Friday, December 16, 2016

no hard feelings

...hard feelings
Lord knows they haven’t done
much good for anyone
kept me afraid and cold
with so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
it matters for me and you
to say it mean it too
for life and its loveliness
and all of its ugliness
good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies

Lately I’ve been sharing this with everyone who will listen—posting it on social media, mentioning it in conversation, texting and emailing it to friends, playing it for passengers in my car. And now I'm posting it here. Something about it seems so essential to me, so important for everyone to hear, that I can’t help but talk about it. The way I’m writing, it occurs to me now that this song is like a new gospel to me, is a new gospel for me. Or perhaps it’s just gospel, but bent for my ears to hear.

This song has so affected me that it’s inspired me to pick up my book project, which I started last November, or maybe the November before that. (And by “started” I mean wrote a page and a half and then abandoned it completely.) The only trouble with that is, every time I listen to the song, I dissolve into a puddle of emotion and tears and inarticulateness. It’s not even that I’m sad; it’s all just too much.

Of course, it’s not all the song. 2016 has been…well, too much. Of course there are the big things: the election, the paralyzing ruin of Syria, the death of beloved figures, two horrifying trials happening in Charleston, and more, and more. And my little life, like everyone’s really, filled with so many slight miracles and tragedies. The slightness of them, their particularity, doesn’t make them any less miraculous or tragic.

“Life in its loveliness/and all of its ugliness”—does anything more need to be said?

Perhaps just a few more words. Because this lyric, the whole song, brings up a question for me: so what? I ask myself this a lot, both because I have a tendency to pile on emotion for no particular reason, and because I believe all of this beauty and all of this ugliness is connected. So what? How does it connect? What does it point to?

Of course there’s no one answer for this, or at least I haven’t found one that ties it together for me in any way I can accept.

And yet…

I do think—no, I believe—that stories, and songs, and the relationships that create them, and all of their big and slight miracles and tragedies—these are as close as we can get to the kind of tying-it-all-together truth I so badly want to discover. All of these stories and songs and relationships are disparate, but so is life. And aren’t they all disparate in a maybe-connected way? Oh, please let it be so.

This brings me to Advent, not so obviously. The other line that has been reverberating through my brain (there are a lot of words in my brain, as you may have picked up on) comes from the Gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (1:5 NRSV) I wrote about this verse last Advent, and I have a feeling I’ll write about it again, because once you’ve read these words, how could they not stay with you forever?

I don’t want to get too Gnostic on anyone, but this verse reads a lot like a battle between light and darkness. John likes to do that. The light is shining; the darkness tries to overcome it. It hasn’t, yet.

Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.*

People talk about Advent as a time of waiting: waiting for the birth of Jesus, waiting for deliverance, waiting for the world to be set right by a savior. Or waiting for someone who will at least accompany us through the beauty and the ugliness, and accompany us forever. Waiting for someone who won’t disappoint us, won’t stop loving us, won’t let go of us. Not someone who will remove the darkness, but someone who won’t leave us in it.

That song, the one I opened with—it is gospel to me not because it makes me feel better about the world. Let’s be honest: it’s about death, and uncertainty. But it’s also about life, and about how much more we should love because of its uncertainty. Don’t wait, the song says. Now is the time to give up all that old anger and resentment and hatred and distaste (I have a particularly tough time with that one). Now is the time to live, freely and fully, to take all of the beauty and ugliness in and allow it to affect you, to take others in and let them take you in, to allow ourselves to affect each other.

This does not contradict the lesson of Advent. Advent is not just about waiting; it’s also about preparing. It’s about readying our hearts and ourselves for a love beyond comprehension, a love that does not turn away at the sight of blinding beauty or violent ugliness. It's about preparing so fully that we become that love to each other. It’s about life. It’s all about life.

*These words are from an op-ed called "Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Meby Kate Bowler.