It's not that I believe humans are perfect. A quick scan of the day's news will prove this. And I have found power and compassion in being able to name unhealthy impulses in myself. But surely there's a limit? Seventeen years after Traveling Mercies--and 2000 years after the Apostle Paul--and we're still ruminating on how awful we are?
"Was she burned out?" asked the man, upon hearing I left ministry. "It's more complicated than that," answered Micah, who was on his way back to work after a visit to the post office. Micah hopped on his British-made black vintage town bike and pedaled toward the University of Wyoming. There wasn't time to explain to the acquaintance standing on the city side walk how it is his wife came to loathe the term burnout.
I write this as one who knows the seduction of wanting to skip from being an amateur straight to being an established writer. The space between just starting out and having a mountain of work under our belts feels cavernous.
A good story, says story coach Lisa Cron, is about transformation. No one wants to buy a book or pay nine dollars for a movie ticket to see a guy give in to fear and drown (or nearly drown, depending on whether or not there happens to be a life guard savior to rescue him). We long to see him do the unthinkable. We need to see him do it because if he can walk on water then maybe we can too.
Scarcity does that, it crowds out all that is good and true. It convinces a perfectly reasonable adult that in a state as vast as Wyoming there couldn't possibly be enough land, or sky, for her to pitch a tent and watch the eclipse.
This was holy water, not only because it's a protected marine park, home to whales and seals and a vast world beyond our sight, but also because of the way it invited us to sit, be present, and return to gratitude.
Patience has never been something I possess, nor frankly something I believe is universally good. I was shaped by a church that says there is virtue in bearing one's burdens with endurance. The longer we suffer through, never giving in to anger or insisting on our own way, the more likely we are to achieve sainthood. Which, from where the little girl was standing, is a pretty shitty way to spend one's life.
"Are you OK with messy?" asked Rebecca almost as soon as we'd begun. I wondered if there was something about my appearance that revealed my pension for cleanliness and perfectionism. It's like she knew I had spent a considerable portion of our time camping in Wyoming two days before trying my damnedest to rid our tent, sleeping bags, and cooler of the sand from our beach campsite. Am I that transparent, I wondered?
Of course, not everyone in Jake's life sees the virtues of depth over ample breasts. "Come on, Jake," says his buddy in gym class. "You talk like you're hard up. You got Caroline, now she's a wow-man." It would be a stupid kind of funny if it wasn't still true thirty-three years later.
Because, on the one hand, it's a precious little word that when we speak it, can save us from giving too much of ourselves away. On the other hand, hearing it can feel like a giant slap in the face. It signals the end of the line for dreams which are still just babies, infants we cradle and protect.
Last summer while on a hike with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, my uncle Kris declared, "I can't remember the last time I saw this many butterflies." He told us the eery and disturbing disappearance of butterflies where he lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
My journals contain everything from recorded dreams to to-do lists, from my daily struggles to the deepest hopes and longings of my heart. It turns out all of these hopes and longings unfolded alongside my daily struggles, usually right under my nose and some times even under my pen.
"To grow is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often," said John Henry Newman. I'm not looking for perfection, just some fun, a winning hand, and the knowledge that who I was yesterday doesn't have to be who I am today.
"Oh, I'm going to a concert tonight," announced Micah yesterday afternoon. I love these moments when an ordinary Monday is sidelined by a surprise. "There's a duo playing at the University of Wyoming called Sally and George. They describe themselves as a modern day Johnny and June Cash." Enough said. My evening was booked.
After Tuesday, it feels as though something very dear and beloved to our country has been lost. Call it decency. Call it integrity. Call it an abiding belief in the dignity of all people, regardless of race or religion or gender. Like grief-stricken parents some of us find ourselves searching frantically for that which has gone missing.