A look at the least important things in life

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A dumb argument

That a new-age rustic from the backwoods of Louisiana would be against gay marriage is unsurprising. That he would also lack the foresight to know that sharing this opinion might cause some problems with the liberal television channel that carries his reality show is also unsurprising.

Currently, the most surprising thing about this Phil Robertson ‘scandal’ (not the right word at all, but it’s what we’ve got) is that we’ve finally found people vocal in their displeasure with the whole Duck Dynasty…well, dynasty. I’ve long found it odd that a significant number of forward-thinking Americans thought that a useful way to spend Wednesday night was watching semi-manufactured entertainment about people who became famous for duck calls and beards. To me, it fetishizes redneck culture for people who would otherwise deride redneck culture, so I don’t care for it, and that was true before Phil Robertson hid behind his Bible while simultaneously condemning gays (although his ‘a vagina…would be more desirable than a man’s anus’ quip was kind of hilarious).

Now I have a lot of conservative, Good Book-quoting friends who applaud Phil Robertson for speaking out and being honest on what he clearly finds to be an important subject in such a public manner. I also have a lot of liberal friends fed up with hate and intolerance masked as religion and God’s Word, when such a large part of religion is accepting and loving others for who and what they are. Neither side is wholly wrong except in their unyielding belief that they are wholly right.

It doesn’t really matter if Phil Robertson is a bigot or an evangelical. Just because he believes what he says has no hint of maliciousness – and if anything else, I truly believe HE thinks that what he said came from a place of explanation rather than condemnation – has no bearing on how it’s received. If you feel like Phil Robertson’s words give you license to bash gay people, you’ll probably do it. If you feel like his words are another in a long succession of conservative-hatespeak filtered through scripture written thousands of years ago, well, I can see how you arrived at that conclusion.

(Oh, I’m well aware that he also dropped some drivel about how black people had it so good and were never mistreated before they had, you know, rights and shit. Here’s the whole thing if you want to see it for yourself. For purposes of our discussion, I think we can all agree this was stupid and short-sighted. I’ll leave you with this analogy: just because I’ve never watched someone murdered before my very eyes doesn’t mean I’m naïve enough to think it never happened and the news is just making it up. That’s just silliness.)

But if you feel like you have to take up this cause and raise a stink and Change the Way People Think, one way or the other just…don’t. In the spirit of the season, I’m begging you – all of you – to let this die so I don’t have to remember 2013 as The Year Phil Robertson Caused Fights at Every Christmas Party. It’s not worth it, it never has been and instead of raising our voices at loved ones over things that ultimately don’t matter, we should enjoy good food, bad presents and the company of people we otherwise avoid all year.

(Merry Christmas. I still think Duck Dynasty is a sociological joke that no one else is privy to.)

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Farther Along

I hope you never know pain.

I hope that the hurts of life stay far away from you for as long as possible. That you never have to see a friend, a brother, a young person with an entire life to live, gone in the span of a few phone calls. I hope you don’t stand over a hospital bed with tears rolling down your cheeks, knowing that there’s no coming back. You don’t get to just ease that pain. It stays.

Many of you that read this know we lost a great friend last week. I guess I’ll kind of try to eulogize him here, but honestly I won’t come close to doing him justice because I’m not that great with words. He was always there for me and others like me when we didn’t deserve the kindness. Great people – that you want to be like and, failing at that, just want your kids to be like – are just too few. We lost another one. That people like you or me live on when God calls one like him home this soon is one of life’s greatest and most confusing tragedies.

I cried my share of tears. For parents and family, grief-stricken beyond all imagination. For my friends – his friends – that have only memories now, instead of the next event, the next night out, whatever would have gotten everyone together just one more time. He should still be here for more of the milestones life offers: weddings, births, Christmas parties… and we should have been there for his.

I hurt most for the people the big-hearted rascal never got to touch. His smile was infectious, contagious in a way that made you happy when you didn’t even want to be. I can’t recall a cross word he ever said about anyone, and I can’t recall someone in need of help that didn’t call him first, knowing he would come through. He was my first college friend; I doubt I’m the only one, because he never met a stranger in his entire life and always made a friend wherever he went. Nobody else will get that chance; I’m sorry for you folks who didn’t, because that kind of friendship is rare.

I want to say all the things I said at his grave site that evening but I won’t because they were either inside jokes that would be considered wildly inappropriate out of context or just blubbering words while tears froze to my face. I felt better, standing out there by myself and just saying all the things I’d been thinking about, thanking him for a friendship that lives long after his soul departed this life. I shared my hopes and regrets on a life that has to go on without him.

(His funeral was held while I was working; I went out later, after I got done with work, at night, to a graveyard in freezing wind. Creepy, right? Most of the time, my job is the best. But anyone in my line of work makes the same deal, that when they have to work, they have to work unless there are extremely extenuating circumstances. It so happens that this time, the circumstances precluded me attending the funeral of a good friend. Brow-beat me if you wish, but I’ll have to square this guilt with my Maker some day, so I don’t have the time or inclination to worry about what the rest of the world thinks of it. You think nothing I don’t already think of myself.)

Emptiness. That’s the word that sums it up when you lose someone. Not empty in an ‘I can’t go on’-type way, but empty because that part of your heart the person occupied aches as though it’s missing. You can’t stop your life, but you don’t want to go. You feel like if you just stay where you are, he’ll be with you every step of the way, but to move forward would be to lose his memory to the next passing breeze.

We’ll move forward, eventually. There will be a wedding, or a birth, or a party that won’t feel the same. I’ll think of him whenever I drive past his old house, or my fraternity house or especially if I pop in a dip. His life won’t dominate my thoughts like it has for the last week, but I’ll think of him when I need him. Hopefully, I’ll think of him the next time I need to make the choice between selfishness and selflessness, and that his memory will guide me where I should be.

Little Update

Would you like to know what I’ve been up to lately?

Of course not. I get up, go to work, study, maybe sneak in a workout, and go to sleep. I suck. I’m boring. I’m constantly tired, even when I’m not doing anything. My house is a train wreck. My wife hates me. My dog hates me. I have no idea how I’m awake right now, let alone typing coherent sentences, assuming this doesn’t come out in another language.

I had long suspected that this would be the semester that grad school snuck up and kicked me in the balls, so I was ready for that. It doesn’t make the workload any easier, which is crazy because it’s one class, yet I’m also working 55-65 hours a week and planning to continue to do all that throughout November. I reside in a weird haze where I constantly think I’ve done everything yet forgotten something, and then I’ll wake up in another room without being entirely sure how I got there. It’s possible I’ve been possessed by the Devil.

Work has kicked up a notch too, which I don’t mind since it’s, you know, employment. I like having more responsibility and the opportunity to write more at work – and at home as the case would often have it for bigger projects – because it validates my job (the positive) and shoves it the face of every miscalculated ass-nugget who thought sports information would be a dead-end job, creatively, that would have me write the same press release over and over again until I died (also a positive, but maybe I should be a little nicer about it).

That said, I need to be better to my wife and dog and friends and probably myself, since I’m in danger of becoming a tubby lard-ass again. I very much want to keep all these plates balanced for as long as possible, but the reality of the situation is fast becoming clear. Someone’s getting left out on a near-daily basis. My Irish guilt – not just supplied by alcohol, but natural, down-through-the-generations guilt – never lets me enjoy what I’ve chosen to apply focus to in a given evening. When I’m with my wife, I should be working. When I’m working out, I should be hanging with her. When I walk the dog, I should be at the bar with friends. All of it has gotten in the way of doing this, whatever you consider ‘this’ to be. I call it writing for pleasure, and I haven’t done near enough of it. But I need to get back to studying. See you later.

This is different

I realize that when going to church you should typically find some meaning in the words and song, in lifting a joyful noise unto the Lord. Sometimes, however, you find inspiration in what could be considered the day to day, the mundane.

I know what you’re thinking: Hang on, he’s doing a bit about church? Since when? I came here for the dirty jokes, the swear words and the over-indulgences! Yes, well, in keeping with my lifelong theme of being a disappointment/failure, I’m a pretty crappy Christian too – I’ll now pause for a moment so you can register some mock surprise.

(…)

I don’t see how anybody can be a ‘good’ Christian anymore. In the sense that the Bible wants us to achieve, I don’t think I’ve met more than a handful of good Christians in my entire life, and none that weren’t directly affiliated with the church in some capacity. I’m not saying that Christians are bad, because they all strive to do as The Bible says; I’m saying we all do our best, and we all have our shortcomings. I think that’s fair to say, no? The level at which it seems some people strive to be ‘good’ is sometimes a corollary into what’s in it for them, and I don’t think that counts as being a good anything. However, that is not germane to this story, and we can delve into that at another time.

Here’s the scene: choir is getting set up to sing. Mic’s aren’t firing properly, music isn’t starting. Earlier, the slides telling people the words to the songs got all out of whack and people missed the first verse to a certain song. The music director looked flustered.

Meanwhile, I’m watching this and ready to pull my hair out. I lose my cool (tried to change all the swear words out today) at work whenever the slightest thing is off, even when those things are completely out of my control. That’s at sporting events, games, trivialities in the grand scheme of things. When time comes to praise the Lord, I rely on other people to shunt us in the right direction. If I were in charge, and things started going wrong in front of the congregation and Jesus and everyone? Oh man. I would say several not-very-Godly words.

So to watch things devolve around the music director and watch how well he handled everything – with an aw-shucks, ‘Well, this might as well happen’ demeanor… I mean, that throws things in perspective. Will I always be able to keep things in perspective? Of course not. I’m human, unlike the music director with the Gandhi-level patience. But I will try not to let it ruin my day, the way it has in the past. Moments are moments; when those moments become hours, evenings or weekends, that’s when you have problems.

It’s not my fault

There’s not a lot of good people left in the world today, which probably makes it hard for the children of the world to have someone to look up to.

I can remember being young, kinda. While the idea of hero-worship has always been pretty alien to me – the people who worship the ground that Peyton Manning walks on crack me up, whether they’re 12 years old or 42 years old, and there are plenty of people in Tennessee and Mississippi that fall into that camp – I think that finding someone, usually a group of people, to pattern yourself after is a part of adolescence, even (or especially) if you only have abstractions through which to judge those people. It says something about who you want to be, and probably even more about who you are. And if you want to be embarrassed, think back on who you looked up to during some of your formative years.

The people you look up to and want to emulate are likely to be the people you want to be when you get older. This is why the first person every young boy looks up to is his father, and I was no exception. The funny thing about that is, despite teenage angst and the rebellion of young adults, you’ll probably wind up imitating that person as you get older, both consciously and unconsciously, and people will make fun of you and you’ll be like, “Nah, I’m nothing like that old fart” and YOU ARE EXACTLY LIKE THAT OLD FART. Make peace with it.

While a father is a building block, once a boy hits the age of 11 or so he starts becoming obsessed with coolness. For me, one George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was coolness personified at the age of 11. Since I was also a lefty, I thought wearing my hat backward would make me a better baseball player; I didn’t factor in my overall honkiness and inability to run fast or hit the curveball, but athleticism was only part of The Kid’s appeal; Griffey was just cooler than everyone else. While I didn’t have a good handle on the meaning of the word ‘fuck’ just yet, even I could tell that Junior was really fucking cool.

The next blend in my young personality cocktail would teach me the meaning of that word, along with several others that I was just becoming familiar with. See, the late-90s and early-00s were marked by the reign of MTV’s Total Request Live and few awkward looking white guys inhabited that landscape like Eminem. For a country boy who didn’t understand yet what roles Johnny, David and Hank were to play in his life, Marshall Mathers was that sort of absurd oddity you could project for yourself; he was the ultimate outsider. If a white guy could break into rap and become successful, then a hillbilly like myself might just be fit for something other than farming or construction work after all.

The next part might confuse some youngsters, but when I was growing up, geek was not chic; being a nerd was not a ticket to getting laid, and that’s the thing you start thinking about, 24 hours a day, right around 15 years old. And since my personality – with its Lord of the Rings knowledge and obsession with baseball statistics from the 1950s and ability to tell dumb jokes that repelled the opposite sex – wasn’t going to take me to the promised land, so to speak, who to follow that would? Naturally, a renaissance man, a bon vivant with a tortured soul who could touch on funny or serious at different times – why not Matt Damon? Of course, he being a charismatic movie star with an Academy Award at the tender age of 27 and my high school personality consisting of crude humor, a common ground did not exist. When you’re 16, any excuse to not sound like an ass is a good excuse.

(A recap so far: my adolescence was influenced by my dad, Ken Griffey Jr., Eminem and Matt Damon. What I would give to have those four guys locked in a room and forced to make small talk for an hour. It’s a miracle any woman has ever spoken to me.)

Exiting high school and entering college, signposts become much less navigable. A wrong turn or a bad influence could have negative repercussions on a young man’s life for years to come. Thankfully, I elected to pattern myself after Animal House-era John Belushi and Ernest Hemingway – two totally solid humans for an impressionable 19 year old who wants to write and drink and drink and write to follow along.

The latter half of college I transferred my interest into screwed-up comics; Patton Oswalt, Lewis Black, the late Greg Giraldo, gentlemen of that ilk. The artsy types have always interested me, but only if that art is crude, vulgar and unnecessary.

And that’s it. Post-college, I’ve been intentionally rudderless – as a development tool, it’s best for a young man to try to force himself to fly, often by the seat of his pants, as he enters the real world. I’ve failed as often, if not more, than I’ve succeeded. Looking back at the people I’ve patterned myself after, I think it’s easy to see why.