It felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the interior of my car when I got into it one day after work this week. I actually struggled for breath for a couple of minutes until the A/C kicked in (I realized later that I could have simply rolled down the windows for a few minutes). The effect reminded me of a similar but opposite experience when we lived in Minnesota. The long walk in January to the parking garage at work was also a suck-the-breath-out-of-you experience. By the end of the seven winters we lived there, I could instantly tell you the temperature within five degrees, depending on whether it hurt to breathe or the moisture in my nose instantly froze. It’s a skill I never want to need again.
Ironically, I hated the first day of summer in Minnesota, as that’s when the days started getting shorter…it was a tangible reminder of what was to come. I no longer hate the first day of summer or any other day. We’re back to four seasons from barely more than two, and I don’t mind any of them. They each have their merits: spring’s reawakening of life; summer’s outdoor memories and garden goodies; fall’s melancholy beauty; even winter’s chill is necessary to set a proper holiday mood. I have the strange feeling that God has given us the rhythm of the seasons for more than just their natural outcome of the Earth’s orbit and tilt. Something about a cycle of growth and rest seems to have a lesson in it. Heaven knows the parallel to our own life cycle is uncanny. But I enjoy the change and blessings the seasons bring, even without their deeper meaning. Even when the heat takes my breath away–it’s a reassuring reminder that things always plow on.
“When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside of me. Hopefulness? Gratitude? Openness? Whatever it is, it’s welcome.” –Kristin Armstrong
I once participated in a team building exercise where we drew pictures of our lives and then explained briefly how each picture described who we were and what mattered to us. New to the team, I knew one of my co-workers was talkative, but was unprepared to be taken blow by blow through his life for over an hour. I remember none of the details except hearing about every decision and unfortunate twist which landed him with us, instead of a bigger, more important job like his classmates from whatever Ivy League MBA school he’d attended. I otherwise enjoyed the exercise; it was a great way to get to know my new team mates, including learning to avoid the Ivy Leaguer.
Someone wise recently oberved to me that all people are selfish to some extent. It’s true, we can’t help it…it’s Darwinian to focus on our needs. Besides, who feels what happens to us more than we do? If it’s good, we want more; if it’s bad, we want it to stop. And yet…I ran to the neighborhood store this weekend to pick up a single ingredient for dinner. I was in such a hurry, that only halfway to the car did I remember that I’d asked for $20 cash back with my $2 purchase. Just as I turned around, the kid who was in line behind me was there in the parking lot, handing me my money. He was maybe 20 and looked to be someone all this talk about building a wall might have kept out. I hadn’t even looked his way when he came up behind me in line…it would have been easy for him to take that bill and disappear. Instead, he left his place in line and followed me outside the store to return it. He was back in the store before I could do anything more than say ‘thank you’.
So, yes, we’re all selfish. But we’re also all human…kind and honest and caring. Genetics has scientifically disproved race as a legitimate difference between us. We must call out the examples which prove this, to balance against the stories we see in the evening news. Just as important as fighting our individual selfish nature, it is crucial to fight against the selfishness of the mob mentality. We are all in this world and this thing called life together.
“Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering and tragedy that come because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful and abusive.” –Lee Strobel
I celebrated a milestone birthday this week. It was a great day, in the middle of a ten day vacation in Florida visiting our son. We miss him a lot since he moved a thousand miles away. On the trip, we hit a couple of theme parks, swam (a lot), and just enjoyed time together as a family. I had originally planned to let the milestone slip by as quietly as I could, having snuck out of town for it. But as the family time and friends’ birthday wishes made me reflect, I decided to go public.
None of my other milestone birthdays have bothered me, but as this one approached, I found myself wanting to hide my age. As a logical person, that makes no sense…fifty is only one more than forty nine, and I was fine with that one. The illogic of my reaction made me decide to face it, because something’s obviously bothering me about it.
I don’t fully understand what it is. We hear (and say to ourselves) that age is just a number, and that we’re only as old as we feel. I’m not scared of dying, and my genetics say I’m barely over the halfway mark. I don’t have many regrets. My best guess is that, even with a lot of life likely left, I still feel like I’m somehow close to done. Of course that’s ridiculous, because the only thing I’m remotely close to done with is work, and I am looking forward to that. I just have no idea what I plan to do next, though I know I will do something. Perhaps this is just another example of my bad habit of trying to look forward too far, to plan too much. Since I can’t see around the next big corner, I shouldn’t even try. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working at living in this moment of my life. It is, after all, a pretty good one.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” –George Burns
I’m not entirely sure why it was important to me to visit this spot where 49 innocent people died. I haven’t been able to read any of the stories of the massacre, especially of the calls made to mothers by loving sons who were about to die. I knew I would cry, and hard. The whole thing is utterly horrific. But still I had to come.
My Mennonite ancestors were persecuted and driven from their homeland more than once. In America, they became champions of social justice, facing danger to march in America’s civil rights movement. Until this last year, I would have said that LGBT rights was the last major civil rights battle left in this country. But the recent upswing in xenophobia and discrimination against entire races and an entire religion…one whose billion plus adherents share a common father with Christianity…proves that the war rages on.
And so I came, to honor 49 souls whose lives were cut violently short. I wept at the rainbow-themed artwork, the teddy bear and lit candles, the photo ID badge, the childrens’ crayon drawings. I came for them, but I also came for me. I came to make a tiny personal stand against hate and discrimination. I came, for my own humanity.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
My pastor recently shared a story from a mission trip to Guatemala. The group had decided to tell their personal stories of accepting Jesus to the local children in hopes of inspiring them to do the same. As they began sharing their stories with each other, a teenager with them brought instant clarity, saying “I thought I was saved when Jesus died on the cross.” That simple shift of perspective, away from our actions and toward God’s, is profound.
It seems to be human nature to make ourselves the center of the universe, even when we’re specifically focusing on others. It’s easy to point to biology and evolution and the need for focus on individual survival behind this phenomenon. Christianity simply labels it sin…either way, the net effect is the same. For my part, I’ve learned that my relationships suffer when I focus one sided, on me, but they flourish when I manage a healthy balance on both parties. I know this, yet I somehow regularly “forget”. It is a constant battle to push myself out of the center of the universe.
At least for me, I fight this battle the hardest when I feel misunderstood. We all know our underlying intentions, and we’re wounded when others don’t see them as we feel them. I need to continue working on how others perceive me, but I think I can also move the needle by flipping that perspective and working on how I perceive others. I just found this quote from one of my favorite philosophers…it has given me a new personal goal.
“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.” –Fred (“Mr.”) Rogers
A lot has been said and written about the Orlando massacre. I don’t want to further politicize the tragedy; we’ve had enough of that. I want only to focus on the lost souls of our fellow Americans and what they mean to the rest of us.
Of all of the horrendous and compassionate things said this week, by both public and private citizens, for me the most memorable comments were made by Eddie Meltzer in an interview with NPR. Eddie left Pulse just five minutes before the shooting started, because he was hungry. After the shooting, he acted as an interpreter between law enforcement and families who don’t speak English. He was the one to tell several families that a loved one was dead. In at least one case, the shock that comes at moments like this carried the additional disbelief that their loved one was gay. I don’t know how he did what he did.
After his unique role in the tragedy, Eddie said one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard: “We’re gay men. We live in a world where we get a lot of hate…we know how the world feels about us.” Eddie’s words must be a call on our consciences. This is about social justice. Our own humanity is at stake. We must fight fiercely against hate. I don’t want the Eddie’s or the Latinos or the Muslims in our communities to ever feel a need to speak words like those again. This is America…we are better than that.
But when he was asked how he will move forward from here, Eddie also said: “I’m just not going to subscribe to fear. We’re a strong community…if tomorrow somebody took over this country and said, we’re going to kill all the gays, I will be the first one in that square saying, shoot me with my big flag all over the place because I would rather die for what I stand for. You can’t kill me. I’m an idea. I’m timeless.”
America was founded on timeless ideas. The timeless idea which comes out of Orlando must, of course, be love.
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” –Hermann Hesse
Everyone in my immediate family has surgical scars. It’s one of the things I’ve always pointed to when highlighting ways we’re alike, even though we don’t all share DNA. When the girls were little, our new puppy “played with” a beloved stuffed Tigger, requiring surgery to repair; even Tigger was proud of the scar which made him one of us. While I’ve pointed to our scars to help us focus on what makes us family, I also wanted the girls to be proud of the scars from the heart surgeries which saved their lives. Little did I realize this lesson would come back to teach me one day.
Megan and I were passing time recently on one of the long drives to Little Rock, retelling family folklore. It comforts us both, somehow, to process our past as we face a somewhat scary future. I was sharing the story of adopting her kid sister when I realized, for the first time and with the full clarity of hindsight, how much fate intervened so that our youngest would end up a McCleary.
We were a few months into the adoption process when we discovered that I had a stomach tumor. We spent the next six weeks on a cancer roller coaster, which included a major and unpleasant surgery. By the time we got the all clear, we needed time to recover from some pretty deep scars, both physical and emotional. When we eventually restarted the adoption process a year later, our little peanut with the million dollar smile joined our family.
I now realize that without that unwelcome interruption, we would have ended up with the wrong daughter. While I’ve long been grateful for the gifts of perspective that specific trauma gave me, it hadn’t dawned on me that I owe the very makeup of my family to those scars. But I suppose that’s often the case, isn’t it? Our scars make us who we are, not just shaping us inside and out, but acting as serendipitous detours which help get us where we end up. Thank heavens I was never really in charge of shaping my life after all…if so, I’d have gotten it very wrong.
“Scars show toughness: that you’ve been through it, and you’re still standing.” –Theo Rossi