautiful boy with a lot of weight on his shoulders that I’m vary familiar with. This family (the one that lives in this house that shares my name as well as the entire circle surrounding our lives) is a wonderfully safe place to test the ground. And then to jump.

Anyway — December 8, 2021

Anyway

Sometimes I sit down at this computer (which is a actually an iPad and an attached keyboard) and don’t have a clue what to write. The blank screen is intimidating, ruthlessly mocking me, laughing at this idiot sitting in the dark illuminated only by it’s condescending blue light.

Of course, that’s only in my head. This blank screen doesn’t care about me at all. I can write or not write and it wouldn’t care less. Indifferent like the ocean, where I could swim or drown and she wouldn’t even blink.

Yet I still sit down at this computer (iPad with attached keyboard), ideas or not. I start and delete, start and delete, getting 5 or 6 words or 5 or 6 paragraphs before I trash it all and begin again. I listen to music and type the lyrics, poetry that no one will ever read, paraphrased Bible verses, weather forecasts, anything. Just moving my fingers, really, trying to jar some form of muscle memory, as if the inspiration is in my hands. Maybe it is. Maybe they remember. Maybe after 2 hours, I close this tablet with nothing at all.

I do this anyway. No matter what. It’s like the dishes. I don’t ever feel like doing the dishes, am never inspired to clean up the sink, but I do it anyway. I set reminders on my phone for Mondays and Fridays, and do you know why? Because my wife likes when I do them. We’ve been married for 20 years and our marriage is better than it has ever been, and it’s not close. There were moments, days, years, where we didn’t feel like doing the dishes (whatever the ‘dishes’ were, whether dinner or sex or trash or kindness or laundry or whatever.) We have this practice where we come to the front door to meet the other when they get home. Sometimes the chair or couch or bed is comfortable or extra-extra comfortable, and we come anyway. We don’t always feeeel like it. And we go anyway. I pastor a church and there are times where I don’t jump out of bed on a Sunday morning. I don’t always hurry to the gym because I’m sooo in the mood to work out, either.

I think it’s important to write here. I’d decided this about me before I ever sit down, topic or not. I love my wife like crazy. I am also going to love my wife like crazy. These 2 statements are not about circumstance or situation or the weather or motivation or inspiration, they are simply what I do, what I will do. They are non-negotiable.

So I sit down here and give the time, like an offering. I don’t have to think about if I want to anymore, I cannot be talked out of it, it’s value isn’t in question. It is now who I am.

I discovered who I am after many, many years of searching. Many, many years of weight & priority, of digging into my heart and learning what I truly value. I read the Bible, not necessarily because I always want to, but because I want to be the sort of man who reads the Bible.

And when I don’t… Of course I don’t. I’m not anywhere close to the neighborhood of perfect. My Bible can get dusty, the dishes don’t always get done on a Monday and Friday, the Angel doesn’t always know I love her to the moon and back, not every decision is consistent with the me I’m becoming. So when I don’t…well, I also want to be the sort of man who is kind, forgiving, peaceful and loving to everyone (including me) anyway.

Enemies — December 2, 2021

Enemies

In the Bible, Jesus says to “Love your enemies.” This is the sort of thing in the Scriptures that we’ve heard several thousand times and sounds very spiritual and evolved. But sometimes…

Well, you know the song “Irreplaceable,” by Beyoncé? When it was released, it was in constant rotation. You could hear it almost any time of the day or night on one of the local pop radio stations. (It’s like Olivia Rodrigo – right now, I can guarantee that you can find one of her songs on one of the presets in your car.) But in listening to it so much, “Irreplaceable” lost something. It didn’t lose it’s shine, we just lost our sensitivity to the light. It was still AWESOME (listen to it again, I promise you’ll remember how much you love it), we just fell asleep. It was so familiar, it became routine background noise instead of soul-rattling.

There are lots of things like this. Seinfeld. Endgame. The Beatles. Your spouse. Your kids. Steph Curry. Kisses. Pizza.

Loving your enemies is a topic we talk about in churches where we all nod and pretend that we understand and have checked off a to-do list long ago. Yeah, yeah, love your enemies. Now what?

The problem is that this pretense is all well & good, right up until the point where we actually have an enemy. (Well, once we have an enemy AND are finally unable to successfully hide it behind some imaginary religious self-righteousness.) With this enemy’s face forefront in our minds taunting us, reminding us how awful he/she is, the true impact of His words is revealed. And it is here, right here, that we discover that we don’t in fact like this passage at all.

Like “Irreplaceable,” it was so familiar, it became unfamiliar. Unknown. Totally Foreign. We forgot that this is a shockingly humongous ask. It’s practically impossible. Which, I’m well aware, is probably the point. And this impossible dream is very easy to miss as long as we continue this ridiculous practice of image-making, masquerading as perfect plastic people.

The truth is, there are quite a few real-life enemies walking around hurting those we love (hurting our friends and family is waaay worse than hurting us, right??) over and over and over and over on purpose. They are psychopathic in their malice and leave a wide path of wreckage in their wake. Love them? Is that really the command?

Yes, it is. Maybe I don’t love mine, at least not today, but I’m finally hearing the song, and that’s something.

What Is The Truth? — November 8, 2021

What Is The Truth?

I’m thinking about the well-known saying, “There are 3 sides to every story; his, hers, and the truth,” and am discovering that I don’t agree at all. In the Bible, the Roman Governor Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” And I’ll ask that now. When we say “his, hers, and the truth,” what are we talking about? Simple facts? Can something be true without being strictly factual? Is truth only what can be objectively stated? Can something be real, genuine, authentic and not be true? Or are real and true interchangeable synonyms?

Maybe.

Maybe there are different kinds of truth. Sometimes truth changes with more research or information, changes with years and generations, changes with circumstance. And there is the Truth that stays exactly the same forever.

I’m talking about the 1st kind, and in that case the cliche should read, “There are 2 sides to every story; his & hers, AND they’re both true.”

This idea began to take shape for me when I got married. A general maxim is that “perception is reality.” If one believes/feels that the other works too much, there is no amount of data that can change that one’s mind. 99 out of 100 can think he/she does NOT work too much and 99 out of 100 don’t matter at all. What does matter is the one who lives in that house who is empty and disconnecting because their spouse works too much. There aren’t enough PowerPoint presentations that can convince him/her otherwise.

When my wife felt neglected or in second (or 10th) place, I had work to do and changes to make. I couldn’t reason my way out of it by invalidating her experience, even if I wanted to (which I really really did, then). Her neglect was completely true.

This tiny shift has allowed me to hear with new ears. I don’t have to, in fact I can’t, decide if someone is right or wrong, I just have to accept the existing paradigm. I just have to be present without judgment or taking a side. Actually, maybe they’re not new ears, maybe they’re just ears. If we could be free of the natural tendency to pass judgement and declare winners and losers, we could simply listen and truly practice empathy. What happens if we don’t have to know who is right and who is wrong? What happens if we are able to just be where our brothers and sisters (and selves) are, compassionately, totally engaged?

I don’t so much care what happened anymore. Sometimes I do. Maybe that makes sense. Life and relationship require us to not only know the right thing, but the right thing at the right time. And harder still, when the right thing at the wrong time is no longer the right thing. Unless it is.

There are 2 verses in the Bible – Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 – that are direct opposites. 4: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” And 5: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

They didn’t make sense to me before, now they do. They make perfect sense and are both absolutely true.

46 — September 27, 2021

46

This Wednesday is my 46th birthday.

As birthdays so often do, that new number brings with it a certain amount of conflicting emotions. I am no longer 20, can no longer be considered a young man. In fact, even with what has always been a bit of a baby face, I am no longer mistaken for being significantly younger than I am. That’s not too awesome. I have so many lines on my face and gray hairs in the growth on my face (but not on my head…I have been shaving that since before I started to lose it).

I’ve learned quite a lot and have become a very different person than I was yesterday, much less 20 years ago. That is pretty awesome.

Here’s a cool example from last week that illustrates the distance traveled. I re-connected with an old friend, after 10ish years. We spent a bagel together catching up and she had so thoroughly figured me and all of my many sins/inadequacies/fears/broken parts out that she felt an offer to extend her perhaps considerable psychological talents to help me was in order.

Now, I happen to believe relationship is a pre-requisite for unsolicited diagnosis, trust a foundation for mentorship, but that’s sort of besides the point here.

The point is that for most of my life, I would have immediately defended myself and my character, giving detailed examples to prove my position. My stomach would churn for days, maybe weeks, and I would drag this ridiculously meaningless dance out for at least that long. I would neeeed the other to see my side.

But when I got her offer Saturday, I thanked her and will not respond again. AND I slept like a baby Saturday night, after thanking God for bringing me along slowly until I could walk away without a second thought of if I had “won” or, more importantly, if I was liked. I would have given this person the keys to my peace & happiness, but at 46, I simply don’t care. It doesn’t matter if she ever knows the truth about me and who I am here, now, today. Some people won’t, and that is ok.

At 46, I have many trusted people in my life who love me and exercise an unreasonable concern for my heart. Maybe that’s why every year is better and better, my circle is expanding. The Angel, these boys, this family, this faith community, these neighbors, you. You know, if you asked me when I was 18 to dream of a wonderful life, I could not have come anywhere close to the beauty of this one and the absolutely overwhelming blessing of it all. Of course, it hasn’t been easy or without heartbreak, floods of tears, or tragedy. I haven’t erased the depression or the issues in my head. But it has been real and it has been full. I have loved and I have been loved.

I’ve learned to release my grip on how you see me, what you think of me, what I should do, who I should be, and instead jump from the top of that hell into the wildly loving arms of a Savior and an endless sea of others who will not only catch me, but walk with me every step. I’ve learned to believe what is true about me rather than the nasty destructive lying voices that have always been in my head (more or less;). I can give the keys to me back where they belong.

46 is a lot of years full of days, moments, and all I can really say is that I’m grateful. So if today is my last day or if I get 46 more years, it will have been, as it is right now, a very, very good life.

Y Chromosomes — September 2, 2021

Y Chromosomes

[I recognize that I don’t usually write about religion/church/spirituality in this space. I am, though, today. It’s all just me. Next week, I’ll probably write about Netflix documentaries or the new Killers album, but for now…] Last night there was a prayer walk at the school district in my town. Maybe you don’t believe in prayer, don’t think it does anything, is just a silly dog and pony show. That’s ok, I don’t mind. Maybe it does do something, maybe it affects the energy in the universe in a positive way, maybe it is the first step in making the impossible possible. Who knows, for sure? It is a good thing to do, people coming together to think about the well-being of other human beings can’t ever hurt. Especially now – it’s a pretty hard time to be someone with a working heart.

Prayer looks and sounds a lot of different ways. (Which is only natural, we look and sound lots of different ways, why wouldn’t our prayers?) But if you were at this prayer walk last night, you’d be forced to believe that it’s an exclusively feminine practice. There were quite a few people there and my boys, myself, and 1 other grandfather were the only ones with a Y chromosome.

That’s disappointing, right? Of course. Unless there’s another explanation. Maybe it’s corporate prayer that men shy away from, that they have full, vibrant prayer lives but it’s alone, safely in their bedrooms. Hmm. Maybe. I wonder if full and vibrant and alone and safe all sit in the same sentence comfortably. The words seem to contradict, like they are seconds away from losing their restraint and throwing hands at any moment.

I read a quote last week from Charles Spurgeon, a famous old-time preacher, “Christ never contemplated the production of secret Christians, – Christians whose virtues would never be displayed, – pilgrims who would travel to heaven by night, and never be seen by their fellow-pilgrims or anyone else.” And I think he’s probably right. It seems pretty solidly steeped in western philosophy to consider independence and privacy spiritual virtues.

Anyway. (That last paragraph might be a different discussion and not just a line or 2 in this one.) It’s not just that prayer group. It’s not just prayer groups at all. We have a book study and, when we’re lucky, we have 2 men. [It’s no longer “last night” that the prayer walk was, it is last week. But nothing is different in my heart and mind.] I wonder why the men largely aren’t showing up for their (our) spirituality, why prayer groups are women’s prayer groups and book studies are women’s book studies.

So I did what you would do in my situation: Asked Google. Google, what’s the statistical difference between men & women in the church? I expected vast differences in these numbers, but the only thing I found was that all numbers are falling in church and participation in spiritual development. Of course, there are more women than men, but it’s not as striking as my experience has led me to believe.

Why is this? It’s probably some mixture of religious abuse, self-reliance, fear, disillusion with organized everything, politics, depression, our neighbors, (it’s easy to forget that I am someone’s neighbor, too, and likely one of the reasons some have walked away from spiritual communities) and any number of other probably pretty valid reasons.

I have no idea why I’m writing or what I’d like to say in regard to this exodus from the local church. I know I wish there would be more men AND women in these groups and on Sunday mornings, more men AND women loving everybody all the time. Maybe that’s the most glaring reason that none of us want to acknowledge. Maybe we’ve confused love with church attendance as the highest call on our lives. Maybe we haven’t been loving everybody all the time and that’s what’s emptying the pews and thinning prayer walks. Maybe we’ve been busy fighting over politics that we don’t want to sit next to ‘those people’ and if we don’t, why would anybody else?

Maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s love, not division or doctrine, that defines. Maybe we all need to be reminded.

Is Any Of It Real? — May 31, 2021

Is Any Of It Real?

I have 2 teen-aged boys, so one of my favorite experiences is to introduce them to the art that moved me during my life. One cannot live on Marvel movies alone, you know? Almost, but not quite. We’ve watched The Money Pit, Predator, Naked Gun, and Lord of the Rings, listened to Nevermind and The Joshua Tree, and the younger one has started to dip his toes into Kurt Vonnegut. They don’t always get it, but I certainly do. I remember why I loved these things and most of the time, love them even more with the benefit of the extra 10 (or 20 or 30) years on this spinning ball.

Saturday we watched The Truman Show. It’s about a guy who’s been the unwitting subject of a reality show since he was born, 24 hours a day, everything and everyone a production. Except for him. When Truman asks, “Was any of it real?” Christof (the creator) answers, “You were.” It’s beautiful and even more perfect today than it was in 1998, when it was released.

I thought then that it was a pretty sharp commentary on reality tv, like Running Man, a prophesy warning of the dangers of the path ahead of us. And maybe more importantly, a vehicle for Jim Carrey to explore something other than broad stretch-faced comedy. Both of those are still there, true, and very successful, but the film is bigger than that.

In Rogue One, a character named Chirrut says, “There is more than one sort of prison, Captain, I sense that you carry yours wherever you go.”

That describes so many of us. We decide what we are and are not capable of, live lives as if “it is what it is” and “they are what they are” and worse, “we are who we are.” We build the walls that define our limits, and never test them. It’s like Truman. When asked why he never questions this artifice, Christof answers, ” We accept the reality of the world that we are presented,” and there might not be a more accurate statement in the entire film. We accept a wide variety of settling simply because it’s been presented to us as reality. The dome that encircles Truman’s world isn’t unbreakable, it’s really fear – of water, or death, of the unknown – that keeps him inside.

I often think about my fear and the steel bars that make up my own cage. What are they and what would it mean if I were to tear them down? These 2 questions are absolutely vital to explore, and like this pretend town, very nearly impossible to notice until we do, then it’s all we see.

Maybe it’s time to stop accepting so much. Stop carrying our prisons around wherever we go. Stop settling. Stop relying on old habits that didn’t work then and don’t work now. And stop calling it reality.

Just because it happens to be true today doesn’t mean it’s true tomorrow. I’ve heard it said that we move, transform, start, leave, risk, jump only when the fear of staying the same outweighs the fear of change. Truman found that space, sailed that boat into the vicious mouth of his fear and walked through the door into a new reality. Yes, it was a reality that would be missing predictability and safety, but the old one was missing honesty, authenticity, love. It was missing the things that make life so wonderful. It was missing life. And as he chose life, I could no longer hold back my tears because it’s not just Truman, it’s you and me, too.

So now what?

The Angel Has A Scar — May 4, 2021

The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

Fixing — March 9, 2021

Fixing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.