Love With A Capital L

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

Saying Yes — January 8, 2022

Saying Yes

For the first 40some-ish years of my life, I had a pattern, It was an unhealthy pattern, but it was a pattern nonetheless. So, life would get big & heavy and as it would threaten to crush me under it’s vicious paws, I would fully, completely check out. If you would happen to call me (and later, text me), I wouldn’t call you back. I wouldn’t respond at all. If we had plans, I would break them. I’d listen to tons and tons of Morrissey songs. Life was lived squarely from a NO posture, deep in the dark. The suicidal thoughts (that seems weird to write so nonchalantly, but since I wrote about it a little in my book, it is a little easier, and since I’m not that guy anymore, it’s a lot easier. I’m not him, but I do love him, which is much more than I could ever say then) came with the darkness. That darkness was so total and my desperation so loud, I truly believed it might never be light again and if it wouldn’t be light, then… you get the point.

Anyway. Then my faith in the darkness was replaced with faith in Jesus, and with it, the suggestions of suicide were replaced with (what was at first a flimsy) hope. That’s more awesome than I can tell you, but my pattern continued.

Now, 2 things. There is a good book called Yes Man by Danny Wallace, and a less good movie adaptation with Jim Carrey. The premise is that a guy just says yes to every single thing that comes in his direction. That’s first. Then surprisingly, George Costanza is second. In an perfect episode of Seinfeld, George discovers that, “It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s all been wrong.” Later, Jerry says, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” So he does the opposite and it’s hilarious, but it got me thinking. This pattern has not served me well. It is not who I want to be and it’s not what the who I want to be would do.

Here, on the post I wrote for New Years, I stated that it was a good year. What made it a good year? So many bad things happened, wheels fell off, bones/relationships/lives were broken, hope and people were lost. Last week, we set a new record for numbers of COVID cases. By most objective measures, it was not a good year. What made it good in my perspective?

If every instinct I have ever had about checking out, about isolating myself, about disappearing, has been wrong, then the opposite would have to be right. (Incidentally, the instinct I had about listening to tins and tons of Morrissey happens to be right, in all situations, so that stayed.) So I hesitantly, slowly started reaching out. If when young children get scared, they climb into their parents bed, maybe I should begin to do the same, I reasoned, metaphorically speaking.

I called you, said I was afraid or overwhelmed or angry or frustrated or confused or lost in darkness. I kept the meetings I had scheduled. (I now schedule meetings, phone calls, texts with friends & family. Of course, it feels sort of impersonal, but it’s actually the polar opposite. I decide what is the most important and carve it into my daily/weekly/monthly planner. You write the most important checks first. If we just wait until we think of it or have the time, it’ll be months and months and that conversation will start with “I’m sorry it’s been so long…”) I said yes. I showed up all the time, no matter if I felt like it. You were more important than my feelings right now. I was more important than my feelings right now.

And guess what? In a wonderful twist of fate, my relationships grew in quantity AND quality. I knew and was known, loved and was loved. I opened all parts of me to you (whoever you are) and you were really lovely, trustworthy, and careful.

I teach the Bible and say, “we were never meant to do this alone,” referencing the book of Genesis, always feeling like a humongous hypocrite, mostly because I was a humongous hypocrite. But as my life began to shift into alignment, the doctrine I believed in my head made the wide treacherous leap to my heart, I could see cracks in the oppressive darkness. Cracks where beautifully blinding light could enter.

Darkness still comes (I have a condition) but it’s never total because you’re there. Who would’ve guessed? Well, probably a lot of people could have guessed. I build bridges, but now I do something else. The walls of the cells we create that mark the boundaries of our lives that keep us sick need to come down, we each need to smash our own to pieces, so now I carry a big, heavy sledgehammer to lend to let the light, and life, in. It hurts, it’s terrifying, and it’s sooo worth it.

Spider-Man — December 22, 2021

Spider-Man

No Way Home, the 3rd in the Marvel/Sony Spider-Man trilogy, was released last week, broke records, and thrilled me more than I can tell you. I’m going to write about it a little and try not to give any spoilers.

I had a tough time getting tickets for our family and the theater was jammed. The atmosphere was electric, the buzz in the air reminded us all of what it felt like to be sharing experiences. Netflix is awesome but it really can’t do that. Streaming Hawkeye on Disney+ in the living room simply isn’t the same as a theater full of human beings. Nobody wears superhero suits in my house anymore, but they did at the movies.

I don’t know why they wear masks and dress up like characters, seems odd to me. But here’s the thing about that, it doesn’t matter if I understand. I am me and that guy (or girl) is that guy (or girl) and we are different. What I think we’ve forgotten over the last 2 years of quarantine and isolation is that different is a very good thing. We might disagree on cosplay but we all love Spider-Man.

(As you know, I am a spiritual person and that’s one of the coolest parts about the Church and the local church. We can be different, disagree on a great many issues, but we all love Jesus.)

So there are weirdos in costumes and I am totally normal. (That’s a joke. Ha.) We’re all different, but there was a moment, maybe several moments, where none of that mattered at all. We completely lost our collective minds and gasped or cheered or yelled or cried tears of joy or anything. Together.

I get pretty emotional at Christmas. I mean, more than usual. When I saw Into The Spider-Verse, I remember thinking, “this changes everything.” In that animated film, we were forced to confront our ideas of what is possible in a movie. In the context of Christmas, COVID variants, division, anger, riots, and school shootings, this Spider-Man also can change everything. No Way Home gives us the opportunity to confront our ideas of what is possible in our communities, this world, in society, in us.

I don’t know if we’ll take that opportunity, and answer that invitation. I hope we do. I hope we remember who we are and who we can be. I hope we can discover that our differences are actually wonderful and can bring us closer through curiosity, interest & openness.

If I’m totally honest, I do know. Of course we’ll open that door. I’m relentlessly hopeful and it has served me very well. Yes, I get my heart broken and am disappointed from time to time (ok, lots of times) but my trust, belief, faith and love gets rewarded even more spectacularly, much more often. I am one of those who goes in to Spider-Man expecting it to be great…and sometimes, like this one, it’s better than that.

Zealots — November 5, 2021

Zealots

My friend was wondering what zeal is and if it’s actually a positive or negative characteristic. I thought it was positive, but…

Yesterday, I was dying. (I’m saying that in the way you say that when you’re sick and miserable, not actually dying. I’m perfectly healthy today. Anyway.) I had gotten vaccinated the day before. Now. I usually keep things like this pretty close to the vest, only disclosing to my closest friends. The vision for my life is to build bridges and make relationships and that requires me to refrain from taking many firm “political” stands, which this has unfortunately become. I do from time to time, but I do not do it lightly. This is not a “political” statement for me, in fact, it fits into that life vision category. Being unvaccinated (I had actually gotten COVID earlier in the pandemic, so it wasn’t exactly a safety issue as much as a designation issue) was keeping me from certain people/relationships/spaces and, like I said, I can’t have that.

But we’re close friends, right? So I had a rough reaction to the shots, and yesterday I was sore and hurting from head to toe and while I laid on my couch trying not to move any part of me, I watched tv. A documentary I watched was called City Of Joel, and it was about a religious/political conflict in New York between a growing group of Orthodox Hasidic Jews and the rest of the town. The Jewish people were zealous about their religion and their families and the rest were zealous about their families and their community. Both were operating, on some level at least, like so many, from fear. Fear of persecution, fear of difference, fear of losing. And I thought of how many times the zealous have crossed very damaging lines into violence.

My son is studying the Salem witch trials in school – just wait until he gets to the crusades. We are zealous about our politicians, vaccination status, mask stances, positions on abortion & homosexuality, sports teams, religion, anything. Our deeply held beliefs create wildly different responses. Sometimes that zeal causes us to take a meal to our neighbor, sometimes it causes us to riot or pull triggers on our weapons of evangelism.

My friend put it this way – “How zealous must we be…Do we cut off ears? Or love like Jesus?” What a great question. He was referring to the moment where Peter pulled a sword and cut off a Roman soldier’s ear in defense of Jesus, who rebuked him and put it right back on his head. Obviously, we would say zeal in loving the way Jesus did is the right answer, but how quickly does that get misguided? Peter thought he was not only loving like Jesus, he was loving the real, flesh and blood Jesus. He was wrong.

I know physical violence isn’t the answer ever, and that’s easy to tell, but there are many other different kinds of violence. We manipulate each other through judgment, though withholding, through condescension, through gift-giving, through affection and on and on. That’s violence, too.

I wonder how many of the worst atrocities in human history were planted (at least originally, in the seed stage) by what we could consider positive motivations. Someone I know is so angry that I’ve been vaccinated that I have been effectively excised from his/her life. This anger started (hopefully) from a deep concern for my well being and became emotional violence.

I think so much of what we are feeling now in the culture is very similar. I desperately want you to vote my way, believe what I believe, listen to/read what I listen to/read because I think it’s the best thing for you. I think it will bring you enlightenment or happiness, because I think that’s what it has brought me. I know that is also a little condescending, but it stems from the simple fact that we want the best for those we care about. (Now, sometimes that’s not from where it stems – sometimes it’s to be right or powerful or to win. I’m not talking about that, that’s just insecurity and inadequacy.) I get off the path when I take offense to the fact that you don’t do/want what I offer and respond out of that offense.

So my friend asked this question. 1. I think we’re supposed to be completely overcome by love (for God and each other) that it has to come out. And 2. It sure takes a lot of careful wisdom to figure out how it comes out. This is the tricky part, isn’t it? I’m not certain about too much but I am positive it doesn’t happen with our hands in fists, grasping tightly to our scared, arrogant, fragile egos. It only happens with my hand holding yours, walking each other home.

Hotels — October 22, 2021

Hotels

This morning I woke with a physical exhaustion that has thankfully become quite rare. So when I came home from an unenthusiastic workout, I opened Netflix and crawled under a blanket.

In one of my searches, I discovered 2 documentaries that interested me and were listed to be streaming on Netflix, but were not! I scrolled and scrolled, past so many until I landed on The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel. A young woman named Elisa Lam left Vancouver in a familiar quest for answers to the question we all ask at some point; Who am I? This quest took her to California, first San Diego through Los Angeles ending in San Francisco. She would get no further than LA, no further than the Cecil Hotel.

It was an eerie story of conspiracy and perhaps the supernatural as she simply disappeared. There was a surveillance video of her in an elevator and then no more. It was also a story of homelessness, hopelessness, mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, the police, a hotel’s history of evil/tragedy and a musician in Mexico.

The series was 4 episodes and in the 4th, we learned what actually happened. I’ll ruin the suspense here, this is the 4th paragraph and there wasn’t a conspiracy or governmental coverup, there was a lovely young woman who had serious mental issues that caused her, ostensibly, to climb into a water tank on the roof of a hotel and drown.

I intended to make this a post about easy characterizations and a need to understand that lead us down all sorts of paths we don’t want to go, and which have been adding to our disconnect and division. Maybe I will, but it’s so much more in my head now, I just can’t let this one go.

Elisa Lam was a very prolific blogger, posting every thought and idea on Tumblr. I imagine anyone who read her work felt as if they knew her, that’s probably why the story was so captivating for so many. She was our sister, daughter, friend, co-worker, wide open about every thing in her life. We wanted the best for her, wanted her to find meaning and love. If you’re reading this, do you feel like you know who I am? Do you think we’d be friends? I hope so. In all likelihood, we would. It’s sure a new, interesting world, where we can become close to people we’ve never met, and in Elisa Lam’s case, never even had a conversation.

I like that. I think it’s one of the most beautiful side effects of social media. We are closer than ever before, nothing separates us (except physical space, I suppose.) And we are farther apart than ever before, falling prey to the delusion that online relationships can take the place of relationships IRL. She traveled to California and slowly fell apart in public and no one asked the smallest question, if she was ok. Maybe she would’ve lied, pretended like we do, that yes, she was fine. But maybe she would’ve told the truth, that no, she wasn’t.

I wonder how many times I pass by a person in distress, too busy or distracted or too minding my own business to look or listen. I wonder if a human connection – even a tiny, superficial one – would’ve saved Elisa Lam’s life.

You already know I think we’re here to walk together. We’re made for just this sort of human connection, and we’ve wandered so far off that path that when we are asked, it’s jarring and we feel a sense of intrusion. When did that happen? And I wonder if we felt it slipping away.

In this film, one of the main characters was Los Angeles and a part of LA called Skid Row. Apparently, the idea was to take the homeless and other “undesirables” and imprison them in a square of the city where they could be ignored and forgotten. Human beings were “undesirable” and systematically, purposely ignored and forgotten? It seems like we all have to ask the question that drove Elisa Lam to California in the first place: Who are we????

Her death obviously wasn’t the Cecil Hotel’s fault, but it sure feels like a metaphor. The Cecil was crafted with great care and beauty and over time, seems to have forgotten it’s original creation. Great care and beauty were poured into this structure so that it could take creat care of others. But without a clear vision or purpose, it fell into disrepair and became just another flop house where the people who interacted with it were seen and treated as disposable, which in turn made this once grand hotel disposable, rotting from the inside.

It was a super sad documentary, but as Black Widow says to Bruce Banner in the 1st Avengers movie, “No, we need a little worse.” Not paying attention, whistling through graveyards and hiding behind masks of the images we desperately try to keep, has gotten us here. Maybe we need a little worse, too, a few more cameras shining the light of truth on our increasing dysfunction, to force a course correction. And if we do that, if we start to care or listen or love, maybe Elisa Lam’s death would’ve been for something. Now, it’s just a senseless casualty of modern life.

But it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose what it is, and we get to choose here, now, today.

Outside Of A Hotel Dance Club — May 25, 2021

Outside Of A Hotel Dance Club

I read this book last year called Misericorde, by Cynthia Morgan. It’s part of The Mercy Series (part 2 is out, called Clandestine, and now we impatiently wait for book 3 & 4). I’ve referenced it several times before because it contains this peach: “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity,” and as far as vision statements for life go, it’s terrific.

Last year, the author (who happens to be a good friend) asked me to do what she called a “Reverse Book Review,” where she asked questions, I’d respond, and that interview would become the review. It’s a great idea and of course it is, she’s brilliant.

One of the questions was “Who was your favorite/least favorite character and why?” I answered: “My least favorite is easy: Sauvage. In a space that is forgetting any resemblance of gentleness or care, his absolute lack of humanity is repulsive. My favorite has been Chevalier or Levesque for the same reason. As I raged at their apathy and unwillingness to DO SOMETHING, I knew why they didn’t (or couldn’t.) They did for the same reason we stand idly by while the least of us are utterly taken advantage of and great violence is inflicted. Morgan couldn’t have known the specific political/social landscape when she wrote it, but this story is perfect for us, now. I guess it’s perfect for any time, because we are too often Chevalier or Levesque and not enough Tzadkiel and Lourdes. (As it turns out, why I love them is that they DID finally DO SOMETHING and I am proud of them, and it gives me hope for us, for me.)”

You don’t need to know who Tzadkiel or Levesque or Sauvage are to know who they are, right? They are you & me. Sometimes we are the wounded, sometimes we’re the one who delivers the pain, and perhaps most disturbingly, sometimes we are those that stand on the sidewalk while the damage is done. When my often-overwhelming passivity pulls the strings on my decision making process, it leaves me crushed and discouraged. Why didn’t I just (whatever)? Why couldn’t I have just…?

And I know why here, too.

Once when I was in college, I witnessed a guy hit the woman he was with with a bottle outside of a hotel dance club. My friends were in the bathroom and I was watching the whole thing happen from the window. Sick and outraged, I waited for the guy to leave and my friends to come back, then we ran outside like heroes. Only I knew I wasn’t.

25 years ago and this still haunts me. Of course it does, how can it not? I can see him do it and I can see her face. I sure hope she didn’t then get in his car, but I’m pretty sure she did.

It’s interesting what will shape each of us into the collage that we are at any point on the timeline. Or, in this case, the mosaic that I am now. Watching such a despicable happen and choosing to bend to my fear broke me forever in ways I couldn’t understand through that hotel window. But it’s the repair, isn’t it? The beauty of a mosaic lies in the reorganization of the cracked and broken pieces.

I used to ask, anytime kindness, civility or common sense broke down, “how can they do that???” I don’t ask that anymore. I know, I know. I understand Chevalier and Levesque because they are a mirror of what we can become and an invitation to become something more of what we were created to be. I wrote that I was proud of them, that they gave me hope. And I guess what I really meant was if their story wasn’t over, mine isn’t either.

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.

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.

We’re Here — December 22, 2020

We’re Here

“I want someone to know I’m here.” That is the heartache expressed by the title character in the book Britt-Marie Was Here. This is another novel written by Fredrik Backman, which may be a poor choice as I’m still recovering from My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry and The Deal Of A Lifetime.

I read once that if you take LSD, you are never the same as you were before. If you were a 5, you’re not a 5 anymore. That’s how I feel about those books. Like I was cracked wide open and now I’m a permanently different Chad.

Anyway. It’s Christmas in 2020 and on the one hand, we desperately need the hope of Christmas and the birth. On the other, I can’t imagine the despair of another holiday in isolation. This season is usually among the most depressed, presumably because the cold gray short days spent alone against the backdrop of other families gathered around a warm fire. What if I don’t have a family? What if the family I do have is broken? What if there’s 1 less around that fire? What if I don’t have a home, much less a fire? It’s no wonder the depression we barely keep at bay all year gets amplified in November & December.

This Britt-Marie book is about a woman newly single, alone because the husband she has pretended was faithful has been publicly exposed as what she knew he was. She’s kind of awful, but as Backman slowly peels back curtain after curtain, she’s all of us. She wants to be seen, wants to matter to someone.

We’re a culture that largely walks with our heads down, on our way to the next thing, saying “How are you?” as a greeting, but not at all interested in the answer. Even without a global pandemic and quarantine, we had been increasingly disconnected for years. This leaves us like those copper pans where nothing sticks. And we call it survival.

But it’s not. It’s killing us. We’re invisible and we are not meant to be invisible. We are meant to be together, sharing the moments of our lives. We are meant to ask how you are and to wait for the honest answer. We are meant to cry together, to celebrate together.

As I read, the thing that kills me is that I know how many Britt-Marie’s must be in my town, neighborhood, on my street, invisible. And this is a fact that is simply unacceptable. My dream is that we are all seen, accepted. That we all belong. That we are all loved. That the reality of Christmas become a reality in practice, that it’s not just a story of fairy-tale hope we tell in churches on Christmas Eve.

I want someone to know we’re here.

Culture of Outrage — September 16, 2020

Culture of Outrage

Nowhere has been safe from 2020. In my small, idyllic town, we have had one unwelcome disruption after another. Recently, it was discovered that the elementary school is being swallowed by the earth (if the guesses are to be believed) and the administration KNEW it and inexplicably covered up (if the opinions on Facebook are to be believed).

I don’t have any idea if the ground is crumbling underneath the building and if eventually there will be a giant hole where the building now stands. No one does. But that doesn’t stop the trolls on social media from screaming and pointing fingers.

We’re all just one small step from losing our minds.

My very good friend calls it a culture of outrage. (She may have read it somewhere – and she may have even told me where, but I don’t remember so I’m happy to just attribute the wisdom to her.) We are constantly looking for offense. And if offense works like everything else, what we look for, we will find.

There is a school parents group on Facebook where parents wildly throw accusations and unfounded theories that are easily refuted, but the truth doesn’t seem too important so the same wild accusations are given the same weight and repeated and recycled. I wonder what we’re teaching our children. No, I know what we’re teaching our children, I just don’t like it.

The fabric of humanity is being stretched, threatening to tear us all apart. The isolation keeps us locked inside the stories we are telling ourselves, no matter how fantastical, and locked away from each other.

Then, this week a news report was released of absolutely unspeakable horror in this tiny, “perfect” town. Now, what will we do when faced with a new story? Will we come together or drift further apart? Will we hold each other in grief, or rip each other’s hearts out in anger and outrage? As in the lyrics of a Rise Against song, will we come alive or come undone?

If pre-COVID history is any indication, this community (with very few exceptions) will connect and find comfort together. However, we are no longer in a pre-COVID world, so it’s possible we’ll be thirsty for blood and revenge and most of all, blame. I hope we come alive, hope we remember that we are all a shared humanity and that the outrage subsides and is replaced by care and love. Instead of holding our opinions and rage, I hope we start holding each other again.