Guns and Roses: If you Love to Argue, and There Aren’t Really Any Roses*

Guns and Roses: If you Love to Argue, and There Aren’t Really Any Roses*
I have always gotten into a bit of trouble with my fellow human beings because of my love for arguing. Things that have been said to me over the years:
1. Why are you so angry?
2. Why are you so opinionated?
3. No one cares.
4. Shut-Up.
5. You were created in a test-tube. (That one was my brother. To be fair I think Isaac would have said that no matter what).
I tend to see disagreements as a puzzle. What will happen if I say this? Or this? Can I win? What does it mean to win? Can I argue the other side just as well as this one?

And can I be honest? I don’t always love that side of myself either. I get obsessive, and then I forget I’m with other people with feelings who get more hurt over this stuff than me, and then I end up regretting the whole thing and thinking it didn’t really matter that much anyway.

I’m also, I have to admit here, a tad dishonest. I’ve always argued based on who is watching. I’m not kidding. When I was a teenager and thoroughly entrenched in being a pk, I only argued things that would not get me in trouble with my father’s congregation. The side I could take on things like gay marriage, guns, immigration, etc. was entirely made by considering what I could get away with without getting in too much trouble in the big picture. And I didn’t even really care what I argued. I just wanted to play the game. I wanted to bandy about words like a master-swordsman and WIN.

I remember one particular classroom debate where the side we were to take were assigned to us. I was assigned the position opposite of what I always argued. The whole class actually went “Oooooo,” together, thinking I was in trouble. My debate partner looked almost depressed and glanced at me sideways when the topic was assigned. Internally I smiled and cracked my fingers like a super villain.

“Excellent,” I thought. “No one can get mad at me if I HAD to debate the other side.”

We won so handily it wasn’t even funny. I remember my partner, who had been pro-this issue for a long time looking at me with glee as I shelled out arguments she had made to ME, as well as some she’d never heard of before. I LOVED dancing through the side of thoughts I’d never been able to publicly display. It was marvelous!

And here is where I suddenly feel sheepish even telling this story. The truth is that I only cared about arguing. Not really the subject at hand. And at a deeper level, I cared only about making sure I didn’t have to carry any responsibility for the actual subject away from the conversation. I didn’t even know what I truly believed on most subjects. Only what was possible to believe and what I was SUPPOSED to believe.

So the question here is, obviously, why am I telling this story? Who cares what I did in high-school? (The answer to the second question is no one. No one cares. It’s just that telling stories about people from more recent history gets me into trouble and as I already discussed, I can be a dishonest coward about these things).

Because there is a lot of arguing going on these days. And there are so very many people just trying to win the game. I can tell. I know what it looks like to pull a fast one in a debate to make a dishonest argument while hoping no one is alert enough or clever enough to notice. (In the past I would have pretended never to do these things. But of COURSE I have.  If the object is to win and you are obsessed, and you know you can get away with it, cheating happens.) And I have had to confront the very troubling heart issue, in myself, that I got so used to doing this that I didn’t even notice anymore and I could lie even to MYSELF that I was being honest. That’s how much I NEEDED to WIN. Which eventually turned into NEEDING TO BE RIGHT. This is even worse when one side of the debate makes me feel more secure, safe, or like I belong to the tribe that it’s from.

But there is a different way to do this. A way that isn’t really even arguing or debating, though it has something in common with those things. We can discuss things in order to discern the truth. Whatever that may be. Even if it is inconvenient, or threatening. Even if it is what is best for a larger population, but maybe not for us personally. And it looks like:

1. Admitting when you don’t know something or haven’t done enough research to be sure.

2. Admitting when you hold your opinion out of bias and culture, even when knowing that doesn’t mean you are instantly going to change your mind. Or that you ever will.
3. Making sure you understand not only the opposing side, but WHY someone would hold those views. Is it culture? Is it experience? Is it bias? Is there something I don’t even have context to understand?
4. Recognizing when you personally might hold a different opinion or take different actions if your life had been different.
5. Replacing judgement with compassion.
6. Arguing for purpose, but not for pride, anger, fun, or just putting a moral stake in the ground (i.e., I don’t want to discuss this, I just want you to know what I think.)I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think arguing was kind of fun. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still sometimes do it passive aggressively. But with big important lives-at-stake issues, I’ve learned to be a tad more careful, and to at least value tact even if I don’t always achieve it (which often means saying that I am sorry and admitting when I was wrong or went to far). And it has meant lots and lots of soul searching. I have to ask myself questions like:

1. Why am I discussing this?
2. What am I hoping to achieve?
3.  Is this good or just noise?
4. Do I care about the people I am discussing this with?
5. Am I being honest about my actual expertise here?

The current debate is particularly interesting, because I really do not think I could qualify as an expert in any way, and I feel pretty neutral on the entire subject. But it DOES matter, and I DO care. So instead of arguing for or against anything, I’ve mostly been paying attention to the discussion at hand. I’ve had to ask myself how much I know, and what I might actually think. I’ve been open to where people are being honest or dishonest because I don’t need one side or the other to win. And it’s a total crap-fest.

I’ve been a little mad at myself lately for always tying up these posts into a neat little bow like there is always an easy moral to every story. There isn’t. (and I often leave out the messy or inconvenient to make it come out that way). I don’t know what the moral of the story is here. I don’t think I do this discussion thing perfectly, or even well all the time.

But I hope that by encouraging people to think about HOW they talk, and not just what they are talking about, maybe we could get just a little bit of clarity. And since we can’t control other people, maybe we could achieve honesty and truth seeking within ourselves.

I don’t know. At least we can try.

*Yes, my title is mostly nonsense.

Advertisements

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

“DO YOU HAVE TO PARK SO DAMN CLOSE?!”

I found the tiny yellow note on my dash under my wipers at a point where I’m not entirely sure which of my parking jobs it was referring to. As with anyone, I think, with any kind of criticism, my gut reaction was to defend myself.

But to whom would I present my defense? Would it even be sufficient to just defend myself for this particular time? As someone who has always struggled to pull off neat parking jobs, it didn’t terribly surprise me that eventually it caught up with me. Having given up on re-parking repeatedly every time I wasn’t perfect, I eventually settled for between the lines and able to open the doors without dinging anyone as sufficient. I desperately wanted to tell them that I had tried. That I THOUGHT I had done a good enough job. That though pregnant I had been able to get out with relative comfort on the close side.

But you can’t argue with a note. Maybe that’s the point? Shame with no risk of argument.

Jonathon asked, “What’s it say?”

I didn’t want to show it to him, but passed it over anyway. “It’s not very nice, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.”

I thought to myself that if Mr. Note Writer had met me in person it would be hard to be mad at me. I would be so apologetic. I would move my vehicle right away. I would smile and poke fun at myself. I would use my own awkwardness to charm them out of anger and diffuse the whole thing immediately.

But as it was, they got to think of me as only a selfish close parker. A note like that carries a note of hate and contempt in it. It would be impossible to hold that kind of emotion in a stable way with real me. But with mysterious close parker me, it was easy.

And I imagine, that kind of fits right in with what everyone seems to like doing these days.

I read an article recently that current ratings of television and movies can be actually quite hard to interpret by audience numbers alone. Because it is a current fad to hate watch things. As in, people watch things they despise for the sole joy of complaining about them afterward. I think this is a much softer way of pointing a finger at the general emotional atmosphere of the U.S. in general right now. We are so much more into what we are against than what we are for.

But what if we started believing the best in people?

What if when someone parked badly, we imagined all the great reasons they could have had to do that. What if when someone piles 30 items in the express lane we think of what could lead a nice reasonable person to do so? What if, when we heard an opinion we thought was truly awful, our first reaction was to wonder how a person came to that conclusion? What if we assumed it was for good reasons, even if those reasons led them to a different place than us? And what if…what if I assumed the man who left the note on my windshield had understandable reasons for leaving an angry note?

Maybe his Mom died. Maybe he has to use crutches that made it even harder for him to get into his car than for me and my pregnant belly. Maybe he was joking. And maybe the note wasn’t even that mean and he was genuinely correcting me in a way I needed to be corrected.  All of these things are at least worth considering before I just decide the note leaver was a mean person. (Or even a man. Did you notice that?)

Because if you are like me, you’ve been the person on the other end of that equation. The person who needed grace. I’ll never forget the day, when I had an emotional explosion in public, way too old for it, and way out of line–when someone came and wrapped their arms around me and asked me how I was feeling. That person was even the object of my explosion. She sat with me until I calmed down. She made sure I was ok. And not once did she defend herself against the list of untrue assumptions I had made about the situation. She just saw me. She assumed the best.

And in that moment, receiving grace I did not deserve in any way, my heart changed. It was a grinch getting a bigger heart moment. The kind of thing that changed my life. The kind of thing that gave me capacity to finally dive into my own hurts and work on them, so that I could turn it back around and show grace to others.

If life is a parking lot (and we are ok with intentionally terrible metaphors), we are probably all going to park a little too close at times. Or try to take the same spot at once. Or bump into each other circling to find a spot. But we can safely assume we are all here for similar reasons, seeking basically the same thing. A place to fit in, and hopefully with as few scratches and bumps as possible. And we owe each other that grace. We are all worth that risk.

Otherwise, why are we here at all?

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

“I love old things. They make me sad.”
“What’s good about sad?”
“It’s happy, for deep people.”
-Sally Sparrow, Dr. Who-

…the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I stared at the old black box with wooden paneling on the top. I pressed the buttons, knowing exactly how they would feel before I did. The numbers along the radio tuner were so familiar I closed my eyes and saw them in my mind while I ran my fingers over where they were. I could still hear the way it would sound, early in the morning before school. I still could feel the anxiety about a new day of school coming, or the occasional excitement when I was anticipating something good. I knew the clicking sound the snooze button would make, on a morning I was avoiding getting up, without even having to touch it again.

My Mom gave me my old alarm clock when I was 5 years old (though it wasn’t old then, and wood paneling was still something people insisted on putting onto appliances). She thought that I should start building up the habit of getting up early for school independently. Funny enough, my Mom could rarely hold herself back from waking me five minutes before it went off anyway. I remember how that felt too. Knowing how deeply my Mom cared while simultaneously feeling her anxiety about time and my own yearning for autonomy.

It’s funny the way one mundane object can make you feel.

I don’t actually like to feel sad. But I’ve always had this feeling well up in me that I half love half hate that inspires me more than any other that is just so very close to sad. I’ve always struggled to describe it. It’s not the main feeling you get when your dog dies, or your favorite TV show gets canceled–though those kinds of things can cause it too.

It’s a longing for a time when things were more right. More perfect. More like they are supposed to be.

I used to sit alone with my own thoughts trying to figure out exactly where this feeling was coming from and how to fix it. The feeling, if it’s something you can feel, is more like nostalgia. The way people feel when they think about the way we used to tune our TV’s with knobs, or the exact weight of the needle on a record player as you set it gently down on the vinyl. It’s the way a rotary phone or the touch tone dials feel when you dial a number that you used to call all the time. The memories you get when you make the cookies from your grandmother’s recipe and you smell that smell.

I constantly sort through feelings like this. I sat for almost an hour staring at that stupid alarm clock, knowing I wasn’t even going to plug it in again. Not all my memories around that clock are happy, exactly, but it came from a time when I wasn’t an adult. I wasn’t solely responsible for caring for myself. My worries were smaller. I did not have to take care of so many relationships, or be in charge of running the finances of a home and keeping three children alive, and hopefully, healthy and well-adjusted. It feels like it had to be better in some ways. Ok, not better. But less complicated.

Nostalgia is the sad feeling you get when you remember something happy that doesn’t exist anymore.

Did you know that all the cells in your body completely replace themselves about every 7 years? I’ve always remembered this, because it makes me think of the various versions of myself I have been. That girl, the one that used to slam the snooze button in high school to avoid getting ready for another tense day of academics I loved and social situations that made me feel queazy–that girl is gone. Every single cell that existed in her body died and was replaced years ago. All that is left are the memories which are made of neurons which copied other dying neurons.  She’s a memory of a memory. I don’t even have any way of knowing how accurate what I remember about her is.

Right now I think our world is really into nostalgia. We long for times that existed before we were born. We think of ourselves as owning the past and the peoples we came from when really, all we know are stories told about stories told about stories. We actually take personal pride in the exact version of things that make us feel our own nostalgia. Maybe it’s memories of hard working people during the Great Depression. Maybe it’s members of the Greatest Generation that we Loved. Maybe it’s days when kids used to run free more. Maybe it’s the swelling in the chest at old protests or liberation movements. Maybe it’s a memory of a road that used to be in the country, but has been civilized now. Maybe it’s a neighborhood that used to be rough, but has sadly become upscale.

We take our identities from these things. What we long for is part of who we are.

But so much of it has fallen through the cracks by now. What remains was sifted out by the victorious and powerful, and if we’re occasionally lucky, true historians, artists, and dreamers trying to capture the truth.

Most people I know are trying to match the world up to some idea of rightness. Some long gone memory that things can be right, though now they are wrong. Our desire for redemption is just so strong. We may have different ideas of what that redemption looks like, different goals and ideals. But it’s there. We’re not seeking to add more random outcomes to a randomly generated universe. We look to restore and correct in a reality where everything is drifting toward entropy. Why do we do that? How many millions of decisions are made in subconsciously trying to recapture something that has long ago left us?

But the thing is, I think rightness is something to be made, not something to recapture. It’s going to be new. Not old. Maybe we are inspired by the past, but I think we are called to build a new story together. With all the siren voices calling out in anger right now over politics, theology, fundamentalism, or whatever, what if they unified to create something new, instead of trying to recapture something old?

Maybe it’s more remarkable that the cells in my body were newly generated to keep me alive than that they once all died. Maybe what we can make together in the future matters more than what we once were. Maybe knowing how universal some of what we long for is can unite us in what we will one day be glad that we did.

I set up my old clock in the basement, for now. It tells time to the spiders and mice, and me occasionally when I’m sifting through piles of old junk. Smelling. Smiling. Remembering. It’s worth something, the sad joy of memory, for sure. But I think it’s a small part of building up what is to come.

And one day, I will be nostalgic for now. For baby clothes and bruised knees. For piggy back rides and little boy giggles. For late night feedings and falling into bed exhausted.

And the truly odd thing is, thinking of that makes me feel that same longing for what I DO have right now. And for what is coming. And it makes me think that longing for the same things, all of us together, is not such a crazy dream.

If you are swimming in deep waters (Holding sadness and joy at the same time)

If you are swimming in deep waters (Holding sadness and joy at the same time)

In the middle of a midnight drive, in a terrible rainstorm, I saw it. A giant boat rising up on the side of the interstate out of the chaos.

A bubble of laughter burst from my throat unexpectedly. “That’s a boat! I mean seriously there’s a boat on the road!”

I thrilled a little in imagining it to be a modern day Noah’s Ark sort of situation. I giggled like a kid at the silliness of finding a boat all by itself on the interstate, ready to face the oncoming deluge should it devolve into a worldwide flood.

It had been a really terrible night. And a wonderful night.

My family and I had been visiting with old friends and were on our way back from Long Island to PA where I have family, when I accidentally directed us through Time Square. Yes. Accidentally. Who does that? I still think my GPS owes me an explanation for THAT set of directions. But we got to show that place of bustling craziness to our oldest son who had lived there with us as a baby.

“Mom, what is this place? Why are we here?”

“It’s New York City. And I don’t know.”

“I LOVE it Mom! Look at all the people Mom! This is amazing!”

We skipped through the traffic and did our best not to hit jaywalkers. We both laughed heartily when a car pulled around us in our left-turn lane to turn left from the right hand lane because we were not FAST enough. And I got a phone call, somewhere in the middle of the mad dash through Manhattan, that somewhere a baby had died.

Softly in his sleep. His mother, my community member, fellow teacher and fellow Mom, sat somewhere in devastation.

And I had to look back to my family. To give us directions so that we could find Lincoln tunnel before we got lost in the labyrinth of NYC forever. To talk to my son about where we were until he fell back asleep. To squeeze my younger son’s leg and make sure he was still breathing, because I needed to hear that. Over and over again I checked.

And my husband and I had this magnificent conversation about life, and love, and sadness. I had just received permission to use the name of another Son who had died almost exactly one year before. To use his name for the unborn child I now carry, a child who is to be my third son. He will bear the name of my own family’s lost son so that we can remember, and take joy in a life well-lived, and bring forth new life in the midst of sadness.

And it was one of those conversations that marks a place in time. As if we were getting to step outside of time for just a little bit to review where we had been. To muse on where we would go and ponder how we would walk through great tragedy should it ever come to us. We laughed, and we cried (Ok, I mostly cried and my husband sat in respectable somber silence). And we were at once joyful and hopeful and devastated. And I did my best to hold all of it without dropping any of those feelings, wrapping it like gossamer and thorns around my own heart. I held the meaning of the grief and the memories and the giggling all at once…

as we drove into one of the worst thunder storms I have ever been in.

And we spent 3 hours blundering through rain so thick we couldn’t see the lines on the road, only forging ahead because every other car had their emergency flashers on too, little blinking lighthouses to follow into the night that, themselves, could take a tumble off the road. My knuckles gripped my seat in anxiety as I continued to cry and laugh. I thought about our beautiful night, the real fear of driving on a road we could not see, and that I was experiencing all this at the same time another mother somewhere was having the worst night of her life, and two more I know were remembering the not so distant worst night of theirs.

And Jonathon and I, we held all of these things up. We tried to bear the weight with courage. To fully exult in the joyful and mourn for the brokenness and loss.

And that boat rose up from the storm, like a whimsical love letter to us straight from the God I’ve always thought was just a touch sarcastic and wry (in the best way of course). And I honestly don’t know if I was laughing or crying more.

And we drove home to where my brand new baby niece sleeps in her brand new home with my brother and his wife. Where there were more snuggles to be had and new life to be enjoyed.

And I was so very truly sad-happy in terrible and wonderful sincerity.

It was a treasure-all-these-things-up-in-our-hearts-night.

And we held it all together as we crawled into our bed to try and sleep. Full of wonder, free of fear, trusting that God would hold us whatever would come.

We laid there believing he holds those in grief so closely: past and future, all who have ever mourned and all who ever will. Like children believing our parent knows where we are going in the storm and that somehow, simply because of who they are, who HE is, no matter what happens, the car will stay on the road and we will be ok.

And I still believe that we will be.

If You’ve Ever Yelled at Your Neighbor (Thoughts about Quirks and Bad Behavior Vs. Spiritual Gifts)

If You’ve Ever Yelled at Your Neighbor (Thoughts about Quirks and Bad Behavior Vs. Spiritual Gifts)

“I’m a monster,” said the shadow of the Marquess suddenly. “Everyone says so.” The Minotaur glanced up at her. “So are we all, dear,” said the Minotaur kindly. “The thing to decide is what kind of monster to be. The kind who builds towns or the kind who breaks them.”

Catherynne M. Valente

Most people don’t think it when they first meet me, but I have been in an impressive set of verbal and physical altercation stories for someone who is often assigned adjectives like “nice,” “quiet,” and “I don’t know who that is.”

giphy-2

 

Recently I got into one such altercation which I detailed on Facebook and then later deleted, because:

  • The responses I got from friends were not quite what I was hoping for,
  • Just in case my neighbors could somehow connect with me on Facebook now or we actually become friends later I really don’t want that post hanging out
  • It came off as way more judgmental than I wanted even though I was trying to leave out any details that sounded condemning of others involved.

Responses were overwhelmingly positive and supportive, and while I feel really ungrateful for saying this, they didn’t really give me any comfort. I think this is what I had on my mind:

  1. Does this happen to other people? Please tell me it does.
  2. It makes me feel better to tell the story of how silly I was to stand on a milk-crate and put my leg through it causing bleeding and bruising (for some reason). But also I want sympathy for physical discomfort and being an idiot.
  3. I actually kind of want to know what other people do in this situation instead. And most of the time that kind of advice would come off as preachy and I appreciate that people didn’t just give it. But although #1 is on my mind, I’m pretty sure by now out of experience that other people (ones I respect anyway) generally deal with these situations differently.

I did finally just ask a friend what she would have done and she said, “I would have walked away and told him I’d be happy to talk when we could talk without yelling.”

I had a seriously “well duh” moment just about then,

giphy

along with my own head commentary which carries full knowledge of how I handle conflict when it’s not directed at me.

I used to work as a cashier at Wal-Mart. When customers inevitably got angry and aimed their accusations at me, I had a line: “You can stand here and yell at me, which I’m happy to let you do, or you can let me go get you someone who can actually solve your problem. I don’t really care which, but one is definitely faster. Your choice.” And I really would serenely stand there and nod empathetically if they kept yelling.

giphy-3

Once I single handedly solved a years long neighborhood dispute with a little old lady who always came out to yell when kids in the community space made too much noise. In the middle of a really tense shouting match between her and one of the mothers I simply stepped in, rested my hand on the older woman’s arm and asked, “Are you feeling ok? You seem like maybe something is really wrong other than the kids.” She broke down into tears and told me her life story, apologized for yelling at the kids, and said she wouldn’t bother us anymore. (She never did as far as I know).

I can take joy in just how calm I can be in the face of spitting red faced fury. Calmness is both offensive to the angry and completely impenetrable. It’s beautiful. So why can’t I seem to keep it when I’m in situations where someone actually has the power to hurt me and I really do have responsibility for what they are angry about?

One of my dearest friends in the world thought very seriously about NOT being in relationship with me at the beginning of our friendship because I admitted that I occasionally have a scary temper, and then she witnessed it.

We were walking on a sidewalk together when a car who was trying to take a shortcut to a parking lot was actually driving up on the sidewalk behind us. She immediately stepped out of the way and motioned for me to join her. But I instead slowed down to a painful speed and said, “I’m not moving. We are supposed to be here. That car is not.” She nervously joined me, not fully knowing what to do. When the car finally honked at me I spun around in a second, and slapped a hand on his hood. I yelled, “THIS IS A SIDEWALK! PEOPLE WALK HERE!”

Guys, it was a car. It could have run me over. I was in a foreign country where I really wasn’t sure they wouldn’t try. That story simultaneously makes me laugh and feel like a complete fool.

giphy-4

And how could you not wonder, as my friend (or boss), about what would happen if I ever aimed that temper at you? Or couldn’t hold my tongue in a situation where it was harmful to everyone not to do so? I think about that all the time. If I make myself feel like a bomb that could go off at any moment, how must I make other people feel?

That same friend who witnessed the car slapping, DID eventually decide I was worth the trouble, and (I am so grateful for this) decided that at least usually my escapades involve me seeking some sort of justice.

In a recent conversation we discovered we had both had similar experiences involving a Ouji board and a party. Neither of us (being people who seriously believe in the spiritual realm and that messing with it is a very bad idea) wanted to play. My friend had cleverly avoided conflict by moving the Ouji dial around intentionally herself to make sure nothing else could. She got out of an actual spiritual encounter and freaked all her friends out at the same time–but she wasn’t sure she felt good about it.

Me? I said very soundly to my friends, “You guys can all get yourselves killed by a demon if you want, but if you get that thing out I swear I’m walking home right now.” (I lived miles away and it was very late at night, but I meant it.)

“See?” said my friend, upon hearing the story. “That’s why you are the way you are. Every friend group needs someone who does that.”

I guess at least my friends would never end up victims in a horror movie. That’s something right?

giphy-5

I wish I had a more thoughtful way to end this, except to say that I have insisted over and over again that though we may sometimes use our gifts badly, those quirky attributes often ARE gifts and they are there for a reason. If you start out on a maze and a mythical minotaur gives you a key, there will be a lock you can open with it somewhere–and it won’t matter if you pick your nose with it or use it as a hair barrette. And God is so much kinder than minotaurs.

As long as you keep the keys you are given (and try to keep them out of your nose), they will make sense and be there when you find the locks they are for. That’s what I’m hoping.

If Your Voice is Small

If Your Voice is Small

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I’ve seen you, fellow quiet sojourner. I know people ask you why you don’t talk too. I admire you, because you are probably better at just saying nothing rather than letting awkward dribble escape now and then, just to prove you exist, like I do. I wish I only talked when I really wanted to. That I didn’t feel pressed into small-talk, which it turns out isn’t often remembered at all anyway. I feel kinship with you, even while I want to give you space and not insist on doing the same thing to you which most people do: expecting friendship, or entertainment, or patronizing conversation where I’m only insisting we talk because I somehow think it’s my job to get you to do it. I see you. I tend to think you are better than me, because you are more comfortable with your backstage place, less worried about how much you exist in the worlds of others, less inclined to fill in the spaces with conversation you don’t really want to have.

Do you, like me, sometimes keep your mouth closed because you know the only thing that would come out would be disappointment or disdain? Or maybe sometimes because you aren’t interested in the conversation going on, and you just honestly don’t know how to pretend to be excited? Or maybe you accidentally dropped off into your own fantasy about a magical land where cups of coffee are always bottomless and naps are long and thunderstorms always come at 3 o’clock sharp after plenty of sunshine so that rain is always whimsical and dreamy (and never just cold and dark) and animals really do understand what you are saying and people never ever think that being quiet means that you are less capable, or less smart, or less important?

And I’m guessing that you, like me, are always just a little startled when the label “quiet” is applied at all. Because it’s not quiet in your head. Because when you are one-on-one with someone you really care about you can go on for hours. And if you measure only the talking that people do that they really care about, and really deeply mean, the amount is really about the same. And I bet you, like me, have a hard time regretting not being into fluff conversations. And hopefully you, unlike me, don’t have a lot of regrettable fluffy conversations on your conscience, because you, unlike me, are a more dignified version of “quiet.”

Maybe you, like me, trust words more when you’ve had time to think about them and when you can set them down on paper. Or screen. Not a place where they just float out in the air to be forgotten, or misconstrued later, but in a place of permanence where they can be counted, measured, and heard again and again. Because words can be such slippery dangerous things when you don’t pin them down properly. (It’s so much easier to be held responsible for something I can prove I said, rather than for something I don’t quite remember saying or that I’m sure I said in another way).

And do you, like me, struggle not to roll your eyes when yet ANOTHER charismatic go-getter with a loud voice and a tendency toward pandering and a total lack of appreciation for thoughtful types has been elected as your boss, or pastor, or mayor, or president of the adorable cats appreciation club? (Just kidding, obviously cat lovers would never do such a thing.) Do you sigh with relief on the rare occasion when someone who values substance and reflection and honesty, and occasionally quiet, actually manages to be the leader of something? Do you then roll your eyes again as all the charismatic go-getters scramble to be that person’s friend now that he has some influence?

I think God made sure Moses was in the bible just for us. People talk about his speech impediment, but they act like he must have been yet another charismatic go-getter who just happened to have a stutter and would be just as loud and charismatic and go-getting as the popular leaders they are used to. They forget about his reluctance to lead at all, or his quiet response over and over again to merely go and pray when the Israelites were ready to kill him. Or the fact that when more charismaticky go-getters thought they deserved leadership just as much as he did that they were struck-down with leprosy or sucked straight into a hole in the ground.  (Look it up. It’s not smart to spurn God’s quieter ones). God has raised us, defended us, loved us, valued us, and occasionally smote the loud ones on our behalf. And a quiet man got to deliver the law, organize God’s nation, and see the Messiah when he first showed his true form.

 

Know that when I see you, I do not think of you as quiet at all. You speak volumes beloved friends. Not all words are spoken. Not all meaning needs words at all. And sometimes, silence can be the loudest response of all.

 

*Note: I do not actually advocate for the smiting of loud people…mostly.

 

If You Really Love Trees (When Anger is Hard to Explain)

If You Really Love Trees (When Anger is Hard to Explain)

I like to think of myself as a bit of a hobbit–because I can be the same old boring and quiet person day in and day out until out of nowhere…

I hurl an apple as hard as I can with a Tarzan-like scream at school bullies.

I try to break down the door someone had curtly slammed on my nose and wake up my entire dorm floor throwing myself at it.

I calmly and coldly stand still in front of a car threatening to run me over because he is driving on a sidewalk illegally behind me and it pisses me off.

I stand between two men about to fight and break it up even though my BABY is strapped to my chest.

I personally chase down on foot a bunch of football players on ATV’s throwing water balloons at people with that same Tarzan scream because one landed inches from my ear.

These are things I actually did. There are more stories like that too. If something gets me killed one of these days it’s definitely going to be my crazy out of nowhere volcano temper. Sometimes I think the only thing that saved me was that no one ever expected it from me. I always used to just shove those events back in the dark recesses of my mind as quickly as possible. I probably wasn’t going to do that again. Right? And I never really wanted to ask myself why they had happened at all.

Secretly, I have often thought of myself as a grumpy slob who would rather just live in a cave with cats (and probably resemble something like the crazy cat lady in the Simpsons who throws her angry cats at people for no reason at all) and a good coffee machine and maybe some books and video games. And some rocks to throw at squirrels. Because I think I am a horrible and selfish person. I only have good qualities because other people seem to want them and I seem to want other people in spite of myself. So I have been angry at everyone. And no one. And mostly myself.

Once, when I was at a a big church conference, there was a sermon on the power of healing people through faith. I don’t remember much, other than that at the end there was this opportunity to experience one of the most beautiful sacraments of the church–being anointed with oil. I sat and listened and casually noted that I had no physical needs for healing. I watched friends go down for healing who had cancer, or migraines, or various other needs. But to my own astonishment, I found myself walking down toward one of those doing the anointing. I had no idea what I was going to say. These are the words that came out of my mouth:

“I’m so angry I can’t bear it. I’m angry every day and every night and I think I hate everyone. I’m. Just. So. Angry.” A torrent of unexpected tears came, as I sank into my own horror at myself, and the relief that came at admitting to the acrid secret that tore at me constantly.

He awkwardly told me that my need wasn’t really what they meant by healing, but he prayed with me anyway.  He gave me no anointing. I walked away feeling empty and really unsure of why I had felt compelled to go down. And my own words were a shock to me. The angry cat lady was a thought I barely acknowledged even to myself. I shook off the tears and emotion and put the awkward healing prayer I didn’t need behind me.

Years later, after getting married, 3 moves, 2 kids, and a lot of realizing that I seem to be discontented pretty much wherever we were, it happened. I was sitting at a ladies lunch with friends listening to the story of another friend. She told a story similar to the one I had as a kid. She had moved to a new town and it hadn’t gone well. She eventually learned how to fit in and got new clothes and a great hair-do and became student council president and was successful in so many ways. (I know her own story was one about the follies of chasing approval by other people, and painful for its own reasons, but those things faded completely in the light of my own regret at my own life). It cracked me wide open. A hurricane of jealousy and hatred and rage filled me in that moment so that I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move.

Her story was not my story, and I wished it was. I was never popular, and never managed to look particularly cool or beautiful. We never had much money and my clothes were either used or from Wal-Mart. I had some academic achievement and a handful of friends and I knew that should have made me feel blessed. But in so many ways for so many reasons, some real and some imagined, and some so bad I’d never told anyone, I felt cheated.  And in that moment of jealousy and anger I was so ashamed that I couldn’t move on from these things. I put my head in my hands and cried great big ugly tears.


When I was small, there were these two beautiful trees in the back yard of our parsonage home. They stood next to a big chain link fence that divided our yard from the highway and the train tracks that lay on the other side. My brother and I each claimed a tree as ours. We used to climb up into our trees, hang on with one arm and wave and yell things at the conductors of trains that passed. One day one of the parishioners cut them down. All that remained were stumps. Someone claimed they were ugly and too close to the gorgeous (*cough) chain link fence back there. My young self didn’t understand at all, didn’t they ask if those trees belonged to anyone? I visited the stumps afterward, like grave stones. I talked to them (Ok, I know I’m admitting something about myself right here, but I also talk to my cats, my lamps, and oh whatever–I like trees and I talk to them.) I told them I missed them and I was sorry.

Years later, there was this tree in the front yard of the next parsonage we moved to. It was this enormous Maple tree that turned the color of fire in the fall. I loved that tree like a dear friend. But it only ever had leaves on half of it’s branches. The other half were dead and bare. It was broken, but in a way I delighted in forgiving it for. It was like me. Beautiful and Ugly. Dead and Alive. Awake and Asleep. I adored it.

One day, driving back from school with Mom, I came home to find it cut down and sliced up into pieces on our front yard. It’s sap was still visibly oozing and dripping down the slices. Like blood. I picked up both of my feet and slammed them into our car’s dashboard when I saw it. And I screamed something like “OF COURSE THEY WOULD OF COURSE THEY WOULD BECAUSE I LOVED THAT TREE! OF COURSE THEY WOULD!”

I think my mother almost drove into the curb in surprise at my outburst and complete change in demeanor.

Someone told me the tree was rotten inside. That it wasn’t any good. I think I said, “Oh, sure. I guess that makes sense. It’s just sad.” Inside I felt murderous. The people who killed the tree were the same people who had shut one of my cats in a room alone while my family was on vacation. He had died slowly of dehydration and infection as a result. I wasn’t exactly trusting of their respect toward living things.

It was the lack of control of my life that drove me crazy. My family didn’t own very much. We borrowed most of it. House, trees, furnishings, carpets, bathrooms, yards. Other people could decide at a moments notice there needed to be a change, or something had to go. And no one ever seemed to care or ask me how I felt about things. But I was also sure that it wouldn’t take anything too out of order for me to get my Dad fired or at least very very embarrassed. So I held it in and smiled at everything. And when I wrote in my journal sometimes I wrote so angrily I tore holes through the paper with my pen. And I secretly whispered to trees that I loved them and that I was on their side.

As an adult, I once had an ESL student tell me she thought I was the happiest person in the world. I laughed and without thinking said, “Oh that’s probably just because I’m from the MidWest! We all smile there. Even when we’re not happy at all. It’s pretty creepy actually.” I looked at her blank stare and realized it was probably the wrong thing to say. “Ha, ha, hey creepy! That’s a great word. Anyone know how to define the word creepy?…”

Smiling when I didn’t mean it had gotten to be a lifelong habit. And hating people who wielded any sort of power had as well. But it was buried so deep I could only find it in a moment where someone was throwing water balloons at me or hitting my face with a door. But it was unmistakable. I did not believe that the vast majority of people were on my side at all.


At that moment, the one where I was crying big ugly angry tears after my friend told her story, I felt a gentle touch on my head. I looked up to see the face of a lady at my church, smiling with so much compassion it melted my resentment in a moment. She had neat curly hair and square glasses perched on the tip of her nose. The eyes behind them were so kind. She didn’t ask me what was wrong or make me tell my story. She held my head in her hands and she prayed with me. And then, from her purse, she pulled out a vial of oil. She anointed me and asked God for healing.

One touch, even far after the fact, from one person willing to accept my anger and sadness and have compassion on it took this huge weight off of my shoulders I’d been carrying for so long. She didn’t make me prove I deserved compassion, like so many other people, or weigh me or judge me in any way. She was Jesus to me like that man at the conference had failed to be. Or the tree killers, the cat killers, or that guy driving his car on the sidewalk behind me.


Two years ago I got to plant trees in the backyard of the house I bought with my husband. My kids and I watched as the tree guys put them in the ground and tethered them to posts. “Look mommy! Baby trees!” squealed my oldest. I smiled, a real smile, and gave him a squeeze.

“Yes kiddo. We’ve got to take care of them as a family. They’ve got a lot of growing to do, but we’re going to help them.”

When all my family was asleep I snuck out into the backyard that night to water the new trees. I touched each one and let their leaves brush my cheeks. I whispered to each one.

“We love you. You are ours. We’re going to take care of you.”