Friday, August 30, 2013

Letter to George Saunders

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Dear George Saunders,

I finally read your commencement speech at Syracuse, and I’m trying out this “erring in the direction of kindness” thing. After two days, I’m with you: it’s hard. I could have told you that yesterday, but I decided to try again for another day before letting you know.

First of all, I’m doing the things I don’t want to do but know I should. I think not doing everything I want to do all the time is pretty good for me…pretty good for others, too. Like taking out the heavy blue recycling bin or picking up the paper instead of leaving it to one of my aging parents. Like responding sooner to e-mails from people, getting up an hour earlier, cleaning the toothpaste residue from my sink, skipping out on that dark chocolate bark with sea salt and pumpkin seeds after dinner (which has been really hard, let me tell you.) Like making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store even though I may never see them again. Like going up to old acquaintances I run into and actually talking to them rather than pretending I didn’t make eye contact and bolting for the door. You know, that type of stuff.

Yes, I do have a college degree. No, that does not make me too good to do these things. And no, I am not pretending they are anything sensational. Only they are because of the kindness you talked about. The kindness makes them heroic. That’s why when I do these un-sensational things, it feels pretty good. I feel adult-like and responsible and human, whatever that’s supposed to mean, even if it’s in a feeble kind of way.

Great speech, by the way.

It’s also been a nice vacation, you know? From thinking about myself. Sometimes that feels like a full-time job. How healthy was that last meal you ate? Are you sure you edited that cover letter enough? Is that gray hair number 4 or 5 on your twenty-three year old scalp? So...what are you going to do with your life? It’s a bit of a bore, really. All this thinking and re-thinking about myself. And doing things I don’t like all the time is at least challenging and new in an exciting and simultaneously awfully scary kind of way. My progress is slow, but I’m working on it. This kindness thing is growing on me more and more with each recycling bin and newspaper.

I don’t say all of this to get your applause or your attention. If anything, it’s embarrassing that it’s taken me so long to even become a little better. So I’m glad you included that bit about getting kinder as we age. I’m looking forward to it. And in the meantime, that's why I'm starting today. So that when I am old, rocking my fro and enjoying iced tea or whiskey on the front porch and the neighbors walk by, I will be radiating kindness.  I guess what I'm trying to say is...thanks for the reminder. I really needed it. I think we all do. It’s easy to forget that we’re called to kindness, and that there is a greatness in living it.  Sometimes I think that’s the only reason we’re here.

You said the Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, wrote towards the end of his life that he was “mostly Love, now.”

I add that we should mostly love, now.


Saturday, August 17, 2013


“Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.”

We have been wrestling for days. The trouble is…I want to dance. You pushed me and I pushed back. I invited my will into the ring, letting it coach me, letting it whisper advice into my ear. I didn’t want to admit that I was in a struggle after all, and that I hungered to win. But each push gave me more and more clarity, until the moment came when I could no longer deny the reality: we were wrestling, and I was losing.

Why is it that the acknowledgment of our failure and weakness brings about victory? Why is it that we often make the mistake of placing our will above all, thinking strength is found in getting our way and having total control? We confuse arrogance for success and choose instead to look down upon anyone that hesitates, admits they were wrong, allows themselves to be vulnerable. We've forgotten that it's when we relent, as daunting and uncomfortable as it feels, that we realize we’ve really been the ones giving ourselves blow after blow in the wrestling ring. The bruising, scraping and sweating have been the result of great effort—one that often hurts more than it heals.

I’ve talked about surrender, but only now do I actually hold up my white flag. My prize is no gold trophy, just the relief of letting go--and knowing that I'll still be okay. And that I'm not alone. There's a freedom in admitting you don't have it all under control. There's a strength in that too. 

So now, with a black eye, fat lip and torn dress, I get up, take off my gloves, hold out my hand, and rather sheepishly ask, “may I have this dance?”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Calling me back

You call me back again and again—and again.
And I am astounded.
Did you notice the crumpled shirt on the hardwood floor, the papers all over my desk?
Did you scrunch up your nose at my unwashed hair or unfiled nails?
Did you get overwhelmed by the ideas that clutter my head, get whirled around by my racing thoughts?
Did I tell you I have no set, sterling future plans? Might not have witty or entertaining stories? Forgot my line?
No heavy sigh. No tapping foot. No crossed arms. No rolling eyes.
You call me back again and again—and again.
This is what makes me unafraid to come back each time.
Because if I thought I had to be worthy of your call, I would never answer. If I thought I had to be perfect before greeting you, I would never stop getting ready. If I thought I had to come carrying perfectly baked goods or a wrapped gift, I would never knock. If I thought I’d come to a wagging finger, I would settle for where I am.
I come seeking, regardless of my shabby state, because you’re the only lasting peace I’ve ever known. And I will be persistent while knocking on your door because I know you will answer, even if we aren’t on good terms, even if we haven’t spoken in a while, even if my hands are empty, even if I don’t deserve it. I will keep knocking because the world leaves me nowhere else to go, gives me nothing as life-giving, leaves me dirty on the floor, expects more than I can sometimes give. I will keep knocking, knowing that when you open the door, your arms will open even wider—with no squinting glances, no frown, no furrowed brow—only a warm smile, a reassuring gaze and a chest to rest my head on. 

You call me back again and again—and again.  

And so I answer, "I’m coming, Lord. I’m coming."
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Matthew 7:7-12