Too Much Tenderness

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Or, in other words,

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That’s probably too millennial for me but I still thought it was amusing. I wanted to start with a funny little something because I know I drone on all the time about love and it’s all both cheesy and kind of pointless. But the lead-in to that renowned section of scripture (not to say that it’s received short shrift) is fixed in my mind as a rationale for never tiring of saying the same things about love ad infinitum:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I don’t feel like it’s wildly overstating the point to say that love is kind of the meaning and reason for life, the universe, and everything. Which, I’ll just say, is a little more satisfying an answer–as much of a non-answer as it is–than 42.

I heard this poem about love the other day and was deeply moved. I cannot recommend giving it a listen or read enough. It is by Kahlil Gibran and is so piercingly beautiful that I don’t even know what to tell you about it. I’ve rewritten this section a few dozen times, trying to decide which parts to highlight and what to say about them. Truly, the whole thing is remarkable so please read it. But I will offer something for you here as well because I can’t not.

Before we get to an excerpt, the thing I’ve landed on telling you about is a short line near the beginning and it encompasses, I think, the main idea of the whole work. The speaker says, “When love beckons to you, follow him,/ Though his ways are hard and steep.”

Some conversations about love are difficult to have. As Pete said, referenced in last week’s post, sometimes it’s difficult even to imagine love. Sometimes the road to finding love–within or without–is difficult. Sometimes we resist love because we know that there will be a cost. But when love beckons to us, we ought to follow. Not because it will be easy but because it will be valuable. As the poem describes, we must be threshed and freed, ground and kneaded, to become part of the feast love is preparing.

Sometimes, it’s annoying that in English there is only one word to describe how you feel about goulash, your brother, your significant other, and God. But sometimes, I think it’s actually pretty cool. Love is, as others have noted, a many-splendored thing that does not sit well in rigidly prescribed boxes. I think the trials and joys that love gives, and the multifaceted and varying ways in which we experience is, thwarts any attempt to classify it in language at all, so we may as well have only one to catch it all in a term of wonder, awe, and reverence.

This poem is really just a section of a much longer poetical work but I want to leave you with the final stanza of this part, generally referred to as On Love.


Love has no other desire but to fulfil
itself.
But if you love and must needs have
desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own under-
standing of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate
love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the
beloved in your heart and a song of praise
upon your lips.

Win

I have not heretofore watched any of the Democratic debates, preferring to read highlights and summaries because I just didn’t want to subject myself to all that conflict and largely meaningless posturing. But I did watch this most recent one, last Thursday, because my younger brother was really excited to see it.

So I sat and watched and we had our running commentary and all that. And mostly, I didn’t think it was worth much for anyone. However (obviously there was a however coming).

You know I’m always here for Pete Buttigieg (surprise surprise) and I was so emotionally arrested by a moment from his concluding response, answering a question about professional setbacks and resilience. His personal story is enough to get me a little choked up, as a gay, but there was one small line from him that really made it for me. I’ll give you the whole sentence:

And what I leaned was that trust can be reciprocated and that part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what’s worth more to you than winning.

In that particular case, what was worth more for him was the freedom to fall in love. And if that’s not the most simultaneously romantic and presidential thing anyone said in the whole debate, then my name’s Tiddlywomps Chickenbroth. Not an endorsement of him as a candidate, he’s honestly a little underwhelming in my book, but wow I tell you what wow.

What is worth more to you than winning? I don’t imagine that any of my readers are currently running for president, we’re all in different situations and have different things that might qualify as ‘winning’ for us. People talk a lot about the varying definitions of success, so maybe that’s more appropriate here. Wealth, jobs, fame, a legacy.

I would also argue, at least right this moment, that family and friends and things like that should also be excluded. While I think they’re good things–certainly things worth considering for a mature definition of success– I think that there are things that go beyond relationships. On a very abstract level. Though Mayor Buttigieg was talking about something concrete in the form of a specific romantic relationship, I think he nonetheless hit the nail on the head.

What is worth more to you than winning? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love. And, here, not any specific kind of love like spouse or child or friend. But to live a life that is characterized by love. “Characterized” is a term I’ve used kind of a lot lately, talking about whether this or that is characterized by this or that attribute. I think it’s an important question to ask: not to list attributes or give examples and counterexamples but to wonder what something is like at its core. How would my life be characterized by a hypothetical biographer twenty, one hundred, five hundred years after my death?

Another reason I like thinking about characterization is that it takes some of the pressure off. I know that I’m not really all that good at having loving responses in a wide variety of situations and I know that my actions and words often do not line up with what I would readily profess to be my values. But if we talk about being characterized by love, in the way I imagine it, it’s less about evaluating each moment and more finding a common element across circumstance.

To boil things down a bit, for my own sake as much as yours: thinking of the things that we value above and beyond all else, including and especially an abstraction like love, and then figuring out how to make your life reflect that value.

As a prelude to my topic for next week, I will leave you with this text that will likely be well-known in Bible-y circles. Speaking to achieving success without having fixed anything as more valuable than winning.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

What is worth more to you than winning?

Remaking (Many Will Falter)

Starting with a cat gallery. It is important to be grateful for good things in your life and these kitties are definitely good things in my life. I’m very grateful to them.

Before I move on, staying on the note of gratitude just a moment longer, I am also grateful for my friends. I love you all. I’m particularly grateful, this week, for those who have been talking with me during this time of bleh, I really value communicating with you.

A sec ago, I read an article about the apparent Millennial abandonment of three major pillars of ‘traditional’ American identity: the nuclear family, religion, and patriotism. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

Though it was an interesting article, if not particularly surprising, there’s just a lot that could be unpacked on that topic and I’m just not in the mood to rehash all that stuff, which I feel like I rant about kind of all the time–either on here or with other people or just to myself.

What I would like to draw from that article is a single phrase. In describing the changes that society is undergoing, the article turns not only to young people (who are less changing themselves and more remaking the world to suit they ways in which they are different) and talks about older people. Those who have lived a certain way for a long time but are beginning to move beyond it. In describing this unmaking and remaking of lives, authors of a paper on the subject say “Many will likely falter.”

It is fitting that I recalled that article tonight, sitting here late trying to come up with something to write about, because I just finished watching the movie Pleasantville. If you’re not familiar, I’m too lazy to describe the plot really but it hinges on unwillingness to tolerate change.

I couldn’t find an attribution so I’m not sure if I’m misquoting someone but I’ve heard loosely “Even a change for the better can feel like a little death” and that is generally my feelings on change, as those who know me well I’m sure could tell you. But it’s something I’m working on. Because, whether we will or no, change comes for us all. Every day is a chance to do something different, to be someone different.

The road to new is difficult, and so much more so when it is thrust upon us rather than made by choice. Many will falter. And though I will do what I can for who I can, it is not on me to keep everyone afloat if they can’t stay upright in the winds of a change for the better.

I will falter, too, many times. And while I hope you will all bear with me and help me when I do, neither is it all on you to keep me going either. Communal and personal effort; communal and personal responsibility. Not sure where I’m going with this other than to say: be kind to yourself and to others.

Remaking the world is a hard thing but a world without change is like a week that’s only Mondays, only ice cream and never sundaes. Wait, maybe that’s without love. Close enough.

The Five Seasons

Autumn has begun. I understand the astronomical, physical, and cultural realities behind the seasons. However, the true seasons do not align perfectly with the way I personally define them. For me, the five seasons of the year are as follows:

  • Autumn starts 1 September and goes to Thanksgiving
  • Winter begins on Thanksgiving and ends at New Year’s
  • New Year’s to the Spring Equinox is just sad
  • Spring is from the equinox to 1 June
  • Summer is 1 June through the end of August

And so, remaining jobless and having reached my self-appointed deadline of applying-only-and-not-working, I am looking to start something–anything–so as to be doing something with my time and also earning money. Lots of waiting, even while I try to fill up the waiting with activity.

Not wild into the idea of still being directionless after the passage of almost two entire seasons since I started applying but what can you do. I feel like I complain rather a lot about my job search which, while valid, is probably a little boring and/or a bit of a downer for most of you. It does occupy a lot of my waking hours but also, it doesn’t really since, you know, it’s not an actual job.

It’s a weird feeling, being certain that I’m kind of waiting in a holding pattern but also knowing clearly that time marches on, as it is ever wont to do. It’s September already! And not only that, but like almost a full week into September. What happened to August? Though I have been able to still read outside, it has been somehow diminished, knowing that it is officially (according to  me) fall now.

Anyway, I did get to spend some time with a neighborhood kitty this past weekend. No idea what name they prefer, but they did respond to Toast. Such a long, pretty kitty.

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That was a fun time, who doesn’t like a random, affectionate kitty wandering up to spend an afternoon with you.

I don’t know what seasonal favorites may or may not be heading your way in the coming weeks and months. I don’t know whether you revel in seasonal changes or if you’re hoping summer has a long, slow demise. Regardless, though, I hope that you are able to face the September air with fortitude, knowing that time and tide wait for no one.

Since I’ve got plenty of waiting on my plate as it is, I’ll not hold you up any further and end this post here.