Saturday, June 2, 2012

Put on the Apron of Love

I saw Les Miserables last night.  It was dark and magnificent and grand enough to hold even a theater goer of my inexperienced standing under a three hour spell.  To prepare for the evening, I read a bit of Victor Hugo yesterday - he authored the novel, Les Miserables, and was quite a deep thinker on the subjects of God, man, and the general human condition. 

Here's a line from Hugo's Les Miserables that captured me: 

Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.

Convinced we are loved.

Think about that one a while...

Picture in your mind our churches - full to the brim on Sunday mornings with people who have convinced themselves that a higher being loves them - unconditionally.

Rewind the last fight you had with someone close to you - was there an element of feeling UNconvinced of that person's love for you?

Try to imagine a space on your life's timeline when you were so convinced you were loved that nothing else mattered. Nothing else. Now remember how bad it feels when you let yourself believe you are not loved.  Doesn't everything seem to be wrong? 

So, there it is, I think.  Finally.  The meaning of life.  Our greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.  - French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist Victor Hugo. 

I bring this up today because of a photo that was emailed to me about an hour ago.

This is my oldest son and his fiance.  They are standing in the home of some of our dearest friends...people who have known this soon-to-be-married man since he was four years old.  My son is wearing an apron that has just been given to him by these important people in his life.  It is the apron that belonged to their chef son - a young man who my son held as his lifelong best buddy.

That talented young chef died in May of 2007 at the age of 25, after a long day working in the kitchen of Louisville, Kentucky's toniest restaurant.  This apron is among the few physical treasures that did not disappear with that kid in the fire at his apartment that terrible night.

This is a gift that was not given without some serious thought about the recipient. 

I'm calling it a mighty grand show of love.  I'm convinced.

And, even though the photo brings tears to my eyes, it does feel awfully good - to be loved like that.

I am inspired to enhance a familiar passage of scripture (Ephesians 6):   

Put on the full armor of God...
The belt of Truth,
The breastplate of Righteousness,
The shield of Faith,
The helmet of Salvation,
The sword of the Spirit,
The APRON of Love.

And then go about your business in this world dunked in the happiness that comes when you are absolutely convinced you are loved.   


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When You're Eleven

(Warning: The image at the bottom of this post - from the London Times - is terrible.)

When you're an eleven year old boy, it seems the most you should have to think about is how to pass your final math exam or how many hours of practice it will take to consistently sink a basketball from the 3-point line.  You should not have to think about how to survive a massacre in your home. 

Have you heard this story?  The one about Ali el-Sayid?  He soaked himself in his 6 year old brother's blood last weekend, and managed to still his trembling body long enough to convince the 10+ murderers walking by flashlight through his home killing every living being that he was already dead.

It happened in Houla...a collection of poor farming villages and olive groves in Syria's central Homs province. More than 100 people were killed in the door-to-door bloodbath that began late Friday and continued into early Saturday.  Many of the the victims were women and children - all of them were shot at close range or stabbed in their houses.

In their houses.

Six of them were the father, three brothers, sister, and mother of Ali el-Sayid.

There are many terms being tossed into news reports about the weekend massacre:  shabiha, Alawite, pro-Assad regime, anti-Assad regime, Sunni Muslim, Shiite Islam.  Strung together in sentence upon sentence, they have a mind-numbing, eye blurring effect on me. 

But the mental image of a young boy rolling himself in his brother's blood and lying still while he listens to his family die - that blurs my vision because I am blinking back tears as I transfer the faces of all the young boys I have known and loved onto the scene, and it numbs my mind because I cannot let myself really believe it.

Little boys are little boys...whether they are Syrian, Egyptian, African, American...

And little boys - sleeping in their own beds at home with their mother and father and sister and brothers - should not have to play dead in order to live.

Here it is.  How can we walk on with our thoughts on anything else? 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Heroes of the Faith

It was a terrible day.  More than a terrible day...among the worst of days - ever. 

Five years ago this very morning, I was dashing toward my office -running late I am sure - and my cell phone rang.  It was one of my BFFs calling from her home phone, 1,000 miles away, in Louisville, KY.  The fact of her call was slightly disconcerting - a phone chat with this friend was all too rare, especially first thing in the morning.  Still - I did not pick up. Her brief message said, "It's about Bobby.  Call me back." 

My concern instantly tripled. Bobby was her son, and my oldest son's childhood BFF.  The sound in her voice was absolutely not one of happy news.  Once I was at my desk and sure all was right in the event world I managed at the time, I found a quiet spot to return the call. 

"Bobby is dead," she said with an aching tightness in her throat that I hope I never have to hear - from anyone - again. "He died in a fire in his apartment this morning." 

Then she told me it was the first time she had spoken the words, Bobby is dead.  And we both cried. 

The next few days are a blur of travel and tears and tributes that I can barely stand to remember. 

But, it is what I do on this day.  I make myself remember.  Here is how that goes...

I think about my dear, dear friend - her husband, their other children.  I pull their confused, exhausted, grieving faces from my mind's five year old files, and I sit with them a while...and I cry again. 

Then I walk through some of the days I have known with this family over the last five years...the oldest daughter's wedding, the younger daughter's move to Texas for college, the other son's prom and high school graduation pictures, the birth of the first grandchild...and I see evidence that healing happens, although it is a mystery to me how. 

How do you step into a future without a child you've known and grown and loved more than your own life for 25 years?  I could easily stop my thinking on the subject right here, and never move again.

Without realizing the signifigance of this particular day, I planned breakfast this morning with two other dear friends...two other women who have lost young adult children - one to cystic fibrosis and one to cancer. 

I can hardly believe it.  I have three very close friends who have buried children. That fact alone has got to be some kind of statistical anamoly - I hope.

But here's the most unbelievable part about the whole thing...

These women - these three beautiful mothers -  still walk and talk and laugh and move around in the world like people who believe in a power bigger than their own - a benovolent, loving, creative power that wishes them no sadness or pain.  A God - a real and present God - who still knows them by name, has the hairs on their heads numbered, and surrounds them with grace, mercy, goodness, and light. 

Wow.  That, my friends, is a large, large God. And dear friends...

Bobby's mother, Terri
Wade's mother, Darlene

Margaret's mother, Carol

...are my heroes of the faith. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Trees Speak for Themselves

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.  -The Lorax

I stepped into my backyard this morning to have a moment with the trees.

There are 18 trees in my backyard - mostly graceful live oaks.  "Artistic," my mother calls them.  In 24 years I have rarely paused to appreciate them. 

Besides enhancing my property's value with a natural beauty that compares to absolutely nothing, these trees have, I realized today, cozied us into our home with a mysterious, gentle presence that I can only describe as Spirit. These trees have rocked us through thunderstorms and breezy summer days in arms that move with a lesson on standing, but bending, when hard winds blow.  They have framed the world outside this study window with a lively elegance, providing high rise homes for finches and cardinals and a couple of spirited squirrels.   They have held hammocks and tree houses, clotheslines and swings.  They have provided shade for picnics and birthday parties, slip 'n slide competitions and long, lazy days by the pool.

They are living, giving entities. 

Today we say goodbye to two of them.   About 10 days ago, as I did my annual search of the treetops to see just how much longer I might have to endure the messy spring pollen drop, I noticed one of the trees was bare.  We worry about oak wilt in this part of the world, so I sent a photo and email immediately to our tree guy.  When he came out, he discovered a second leafless oak - and declared two fatalities in our backyard.  Cause of death - drowning. 

In a state where drought is a constant state of emergency, this seems almost impossible.  But, in fact, the bed where these trees stood circled around cannas and ferns and angel-winged begonias was full of water most of last summer.  Our inexperience with automatic irrigation systems, my zealousness to keep potted plants in the bed watered, and a series of failed experiments with a fountain led to this tragedy.

We killed our trees. These trees that have endured more years than we have lived here.  Trees that have been scraped by bulldozers, strung with electrical wire, nicked with weedeaters...and survived.  What they could not endure was another season of our careless quest to keep things green. 

I felt like I owed them all an apology.  And so I stepped out to have a moment with the trees. 

Thank you, I said.  You have done what you were grown to do, and you have done it well. 

I am sorry, I continued.  We have learned a hard lesson.

Some years ago, I sat at a dinner table with a shaman and a psychic who were engaged in an animated discussion about the conversation they had overheard the trees having the night before. I laughed it off, of course.  Trees do not talk. 

But, I swear, as I stood beneath them today asking for forgiveness, I heard them say, "Forgiven."    

Now. Back to work.

Monday, March 12, 2012

War. Get a Clue.

I am at the desk this morning to work on a book. 

It's a book about a family of women and war.  Specifically, a family of wealthy Texas women and the US war in Afghanistan.  And a daughter who becomes a casualty of that war. 

To do this work, I have steeped myself in as much of the truth about our war in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan as I can stand.  It has been a process of immersion and gasping for air as I've watched documentaries and YouTube videos, read blogs and military websites.  At the end of the day, I have a lovely, peaceful, upper middle class life to return to, and so...of course...I walk on. 

But I cannot claim to be clueless. 

Today, no one in America who can read or turn on a radio or linger in front of a TV can claim to be clueless.  Another horror of war has come to our lovely first world living rooms this morning, and it looks like this...

Yes.  This is one of the children killed by a US army staff sergeant in the wee hours of Sunday morning, as he walked house to house less than a mile from his base, killing unsuspecting Afghans as they slept.  The number of victims, according to military spokespersons this morning, is "somewhere in the teens." 

This is what the Taliban has to say about us today:
"sick-minded American savages" committed the "blood-soaked and inhumane crime"...

I find the rationale hard to argue. 

But here's the truth about war...when we put guns in the hands of men and women and train them to kill people, we are promoting sick-mindedness.  Say what you will about defending our freedoms...the hard, cold facts are that we put our military volunteers in dreadful situations with nothing to do but think about killing someone, or being killed by someone.  Imagine it for a minute.

Alongside basic tenets of humanity, sanity...Christianity...that is a recipe for sick-minded madness.

This is not a defense of the person (or persons) who walked off a US military base 24 hours ago and went on a killing spree.  I can barely breathe today thinking about it.

This is a condemnation of war.  Everything about war is an inhumane crime.  Think about it.

Who can look at the photo above or read the newspaper or listen to NPR today and not know this:  War is not the answer. 

And you cannot claim, today, to be clueless.

War is not the answer.  Ever.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

You Can Be Skinny

...but only if you're rich enough.

Maybe it's the wine.  Maybe it's my delirium over 1,077 words on the page today, even though I was completely distracted from the desk until 5 pm.  Maybe it's just that this is truly, completely hilarious. 

There is a brand of jeans called Rich and Skinny.  Really...go on it.  The pair pictured below...appropriately named "Legacy Fire"...costs $187.  Okay, I think I get the Rich part of this line.

Based on the photo above, or any of those on the website,  I guess we'd all have to agree on the Skinny part, too.  Where are the muffin tops on these women? 

Oh, except they have my size. 

And I'm not skinny. 

I guess I might consider myself rich enough to buy some Rich and Skinnys, if ONLY they had fancy branding on the butt pockets of these fancy pants.  I mean, who wouldn't want to walk around with "rich and skinny" stitched on their back pocket? 

Missed opportunity, R&S.  Big one. 

Now. Back to work.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Always Be Batman

When my oldest son was 12, he said he wanted to be Batman when he grew up.  We suggested he sign up for some theater classes in high school. 

"No," he said.  "I don't want to pretend to be Batman, I want to be Batman."

Ah, well that is different.  To be Batman, we reasoned, you should have been born into another family and then orphaned at a young age.  You would need to have witnessed a terrible crime to fuel your vigilante angst.  You likely should be growing up with a butler named Alfred, in a house with a huge basement. 

The same son also wanted to play basketball for the NBA, but - alas - he was only 6-feet tall.  When he began to face the early end of his basketball career (junior year in high school) he asked why we didn't make him play baseball. 

"You knew I was going to be a short white guy," he said.  "Why not put me in baseball?" 

Well, we defended, that would have required parents who, a) knew something about baseball, and b) had some sway over their son's choices. 

This boy, I should tell you, is about to finish his PhD in social psychology (and for all I know, that means he is Batman...!).  He is the super hero of many hearts, including that of the woman he is going to marry in August of this year.  And you know, I think she gets him. 

Here's the sound wisdom she posted on his Facebook wall today: 

Really.  Don't fight the truth.  Be who you are.   

Unless you can be Batman.

Always be Batman.

Now.  Back to work.