A Palatable Life

I find it interesting and maybe even a little disturbing that my most profound lessons come from embarrassing misdeeds, painful injuries, and diatribes oozing with shame or humiliation or both. Right? As they say to live is to suffer. Or is it the other way around? “I’m so good on hurt,” says Anne Lamott in her new book Almost Everything. Aren’t we all? 

So here I stand, clothed in a sackcloth, wondering what’s the endgame? 

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I learned geography after a humiliating misplacement of Louisiana when I was like twenty-three. I learned to be present while traveling with my Mom through the desolate world of chemo therapy. I learned to talk softly (still a struggle) when my entire third grade class lost 5 points during lunch due to my unfortunate telling of a humorous story. I learned about courage while fighting for my kids especially when it came to bullies, disgruntled adults, and a handful of destructive teachers. I learned patience while waiting out temper tantrums, test results, and four rounds of puberty. And of course I learned how to be flexible from my countless associations with the PTA.

So if I put it all together it takes patience, humility, and courage to walk softly in this world, adapting to the current circumstances, and a total bonus if you know where you’re going? 

I am not someone who is ashamed of my past. I’m actually really proud. I know I made a lot of mistakes, but they, in turn, were my life lessons. Drew Barrymore

I’m teaching my students how to interpret parables this month. If you want to understand the complexities of life you have to study the parables. Let me give you a tiny foot up on the process. This is how Jesus taught, and how most of us teach our kids, although we might be unaware. Jesus would tell a story, sometimes there would be a question embedded in the tale, and often the answer was unexpected. He was moving us towards a more loving approach to life, a call to action, expanding our kinship with those marginalized by society.

Jesus said, ‘The kingdom is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it grows larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree. The birds of the air can come and make nests in its branches.’ (Matthew 13:31-32).

In response to a question from a lawyer asking, “who is my neighbor,” Jesus answers with a parable called the Good Samaritian. It is the story of an injured man beaten, robbed, stripped of his clothing, and left to die on the road to Jericho (known as Bloody Pass in Jesus’ day), he is passed up by both a Levite and Priest, but his arch enemy, a Samaritian, stops to help? If the question is about the scope of neighborly love than the answer is unexpected. We are all neighbors, this includes our enemies, even those with opposing political affiliations. Damn. I liked it when I was only responsible for my family and a dozen or so people I counted as friends? 

“You shall love your neighbor with your crooked heart. It says so much about love and brokenness — it’s perfect.” John Green

Interestingly Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses the Good Samaritian parable in his speech I’ve Been to the Mountain Top, on April 3rd, 1968, in an attempt to move people from apathy to action, just as Jesus did in his day. Of course we all know how things turned out for Jesus, crucified for his radical teachings in his early thirties, but some might not know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died the day after giving this speech. He was shot while standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, on April 4th, by James Earl Ray. Clearly this message is both powerful and controversial.

“The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help what will happen to them?” That’s the question.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Vincent Van Gogh admitted himself into a sanitarium in St Remy de Provence in 1989, he had become despondent, saddened that the townspeople of Arles, where he had been living and painting, had given him the name the red-headed madman. After finishing this painting, a depiction of the Good Samaritian, Van Gogh took his own life. It begs the question, who is my neighbor, and what will happen to him if I do not stop to help? 

These stories always give me pause. If one conscious act of kindness can save a life than it’s worth it. I hate to admit how many times I’ve walked right by those in need, ignored a friend who was suffering, turned a deaf ear to the anguished pleas of others so I could race up to the lake, catch up on the Crown, or lose myself in the latest New York Times best seller. Please don’t poke at my sweet little bubble, it’s limpid, and likely to pop. Clearly we’re called to action. So now what do I do? 

The parable offers … a vision of life rather than death. It insists that enemies can prove to be neighbors, that compassion has no boundaries, and that judging people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity will leave us dying in a ditch. Dr. Amy-Jill Levine

I write, I fondle my life in public so you will know you are not alone, it’s not for everyone, but it’s how I’ve chosen to respond.  

For me, writing a story is like making pasta. I watch my life as if a pot waiting to boil, anticipating all those tiny globules that will soon be floating to the surface, disrupting the calm. When the timing is right, I lean over my life, and dump a wad of dried up words in the water, watching them sink to the bottom of the pot. Then I stir the water, spinning the words until they mysteriously rise to the top of their own accord, tender, ready to consume. It’s the only way I know how to make life palatable. 

In the Secret Life of Walter Mitty it says, “to see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” I believe we will experience a plethora of conversional experiences before fully realizing our innate purpose…which is to love (that’s gooey, I know, but mix it with purpose, intention, advocacy, and it becomes esculent). 

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A radically transformed heart is rare. We have a tendency to crucify pure love. It takes time, the world wasn’t built in a day (plus we’re supposed to rest on the seventh), truth is complicated, and the work is difficult. So while I wait for my compassion to kick in I do the laundry, cook a meal, go to spin class, fill the hummingbird feeder, and do the best I can when it comes to loving my parched neighbor. Anne Lamott says, “we do the smallest, realest, most human things. We water that which is dry.” 



I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll cook some pasta.


Anecdotes:

  • The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love. Sigmund Freud
  • A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning. Brad Henry

8 Comments

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  1. I love pasta. For me, writing is breath. Words are in my head, and they never stop swirling. Out they come. Fiction takes on it's own life, and the story writes itself with me only attempting to make the words make sense on the screen or on paper.

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  2. Having gone through something similar myself the past 2 years ,it has been a revelation about me and those around me .I have remade myself into someone better and stronger , and while i would not have wanted this it has tempered me like steel

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  3. I’m so glad you came through a difficult life experience stronger and wiser from the process. Life is challenging but the beauty embedded in the struggle is how important growth can be the result. Keeping fighting the good fight Chirips!

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