It was a Saturday night in the city. A chill in the air because it was February but not enough to keep people from being out and about. Maybe the city never really sleeps. I don’t know. We hustled against the chill, the sun already setting. Warmth waited behind the heavy wooden doors. My husband…
It was a few weeks ago and I was feeling particularly bummed about life. Well, one part of life in particular. I had received some news I didn’t want which sent my thinking down a no-good track from which I couldn’t break free. I was alone in the house and I probably should have been working.
Instead, I curled up in bed with my computer and Netflix and watched “Nacho Libre,” a Jack Black movie I have only seen once, years ago. I remember laughing at its ridiculousness and this day was no different.
If you aren’t familiar with the plot, Jack Black plays a Mexican monk named Ignacio who has a dream to become a luchador, a Mexican professional wrestler. He pursues his dream even though it is in conflict with his vows as a monk. He is not a great luchador, but he cannot give up his dream.
After a string of losses, Ignacio, in frustration, prays these words:
“Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”
I belly-laughed. Alone.
It was just what I needed.
Part of my funk that day was directed at my writing, and I could identify with the prayer of a fictional movie character.
I could pray those same words, and sometimes I pray/wonder something similar:
God, why have You put this thing in me to write and yet I see no real success?
Or, in Ignacio’s words: Why have you given me this desire to write and then made me such a stinky writer?
Don’t ask me my definition of success. Ignacio has me beat there. He, at least, knew what success at his dream looked like. Me? I’m not so sure. Will I be “successful” if I have a certain number of blog subscribers? If a blog post goes viral? If I sign with an agent? If a publisher wants my book?
I don’t know.
Years ago at a used book sale, I picked up an old volume of poetry. It is one of the only books in our house that smells old, and every time I open it, the scent surrounds. They are a collection of religious poems, but I can’t say I’ve ever read any of them before. I have a renewed interest in reading poetry, so I’ve been trying to read one of these each day.
Not long after the Nacho Libre day, the selected poem I read was by Robert Burns. (Can we just pause a moment here and recognize how ridiculous it is that I just used the words “nacho libre” and “Robert Burns” in a sentence?)
O Thou Unknown, it is called, and I will admit that some of these poems contain theology I’m not sure I agree with. Still, there are turns of phrase that are works of beauty.
This stanza stopped me as I read:
Thou know’t that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And listening to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.
I could not help but think of how I was feeling about my writing. I echoed the poem’s cry: You know You’ve made me this way!
And though I did not want to admit it, my passion for writing sometimes leads me wrong. Especially when I dwell too long on the results and what I think I should get from my writing. I am drawn back to the words I started asking myself months ago: What would it look like if I only wrote for God’s pleasure, with no “result” in mind?
Yes, my passion is often wild and strong, and yes it often leads me down an untrue path, but it is still part of me. Something I cannot rid myself of, even if I wanted to.
On Tuesday nights this summer, my husband has been on an adult men’s soccer team. The guys are all mostly like him, passionate about soccer, in their 30s and 40s, and with bodies that won’t quite do what they want them to do, at least not without pain.
But they love every second of it. I mean, they all complain about their aching body parts but they don’t stop, not really. They rest when they need to and they rub medicines on their muscles and pop pain relievers and talk about drinking beer to numb the pain afterward.
Honestly, I was a little worried the first time he came home from a match and could barely walk the next day. Really? We just paid money for you to hobble around and maybe not be able to work this week? That’s what I thought. But when I started going to the games, I saw that they were all, mostly, in the same state and for some reason that made me feel better.
Several of his teammates are foreign-born and that gives me an extra fondness for his team. They have a lot of fun and they play hard but they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s a joy to watch.
I don’t know a lot about the rules of soccer, though I’m picking it up a little after several weeks of watching. During a recent game, the play from the opposing team was not as honorable, it seemed, as it could be and the official did not always intervene. During one play, a shot on goal, our team’s goalie seemed to think a player was offsides before he shot. I don’t remember if they scored a goal on that play, but our goalie had maybe given up a little because he thought offsides was going to be called.
An English (as in born in England, not the “not Amish” version of English; in Lancaster County, you have to make this distinction) teammate of my husband was on the sidelines at that point.
“You’ve got to play the whistle,” he said to himself, although I overheard.
And I understood immediately. On the field, you play as if the game is going to proceed until you hear the whistle called stopping play. The players can have an opinion, but the official is the one who gets to decide when play stops. If you want to win, you can’t let a couple of missed calls stop you.
Somehow this also made sense to my attitude about writing. I think I’ve been taking myself out of the game while play continues around me. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a call in my favor while the other players on the field keep working the ball toward the goal. Then I get upset when they score.
I’ve not been playing the whistle.
As long as I can still write, I need to be writing, not sitting around waiting for something to happen to my writing that gives me an advantage. It might never come. But the words are always there and no matter what happens, the words together make something and it is not wasted effort.
The only way to “score” is to get on the field and play the game. And not everyone can score but everyone contributes. Maybe I will never score that goal I want, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of the game. And if someone else scores, that doesn’t mean it’s over for me, either.
Gosh, I hope that all makes sense. It clicked together in my mind, these strange pieces of wisdom, if I can call them that.
God made me a writer. (I can tell you more about that someday.)
I can’t always trust my writing desires to lead me in the right direction.
And I have to keep writing, even if I think the “game” is unfair.
I know not everyone who reads this will be a writer, but maybe you can apply it to your dreams, too. Maybe there is something that was put inside you from a young age that you can’t not do. And sometimes it goes wrong and sometimes it’s not fair.
Keep playing. Keep doing that thing you were meant to do.
We need all the players on the field.
I’m sitting on the porch as I write this, a cool and gentle breeze wrapping around the wrap-around porch, my kids yelling at each other in the driveway as they “play” (God bless summer). I am shaded from the sun and able to enjoy being outside without suffering the heat and humidity of the past week.
The porch is my favorite place. For writing. For reading. For sipping coffee in the morning. For taking a break in the afternoon when I’ve dedicated the morning to the housework that I hate.
But this sanctuary was violated. And now I have to fight the fear that I don’t want to feel.
On Friday morning, on our way out the door to catch the bus to downtown, the kids raised the alarm.
“Mom, where’s your bike?”
I turned to the spot on the porch by the door through which we enter the house and sure enough, my bicycle was missing. People describe it as a “sinking feeling” and it’s totally true. Like an anchor had been dropped into my stomach. We only had a few minutes before we needed to meet the bus, so I did a quick scan of the porch to see if anything else was missing.
I texted my husband, who leaves for work in the pre-dawn hours, to ask if he had seen it. I tried to rationalize the circumstances. Maybe, on a whim, he decided to load the bike in the van in the middle of the night and take it for a tune-up. Even as I write, this makes no sense, but it was a much more desirable scenario than what had actually happened.
My bicycle had been stolen.
We went about our day with friends and my husband assured me he had not seen the bicycle and could not remember if it was there when he left for work or not. He encouraged me to file a police report, which I vowed to do later in the day. It was not a storm cloud over our day, more like a slight overcast. As we lunched with friends and hung out in the city, my mind kept returning to the porch and the feeling that we were not safe and neither was our stuff.
I wanted to beat myself up for not having a lock on the bike, for not paying closer to attention to details. I tried to laugh it off–it’s taken four years of living in this place for us to have something stolen, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now! I wanted to believe the best about someone. Maybe they needed it for work or to get groceries or some other worthy reason.
I visited all of these emotions because of the one thing I don’t want to be: afraid.
As we drove home later that day, I found my eyes drawn to anyone on a bicycle. To the sides of the road where it might be lying abandoned. The police officer who filed the report said I should drive through the neighborhoods and look for it in someone’s yard. His first point of blame was the kids from the nearby apartments. (The same kids who last year were drawn to our garden and its bounty of food.)
Now I am eyeing my neighbors with suspicion. Every person who walks past our house is a suspect. I am harboring anger that someone would be so bold as to walk up to our porch and practically into our house to take something that does not belong to them.
I AM afraid. Afraid that someone has been watching our comings and goings. That someone knows when we sleep and when we rise. I am afraid they will come back and take something else or that I will accidentally catch someone in the act of thieving and someone will come to harm because of it.
Most of all, though, I am afraid of being afraid. I know what happens when fear is in control. I circle the wagons, build the walls around my heart, and refuse to trust my fellow man. I look at people not like me with suspicion. I fuel the stereotypes instead of fight them. I assume the worst in people. I adopt a posture of protection.
Yesterday, on our way home from a short hike through a beautiful woods in the middle of town, I was scanning the neighborhood again when I caught a glimpse of handlebars in a grassy area next to a sidewalk.
“There’s a bike over there!” I yelled. We pulled into our driveway and my husband walked the short distance to investigate. The kids wanted to go with him but we told them to stay put so they watched from the porch. A minute or two later, my husband returned with my bike on his shoulders. The back wheel was bent and dented, rendering the bike useless to whomever had taken it, I guess.
I let slip a word I try not to say in front of my kids then apologized. I left a message for the police officer with whom I had filed the report and I wondered if the insurance claim would be necessary after all. As I sat on the porch that afternoon, my mind found some dark places. I mentally called the “kids” who had taken my bike all kinds of names, the most mild of which was “punks.” I imagined encountering them in person and being angry, yelling at them for their lack of disrespect for someone else’s property.
I am furious that I now have to fix something that I didn’t even break.
I wondered how you bend the back tire without the rest of the bike being damaged. My dad suggested that someone was jumping it off of something high and landing hard. This, too, puts me in a rage. They broke my bike FOR FUN and will probably never have to pay the consequences for it.
Life is not fair.
It is not wrong to want to feel safe. Or be safe. It is wrong to worship safety or let the pursuit of safety be our primary aim in life. Guaranteed safety is unachievable. That might be frightening or it might be liberating.
A few days before my bike was stolen, I wrote a blog post about how terrible and wonderful the world can be. I almost laughed at the timing of the theft because now I had more life experience on which to draw. The same day my bicycle was taken and my sense of safety threatened, the kids and I had lunch with friends from out-of-town, took a food tour with more friends, and spent an evening poolside with yet a third set of friends. Our day was full of goodness with a blip of unpleasantness.
There was a time when the one “bad” part of the day would have ruined the rest of it for me. I could decide not to sit on my porch anymore because the idea of someone invading it is too unsettling. I could decide to lock up everything we own, to never leave the house anymore, to get a security system or leave the porch light on all night every night. I could choose all sorts of reactions to this event.
Before we found the bike, I had resolved to be tender about the whole thing, taking each next step as it came: police report, insurance claim, vigilance. I was surprised by how easy it was to throw all of those feelings aside when the resolution was not to my liking. Sure, we got my bike back, but it’s broken and for what? It is almost natural, these feelings of anger and hatred toward some person or people I don’t know who have wronged me.
This, too, I must fight with everything I have.
I still need to feel the disappointment of putting a family bike ride on hold. And I can be angry and upset about the condition of my bike. But I must keep my heart open because it is the way I want to live.
Fear is like a weed that wants to overtake the garden of my soul and I will yank it out again and again until it knows it is not welcome here. I could say the same for the kind of anger that leads to meanness or hatred.
These emotions will not be the boss of me any more than safety will be my ultimate goal.
I am choosing to love despite this small inconvenience.
It is not and will not be easy.
But it will be good.