Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nailed It

Today I heard a colleague mention the following letter from John Steinbeck to his son, Thom, about love and hungrily searched for it on Google.  He nailed it.  I haven't read too much of this man, but the more I read him, the more I am apt to agree with him, so there very well may be more from Steinbeck coming up.  Until then, please, rejoice in this letter with me.  You can find a helpful background description with more context here.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First -- if you are in love -- that's a good thing -- that's about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don't let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second -- There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you -- of kindness and consideration and respect -- not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply -- of course it isn't puppy love.

But I don't think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it -- and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone -- there is no possible harm in saying so -- only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another -- but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I'm glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens -- The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,
Fa

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Unexpected

My mind is a little all over the place these days, overwhelmed with decisions, doubts, and influences that I use to process those decisions and doubts including God's word; classical music, often of the melancholy variety; lyrics from Bruno Mars, Jack Johnson, the Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, Guster, Ben Folds, Sondre Lerche, and others; poetry; Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison; this video; and some films.  You know the phrase "My head is swimming with thoughts"?  I feel kind of like that, except swimming implies that you are headed somewhere, that there is some direction and movement.  And I am NOT getting anywhere.  Maybe my head is treading water, that wonderfully exhausting exercise that leaves you spluttering and gasping...and in the exact same place the whole time.  Yeah, maybe that.    

Dear reader, I recently saw Wonder Woman and I'd like to tell you what I think about it.  Its good, though it took me a while to come to that conclusion.  After hearing so many people that I respected sing its praises, my great uncle Craig and I decided on a whim to go and see the movie.  

To be honest, for about 3/4 of the film, I really disliked it.  Surprisingly and deeply disliked it.  It could be that I expected too much but when confronted with a somewhat slow moving beginning, characters who I didn't particularly connect with, and people treating one another poorly, I found myself upset, almost to the point of being livid.  Rage seems like a pretty strong description, but sitting in a cushy seat watching people make enemies of one another and act on that through war, I wrestled with some considerable indignation at the least.  Fist clenching, jaw tightening, brow furrowing, uncomfortable stomach knotting--you get the idea.  

That being said, the last few scenes unexpectedly reconciled it for me.  As Wonder Woman battles with her long-sought nemesis, Ares, she encounters some intense personal struggle, which he uses to try and dissuade her from her quest of ridding the world of him and delivering mankind from war.  His words could daunt anyone from believing in the goodness of humans, and he has specific examples of how they act in self-interest, with malicious intent, and cause pain as a result.  I loved Diana's response "They're everything you say, but so much more."  She does not discount the darkness and weakness in humanity; she acknowledges it, but also firmly holds to her belief that there is more to people than the bad in them.  

I appreciated that.  So often I feel that we look for people to be black and white, wholly depraved and beyond all hope of doing anything virtuous OR infallible and supremely good.  This expectation is unrealistic.  It limits our ability to connect with others because it denies the complexity of each individual.  We each are a blend of bad and good, weakness and strength, villain and hero.  I like how Lemony Snicket puts it "People aren't either wicked or noble.  They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict."  I think that vinaigrette has a lot more than confusion and conflict to it, and I don't believe that we are salads to be compared with one another or consumed by anyone, but I do think that we are all a little mixed up with good and bad.  Sorting through that is a challenge, and we all struggle with it in ourselves and in those with whom we interact.   

So what?  What do we do?  You know, I'm still working on that one.  I think that acknowledging the good and bad in us is a start, and then being patient with that matters.  I also feel that Wonder Woman and her spy friend Steve have a good idea in stating "Its not about what you deserve.  Its about what you believe."  What you believe dictates how you act, and believing that people are more than the bad inside them can help us to be patient, generous, kind, forgiving, and a host of other qualities that facilitate connection between people and true beauty in this mortal world.  

I recently saw another film where characters were not so black and white and accepted themselves and one another as they were.  I'm not going to launch into another movie review, but allow me to share with you one scene from Howl's Moving Castle where accepting another person for who they are and believing in them with all their flaws made all the difference.  Here, the heroine Sophie defends Howl--the namesake of the castle--to a character bent on seeing one side of him, the heartless, dangerous side.  In response, Sophie radiates with courage, strength, and love, saying "He may be selfish and cowardly and sometimes he's hard to understand, but his intentions are good! He just wants to be free!”  

I think one reason this stuck out to me so beautifully is that I believe that we all want to be free.  Acceptance facilitates that freedom and is a huge part of love.  It is uncomfortable, in part because we assume that people will draw back, recoil, and abandon us when they see us as we are.  We often think that is what we deserve, and grimace whenever we let that part of us be known.  Yet love enables us to move beyond what is deserved.  Wendell Berry shares that "love changes, and in change is true...the Christian gospel is a summons to peace, calling for justice beyond anger, mercy beyond justice, forgiveness beyond mercy, love beyond forgiveness."  I'm inclined to agree with him.  Christ calls us to go beyond what is expected or deserved or even beyond what is good to what is better and eventually best.  Sometimes I balk at that process, but His love is there--patient, long-suffering, everlasting.  

Such love changes us.  Accepting it changes us and then seeking to reflect it deepens that change.  It goes beyond what we know and what makes sense.  I think that is one reason why the prophets emphasize love so much, stating that without it we are nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13, Moroni 7, or Thomas S. Monson's words).  I love what Marilynne Robinson has to say about love in her novel, Gilead.  She writes that "Love is holy because it is like grace--the worthiness of its object is never really what matters...there is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse of a parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality.  It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.  So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?"  Love, this "embracing, incomprehensible reality" often does not make sense to us, at least it doesn't to me.  It is generously given, even if it goes unreceived.  It is constant.  It is unwavering.  It is not deserved, earned, added to or taken away from us.  As President Monson says. "It is simply always there."  

I think such honest and true love is the love Sophie expressed in the aforementioned scene, the love that Diana chooses in her moment of testing, the love that Jesus Christ offers each of us, and the love that I am trying to develop in myself.  Love, my friend.  It is powerful.  It is perfect.  As an imperfect being, my practice of love is really lacking, but does miraculously does not take away from the wholeness or completeness of it.  



Mkay, I think that is more than enough time spent treading water in my brain.  You have been patient, dear reader, and I thank you.  Maybe the exertion will produce something good, even if it is not movement in the water.  I hope it will, somehow.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

Restorative



“The soul is healed by being with children.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I spent a few hours with two children last night, and I couldn't agree more with my friend Dostoyevsky.  I don't think I've laughed that hard or been that silly for a long time; kids without adults around tend to bring out the most rambunctious in me, a side seldom seen by anyone really.  Yet it just sort of comes out when I am with little ones, particularly the two to five aged ones.  Between chasings, mock sword fighting with pool noodles and ridiculous accents, bedtime stories, facial lotion application by a toddler, and holdings, we had quite the time.  There is something so freeing about being with children, these fairly uninhibited little people learning to express what they feel in a way that others can understand.  Being with them reminds me to be genuine, resilient, expressive, and to not be so uptight about it all.  I appreciate them more than I can say.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Overheard



Sometimes, especially when I'm alone in the office, I sing or hum.  

Sometimes its louder than I think it is.  

Sometimes people hear.  

Sometimes people listen. 
Sometimes they tell me about it. 

Sometimes, especially when they tell me, my face blushes bright red.  

Sometimes they tell me it sounds beautiful.  

Sometimes they ask me to do it more often.

Sometimes its nice to be overheard. 

And sometimes its nice to be told it.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Yesterday

This work astounded me.  The pianist, the conductor, the symphony, the composer, the piece, the feelings; A-STOUND-ING.  Such beauty for 48 minutes and 22 seconds.  Especially at marker 27:52, but all of it is glorious.

I love how music--particularly classical music--brings people together, uniting them across time, distance, varied histories and ideologies in a glorious shared experience.  Johannes Brahms, who wrote this piece, says that "without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind."  Well, Johannes, you had both.  My hat goes off to you and you have my deep thanks for what you created with both inspiration and craftsmanship.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Love


I have been thinking, dear reader.  Grief is still extremely present in my life and deeply painful.  I am broken, and have felt what it means to sorrow because of love.  Yet, grief is becoming less overwhelming and I have been thinking about love.  To me, these two are companions; you do not have one without the other.  "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.  If not so...righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one" (2 Nephi 2:11).

I love how holiness and misery are paired, and they struck me as sort of an odd match.  To think that holiness and misery could be the opposites of each other encouraged me to adopt the idea that love could have an opposite that was not hatred.  I feel that the opposite to love, sometimes, is grief.  And with that in mind, I wanted to write a companion piece to my thoughts on grief.  Both of these experiences are powerful and transformative, and together they make one.   

Love is white. Pure, endless, ubiquitous but often unassuming and unnoticed.  Ordinary and yet transcendent.  As one writer puts it, "it makes no sense because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal".  It is earthy and holy at the same time.  It blends with any color, because love is not exclusive; it is the most inclusive gift, infinitely, graciously giving and endless in supply.  

Love is just as ubiquitous as grief.  But while grief is slippery and amorphous, love is steady and constant.  Its effects are just as varied as grief's, and just as intense.  They match each other.  Love sometimes brings such lightness that I feel I have lost touch with the world.  Other times it is grounding, giving such security and hope that I feel anything is possible.  Carrying love is difficult because it often carries me.  

Sometimes love impels me to run, but not to escape.  It impels me to run for joy, for thrill, and for others.  To be close to others, to be there for others.  Sometimes love still brings my heart to where it pleads to burst, only to be able to carry and share and hold and express and enact more love for others.  Oh, how it is achingly beautiful.  

I am not sure if I have ever been rendered immovable by love.  Surely it is a fixating point, but it enlivens and ennobles and emboldens to such a degree that standing still hardly seems like a possibility.  Yet, I imagine there are times where love requires us to stand still, to be witness more than participant and to rejoice in what we see and experience.  

Love can be all encompassing, all consuming.  Yet rather than empty me in its consumption, it motivates me to give, to withhold nothing, and to do the impossible.  It keeps me present, though perhaps sometimes distracts me with its force.  

Love is not without tears.  Tears given from love are often quiet ones that make our eyes glisten and communicate our hearts when words cannot.    

Love is tingly, fizzy like soda, bubbling through my body with excitement.  Love engenders smiles and laughter, glances and gazes, blushes and gasps.  It requires honesty to grow and thrives with vulnerable exposure.  

Love is sweet, though gently so.  Like grief, it is not overpowering.  Love graces all that I smell and taste and see and hear and touch, clarifying and lending beauty to it all.  Love is radiant and clear.  

Love sounds glorious.  At times it is silent, at times boisterous in words and laughter, and all the time present.  One poet says that "Attention is the beginning of devotion".  Love pays attention, dear one, and is always in the present moment.  

So though choosing love means choosing grief, I choose love.  It is such a gift, dear reader.  To choose to carry love with you is to be unafraid, to rejoice, to hope.  That choice is also one to grieve, to weep, and to mourn.  It is wonderfully simple and gloriously complex all at once.  Experiencing both gives substance to our existence and while I would not choose both, I am glad that we cannot have one without the other.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Different One

The multitude awed, fed, and dispersed,
A collection of friends took leave of each other.
One to the mountains and the rest to a ship,
trusting to meet each other soon.

Distress, unrest, uneasy turbulence
felt by both the water and those on its surface.
Most let it permeate them, stirring up fears and anxieties.
Prolonged exposure to contrary winds swelling doubt.

Except in one, almost two.

This One felt the same unsettledness,
Yet carried Himself with gentle confidence and assured peace.
A time before, he had invited the elements to do the same
and they hearkened, choosing stillness.

Yearning, his companion queried and with the word "Come" ventured,
Heart lurching as his feet met the lake where he stood, stepped, stopped, surveyed and
sunk until saved by an immediately stretched forth hand, filled with resolution and strength,
There without hesitation but with an observant question graced with tenderness.

"O ye of little faith, wherefore dist thou doubt?"