I’m back. Or maybe I should better say, I’m still here. I’ve been here, of course, the whole time, and my journey has been long and arduous. Too painful to write about. Abandonment usually is. But I intend to begin climbing the rock face of Mount Doom again, perhaps to toss this ring of religious hypocrisy, hatred, and hurtful actions into the fires whence they were forged.
I know it seems pretty odd to receive a letter from me, especially as we not so very long ago had the shared habit of talking on the phone at least twice a week. I miss those times, and I am sure you are somewhat perplexed as to why they have gone by the wayside. The purpose of this letter is, in part, to explain that to you.
I know you have often said that we shouldn’t write things down, since to do so is to make a permanent record. But what I have here to say is so important that I don’t want it to be lost in the distractions of an oral context. I hope this is something you will maybe read more than once, if that is needed.
The foremost thing I need you to know is that I love you. I love you so much, I cannot ever imagine, nor do I ever want to consider, life without you.
But I am scared of losing you. And I have avoided telling you what is going on in my life because I am quite afraid of you disowning me. And I can’t bear even the possibility of that happening. So I guess I opted to push myself away, minimizing our relationship, instead of risking an irrevocable loss. But I can’t do this any longer, both because I miss you so much, and because I can’t continue to hide what’s going with me. I want you to be a part of my life. And since my silence has made a de facto barrier between us, it is up to me to give you the opportunity either to finalize the break or to show me how unwarranted my fears have been.
I received an email from a very close friend “Little Shoes” (LS) today, which read, in part, as follows:
I … would really love love love to discuss with you in some fashion what you’ve come to as to spiritual ‘doctrines’. I know you’ve said it’s been a journey, and that it’s a bit of a departure from the Calvary teachings [e.g., those of the church LS currently attends and I attended for 16 years]. I don’t personally consider that a bad thing at all — we’ve really done quite a bit of journeying ourselves too … starting … shortly after we were married. It really made me aware there was much about the history of the Church that I was unfamiliar with. So, when you’ve mentioned possibly going into the ministry, I’ve really wanted to hear more about what your beliefs are at this point. I know you’ve mentioned it, but I can’t remember the specific denomination that you’re a member of … but since I don’t consider deominations to be the full definition of a person’s beliefs, I would love to hear more from you.
Unsurprisingly, my reply was so long-winded that Facebook (the venue wherein LS sent the email) didn’t allow it. I had to break it up into thirds. Here, somewhat edited, are the second and third parts of my reply to my friend.
* * *
Put downs are so popular. It was cool to have a witty jab back in the 70s, in the 80s, in the 90s. But the counterculture was still counter culture, not mainstream. What has become of us? The issue has been nagging me a lot, lately, especially as I’m inheriting two teenagers who both revel in fast tongues and rapier wit. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a quick wit. I’m good at the come back. Wittiness will get you everywhere with me. Check out my favorite quotations on Facebook. But demeaning, belittling, denigrating, cruelty—these are unconscionable.
When I was in junior high and high school, we found it acceptable to tell “Polack” jokes, to mock “retards,” to use the word “gay” as a pejorative or a synonym with “stupid” or “tacky.” We judged each other. We did our level best to appear “in the know” even if terribly naive, not wanting to appear stupid or ridiculous (i.e., worthy of ridicule). There are countless times I chose to laugh heartily with so-called “friends” at dirty jokes I didn’t get, so as to avoid being seen as less than my peers. It was almost an instinctual reaction.
So I understand the need for kids to fit in. I understand the hierarchical mindset that dictates youth culture. But, unfortunately, this isn’t just youth culture I’m addressing.
“I love you,” the over-used, trivialized phrase goes. But do we mean it? What is love, really?
I was struck by this question, Tuesday, while on a long, crowded flight back to the normalcy of my life in Indiana, after a far-too-short stay in Alberta. I was visiting people I love, growing to love them even more, and hunting for some chink in bureaucracy that might facilitate my moving there. And even so, I was missing those I love in the Midwest, wishing the church I visited there were more like the one here. I was wondering where that place was to properly call ‘home.’ They say ‘home’ is where the heart is. Home is where you love. —which makes it even more difficult, since I also love many who live in the city I lived in for 35 years.
Is love a sort of favoritism? I love the town I grew up in, the town I left five years ago. I mean, if I had to pick on architecture, culture, and overall natural beauty, that one wins, hands down. It’s my favorite of the three, of the places I have lived or in which I am considering living. But if I had to pick for the number of people I favor, I’d be hard pressed to choose between any of the three cities—unless, that is, you recognize rankings of favoritism, and then it gets all irrational, since the city I truly like the least (though to be fair, I know it the least, too, even though I moseyed about, poking and exploring enough to get a good whiff of its personality and culture) is the one I currently most wish to call my ‘home.’
So then what sort of favoritism is this?
In town A (the one I lived in for 35 years), I have family and one of my very closest friends. In town B (current residence), I have very good friends and a church family. In town C, I have three people whom I wish to call family. Actually, whom I consider family, and who consider me likewise. Again, back to that thing, love.
Is it merely favoritism?
Consider. When we speak of love, we speak of dedicating one’s life to something or somebody. We speak of certain feelings. We speak of passion, of loyalty.
So is this a specialized sort of favoritism?
We all know love isn’t a feeling. Or maybe we should all know that. Love is a commitment. We’ve heard that. But is that all it is?
|Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,|
|And sorry I could not travel both|
|And be one traveler, long I stood|
|And looked down one as far as I could|
|To where it bent in the undergrowth;|
|Then took the other, as just as fair,|
|And having perhaps the better claim,|
|Because it was grassy and wanted wear;|
|Though as for that, the passing there|
|Had worn them really about the same,|
|And both that morning equally lay|
|In leaves no step had trodden black.|
|Oh, I kept the first for another day!|
|yet knowing how way leads on to way,|
|I doubted if I should ever come back.|
|I shall be telling this with a sigh|
|Somewhere ages and ages hence:|
|Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—|
|I took the one less traveled by,|
|And that has made all the difference.|
“The Road Not Taken” by Frost is usually considered in the context of choosing an unknown path, of one less (though not so very much less) traveled, of the other a little bit more traveled, and taking the risk. But go with me down either of these roads in the wood. The one bends in the undergrowth, and thus remains unseen, hidden, unknown. The other, the one I take, is grassy, but still unknown, untrodden, unblackened by footfalls.
Unseen. Unknown. Untested.
The sun shone yellow-orange through the curtain of autumnal branches, heavy with red leaves, stretching towards each other across 14th Avenue as it plowed up the hill towards Bernard Street, where Roosevelt Elementary School, an old stone building surrounded by high fencing and a large cement playground, stood proudly guarding the neighborhood children. It was 1974, and although decades later many Baby Boomers would, in laughing arrogance, claim that anyone who remembered the 70s wasn’t there, there was, in fact, a whole generation of children who were most assuredly there, being profoundly impressed by many events that would forever remain in their memories.
First grade. At almost the bottom of the hill, on Cedar, was our bus stop, exactly one block from our house. My brother was way past immaturity, defending his annoying little sister in his important role as fourth-grader. Wearing his Boy Scout uniform. Probably living under the threat of mom’s wrath, should anything happen to me. Certainly being unbearably bossy, as all older brothers should be at this age. If he was in the mood, and if we weren’t running late, we’d sometimes take a little bit of a walk out of the way, up the hill a half a block, to the Laundromat, where we’d spend our nickels on Lemonheads or Mike & Ikes, which we’d have to scarf down on the bus, because they’d most assuredly be confiscated either by older kids on the playground or by teachers in the classroom. Early childhood’s answer to the morning caffeine rush. If no change was to be had, I’d just stand at the bus stop, gazing up the hill through the trees.
Beside the Laundromat, on Adams Street one block from our bus stop, was one of my favorite places. It was just street, but it was where the Bookmobile parked each week, on Thursdays. I loved everything about the Bookmobile—its smell, its shelves packed with books to the ceiling, the librarian who drove it. Mom knew the very best way to get me to behave was to threaten Bookmobile privileges. Losing them was too horrible for words. So I’d gaze up 14th, sometimes pondering that spot on Adams, which, as it happened, was also a stop for the short bus.
The short bus didn’t go to Roosevelt. It was for the ‘retards.’ It was for the unacceptable, for the inconvenient, the embarrassing—the Others.