Why I Waited a Month to Write About Robin Williams

When we try to fix things fast, we never get to feel them fully. And we need to feel them fully, because the solutions to our biggest problems lie at the bottom of our grief. If we don’t get better at grieving, we can’t get better at living…

Robin Williams

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Last month, my friend was in a car accident. The car was totaled. He texted me a picture of it and let me know everyone was okay. Reassured of his safety, the next question on my mind was, “Whose fault was it?”

The human mind likes to look for fault and to assign blame.

Last month, Robin Williams committed suicide. A shocking, tragic loss. And instantly, Twitter and Facebook lit up with debates about depression and suicide and illness versus choice. Mental health debates. Theological debates. Existential debates. Almost all of them sincere debates argued by caring, passionate people. We need to talk about such things. Dialogue is essential.  But the debate happened so fast.

Sometimes, we fight so we don’t have to feel.

Sometimes, we trade jeers so we don’t have to trade tears.

What Were You Made To Do?

What were you made to do? The answer to that question has the power to alter the arc of history. For good.

art

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The alarm sounds at 5am, and my heavy-gritty eyelids creak open. The kids still have two hours of slumber ahead of them, which means I have two hours alone with my thoughts and my keyboard and my craft. The prospect is thrilling.

And terrifying.

Because there’s something else nestled right next to my gleeful anticipation. It doubts and it gnaws. It’s my fear of the blank page. It’s my fear of drying up. It’s my fear of not being enough.

When I sit in front of a blank document, it can feel like my worth is up for grabs. And that kind of fear makes me feel incredibly vulnerable—it’s way easier to feel prolific and invincible. In the past, the fear has driven me back under the covers. Fear and vulnerability like a padlock, trapping my words inside.

But now I know, my vulnerability isn’t the lock on my words—it’s actually the doorway into everything I want to write about.

The Violence of Invincibility

We live in an invulnerable world. Somewhere along the way, we decided vulnerability is weakness, and we’ve banished it from the public square.

Waiters aren’t allowed to confess mistakes for fear of a lawsuit. If a doctor admits doubt, they lose the confidence of everyone they serve. When was the last time a politician admitted they were wrong before they were caught in the act? Pillars of virtue cheat their way to the top rather than embracing limitation and weakness.

We’ve replaced the public square with a winner’s circle.

And our homes aren’t much different—we’ve banished vulnerability from our living rooms and bedrooms and hearts. Marital conflict escalates as spouses litigate their love with cross-examinations and Exhibits A to Z. Our children take their cues, and they compete with each other for worth and value. On playgrounds, tears get stifled and punches get thrown.

Our strength and invincibility are, quite simply, tearing the world apart. In the end, the winner’s circle stands empty, and so do our hearts.

Who will show us the way out of this morass?

The answer might surprise you, because the answer is you.

How to Make the Magic Happen in a Marriage

Three words can make magic happen in a marriage. The three words aren’t “I love you.” The three words are I, am, and sorry.

marriage

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I went to college in the golden age of the computer lab—a sterile, windowless room in the basement of a dormitory where students wrote papers and saved them on floppy disks. I didn’t write my papers there. I wrote my papers on a legal pad in my dorm room and then went to the computer lab to transcribe them. The first draft was the final draft. No revisions.

I didn’t like making revisions.

The perfectionist in me liked to think I could get it right the first time, be done with it, and move on. Revisions seemed tedious and complicated and messy and unnecessary.

Sixteen years later, I started this blog, and every week I’d put my wife in an impossible position: I’d give her the first draft of a blog post and ask for feedback I didn’t really want. When she would return the document with suggestions, I’d bristle. My ego wanted a stamp of approval, and the perfectionist in me wanted nothing to do with the hard, messy work of revision.

Marriage is a lot like writing.

We become perfectionists in our marriages, too, and not in a good way. We like to think we’re getting it right the first time. And we certainly don’t want the person we love to suggest any revisions in us. We want them to love the first draft of who we are.

We want a stamp of approval.

Promises to Our Boys About Manhood (On the First Day of School)

I’m writing this from the empty playground at my boys’ grade school. Right now, in the final dog days of summer, it is still and quiet. But in a week, when school starts, it will be teeming with the energy and activity of my boys and their peers.  And it will be teeming with messages.

boys men

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What messages will this playful space send them about being boys and becoming men? If history is any indication, our boys will learn to live like an old, buried, neglected water main…

Why You Should Unsubscribe From My Mailing List

The world isn’t moving at an increasingly rapid pace; we humans are. Beneath all the noise we make is a world beating slow and steady and quiet. It’s up to us to find the rhythm…

mindfulness

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September is on the way.

If I put my ear to the ground, I can hear its manic rumblings.

The pools will shut down and the schools will open up. And with three kids in school, the onslaught is about to begin: back to school ice cream socials and curriculum nights and forms to sign and homework to complete and soccer practice and guitar practice and school drop-off and school pick-up and illnesses and sick days and bullies and tears.

All of it in triplicate.

The hours of light will shrink and the hours of obligations will expand and the open space of summertime will be crowded out by activities and responsibilities and hurry and voices and noise.

September is on the way.

Of course, parents aren’t the only ones burdened by the frenzy of life and September is not the only culprit. We’re all swimming in an increasingly loud and agitating sea of activities and obligations and the voices of business and commerce and news and information. And we’re immersed in it all the time…

The Virus is Coming

Ebola virus

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The virus is coming.

Actually, it’s probably not coming. But if it was, what would you do with your dwindling days?

And I don’t mean what would your animal self do. I don’t mean the things you’d do to survive. I don’t mean the looting and the hiding and the procreating. I’m not wondering what your fear would tell you to do; I’m wondering what your soul would tell you to do?

I’m wondering: who would you call?

I’m wondering: if you had one last chance, what new way would you find to tell the ones you love about the depth of that love?

I’m wondering what you would pay attention to. What would you soak up and drink in like it might be your last taste? I’m wondering if you’d pay attention to the glint of sun off your child’s eyelashes. I’m wondering if you’d feel the skin of your lover—not just touch it, but feel it. I’m wondering if the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of late-summer cicadas winding up and winding down would make you ache with gratitude. I’m wondering if every ripple on a pond would be cause for celebration. I’m wondering if the birds in the trees would sound like a choir and the people in front of us would look like gods.

I’m wondering if we would wake up.

No Matter What, You Are Beautiful and Beloved

Whatever lies we’ve swallowed and no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in our heads, there is another voice whispering, waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of grace, whispering its truth at the edges of our being: No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.

grace

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I walk into my son’s elementary school fundraiser dressed in a wig, bathrobe, and women’s boots.

A best costume contest has been advertised, so earlier in the day, I walked into a Goodwill store as a suburban dad and walked out as a rock star circa 1985. But now, as I skitter across the icy parking lot in four-inch heals with my chest hair showing, I realize something: with the exception of the few friends who came with me, no one else has chosen to compete.

The crowd of people slip-sliding from the parking lot to the entrance is all ball gowns and khakis and sport coats.

And, somewhere in the shadows of my mind, my shame-whisper begins it’s murmuring:

Everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t.

You look silly. Ridiculous.

You’re a joke. 

The One Illusion We Cannot Afford To Believe In

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

community

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I’m on the fifth floor of a hotel in Pennsylvania, waiting for an elevator to the lobby. It’s July 4th—Independence Day in America. Early morning, and I’m leaving the hotel to find a cheaper breakfast. As I wait, I become aware of piped-in music overhead. I hear lyrics that remind me of my wife: “Fortune teller said I’d be free, and that’s the day you came to me.”

I instantly reach for my phone, Google the lyrics, and the song title is the top result. I click out of Google, tap my Spotify app, search for the song, and the song playing above my head is now coming out of my phone.

I enjoy the dopamine rush of immediate gratification and I marvel at the convenience of technology. But mostly, I revel in my apparent self-sufficiency. Twenty years ago, I would’ve required the help of a number of people to identify the song, find a music store, and purchase the CD.

In 2014, I interact with no one.

In 2014, I can completely ignore how interdependent all of us are…

Why Sometimes Hope is Hopeless and Hopelessness is Our Best Hope

Hope can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be the worst of things. Because sometimes our numbered days are spent hoping and waiting, instead of acting and living…

hope

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Last March, as the long, bitter Chicago winter wore on, my wife and I started hoping for something different. We began searching for houses in Nashville. Every morning, we’d check our weather app for the temperature in Nashville, and every night we’d scan our email for new home listings.  By the time we fell asleep, we’d be dreaming of an acre of wooded land in the temperate winters and rolling hills of Tennessee.

Summer has arrived in Chicago. We don’t look at the Nashville home listings anymore.

Hope is a wonderful thing when it feels like the wind at our backs, carrying us toward the good things we seek. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes—maybe even most of the time—we hope so we don’t have to change anything at all.

Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore

I used to say I believed in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me

grace

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It’s 9pm, and I walk in the door still carrying the burdens of a day at my office. The kids are already in bed, eyelids heavy but holding out for a “goodnight” from Daddy. My wife is tired but smiling and happy to see me.

And I don’t want any of it.

I stomp around, tearing open mail, griping about food that isn’t in the fridge, acting like a serious jerk. And in some secret place inside of me, I know it. Somehow, this only makes it worse. I wait for the reprisal from my wife. The well-earned reprisal. The angry, “I don’t deserve this!”

But it isn’t forthcoming. Instead, she kisses me on the cheek, says she loves me, and goes to bed with the same smile on her face. I stand by myself in the kitchen, but I have two companions. My bad mood. And my wife’s grace.