Friday, January 10, 2014

My Brudder

The subject of sibling relationships has been on my mind intermittently for the last couple of years. It started when I began to conscientiously observe the dating game a few years ago. I started to notice the discrepancy between the gentlemanly care and protective affection men expressed for their sisters, versus the selfishness with which they approached the girls that they were trying to date. The very thing they would literally beat you unconscious for doing to their sister, they were doing to women on the regular. It also made me more aware of the way I interacted with guys I dated. The thought would often cross my mind- "Would I want a girl to treat my brother this way?" Conversely, when watching men date, I would ask "do you want someone to treat your sister this way?"

Recently I began to actively notice that in Paul's biblical epistles, he frequently addressed his audience as "brothers and sisters." That re-sparked a curiosity... what is so special about sibling relationships that Paul wanted to emulate it?

I don't have sisters, but I do have two little brudders, Conor and Jack, who light up my life. If you know me, you've probably heard me gush about them. I adore them. In fact, today is Conor's birthday. In honor of him, my little prince, I decided to jot down my thoughts on the potentially world-changing power of sibling love.
aren't they CUTE?!!

Today, he is 20 years old- but that's irrelevant because he's been going on 30 since he was able to walk. We used to joke that he was going to run a small country one day. As he's gotten older, I think the only laughable part of that joke has become the bit about the "small" country. The kid is a social wizard. He was the most popular guy in Buchanan High School's class of 2012, and he didn't go to Buchanan. He was homeschooled. (He also went to more high school dances than I did... and I thought I was pretty cute in high school.)

His ability to relate to people, to call out the best of them, and to make them feel seen and valued, is world class. It's so sweet to watch. And having been his sister for a few years now, I can say with validity that I've seen very few people show such relentless, selfless devotion to the people they care about. Conor is an incredible friend. He likes to build people up, almost to the point of embarrassment for some of them. He has contagious confidence.

This isn't to say that he is perfect. He can be quick tempered and pretty freaking belligerent when you wake him up (NEVERWAKEHIMUP). He enjoys being controversial and sometimes it comes back to bite him in the face, but he is quickly developing the humility that one would hope to see in a person of his caliber. As his sister, I have a front row seat to his failures and growing/learning experiences. But as his sister, I'm free to omit those accounts from this narrative, because he's my brother and I protect him, and I prefer to highlight his triumphs and successes. This is how siblings should be. We know their darkness and we can call them out on it, but simultaneously shield them from the criticism of unforgiving eyes.

Someone with Conor's gifting, but without his character, compassion, and humility, could easily end up being a mercilessly manipulative, socially networking, womanizing bastard like John Mayer- did I mention my brother is ridiculously good looking and a remarkably gifted songwriter? And the kid's got style. Seriously. I'd ask him to choose my clothes erryday if he lived here.

I'm actually tougher on him than other people will be, because I don't want my validation to be cheap, and because I think he deserves to hear the hardest truth from someone who loves him unconditionally. And he's just talented. He's written incredibly poignant and poetic, catchy songs since age 14. He played on Channel 24's morning show Great Day, formed a band, did a multi-state tour, made a music video, and traveled to Nashville to do co-writes with American Idol finalists- by the time he was 18. If he wasn't my brother I'd probably hate him for being "that guy" and I'd assume all sorts of terrible things about him. If I didn't know Conor, I might all him egotistical, because he's confident. I'd call him arrogant, because he isn't afraid to challenge people regardless of their status. I'd call him cocky, simply because he's good looking and not at all shy. I'd call him gay, because there's no way you can be that well dressed and like women.

But I do know him. I know his weaknesses, and I know his strengths. I know he is predominantly motivated by good intentions, even if they may get lost in the shuffle sometimes. I cant think of many people whose company I legitimately enjoy more than his. As with most siblings, we can have an entire conversation comprised solely of inside jokes and a nonsensically strung together series of movie quotes. We can communicate with one word, and this makes us unstoppable in Catchphrase. I can tell him the most offensive joke on the planet and he won't judge me, because, well-  he IS the most offensive joke on the planet. That's the beauty of our relationship. We know each other's best and worst. This is why it's possible for me to very calmly claim that he is a totally obtuse moron, and simultaneously rationally assert that no woman on earth is good enough for him (I can be bought).

The safety of a healthy, loving sibling relationship lies in the fact that we are on the same team, with no unsafe ties to bind. I know they're handsome men, but they're my brothers, so my objective awareness of their attractiveness is correspondent with my objective disinterest in them as sexual beings. It's the same thinking that makes you want to kill your little sisters boyfriend for kissing her, or makes you want to vomit at the thought of your parents having sex. You know it's happening, but by God you hope you never have to know it's happening. There is no place for sexuality in these relationships. It's like a safe house. Sexuality is inherently dangerous; it's far more powerful and more instinctive, something that compromises objectivity and makes you so frighteningly human that the thought of your parents -- who tie your shoelaces, handle your student loans, and in all other ways represent beacons of stability-- engaging in any instinctive, quasi-animalistic, emotionally heightened activity actually makes you physically uncomfortable.

The lack of this sexual dynamic makes siblings implicitly safer than virtually any other human relationship.  Your siblings are your safest bet; unlike your parents, with siblings there is no hierarchical boom-lowering. You can let them know you flunked your chemistry class because you were too lazy to study, and they aren't going to ground you. They can acknowledge some otherwise non-neutral realities about you (your fugliness, your inability to balance a checkbook or to commit to a relationship, your Tourettes syndrome) and it doesn't affect their relationship to you.

Paul's treatment of the church as a group of sisters and brothers is useful because... imagine what the world would be like if we treated everyone like they were our sisters and brothers rather than sexual objects or people to be leveraged against and conquered? If we could see one another for who they are and not for who they could be for us? If we treated each others failures as a moment rather than a monument? If we celebrated each others successes like they were our own? If we didn't compulsively sexualize each other and make everything a flirtation? This line of reasoning is particularly useful for singles.

How do we become safe places for other people? Perhaps we haven't had healthy sibling relationships and that is what muddies the water. But I'm grateful for my brothers. Because they're alive, I'm permitted the joy of relating to two of the most incredible, talented, hilarious, good-looking, smart, gifted young men who are required to answer my text messages and give me things on my birthday. If you don't have siblings like this... it's completely possible. Everyone deserves to be seen fully and still have the best believed about them, to be safe enough to fail and celebrated when they don't. And if you don't have a brother, you can love mine. I mean, LOOK AT HIM!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Misgivings on Forgivings

"If you don't forgive someone who's wronged you, you become just like them."

Ever heard this argument? I always thought there must have been some merit to the statement, but I couldn't wrap my head around it.  Shoeless Joe Schmoe broke into your house and jacked your sneakers, and if you don't forgive him, you're going to become a mangy, sneaker-stealing thief, too. That's kind of a tough argument to make. Plus, if he broke into your whole house and only stole your sneakers, he's an idiot. Also, who says sneakers.

So I like to avoid learning things the hard way. That doesn't mean that I always manage to avoid it. I just like the idea. As in, I wanted to learn how to forgive as a magnanimous gesture, not a defensive one that I used to stave off the rigor mortis in my soul. However, I had my "eureka!" moment on forgiveness when I found myself withholding true forgiveness from someone and becoming a pretty vengeful little witch. This person had hurt me and been cavalier about my feelings, and I found myself stung inconsolably by the injustice of it all. I was treated unfairly, and they didn't seem to care. My solution was to toughen up; and somewhere along the line, I subconsciously decided that if they were allowed to not care, then I shouldn't have to care, either. If my feelings were mishandled, and remorselessly so, then I was justified in exacting justice as I saw fit by returning wrong for wrong. That would make me powerful! I may not have had the chance to retaliate in their direction, but by God I could make sure to steady myself for the next one. My wound justified my wounding of another.

Boom. Just like that, I became my trespasser. All because I loved the illusion of power more than anything else that laid claim to my affections.

Forgiveness, like actual love, is otherworldly. (That's how my mom describes it.) It really is. Nothing about the human economy of relational interaction takes forgiveness into account. Think of the priest in Les Miserables. That's the embodiment of forgiveness. It feels like tying your hands behind your back and asking your assailant to use you for target practice. But it isn't. It makes you more powerful- because you're strengthened against hatred and bitterness. That's the crazy secret. And because it's otherworldly, if I rely entirely upon myself to make this transaction possible, I'm destined for earthbound failure.

I kept thinking that forgiveness meant I say it, then like medicine, saying the words "I forgive you" would mean that I feel it. If not immediately, then within the next 24 hours. I've been reminded that forgiveness is a muscle, like it's otherworldly counterpart, love. You don't just start running a marathon without training. You train regularly, daily. And it becomes easier. You don't just say "I forgive you" and be done with it. You choose it every day. At least, that's my opinion. I hate saying this because now everyone knows that I hold lofty opinions about forgiveness. But that's just my fear talking, and fear is soooo 2013...

ode to boy: Joy To Girl

I wrote this as catharsis a few months ago... published now after a moratorium on writing about my life. A song eventually, but for now a poem.

Joy To Girl, Her Best Man.
     or : Loss, Part 1.

Come, you said
come, won't you let me come in
won't you
won't you see
won't you let me
won't you let me speak to you
so kindly and tenderly and
won't you
won't you let me
won't you

Come in, you said
won't you feel the water
won't you?
it is so wonderful and beautiful and
so clear and so safe so
I've been in before and I know
Come in, he said
I'll breathe for you
come in and let me breathe for you
I took it away but I
will fill your lungs again

So I did and I heard and I let you speak
And I followed you into the tide into the tide,
And I thought loves weight would be a tidal wave,
But water rose quick and my heart unbridled

Come out, you said
the road is clear
let's cross to the other side
I felt the rush of the passing cars and I
was afraid and I cried and you said
won't you trust me
won't you come out
come out, the road is clear
come out
won't you

So I did and I heard and I fell for you
And I followed you out and onto the road
And I believed that you had cleared the way
But blindness proved too great a load

Going, I'm drowning
Going, I'm stricken
Going, I'm done for
Gone, gone, I'm gone
Gone, gone, you're gone.

HM 2014

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fifteen Days of Gratitude 15.15: HERE'S HOPING (RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!)

"Thanksgiving precedes the miracle."-Anne Van Kamp (1000 Gifts: Gratitude, Joy, and the Miracle.) Yeah apparently she is the chick who wrote a whole book on this entirely original idea I had last month. It's whatever. Also, yes, thank you, I know, yeah, I'm roughly a week late on this. I know. I got a little overwhelmed at my last post, got a little exhausted with all the frustrated windbagging I did, plus I pretty nearly bled myself dry on day 13. So all I have to say is, damn good thing I didn't call this series "Fifteen CONSECUTIVE Days of Gratitude." Winning!

This experiment in gratitude has actually, legitimately changed my life. And by my life, I mean my perspective, which is 90% of my life. The other 10% is mostly coffee and Spotify (shout out to Paloma Faith)

I learned to stop and be still. That sucked at first, so I threw a tantrum. I'm not making that up. I laid on the floor and everything. I was just covered in dog hair and I had a weird mark on my face when I got up.

I've relearned something I used to be very good at: to look around. My complaints have grown smaller, my gratitude has grown exponentially (well geez, you'd hope so after all my type-type-typing and gab-gab-gabbing about gratitude), and my perspective and hope have grown as well. I am more aware than ever of the remarkable people I'm fortunate enough to have in my life. I legitimately love this city that I live in. I drive down the street and look around at the view and I smile, a big smile that starts from the inside and unfurls like a flag til it's waving around like an embarrassing, goofy, really bad dancer. It's like the Elaine dance. Yeah, go ahead, picture it.

Okay that's enough.

Bottom line, I've found that joy is available to the new girl with no job, in a new city with very few friends available.  I've begun to value people in my life, because I chose to think about them differently. In some cases it just meant that I chose to think about them, period. I've realized how much I have. I've also interacted with some of you, readers and friends, who have, in the process of doing this exercise in gratitude with me, realized how much you have to be thankful for. I've reconnected with people I'd long since lost touch with, and we reconnected on the notion of gratitude. That's beautiful.

The complicated line for me, here, is the distinction between the fair skinned, plump, glowing siblings, Contentment and Gratitude. They have their boring, chubby, abstinent older cousin, Complacency, and her rumored-to-be-slutty younger sister, Desire who is always barefoot and making messes she doesn't want to clean up. The first three, I'm still not totally sure how to tell them apart, but I'm working at it. I'm also remembering what I already knew: I am remembering that desire, itself, is something I'm grateful for; wanting is not necessarily the opposite of gratitude.

I want to move to the East Coast. I want to love. I want to be loved (duh). I want to take the LSAT. I want to go to law school. I want to travel. I want to be able to run again without injuring myself like a moron. I want to live in the same house as my piano. I want my own place. I want to have Natascha McElhone's hair. ("It's good to want things." My friend and professor Dave Marley used to say that. Usually it was in response to some absurd request for a deadline extension, or mercy, or a final that didn't involve an essay question on the three principle causes of the decline of Western Civilization... but you get the idea: "Its good to want things" = "fat chance")

Wanting is fun, like hungering and thirsting. You can't survive without food and water, but you could go the rest of your life satisfying mere necessary urges, without enjoying it. We could probably fit the earths population comfortably in Delaware if the means to populating weren't so thrilling. But back to food. What if we didn't have taste buds? I'm so glad we do. Having desires, and then enjoying (or sometimes not getting) the satisfaction of our desires, that makes living so much more... like living.

And then there's hoping. Hope is tricky.

Here is what I think about hope. I think hope is simply about recognizing goodness, right where it stands. I believe in God. I believe that God is good. That gives me hope. Hope isn't based on current circumstance; that's the beauty of it. Hope is based on what our circumstances are not yet. I believe that with all the goodness my own gratitude has unveiled all around me, there is much goodness that has been untapped.

Gratitude is a muscle. So is hope. The person who wrote the words above on a wall somewhere during the Nazi occupation... she may have survived the Holocaust, or she may have died. What if she died? Does that make her words any less true? What if she lived? Is God more real because she survived? Did the sun cease to exist because she no longer felt its warmth? Hope is the muscle of our spirit.

Again, I say hope is a muscle. If the picture below sickens you, and makes you want to retch, or leaves you desperately sad, or overwhelmed... there is hope. The opposite of hope is despair and indifference. So long as we are moved, there is hope for us. Today is April 9th, the day Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged for conspiring to kill Adolf Hitler. He was a man who made a move. He was the body of Christ; the hand, the foot, the fist.

 So I'll be real with you- I get sick of hearing talk of the body of Christ. Cliche, yadda yadda yadda. But you know why? It's because I always HEAR ABOUT IT. I don't SEE ABOUT IT. Its just like listening to a dance, or eating a sculpture. "Yeah, you know, I'm really glad you- appreciate that statue so much, but you're really gonna wanna sit down for this..." Yikes.
If the church is the body of Christ, we need muscles or nothing is going to get DONE. And this is NOT an argument for action based works-righteousness, please don't even make me go there.

But my point is that the body of Christ is the body for a reason. Not just the heart, not just the smile, not just the mouthpiece or the brain. I am more of a thinker than a mover just by nature, so I am not disparaging the brains and the mouthpieces, without you in the Church there is just a big dumb well meaning animal lumbering around with bad coordination and embarrassing "theology."

We are the body because bodies reach other bodies; bodies do the holding, the catching, the carrying, the guarding, the warding off, the tending to, the healing, the visiting, the enacting of the love that we think on so often; and the basis for this able bodied ability is nothing other than the Love and the Graciousness of God. Gratia plena. Which we can't tap into without gratitude.

The justification for my gratitude is this: you cannot exaggerate the goodness of God. I have many things to be grateful for; but I know first that I have a good One who I am thanking for the things, people, notions, places that I am so grateful to have, to know, to understand, to see.

Things may be thought of, discussed, extrapolated, hyped, shamed, but people who have gratitude are those who hope, because they have tapped into the Ultimate Goodness of God. If I was relying on my own goodness, which is finite, I would give up because I know my own limits. Gratitude makes for cheerful, joyful, strong-willed beings with the will and the determination to walk out the things that we think on; the Philippians 4:8 passage springs to mind:

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

So we think on these things. For what purpose? To sit in a holy huddle (I know, I said it, lame) and wait for the Apocalypse?  No, we think on these things, because they ennoble and they enable. They remind us that we are to hope. Hope is the ammunition of courage. Hope, like gratitude, is an exercise. It is something we are free to choose to ignore. And just as you can choose what you worship (as I mentioned in my blog on desire, 15.1), it's your business what you hope in (Notre Dame). And it's scary to hope, just as it's scary to want. Hope kind of reminds me of Lenny from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Boy, he sure is dumb. But he is really, really strong. You also can't help but like him, even though you want to occasionally knock him unconscious. But you don't want to kill the guy, even though his intense energy is sometimes a little overwhelming and deadly.

Jeff Goldblum could just as easily been talking about hope in Jurassic Park when he spoke of the tenacity of life itself: 

"If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh... well, there it is.... I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way."

Well, there you have it. Anyone who ever did anything worth doing didn't do it because they were guaranteed to succeed. Who has guarantee? Well, maybe the kid who is a legacy to Harvard and was guaranteed admission regardless of his grades. But no one went to see the movie about the blonde Michael Bolton wannabe from the Harvard Bar in Good Will Hunting. People want excuses to hope, because it's just how we're built. Some of us are more emaciated than others, but that isn't wisdom, it's just giving up. 

So while you're choosing whether to hope, or to despair, just know that hopers are in good company. That's where the good stuff is. I'm grateful for people who hope out loud, because they encourage others. I'm reminded of Marianne Williamson's argument for confidence (confidence, incidentally, just means "with faith." Chew on that) and she says it better than I can, so I'll finish with her words on what is, essentially, hopeThis is the quote I placed on my door during the year I was an RA in college, when I had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing young women I've ever met. I wanted them all to remember this, as I wish for you, and for myself:


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."