As I write this, I’m sitting on the sofa of our friends on a Sunday afternoon…friends who were kind enough to give us a warm place to crash after an ice storm knocked out power for thousands in North Carolina, including us, on the preceding Friday afternoon with a restoration estimate of sometime on Monday (and I thought winters in New England were difficult to navigate).

Good friends are a God-send. We are blessed to have them in our lives.

During this weekend outage, we also joined forces with a neighbor who was in the same predicament as we were. That neighbor, in true Southern hospitality fashion, had proactively introduced himself to us when we moved into our neighborhood, something that was helpful to us as reserved New Englanders. During our brief time living here, this couple has helped us with a few things, and we them. I trusted them by the time this incident occurred.

Karen and I approach others in very different ways. Karen begins with the assumption that someone is trustworthy…I begin with the opposite. I’m the guy who won’t ask someone to watch my bags at the airport gate for a moment while I step away…I pack them all up again and take them with me. I lock the car when I’m away from it for two minutes. I assume that someone cannot be trusted until they’ve proven otherwise. I call this prudent…others (Karen) call it paranoid.

In any case, an interesting disparity struck me in this particular situation. I trusted our neighbors because they have, in my mind, proven themselves trustworthy. When I meet new friends, I believe that opportunities for someone to prove themselves trustworthy occur naturally. This is true of neighbors, co-workers, fellow members of the same faith community. I expect no one to trust me unless I’ve proven myself trustworthy to them. And, yes, there have been multiple times when the questionable theology of this opinion has been brought to my attention. I’m working on it.

The friends with whom we are staying as write this, however, present an interesting exception to this rule of mine. They were Karen’s friends long before Karen and I ever met. I met them through her, on our wedding day. My trust for them wasn’t earned…it didn’t have to be. This is an inherited trust. My wife trusts them completely, and thus so do I.

This is true with many of my wife’s friends, but with many of my friends’ friends, as well, which causes me to suspect that my “trust when proven trustworthy” position on others is perhaps not as universal as I might think. I’m not certain that this is a bad thing.

Trust is a beautiful event. Karen contends, as L’Engle contended, that trust can only be achieved when one is given the opportunity to prove themselves trustworthy. I have a long way to go…longer, likely, than I care to admit.

I’m so very, very thankful for friends in whom I can trust.

The Second Time Around

As of New Year’s Day, 2016, I have two daughters. 

Quite a surprise, that. A surprise that, if it has taught me anything at all beyond simple stress tolerance, has taught me that, just because you remember what something was like, it doesn’t follow that you can predict anything for the second occurrence.  Which is a bit disconcerting, because that is true in many aspects of life. After all, if you’ve ever flown, for example, you can generally predict what will happen the next time that you arrive at an airport to board a plane. Once you’ve gone grocery shopping, you basically have it under control for subsequent shopping excursions. 

Not so much with children. 

Confessions are for priests and not blogs, but, in the interest of transparency, I’ll say up front that I was extremely hesitant about having another child. Certainly, when we discovered that we were expecting again, I didn’t respond enthusiastically. Perhaps that makes me a bad person, I don’t know. In retrospect, it was likely a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, as I couldn’t get past the logistical concerns of living in a new place, working in a new career (which mostly involves working for myself, which involves long hours), and trying to get a house ready to sell, all while planning for a new baby. I haven’t been thrilled with living in the South again, and bringing a new baby into the world while here was not on the list of adventures that I wanted to have. 

That’s the thing about adventures, though. Planning them sort of misses the point. 

So, I buried myself in the logistical concerns. What did we still own that would not have to be purchased again? How would my newly self-employed occupational status manage to make what we needed to have for this financially? We needed to locate a mid-wifery practice in our area, determine which hospital had the best reputation, take care of all of the diet and healthcare that comes with those nine months of planning. We had to pick a name again (something that came easily for our first daughter, but was the source of much debate this time around). So much planning, so many variables that had not been in the equation with our first, to say nothing of the fact that raising a four-year-old takes more time and energy than any human can muster. The sheer volume of things to do kept me too busy to ponder the gigantic spiritual weight of another child most of the time, and when I did have time to ponder, I chose to entertain myself and not ponder it, instead. I was very much behind in my to-read list, after all, and needing to catch up seemed a valid excuse to spend my time in a different way. 

Not the best of coping strategies, admittedly. The end result, though, was that, even more than with our first daughter, this little girl existed only in theory until, for the second time in my life, the cries of my daughter being introduced to our world echoed from the walls of an operating room.

Since then, I’ve nearly lost my mind with noise, with conflicting priorities, with just keeping up with life. I’m doing, not thinking, because thinking and understanding…things which I hold dear…are luxuries that cannot be afforded now. There is only doing, and more doing, almost never for oneself, and always so profound in volume that the actions mean nothing other than survival. My anxiety and stress from nine months ago are more compounded than ever, but with less energy to give them voice. 

Because I want our second to be as exceptional as our first, to love books as much, to bring smiles to everyone nearby as much. I want to be connected with her as much, even though I already am not, and all of this requires a constant, un-choreographed movement, emotionally and mentally as much as physically. My time is insufficient for both of them, yet it must be sufficient because they need me equally, because I am bound to each equally, and the weight of that responsibility is so crushing that it escapes me how anyone could find it a joy. 

A few days after she was born, I was sprawled across the sofa, and our new little girl was placed in my arms by a grandparent because it was “my turn.” I was trying to stop the flood of thoughts in my head, the lists of things that had to be accomplished (the list for even the next evening seeming insurmountable), and I was finally able to breathe for a bit, and relax the noise in my head with one daughter in bed for the night and the other snuggling on my shoulder. She had been crying (a seemingly constant state of affairs), and had finally calmed for a bit, calmed, I like to think, because she was with her daddy. I actually couldn’t think for those moments, not because I was practicing avoidance or didn’t want to, but because I was actually not capable of doing anything other than experience. 

And the experience by which I was touched in that moment, a feeling that couldn’t be explained except perhaps by the Divine, was that it will be okay. 

Somehow, for her sake and not for mine, it will be okay. 

And all manner of thing shall be well…

A Review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Photo of Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster. Used under Creative Commons.Permit me to set the stage.

I was just old enough to accompany my parents to the movie theatre when Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back made its debut. The sweeping, epic nature of that story…larger than anything that I had ever seen, more captivating in its imaginative scope than I anything of which I could have dreamed…made me forever a fan of Star Wars. I read a novelization of the first film then, of course, because I wanted to know what led up to it.

One of my first recollections of devouring a trailer for hints of the future was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I had waited far, far too long to learn what had happened to Han Solo, to consider the revelations made by Darth Vader, and simply had to know what happened next to these characters.

While my mother was a Trekkie, I grew up a devoted Star Wars fan, and I always divided science fiction (really what we would later call the Space Opera flavor of science fiction) into two camps:  the ordered universe of Star Trek, and the swashbuckling adventures of Star Wars.

Nothing else was like Star Wars. Even years later, and despite the fact that Han did, indeed, shoot first, I eagerly awaited the re-releases of the original films.

I was hesitant, then, of the so-called prequels…episodes I, II, and III, respectively, because episodes IV, V, and VI told a complete story. Yes, the idea of seeing the history was intriguing, but I feared that the story would not be treated with respect, that artificial additions would be crafted in order to sell to an audience. Telling a different part of this epic story would be acceptable, but attempting to add onto it would not be. Certainly those three fell short, but I enjoyed seeing the Jedi in their prime, and I appreciated the fact that I felt sympathy for Vader in the end. As much criticism as these films drew, and despite the fact that they were in no way equivalent to the original, I found them generally acceptable because they were there to frame a story that had already been completely told, to add to our appreciation of it.

When a story is complete, when the story-teller has said all that needed said, then to attempt to add to that story is to cheapen it, to ultimately detract from it. The only greater insult to a grand story that I can think of is to re-purpose it, to attempt to spin the same tale again in order to attract viewers, to make it somehow more relevant to them, or to (and this would apparently always be the ultimate goal) make money.

A few days ago, I sat through the Force Awakens with the nagging feeling that I knew what would happen next, that I had seen this somewhere before. Of course, I had, because the best the film-makers seemed able to do was to recycle the original story arc with different characters, and without the epic scope. Not only did it completely disappoint in every way, it does violence to the original story with which we’ve all fallen in love by reducing it in scale to a few characters, stripping away its complexities and nuances (even, I would argue, its impactful themes of good vs.evil), and allowing a largely unbelievable story which is discontinuous of where we are left at the end of Return of the Jedi to rest on the strengths of some good casting and a strong female lead.

A female lead who, incidentally, is for some reason able to do things with a dormant Force that has taken every other Jedi significant training to accomplish. But, it’s awakened, I suppose.

This is a story with no pacing, with a single unique character amidst a sea of clever re-writes, struggling to piece together a map (the existence of which makes no sense), rolling with events that occur suddenly with no lead-in, and, oh, to make it compelling, a major character dies in the end. This is a rushed story, a predictable story, and story that relies on the staggered appearances of old characters delivering poor dialogue to carry the audience through. This is to be the next chapter in the Star Wars mythology. This is to be the beginning of the next part of the story. This is where Star Wars is now.

Which essentially means that its dead, the victim of unoriginal writing and a studio too interested in revenue to care about good art.

The Force Awakens is a tragic, tragic mistake. There have still only been three Star Wars films. I likely will never go see another.

Image attribution: wcm1111 under Creative Commons.