Friday, January 25, 2008

The Disequilibrium of Change

It started, oddly enough, with an empty guest room. Old furniture had been distributed to kids, and now the blank walls and single remnant bed cried out for attention. A trip to the furniture store resulted in the purchase of better furnishings than our master bedroom, so we decided to move the old furniture downstairs and use the new, ourselves. In the meantime we ought to paint the master bedroom while it was empty...

You get the idea. For the past week we have been living in the guest room downstairs -- mostly, that is, since the majority of our clothes are still in the closet upstairs. Except for the clothes in our drawers that are now downstairs. Meanwhile, the painting upstairs starts today, and the new furniture arrives next week.

Then, I returned to the church Sunday afternoon for a visiting choir's concert to discover that my office computer had been stolen. In the span of two and a half hours, someone had slipped into my office, unplugged peripherals, packed the laptop in its case and made their way into oblivion. Goodbye emails. Goodbye contact list. Goodbye iTunes library. Goodbye goodness knows what all that I cannot remember. All that, plus this violated feeling of lost innocence. A lot of people have been in and out of my study -- street people, transient people, grieving people and angry people, searching people, dreaming people, ill people and working people -- but never until now have I felt like the space needed fumigating. My precious and comfortable and "homey" study suddenly feels, in inexplicable ways, foreign and dirty.

And I'm shocked -- and somewhat embarrassed -- by how dislocated and disoriented all this has left me feeling. Dislocation at home and work. I like to think of myself as pretty flexible -- rolling with the punches; enjoying adventure and change and the possibilities of whatever "new" lies ahead. Instead, I've wondered around this week as though I had suffered a blow to the head, unable to concentrate, unable to accomplish anything worthwhile, hardly recognizing where I was, looking quizzically at even the simplest questions or tasks at hand -- as though they, or I, had suddenly dropped down from Mars.

So much for flexibility, rolling with the punches, and that exuberant sense of adventure and possibility. I have a dreaded sense that this craving for the restoration of order and normalcy means I'm getting old.

Meanwhile, a new computer is on the way despite our insurance coverage's $1000 deductible, and after a few hours of tedious work with the backup files my iTunes library is roughly restored. And sleeping in the guest room really does feel like vacationing in a nice hotel -- although the housekeeping service is considerably less attentive. But parking is free, I can read my own paper instead of USA Today, and the coffee pot makes more than 4 cups. Who needs order when you have all that?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Shedding a Tear of Affirmation -- if not Support

The big conversation, of course, is now the value of tears. Did Hillary Clinton's emotional reflection on the challenges and motivations of being a presidential candidate win her votes? Does crying grease or derail her chances? Every newspaper I have read since the New Hampshire primary has spilled far more ink on the question than she spilled actual tears.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I did not caucus for Senator Clinton in the recent Iowa Caucuses. She is not my candidate.

That said, I appreciated her emotion. As someone who quite regularly finds the lump in his throat squeezing fluidly out of his tear ducts, I know how unexpectedly such emotional moments get triggered, and how quickly they can dissipate. I have also learned how powerless I am to prevent them. I used to be quite bothered by the interruptions -- less because I was embarrassed by the emotions, themselves, than I was annoyed by the breach in my conversational flow. But I've gotten over that. In fact, I've come to view such emotional interludes as reliable and tangible evidence that I am still alive -- still actively accepting inputs to my system, and still allowing them to impact me. To be human is to feel. I've concluded that becoming robotic is not in my best interest; that being a whole person necessarily involves my whole self -- body, brains, soulful and spiritual connection, and emotion. That multi-faceted wholeness is an important and precious part of the way God created us. I have long since relinquished the fear that emotional sensitivity renders me any less capable of performing meaningfully and effectively in the vocation that chose me; indeed, if anything I think it makes me more effective.

So should Hillary be President? Answering that question demands consideration of a whole range of factors -- policies, values, character, instinct, what I like to think of as "center of gravity", and a person's ability to persuade and, more importantly, inspire -- just to name a few. My own assessment of those criteria, as I said, has floated me toward a different ripple in the candidate pool. Just because a person can cry doesn't necessarily mean she or he can be President.

But God save us from electing someone who can't.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Of Wonder and Risk and Living a New Year

New Year's Day, and after yesterday's four or five inches, more snow is predicted in the hours ahead. I have a mixed reaction. I love tromping around in the Vermont snow; love watching it fall and love watching broad evergreen branches intercept its decent. But our tickets demand that we make the trip back to Boston today for the flight home, and I'm less enthused about driving on frozen roads. The juxtaposition, then, of beauty and playful awe, with tedious and precarious hazard.

Something, it occurs to me, like the year ahead -- a wonderful, perilous mix, no doubt, of opportunity and beauty and disappointment and sore muscles. Exactly like every year. Looking out over the virgin hours and weeks and months ahead; catching my breath at the beautiful expanse of the time unsullied, for this single moment, by footprints and plowed roads, I realize I haven't made a lot of resolutions. There is, of course, the one: to practice a little remedial medical prudence by finally getting around to those diagnostics urged upon 50-year-olds, a year or so now overdue. I'm not getting any younger, after all, and I would like to get considerably older. I'll call for an appointment first thing tomorrow. Then, of course, there are those other resolutions more assumed than stated: to lose a little weight, exercise a little more, and better love my neighbor as I better love myself. And Lori and I have named some collective practices we intend to claim for the months ahead. So it's not like I -- we -- have no direction.

It's just that living 2008 will likely look a lot like living January 1: doing my best to live as both the little boy, full of laughter and wonder, playfully laughing with arms wide and tongue outstretched to snare the falling flakes, and the church custodian shoveling and sanding and salting to mitigate the risk.

Good luck,
enjoy the snow,
drive slow when you need to...

...and Happy New Year.