Friday, May 31, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor

“Apparently, some people think Jesus was an ass.” I can’t tell you who said this, but I can tell you the conversation centered around proclaiming to be Christ-like in action while behaving abominably toward others. I have a friend who went out for dinner with her significant other. They ordered tomato and onion, cheese-less with extra tomato. They enjoyed intimate conversation, shared a few kisses, and left a generous tip. As they were about to leave their table, an older gentleman accosted them. My friend’s significant other, it turns out, was female. The gentleman didn’t care for this. Said they were acting in a disgusting manner, said they should be ashamed of themselves, said they were a horrible example to the other young people in the establishment. I would venture to say it was he who acted in a disgusting manner, he who was a horrible example.

Love thy neighbor.

But only if thy neighbor is exactly like thyself.

There is a definite movement lately to encourage singularity in thought, word, and action. If you believe as I do, then you are worthy of God’s love. If you act as I do, think as I do, look as I do, then you are worthy of God’s love. If you attend the same church, claim the same denomination, profess the same faith, then you are worthy of God’s love. Only if you are worthy of God’s love are you worthy of mine. I know a guy who was dating a girl. She professed her love, her ultimate love, but assured him that he was going to Hell because he was not baptized in the church in which she herself had been baptized. She professed her love, but assured him, that despite being Christian, he had a place in Hell.

Love thy neighbor.

But only if thy neighbor is exactly like thyself.

I remember an evening spent writing at the local coffee shop. I was with my daughter and the words were not coming. Not coming at all. I watched as, at a neighboring table, a woman approached a mother and daughter. The pair was both studying and finishing up a little work. The woman, with blond hair tied back and sparse make-up neatly applied, asked if they might spare a dollar. The woman, with her male partner, was approaching multiple tables in the same fashion. At first I was taken aback. This is a bookstore. This is a respected business. Then there was a part of me that was thankful, thankful that I, on a beautiful summer night was enjoying time penning an essay and sipping on sweet lemonade. Thankful that I was not at a point in my life where I had to beg a dollar from neighboring tables in order to eat. This moved me, but not enough to approach the begging woman. Not enough until I was outside, at which point I slipped her a twenty and prayed to God that I was never in a position to have to grovel for money just to survive.

Love thy neighbor.

Every neighbor.

This is the deal. My biggest challenge comes in loving those not like myself. My greatest lessons come in accepting others whose beliefs differ significantly from mine. One of the most rewarding friendships I have ever made is crafted from a difference in beliefs so great it pains me to even consider. I am tested every day to the very outer limits of my patience. But he makes me laugh. He makes me feel good about myself. We have a very good deal in common. We have a very good deal in common despite having a very good deal that separates us. He has been my lesson in tolerance. And it has been a wonderful lesson indeed.

Love thy neighbor.

Every neighbor.

The friend who made the original statement? The one who was so much like me and so much on the same page? He has since left me, deeming me unworthy as a friend. We have gone our separate ways. Maybe to meet up again at some point in the future, maybe to never meet again despite a wonderful beginning. I can proclaim to be Christ-like in action, but ultimately I am human and will love only as much as humanly possible.

Love thy neighbor.

But only as much as I am capable of loving.

Monday, May 27, 2013

If This Moment Were Your Last

An acquaintance recently shared the last words of her good friend. The friend, thirty-two, had risen early on a misty morning, was enjoying a cup of coffee and a beautiful sunrise. He said he imagined heaven would be much like this. Then he left for his morning run. He never came back. On the run he suffered a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest. Those were his last moments on this earth.

I don’t think it’s true what people say. I don’t think, given twenty-four hours, one would go skydiving, spend the entirety of his or her bank account, or fly to Vegas to go out in some drunken, crazed, gambling spree bedded down with an odd assortment of Elvis impersonators and plumage-covered dancing girls.

I don’t see panic. I see almost a nesting, the sort that happens right before birth. I see gathering loved ones, making sure everything is in order, preparing for a life that’s different, not bad, just different. And not just for the one who is leaving, but for the one who is left. Who are you without me? What is your life without mine?

The truth is, though, that death does not come as does an eviction notice. It does not come with orders to ready oneself and to get out, leaving time to pack boxes, wrap the fragile, and say our goodbyes. It comes quietly when least expected, leaving us with dishes in the sink, emails left unanswered, and arguments yet to finish. It comes on a bad hair day, when we step out of the house in those sweats we’ve had since freshman year in college, and on the day we somehow forgot to apply the mascara. I put on nice underwear every morning. Just in case. One friend wants to go out without her bra. “I refuse to die in that contraption!” Lord help me if I go out without mine.

I know I make light of a serious issue. The fact is, though, that we do not get to choose. This very moment may be our last. You reading my words, or me penning a simple thought. Death. A side effect of birth. Because we breathe, we will die. Fact.

I am not much a fan of the maxim to live each day as if it were your last. That, to me, is exhausting. I imagine days spent on safaris in the middle of African jungles, trekking mountains, whitewater rafting, jetting across the world to some exotic locale. I see meals and meals of rich and delicious desserts and drinks and beautiful, seasonal local specialties. I picture alienating everyone I know because of such wretchedly inexcusable behavior, ending up alone and lonely and sniveling in some corner, wondering when I might see an end to the agony and a bit of relief. I am not a fan of this. But I am a fan of savoring each moment as if it were my last.

If this moment were my last, this is what it would look like. I am sitting quietly in my kitchen, feet up, wine in hand, penning the essay you currently read. Over my lap is a blanket crocheted by my mother. The lights are dimmed, the candles spill a woodsy spice into the air, and Emmylou pours a little soft gospel into my ears. My daughter sits in the adjoining room, headphones on while she works a brain game on her computer. Neither of us speak. The white of the Christmas lights are twinkling on the plants in the corners even though it is somewhere near the end of May, beginning of June. My dogs lie at my feet, snoring and making old dog sounds. I am coming to terms in my head with some choices I have made in my life and some choices I am making still. If this moment were my last, I would leave this earth with a full heart and a contentment beyond that which I can describe.

If I had to guess, I imagine heaven is just one giant library, books as far as the eye can see. A cup of hot cocoa. A cozy blanket. Soft music filling the air.

If I knew this were my last hour, I would gather those who mean the most to me. We would build a fire, pour some wine, and turn to where our bookmarks reminded us that we had left off. We’d sit quietly, each engrossed in our own versions of reality, our own stories of romance or mystery or high-class crime. There might be chocolate. There definitely would be music. And candles. Lots of candles. Occasionally, someone would chuckle or wipe a tear or let out an exclamation of surprise. Someone would pour us each another glass. I would comment at some point how glad I was that we could all be together, that I enjoyed the company immensely, and that I imagine if, indeed, there were a heaven it would definitely be much like this.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Cleansing of the Soul

Rainy days always do this to me. I know some find them dark and depressing. I find them soul cleansing. A little Carole King on the front porch, glass of wine, and a really good book. A washing out of all that’s real. An earth and water come to Jesus. Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook for the very first time. And any time after that. The moment you push life into this world, and the moment after that when you hold it in your arms.

I do love a rainy day.

Well, friends, this particular soul cleansing is about you. I am reflecting now on all who have furthered my path in putting thoughts to page. A writer does not get to where she is all by herself. I know what they say about writing being a lonely profession, but it’s not true. A writer sits at the keyboard with every soul she has ever encountered, with every smile that has lifted her, every scowl that has brought her down. She sits with the professor-like older gentleman, the one with the white beard and the glasses slipping down his nose, the one behind her in line at the library. He tells her in the middle of nothing more than small talk that perhaps one day she will write. It fits with nothing they are discussing, but he seems to need to tell it. She sits with the mom she has known more as an acquaintance than a friend, the mom who asks what she will do with her life now that the kids have gone back to school. “Maybe,” says the mom, “maybe you will write.” And how would she know this as there has never been evidence that such a talent exists? I am reflecting. I am reflecting on that place inside of me that is you when I put pen to page.

This is my thank you for all that you have done to allow me to be the writer I am. This statement may seem prideful, but it is nothing more than the truth that each of us is not a single entity but rather the melding of every person who has ever crossed our path.

To you, then.

To the one of you who sat with me on a bench and cried over words that were long in the making, painful in the writing, draining in the reading. I felt exposed. I felt exhausted. I felt proud and confused and spent. You were there. Know that I feel your warmth, your presence, your comfort still. You wiped my tears and brushed back my hair and told me that it would be okay, that I was a beautiful person and kind and strong and had given so much to the world and had so much yet to give. You sat with your arms around me absorbing forty some years of emotion, emotion that had been unchained and set free, emotion that was violent in the pouring forth. You held me. You held me until I was able once again to hold myself.

To the one of you who said, “For the record, keep writing.” You have no idea how many times I repeat those words to myself. They feed me when my writer’s soul is empty. They comfort me when I am hurt, angry, embarrassed, when I want to run from my words and from all who have seen them. They encourage me when it seems that no one cares and that I am speaking only to myself. They remind me of the power of a word. When I have lost faith in my ability to impact others, to effect change, with nothing but characters and spaces and an expletive or two, your message reminds me of all the good that has happened since you penned that simple thought and placed it on my page.

And when I argue with your words, and I ask myself, “Why bother? What does HE know? Why continue to expose myself, to speak from inside of my heart, to speak from a place of vulnerability so intense it feels as if I have been left as the carcass in the field, left for my readers to pick at and devour and to walk away when they have had their fill?,” when I ask myself, “Why? Why should I write?” one of you steps forward and tells me to shut up and just do it, “Because you’re damn good at it!” But, still, I doubt. I doubt my abilities, myself, my content. I find a dark place and a box of tissue and gather anyone who will listen, and I berate myself for ever thinking me a writer, for being nothing more than an arrogant fool with an opinion. And you, you point your finger and say very simply, “Quit your whining and get back to the page.”

Get back to the page, indeed.

Rainy days always do this to me. I know some find them dark and depressing. I find them soul cleansing.