I don’t read a lot of blogs. That’s partly why it surprises me when anybody more than my Aunt Neva reads this one. It’s not that I don’t see their value and quality, or that I think people who write them have a high opinion of themselves. They just make me nervous. Introspective. Almost every one I read morphs me just a little bit into whomever wrote it or plunks me inside the characters with their attitudes and outlooks. It’s like that old playground game that isn’t allowed anymore just because of a few silly whiplashes and broken bones . . . Crack the Whip. I must be getting too old for the kind of instability I feel when I’m yanked through someone else’s feelings. I gotta be me. Not them. It’s like empathy run amok.
The depressing blog posts written by bleak writers with doomsday outlooks make me shut the living room curtains and get out the ice cream. The bouncy cheery ones with constant sunshine and bunnies make me throw open the windows and skip around the backyard. That one about how to skydive blindfolded, well, you’ll be happy to know, I didn’t finish that one.
I did mull over quite seriously, though, a recent post I read about putting certain photos on social media during the Pandemic. I’ll fill you in on that towards the end. Spoiler alert . . . it’s not sunshine and bunnies.
Now, if a blog is taken so deeply to heart, let me illustrate for you how I react to books. Books have always been an important part of my life. Companions. Stand-ins for siblings. Unless I’m careful I can deeply internalize them. Always have. Case in point, a modern novel I just finished titled, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Maybe you’ve read it. Millions have. I’m always a few years behind. There’s a movie also.
Without giving you the entire rundown of the book, let me just say, I now deeply understand bees and their keeping, racial tensions of the American south in the mid-1960s, and everything about the function of a black matriarchal society.
Of course none of that is true. An expert I am not. All of those topics are far beyond where I can boast of a good grasp. I’ve just had my appetite whetted for new knowledge and, as per usual, I found myself researching them as soon as I closed the book. By the time I’d read a good online portion of someone’s Master’s thesis comparing the patriarchal society of Huck Finn to the matriarchal setup of Bees I realized I’d done it again and needed to get a grip. But before I purposefully shut down my obsession with the latest book, I allowed myself a couple days of indulgence to let my thoughts dwell on one poignant scenario. The wall.
There was a strand of the story line that truly fascinated and stuck with me. (No spoilers here in case you’re one of the ten people who hasn’t read this book. There used to be eleven. Ha.) One of the characters who struggles with how to process and deal with hard emotions builds herself a wailing wall patterned after the honest-to-goodness Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Over many years of careful, laborious construction her wall grew not very tall yet quite long out in back of the house, and in its chinks and cracks she would place pieces of folded up paper containing her written words of prayers for help with overwhelming situations.
“Genius,” says obsessive I. “Now all I need is a short ton of rocks and a few acres.”
“Get a grip, Mitchell. It’s a work of fiction,” says the clear thinking portion of my brain. “Get on with your life. Surely there’s some laundry you can do or a dog that needs walking.”
And that’s how I snapped out of it. There will be no wall in our backyard.
(but I still kind of want one)
Many years ago, 48 give or take, I read the book, Harriet the Spy. The book. Not the movie. The book is magic. The movie is meh.
If you know the story, it will not surprise you that I decided my diet would consist exclusively of tomato sandwiches.
That decision was met with parental pushback. And though the tomato sandwiches did not become the mainstay of my juvenile meal rotation, I still, to this day, enjoy one now and again and remember good old Harriet. It’s possible I adopted some of her sharp tongue and never let it go. We’ll just put that aside though and pretend I didn’t say that.
The year I read Pippi Longstocking (for the first time) was when I silently pledged to live confidently like that strong freckled-faced girl and I quote:
Pippi doesn’t live by anyone’s rules but her own,
and she’s perfectly fine with being a little different.
That lasted about a week. The freckles stayed though. And I carried into my adulthood the ability to string a wire hanger through my daughter’s braids to make them stand straight out like Pippi’s for Halloween. But I still never mastered being able to lift a horse over my head.
The City Under the Back Steps changed how I approach ant death. I still kill ’em but I apologize first.
In the late-80s I set out to read every Agatha Christie mystery every written. After about 40 of them my vim and vigor started running out of gas, and though I had managed to amass quite the collection of used paperbacks and a computer-generated checklist, the obsession fizzled out. Every once in a while I’ll pick up an old dog-eared friend and enjoy the journey. I believe the last one I plowed through was during a drenching campout-ruining rainstorm that set us to firing up the generator, running for the trailer, and as my family watched movies on the shelf above my head, I assisted Mr. Hercule Poiroit in solving the unsolvable. Again.
Some books shaped me then and now. A Severe Mercy was required reading in college sophomore theology. Everything in my life was aligned to set me up to be very receptive of this book and I soaked it up like a desperately dry sponge. Then not so long ago, a friend who knows about me more than most put a little old paperback in my hand and told me to read it. Not a problem. And it shaped me even in my older, more set-in-stone ways. Evidence Not Seen is worth the discipline it takes to get through the first part which is a tad dry. The second half will knock your socks off. And change your perspective.
Not all books affect me so deeply. Maybe it has to do with the age at which I read them, or whether the idea of reading the book was my own or someone else’s, or maybe just the way the two of us did or did not fit together like cogs in a wheel.
I found Kafka’s Metamorphosis most disagreeable but okay, okay, we all know it’s genius. And who doesn’t need a few bad dreams added in to the ol’ nighttime rotation?
The Old Man and the Sea and I might’ve gotten along more famously had I not been forced into an uncomfortable chair in the lobby of a hotel in Little Rock and told to “finish that book!” by my father while my parents were in an all-day meeting (hello, procrastination, my old friend).
There were a few books I read too early. Classics. I need to get back to Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Crime and Punishment and Voltaire’s Candide. Nope, I’m still done with that last one.
And I Could. Not. Wait. to flip over the last page of Dante’s Divine Comedy in college because there was a boy crush I needed to get to over to in the music building . . . yada yada yada.
Remember I mentioned about a blog post I read regarding certain photos on social media? Let’s talk about that. I want to be careful and will not mention the title of the blog or the author and will try to be mostly vague. This person is an extraordinary writer, much more experienced than I, and could quite possibly sue me to the moon and back if I misspeak here.
As to what she wanted her readers’ takeaway to be from her lengthy post, I cannot say exactly (at least I won’t try, because, you know . . . lawyers) but I can speak to the “atmosphere” surrounding her words. It bumped uncomfortably up against my own perspective. And as I got sucked in empathetically (ugh) to how she must be feeling, I could well see how she might indeed view life that way if she had never grasped the basic tenants of Christianity and the hope that arises from an understanding of the Person of Christ.
Sourdough bread. That was the launching pad of her thoughts. We as a people seem to be baking to get through these days of isolation and we are letting other folks know what we’ve been up to . . . the joy of social media. I certainly participate in that Instagram/Facebook/Etc. activity myself, although it’s usually something having to do with what I planted in the garden. It’s fun. It’s sociable. It encourages camaraderie and connects us. But wow, in the hands of someone with limited vision of what life is about (marvelous writer and all), that picture of living yeast rises up into a bleak, humanistic view of the circle of life. It’s fodder for mockery. Hope is something to be grasped at and strained for and is dependent on the whims of time and space. Who in the world is lucky. And who isn’t.
Friend, Family, Dear Ones, may I direct you toward a different thought pattern?
Go to the source of true hope. Real hope.
There is no shortage of HOPE in the Bible. Concrete hope. Solid hope. Hope with skin on. This is the Book of books. There is no need to shake loose of it or to recover from the experience of reading it. Its words are true and trustworthy. Daniel says, “But first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth.” (Daniel 10:21 NIV).
If you are weary these days and find yourself grasping for hope, look into the Word of the Lord. It’s bursting with it!
If your Bible contains a concordance in the back, look up “hope” and settle in with a cup of coffee. If you don’t own a Bible or yours does not have a concordance, download the Bible app onto your phone and search the word “hope.” The app looks like this:
These days of isolation are different for each one of us. Some (like me) are primarily at home. Many are going to essential jobs. Still more are working from home. Lots of variations. I personally do not know anyone or have a personal connection to anyone who has died from COVID-19. Think of the teeming numbers who do though. Incomes have been cut in half or elimnated. The strain within households is intense for many reasons.
Not long ago I had an overwhelming sadness sweep over me as I thought of the struggles behind the front doors of so many homes across this country and around the world. It’s mind boggling. And then there’s the guilt of having it not so bad comparatively. So what can we do?
Only our best.
Stay in touch with friends and family. While you may be feeling weak, you might be surprised that you’re the one someone else needs. Give them hope.
Give them HOPE.
Bake. Do it with empathy for the suffering. Do it with joy because you know hope. Bake, people! Post those photos! I’d post a picture of the from-scratch coconut layer cake I made a couple weeks ago but the two of us ate it so fast there was no time for a photo. Maybe I’ll make a tomato sandwich and throw that out there.
Keep on keeping on. I won’t tell you it’s all sunshine and bunnies. I will tell you there’s much more than doom and gloom; there’s a life filled with hope, not whim or luck. Read the Book.
Be strong and take heart, all you who HOPE in the Lord.
Psalm 31:24 NIV