When I was 5 years old I had a rat-tail.*
(*NOTE: the addition of the hyphen between these two decidedly embarrassing dance partners adds, what I believe, to be a more “scientific” rendering of a hairstyle worn almost exclusive by people screaming “Dale YEAH!” from the cheap seats of Bristol Motor Speedway each spring.)
There’s nothing quite like-after enjoying a pleasant and unexpected lunch with your father who initiated the meeting because he wants to pass on “something meaningful” to you-feeling the oddly smooth fibers of your childhood neck tickler* after it’s been hermetically sealed in a sandwich bag for the last 23 years.
(*NOTE: “neck tickler” is trademarked. At your next dinner party please cite your sources.)
My life is a bad Southern-Gothic novel.
Ever since that fateful lunch, I’ve found myself continually trotting this embarrassing uncle of a childhood memory out anytime I find judgmental distance, snobbish disdain, or overly-spiritualized vitriol laying waste to the Cracker Barrel patrons, Q-Tip piloted late-model Town Cars, or vapid party guests discussing bar height in their newly purchased downtown lofts in front of me.
Because, for years now, I’ve spent the better part of my waking hours mentally eviscerating the people around me:
What they wear.
Who they read.
Where they went to school.
Why they do what they do.
Who they voted for.
What music they listen to (and if you say “everything” I WILL PUNCH YOU IN THE STOMACH AND REFUSE TO APOLOGIZE AFTERWARDS.)
Who they do or don’t date.
What movies “speak to them”.
Initially, I had no medium upon which to paint these witty and withering critiques, but now, thanks to the INTERWEBS, I have a captive audience*.
(*NOTE: I mean “captive” in the truest sense of the word. If you don’t believe me, try to have an eye-contact heavy conversation with anyone under 40 over dinner.)
Now every party, every drive home, and every eternal Hobby Lobby register experience behind someone’s great Aunt who only uses checks because credit cards are the first step in the insidious plans of “the beast and the Antichrist to make one global market in order to oppress the faithful” is a prop, is fodder for my endless struggles for meaning, identity, and belonging.
If I can judge, condemn, and proclaim loudly from the friendly confines of my keyboard what I don’t want to be or do or say or vote for or listen to or believe then I will at some point eventually discover what I actually do want to be and do and say and believe…right?
So I get it when, in our strains to reach for the authenticity endlessly bouncing around in the backseats of our souls, all we manage to come up with is snark.
Honestly, sometimes snark is all I’ve got left in the tank, and the more I leverage the lives, choices, partners, hair styles, and recreational activities of the humans in front of me for the laughs and the likes and the shares and the retweets…the more my actual (and probably my internet) soul, dies.
Maybe we could put it another way:
When the only thing that links you to another person is the previously agreed-upon verbal, political, religious and/or social disemboweling of another:
and you are
This is why I’ve decided to wear that lock of my rat-tail in an amulet around my neck.
This is why I’ve found that remembering all of who we are, especially the missteps, the false-starts, the times we took a fashion risk that continues to haunt the pages of our family photo albums and our dreams, is the only way we can carve out enough space and oxygen for other people in the room to come to the very same redemptive conclusions about their own stories.
That being, even in our worst selves, we’re worth the breaths we’re taking now.
The 17th century Rabbi, Susya of Hanipol, famously reflected with a far away look in his eye:
“When I die and stand before the Heavenly Judge will I not be asked why I was not like Abraham or Moses? To such a question, I could provide a very convincing answer.
No, when I die I will be asked only one question, the answer to which will determine whether or not I take my place in the world to come: “Why was I not Susya?”
And to this I will have nothing to say at all.”
Despite the constant queries of late 90s bracelets in every color inviting us to reflect upon just what exactly Jesus would do,
none of us will ever be like Jesus.
Ironically enough, the central claim of Christianity actually depends upon our failure to reproduce the life of Jesus, because it repeatedly attests to his uniqueness across the eons of human history.
Just listen to how he’s often described by those interrogating the world one wrist at a time:
The question of your existence isn’t why aren’t you more like Abraham or Moses or even Jesus.
It’s why aren’t you Susya?
That is, of course, if your name is Susya.
Who you are isn’t how successful, handsome, thin, wealthy, well-read, educated, fertile, polite, genteel, or faithful you are when compared to others filling the cocktail party or Irwin Tools Night Race @ Bristol in which you find yourself.
It’s why aren’t you, the person who uniquely lives in a very particular time and place with very particular offerings and ideas and thoughts and dreams and doubts and fears, you.
The great lie of our world (and often even our faith) is that both this life and the one following it, are crowded.
It’s the idea that there’s only so much space and meaning and grace and redemption and love to go around. So much so, that each time someone discovers their own belonging a sudden fear wells up within us that ours is now in peril.
I would argue, the bedrock of the Christian story is that, at our core, humanity has a fundamental misunderstanding about distribution,
cosmic and otherwise.
In short, there’s more than enough room for all of us, that is of course, when we stop trying to stand in someone else’s place.
So may you, as you drive and pray and slick back your neck tickler and work and “read more tweets” remember that you aren’t behind or ahead, you are only beside. And in that discovery may you realize the counterintuitive beauty of the fact that you aren’t the only one with baggage, confusion, angst, and regrettable fashion in the room.
Which, I guess is what the divine voice has been whispering to us ever since that first afternoon in a garden many years ago:
“it is not good for man to be alone.”
amen to that.
To read more from Eric Minton, click here.