Monday, November 19, 2007

A recurring theme...

A recurring theme in my life, in my thoughts, and during last week's trip to NYC/CT to hang out with a few writing friends is this: contradictions.

The contradictions between what I think and what I do.
Between what believe and how I live.
Between what I feel and how I act.

Here's an example: I say that I believe that I ought to give more things away, support worthy causes, and that I care about the plight of the poor, but I end up spending much more money on myself than on anyone else.

I say that I think there should be an end to war, easy gun ownership, and abuse. But I do very little to bring those ideals to life. Sure, I write letters to some people and make phone calls to others, but what have I done that has cost me more than a few moments of my time and a few strokes on a keyboard?

One of the highlights of my time in NYC and CT was a visit to the Whitney Museum in Manhattan. We walked through the exhibit of the work of Kara Walker. Racially and sexually charged silhouette pieces focused on the era of the Civil War. Difficult to look at in some cases. Certainly unnerving. Shocking. Intentionally so.

The title of the exhibit, "My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love," summed up, not only the images she created, but also the emotions I carry. The ones who are supposed to complement us often entrench themselves in war-like stances opposite us on certain issues. The ones we love most and claim to love us are often the same ones who oppress us most. But we love them and live with them anyway. Contradictions abound.

Unable to pass through any museum without a notebook in hand, I copied down a few quotes, a few phrases from her posted explanations and introductions.

* "All I want is to be loved by you and to share all that deep contradictory love I possess."

* "...the impossibility of communicating to you these contradictions..."

* "Funny how we pick and choose what can and can't be said. Which stereotypes to be applied. Which ones are in or out."

* "I can be as self-righteous and upstanding as the rest of y'all. But I figure why bother?"

Here are a few of my responses to those quotes and a few goals I have set as a result of pondering them for a few days -

To give and receive love, no matter how contradictory it is. To love the gay and the straight, the sober and the drunk, the married and the single, the religious and the atheistic, and to do so without hesitation or explanation. To speak the truth to and about the ones I love and the ones who love me. To embrace those who are different, whose opinions are different, whose desires are different - and also to embrace the contradictions inherent in all of it.

To acknowledge and surrender to the impossibility of communication. Words come out too fast sometimes and are unretractable. Meanings change over time, across telephone lines, and even in face-to-face encounters. Intentions are misunderstood. But still I try anyway, I will reach out again, I will take adventurous journeys of the heart - risking dignity and danger. What else am I going to do with this one wild and precious life of mine?

To recognize that stereotypes and prejudice play a role in every interaction I have with everyone I meet. To attempt as often as possible to admit my own. To fight against my tendency to be afraid and distrustful of people who are not like me. To stop excluding others based on superficial characteristics. And be willing to revisit this issue often. As often as necessary.

To ask that last question over and over: why bother being self-righteous, judgmental, intolerant of difference? Why bother to seek reasons to be separate and not equal? Why bother to lift myself up onto a pedestal that causes more division in an already-divided, unequal, intolerant world? Why bother to argue about political differences when the goals, ideals, and dreams that bind us together far outweigh and outnumber those that set us apart?

So many contradictions.
So many questions.

Here's to doing what Rilke wrote so many years ago to that young poet:

“I want to beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”


Lisa said...

As I'm reading these heartfelt, profound words, I'm finishing off the last of my ginger cookie from Great Harvest (wishing I had purchased more of them!). I've read and re-read your insights and questions. I can certainly relate.

Here's to our quest for authenticity - and bravery - and to living the questions now. This coming holiday should be a good time to practice, eh?

Excellent quote at the end!

Missing you,

Anonymous said...


Touching and heartfelt words time and time again. A true gift. There is a back history to us all. Things we struggle to live with, make peace and over come with in our lives.

I had family members on both my Mom's side of the family and Dad's who fought in the Union Army. I'm proud they of what they did. It wasn't easy, and my ancestors who fought and died in the Revolutionary War too. Though in my bloodline my great Grandfather 11 generations ago on my Dad's side died leaving behind a son.

Nothing is in this world is easy, yet as you said we keep on trying to do what's right. God reads our hearts He knows our intent and knows our imperfections we will carry with us always.

In friendship,