Room Inside a Box

"There is no room inside a box." ~Doug Pinnick

Location: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, United States

I started this blog as a soundboard for some much needed therapy during my separation with my wife throughout much of 2005. It was truly a blessing to get my thoughts out there through the writing process. Thankfully things have worked out between us. I would have continued to blog, but ever since I started my teaching career, I have found it impossible to do as much blogging as I would like to. So now I hope to periodically post as time and energy allow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Remembering the Goonies

There are times when I like to think that I was actually a good brother. I remember watching the movie Goonies a long time ago and thinking that the older brother (the character’s name I think was Rand or Brand or something that sounded like that) to the central character (who I think was played by Sean Astin, but I’m not like the Movie Geek on one of my favorite, albeit short-lived Comedy Central shows “Beat the Geeks,” so Astin is just a guess) was a really great guy. I mean, I would watch him interact lovingly with his younger brother and think, “Why can’t I be like that? What’s my problem?” Unfortunately for my two younger brothers—and my two younger sisters for that matter—that’s as far as I went with my self-interrogation: It would be a very long time before this introspection would lead to any real change or growth or blossom into any type of love or affection.

Goonies seemed to also have an impact on at least one of my brothers, Jason. He claims it’s his favorite movie of all time. And while I might have some reservations about the critical faculties of my brother because of this assessment of said movie (he also thinks The Ring, the scariest movie I’d ever seen, was dumb, but I digress), I can’t altogether write him off as having unsound judgment. But when he continually sticks up for a certain person in a certain office that neither Kelly nor I can stand, it makes me again wonder about those critical faculties. Kelly and I, being the smart-asses that we are, will be in a constant state of laughter over each other’s deprecating remarks about said fellow Project Ass, when my brother will harshly censure us—especially me—leaving us wondering, “What the hell is up with him?” Said Project Ass is way-too-happily married and of the female persuasion, and my brother is gay, so it’s not like he’s trying to move in on her or anything. (And as an aside, it really bothers me that my younger brother is a higher-on-the-totem-pole Project Ass than me, so it’s a double whammy to my fragile ego when he pulls shit like this, but again I digress.)

It takes me back to a time when I was disparaging my brother’s life partner, whom I have only recently begun to tolerate and even like sometimes. But back then, because of my immaturity and a strong dislike for this dude, and because my brother hadn’t yet matured into someone who would actively stick up for those he loved or even liked, I would regularly—even habitually—make slanderous remarks about Jason’s life partner, even to my brother’s face (of course, in these instances I would disguise my remarks in a jocund fashion, trying to get him on my side, which speaks of my immense immaturity to say the least). One day, though, my brother reached deep inside himself and found the testicular fortitude to remonstrate and verbally reprimand me for my comments toward his partner. I was stunned. Silenced. I had nothing in my arsenal to combat this onslaught of prudence. Then he said something to the effect of: “You should try looking at it from his perspective. Walk in his shoes for a little bit.”

All this was swirling around in my head this morning as I was driving to work. Like many people, I tend to think the world revolves around me. I tend to think that it’s all about me, my wants, my desires, my needs. I just finished Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and I can say with much certainty that it was one of the best books I’ve ever read. My buddy Paul, who got me into Merton, asked me what I thought of it on a scale of 1 to 10 and, much to his delight, I gave it a 9.5. (The imperfect score rests on the notion that Merton is just a little too Catholic for my blood, but since he mellowed out over the years I am quite anxious to read some of his later works.) One of the central ideas that Merton tries to hammer home toward the end of the book is that it is not about us. It never was about us and it never will be about us. Much—if not all—human suffering can be traced back to this confusion that arises within us, this thinking that we are the center of the universe. Yesterday I was pondering this notion and my mind wandered to how Jesus taught us to pray. It takes him twenty-four words—six phrases, two sentences—before he gets to us. The beginning of the prayer is all about God, who really is the center of the universe. And even by the time he gets to us it’s all about God’s providence for us. It’s never solely about us, and even when it is about us, it’s about us in this fashion and order: us in relation to God, us in relation to other people, and us in relation to ourselves. (In Sunday school I remember singing, “Jesus and Others and You / What a wonderful way to spell Joy!”) Of course, the paradox is that until we love ourselves we can’t love God or even other people, which is why there’s much truth to what Anne Lamott says: “God doesn’t want or expect you to get it together before you come along, because you can’t get it together until you come along.”

The crux is faith, and in order to effectively and fully live in and by and through faith we need eyes to see and ears to hear. This is what I pray for, to see and hear through the lenses of Jesus instead of my own fucked up lenses. And I say all that to say this: For a long time I have only been thinking of myself and my wants and my desires when it came to my relationship with Ann. And even when she decided to leave me, at first I only thought about what she was doing to me, how she was hurting me, how she was killing me. But I go back to the Goonies, I go back to my brother, I go back to making fun of a fellow Project Ass and I think of my depravity. I think of how truly fucked up I am and how much work lies ahead of me as far as cleaning up my shit. I need to see through Christ’s lenses, for his lenses penetrate, his lenses cut through all the bullshit and see authentic people dealing with the fears and anxieties in their lives, all of which are the causes of so much of our pain and suffering. So he bypasses all the bullshit and can actually see things from their perspective; he can walk in other people’s shoes. Jesus spoke through my brother that day, and it cut me to the quick. Who can justify themselves before God? No one. No, not a single one.

So there are indeed times when I like to think that I was actually a good brother, but I know I was not. And there are indeed times when I like to think that I was actually a good husband, but I know I was not. And I know now why my brother censures me with such credulity when I poke fun of Project Ass, and I know now why my wife is so bitter and angry toward me. Who wants to continually deal with an egocentric smart-ass who doesn’t know when to shut up? Even I would shy away from such a person. But there is a time and place for everything under the sun. The problem is not that I am a smart-ass; the problem is that I don’t always have the discernment of who I can be smart-ass with. With Kelly I can always be a smart-ass which is why I feel so comfortable around her. I feel this way about my other brother, Mike, too. But with others like my brother Jason or my wife Ann, I have to be careful. This is why eyes that see and ears that hear are so vitally important. They give one prudence and discernment; they make one wiser and more like our Father.

My own dad told me time and time and time and time again, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut.” I should have listened to him. It would have saved me from a world of suffering.


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