Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Childhood ("Eternal Sunshine", part 1)

"Sometimes, I think people don't understand how lonely it is to be a kid."
- Clementine, in the movie "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind"

In "Eternal Sunshine", we enter a story of a man who discovers that the woman he loves has had him completely erased from his memory, after they had a fight. She, Clementine, was the bold one in their relationship, facing the world with brightly dyed hair and open opinions, while he, Joel, was more private, scribbling and sketching in notebooks. When they disagreed about things, she would fly off the handle, while he could quietly say one sentence which cut her to the bone. Sure they may have wished they could change some things about each other, yet as the story unfolds, it is clear that they complement each other through their differences. Clementine draws out Joel by fearlessly walking them across the frozen Charleston river, and he endears her by simply saying, "I'm just ... happy. I'm just exactly where I want to be."

The scene where Clementine tells Joel about the loneliness of childhood has always touched me. She starts by asking Joel, "Am I ugly?" a soul-baring question followed by the confession that when she was a little girl she had a doll, an ugly girl doll whom she named Clementine. "I kept yelling at her 'You can't be ugly! Be pretty!' It's weird, like if I can transform her, I would magically change, too". Joel leans over Clementine, whispering "You're pretty," over and over. It's a memory which is being erased from his head even as he struggles to hold onto that one encounter, that one beautiful, meaningful memory with the woman he loves yet whom has hurt him so deeply that he feels he has no choice but to erase her as she erased him.

When I was a child, I'd sometimes come up with my own answers to questions. So instead of asking a string of "Whys", I'd ponder it over, coming to the conclusion from what information I had that a baby must be conceived through kissing, or that the term 'running errands' was a fancy phrase for doing grown-up things. I decided that thin was good and maybe skinny was bad and even if I didn't like adults talking about my body or appearance there wasn't much I could do about it because they'd just laugh if I got upset. Children are this strange combination of elasticity and fragility, though maybe we're all that way no matter the age. I had a wonderful childhood, indeed, though I think that for all there are moments when a child knows that the world is run by adults and you yourself are small and full of questions, and the answers to ones such as "Am I ugly?" can be incredibly important and so difficult to prove.

There are other scenes which talk about childhood, such as when Joel admits than when Clementine lead them into an empty house on the beach he felt like a scared little kid, in above his head, so he left. Or when Joel tries to hide and preserve his memories of Clementine by taking her deep into his childhood, where he recalls being four and wanting nothing more than for his mother to pick him up, pay attention to him, while she bustles around cooking and talking with a neighbor. He says, "I really want her to pick me up. It's amazing how strong that desire is," channeling how as a child, want can rise above reason. Similarly, I remember once crying until my father came to give me one more goodnight kiss. I claimed he had forgotten to do it, though strangely, I recall that even as I cried crocodile tears I knew I was being ridiculous and should simply go to sleep, though the longing for my crying to be enough to draw him back kept all logic at bay. I have a number of those odd childhood memories, as though I saw myself from beyond myself yet couldn't pull away from what I felt in that moment.

For years I babysat for a family with three kids. One little girl was highly sensitive, often getting a fear or concern in her head which caused tears to fill her eyes. Sometimes it was all I could do to keep her from becoming hysterical. Once, I put her and her siblings to bed, only to have her come to the living room, beginning to cry and shake because she said she was afraid of dying. Where this fear sprung from as she lay in her bed I don't know. I gathered every bit of patience and empathy I could as I sat and talked with her, trying to comfort her and answer her questions with understanding. Childhood can be lonely. So many questions, so many all-important wants, so little within one's own control. Maybe we can't have "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind  / Each prayer accepted, each wish resigned", as the Alexander Pope quote goes. Yet we can try to remember what it was like to be a child ourselves. Simply as fellow human beings, we can try to stave the loneliness and uncertainty with understanding and grace.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The News Rang Out

This is a beat-style poem, and since to myself it moves quickly - escalating stream of words - I recorded myself reading it. 
Listen here: 

Well the news rang out of death today
In shock we mourn, we hope, we pray

A man with a gun, what else is new?
Responding, “Again? What’d this guy do?”

Yes the sun still shines and the moon still beams
Yet the world’s unraveling at the seams

Disbelief mixed with resignation, for
It’s a similar story, all told before

Hate for race, religion, or skin
Proclaims he’s god and the shots begin

There’s only one God and He has no gun
I believe He mourns before the deed’s begun

Oh death is as old as Abel and Cain
One rises up and the other is slain

Why don’t they learn that they’re marked for life?
Hatred, the sharpest double-edge knife

Yeah maybe we’re born with an animal need
Put yourself first, whatever the deed

Hitler, of course, is a house-hold name
We teach our children with grief and shame

How low the human race can sink
Yet also of heroes; on them we think

On them we put our hopes so bright
To lead us onwards towards the light

They may be strong, running into the fire
A person who saves and does inspire

The part in each of us which lives
To know the joy of one who gives

The part which God allows to hold
His grace, a beauty all untold

Why then, do many go and choose
A route which aims to hurt and bruise?

A road of death and pain and grief
Is power then their crowning wreath? 

Corruption, which is full control
To take a life, snuff out a soul

Thus we left with this mortal coil
To understand, we try and toil

Seek a way for this to cease
Give some love, find some peace

Do what parts we can and must
Build up honor, hope, and trust

When the news rings out again someday..
May we make it better than today.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Every Fracture

"All the blood and all the sweat
That we invested to be loved
Follows us into our end,
Where we begin to understand
We are made of love,
And every fracture caused by the lack of it." 

 - Needle And Thread, by Sleeping At Last

Yesterday, I read the news about the shooting in Florida, the massacre of 50 unsuspecting people and the injury of at least 53 more. I didn't know a single one of them by name, yet tears filled my eyes. I read President Obama's speech, in which he said,
"We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts."

Of course he also address the issue of gun violence, and how we as a nation need to stand together, saying
"This could have been any one of our cities ...We have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well."

Finally he said,
"In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families—that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more—as a country—by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us."

This event, I've read, is being called the deadliest shooting in American history. 

When people talk about gun control, I think about the line from "V For Vendetta" which says,
"People should not be afraid of their government. A government should be afraid of their people." Because there is always a line between laws which safeguard and which take away freedom. It's a fine balance, it seems. The problem is, I believe that people will always find a way to get guns, whether through black markets or 3D printers or other means. Or they can make a bomb in their garage - violence is always accessible to those who wish to do harm. It doesn't matter who the victims are, as in why they were targeted (African Americans, gays, Christians, Americans in general): surely in the end all victims are equal and all who victimize are evil. Whether a crime is in the name of some sect or religion (ISIS or otherwise), we mourn. We mourn the loss of life, the loss of safety, and the growth of evil which spreads with every successful kill. The Twin Towers, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and countless shootings in schools and theaters and churches. This is not okay.

Yet how to respond? How to even start to make the world better?
The response to this massacre is, at least, encouraging: record numbers of people donating blood to help those injured, and numerous churches who have hosted prayer vigils. Responding to hate with love.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know how to combat ISIS or any other forms of hatred and violence and control, except to pray. So I pray for the families of the victims. I pray for anyone else tempted to pick up a gun and kill. I pray for everyone effected by this unnecessary loss. I pray that we as a nation, as the human race even, will respond to hate with love.

Monday, June 6, 2016

It's Okay When We're Not Okay

"To believe I walk alone
Is a lie that I’ve been told

So let your heart hold fast
For this soon shall pass
Like the high tide takes the sand
- Let Your Heart Hold Fast, by Fort Atlantic 

I fear polite silences.

After a terrible event - the suicide of a teenager in our missions community - a friend told me that she had one night in particular where she thought about calling my roommate and I and asking us to just come sit with her as she grieved and processed.
"You should have!" I said, ashamed that in my own time of painful processing, I hadn't realized how close she was to the event, how much deeper she would have been effected. I should have seen it. She should have called. Instead, there's this common social view that we shouldn't 'bother' someone else unless we really must. Emotions and feelings are messy. If possible, they should be contained, kept neatly private. Even in an era where phrases such as "have authenticity" and "be vulnerable" have become popular buzz words, we - at  least as a North American culture - still seem to struggle with living this out. If we are really, truly close with someone, maybe we share our tears/anger/fear/sorrow/confusion. But carefully, if we can. Because, you know, we don't want to bother anyone.

This is ridiculous bull-crap.

So maybe you don't want to be the one who breaks down crying. Here's the thing: I'M the one who breaks down crying, and I still have people who love me. It's true that I can still be more private about things; my family can attest that I'm an internal processor, sometimes coming to a decision quietly and on my own, and maybe they wished I was more verbal at times. I'm working on this. But I'm also very easily emotional, tears filling my eyes at a sad story/movie/song/commercial, or just seeing someone else cry. It can be embarrassing, but it's okay. I feel things and it shows, and that's okay.

If we want to live in community with one another, we have to not be afraid of what people may think. Yes, everyone has their own opinions, but worrying about being judged can be paralyzing. I met a woman from Russia who told me that when she first moved to the US in college and started attending a church, she was amazed at how everyone seemed to have such happy, shiny lives. She would ask someone, "How are you?" and they'd smile and reply, "Fine! Everything's good!" She told me, "It took me awhile, but eventually I realized; everyone was just lying!"

She said this because in Russia, when someone asks "How are you?" you reply with what's really going on. Something like, "Oh boy, my roof is leaking and caused a big mess, my husband is taking his sweet time doing anything about it, as usual, my children aren't listening to me, and yesterday I pulled my shoulder!" Then the other person replies with what's happening (what's wrong) in their life, and it becomes a contest to see who has it worse! For her, this type of conversation is what knits people together; comparing woes, airing grievances, because everyone has them! She didn't understand why everyone in America seemed to have it so good, but then she realized; we just gloss over things and keep smiling. We let our guards down carefully, only with people we truly trust, because otherwise, we'll be the only ones who don't have a happy, shiny life.

Therefore, friends ... Since few people actually have neatly wrapped lives that would look pretty in a catalogue, let's be honest. Let's be real and messy.  Let's confide in our family and friends about what we're actually feeling, struggling with, unsure about, hurt over, and yes, excited about, looking forward to, and proud of. They all go together, the joy and sorrow and everything else, in one big basket of feelings. We can be the walking wounded, going around with hidden scars, or we can actually be vulnerable, letting others in even when we're not sure how they'll respond. Authenticity and love should define Christians. Bearing one anothers burdens and responding with love. For although I adore being so close to someone that there is not need to fill the silence when it comes, there is a difference between things left unspoken out of mutual understanding versus out of paralyzing worry. For truthfully, love rarely includes fearful, 'polite' silences.