Friday, August 30, 2013

There's Nothing Love Can't Do

I've been listening to a lot of Tegan & Sara the past few days. This song hit me today and just kinda melted my heart and made me feel good all over.

For me, it hearkens back to some of the opening lines to the album I would pick if I had to listen to just one album for the rest of my life:

Love, it will not betray you
dismay or enslave you 
it will set you free
be more like the man you were made to be

I'm just going to try to keep these thoughts front of mind for awhile.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Realizations on Grief (Or: I Miss My Sanguine Eyes)

This post has been sitting in a word doc for a couple of weeks. It’s one of those ones that could be one of my best or one of my worst. It felt so exhausting to write that it could use a lot of editing that it will never get. I feel a need to share a disclaimer. I’m doing pretty alright. I’ve been provided with some incredible opportunities and experiences in recent months. I’ve added three continents to the notches on my belt, I’ve visited one of the wonders of the world, I’ve continued to be blessed with incredible friendships, both new and old. I’ve got a new exciting job with the same organization I love and will be moving to a new, exciting city in a few months. I have been on the go constantly. It’s always been true that life is harder for me when I’m idle. In a time when that’s been made even more true, I’ve been given constant opportunities to collect new experiences and keep changing and keep growing. But sometimes life is just really hard. And sometimes it’s good to share it. And every now and then, when you share something like what’s below, it resonates in people’s hearts and they are better able to understand what they are going through. It’s with this hope, that I share the following.

In recent months, I’ve noticed a change in myself that hasn’t been readily apparent to everyone around me. I call it severity. I believe that in a lot of ways I have become a harder, more severe person. It’s really hard for anyone else to see on a daily basis. It doesn’t stop me from bringing my trademark goofiness and levity to situations (unfortunately, whether they need it or not sometimes).  It doesn’t stop me from greeting as many people as I can with a big smile on my face. It doesn’t stop me from seeking out adventure and having fun. But I also go off on my own a lot more than I ever have in the past. There’s something lurking and sometimes it’s a little scary. Every now and then I look face to face at the darkness that resides deep in my heart. It’s darker than I ever knew or suspected. When I look into that darkness, it gets more than a little scary, it gets terrifying.

I’ve known that this severity I describe was not quite the full diagnosis of what I was feeling. I had a chance to speak to a few people this weekend who have had some hard times as well. We’ve spoken on lasting scars, the ones that don’t just disappear when life starts to feel better again. You can meet that next person who sends a current of excitement through your body. You can experience the victory of suffering under the weight of a heavy pack, breathing the thinnest of air and summiting the most beautiful mountain you’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, these experiences will not erase the knowledge of the darkness you’ve discovered or the deep scars marring your heart and soul. These realizations cannot be  unlearned. It feels an innocence that cannot be regained has been stolen from you.

The people I’ve talked this over with have helped me see the impetus for these feelings. Why have I hardened? Why does my soul seem so dark at times? It’s not because these conditions were woven into me. They are not part of my God-given DNA. It’s because the world is a lot darker and harder than I had ever realized. Awful things happen in this world. People can commit the deepest of betrayals. Cancer can ravage the body of one of the most wonderful people you’ve ever known, only to leave them helpless on a hospital bed for days on end, finally extinguishing their life in the most unjust of ways.  A tribe can rise up against another tribe and brutally murder a million people in mere months. In the Bible, the consummation of marriage is ascribed as “knowing” one another. Knowing something or someone is experiencing that thing or person in totality. Anything can be observed, but intimate knowledge comes with experience. While I could see the brutalities of life before, now I know some of these brutalities. This place is dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that there are times we wish we didn’t have to live here. We wish there was a way to avoid the danger. We wish we could be safe. We also sometimes hate the world that could commit gross violations against us.

This is where we discover the hardness and darkness in ourselves. We harden because we believe our vulnerability has betrayed us and we’ll be damned if it will happen again. If this world will fire rounds at us, we will don every piece of armor we can. We find darkness because we’ve seen darkness in others’ hearts through their actions. We find darkness in the way the natural order of this world can be so perverted. We find it in our own hearts because, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we’re capable of the same atrocities. We’ve also brooded over worse in our hearts as we feel rage and scream for retribution. The undeniability of darkening and hardening  makes for a bleak outlook. Can’t it be assumed that as we continue to journey through life, it will only show us more of its’ evils? I believe if we let it, life can make us harder and darker until it ultimately leaves us.

I have grown increasingly combative as I’ve matured (Read: Gotten older. My maturity is always up for scrutiny). It occasionally does me a disservice, but it may be the quality I possess that makes me most proud. I do not lay down. I do not give up. I am not content to let circumstances wash over me. When someone or something threatens me or the people I love, I develop a plan and take action. Darkness and hardness are threatening the man I want to be. They are threatening the fullness of my joy. They are threatening my ability to be authentic and sincere. Most importantly, they are threatening my ability to love others. I’ve heard many people share some version of the following words with me and my family, ”The things that don’t kill you make you stronger.” I fully reject this readily accepted wisdom. It is patently false. It is another fairy tale we tell ourselves in dark moments. The truth is, what doesn’t kill you can hurt, rape and debase you. It can leave you a shell of the human being you once were. We have a choice to be strengthened or weakened by the disappointments of our lives. I will not have the man I was made to be sacrificed and settle for a lesser me.

So what do we do when we are learning about the darkest parts of life? How do we take action? We need to grieve. Although I’m already grieving my losses, I must also learn to grieve the loss of my shattered world. The world is not what it was, and it never will be. It is a tougher place. I need to grieve the loss of what I perceived to be a safer, more joyous place. I also need to own and take heart in the strength I have displayed to get to this moment. Small victories should be celebrated. Even the occasional avoidance of disaster can be a sign of great things to come. I also know that along with the darkness I’ve discovered, there is still great light and joy waiting to be found as well. Tremendous surprises have yet to be experienced in relationships, creation and faith. I’ve been blessed in making some of these discoveries at this time. No matter how dark this world can be, it can be equally bright.

One of the best ways to cope with these feelings is to put your mind on others. I’ve found that when I can actually do it, taking my focus off of myself is really helpful. Serving and investing in others really gives perspective. Part of what I realized in discussing this subject with other people is that there are a lot of people discovering darkness. It’s just a part of life. I kinda like when I’ve found some darkness first and I can help a friend through the same discoveries. It’s also true that there are a lot of people out there who have discovered a lot more darkness than me. Maybe, since I can see a little more light, I can grab ahold of their hand and help lead them along abit.

This is a tough post to wrap up. I’ll just say, if you’re going through or have gone through some hard times, I hope this can help you identify some of the feelings that people in my life helped me identify. If this all seems crazy to you, I’ll post something a little more upbeat soon. It will either leave you reassured or feeling like I’m bipolar.

I Grieve - Peter Gabriel by Ion Storm on Grooveshark

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hopeless Wanderer

Two things are really surfacing about myself as I get older. First, I am an incredibly sincere, intense person when it comes to identity and relationships. Honesty and transparency are my policies. I experience life deeply and emotionally and share my experiences with others. I am begrudgingly accepting that I can be pretty dramatic, and I think this is largely driven by the fact that I largely feel the full range of emotions at full volume. Second, I am incredibly goofy, satirical, and insincere when I'm being irreverent. I think this can be very confusing for the people around me and sometimes leaves them with the wrong impression of who I am, but that's another post for another time.

The first of the above qualities has driven my love for Mumford & Sons. If you go through this blog post by post, their presence may be the most pervasive item other than the word "I." Marcus Mumford writes incredibly personal lyrics within the context of larger, universal human experiences. I feel deep joy and sorrow when I listen to many of the songs he's written. The ones that I hold closest all have a story in my life closely related to them. They constantly tell the story of a flawed man striving to be his best. On top of all that, I think the songs Sigh No More and The Cave, when listened to back to back, provide the best 6:04 of running music in the history of ever.

When my friend Andrew (See #3. Although I reread the whole thing and I thoroughly entertained myself) sent me an email raving about Mumford's new Hopeless Wanderer video, I imagined something like this:

(This video may as well be a giant pile of onions for me to chop. It makes me cry so hard that I'm dehydrated when I'm done. Has anyone yet figured out why our faces' response to being upset is to void itself of all fluids?)

Hopeless Wanderer is an intense track and also one of my favorites on Babel. Just as I think Mumford is about to further indulge my inner (and outer?) teenage drama queen, they throw this at us:

Mumford, you just get me.