I hate. A lot.
Yes, the guy who ends his essays with Christ’s second command to “love one another,” hates. There, I said it.
Over the past few months, several friends have lost their battle with cancer (lung, colon, prostate, et al) and a family member committed suicide. It seems at least once a week for the past few months, someone I know is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or is doing their damnedest to just stay healthy in the face of medical challenges. Fold in the deaths of notables like Aretha Franklin, Anthony Bourdain, and John McCain, and those who lose their lives to senseless acts of violence, and well, I find it a little overwhelming. Making taking note of the increasing numbers of people shaking off their mortal coil is a part of growing older. Regardless, it’s all a bitter pill to swallow.
For me, there’s a certain wistfulness that comes with the passing of public figures. I’m sure there’s some of you out there wondering, how can the death of some famous person you’ve never met possibly affect you? The real question is how can their death not affect me?
To my thinking, we’re all interconnected.
It’s easy to note the works of highly visible singers, writers, sports figures, artists, government officials, and the like. Their contributions help form the backdrop of our lives. Surely everyone has a memories tied to a song, a book, a cultural event, a place, a meal, a movie, or a political event. It’s just the way we’re wired. None of us lives in a vacuum of our design. Like it or not, the efforts of others have the potential to become mile markers in our lives.
I can tell you where I was the very first time I heard Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, the way it moved me, and how I listened to it again and again and again. Don’t get me started about seeing the movie Jaws, and how the tidal wave of fears it unleashed stayed with me for an embarrassing number of years before I ventured even waist-high into the ocean again. (I was not about to be mistaken for a baby seal or an amuse-bouche for any shark.)
Sports has never been my thing, but I remember the exhilaration of attending the 1989 Florida State vs University of Miami football game with friends. After experiencing the highs and lows of that game, I came away with a deeper understanding of what being a sports fan was all about; not to mention newly kindled convictions that Bobby Bowden was deserving of canonization.
When those bigger than life personalities leave this world, there’s a flood of memories attached to said personality, not because I knew them, but because some facet of their area of expertise or giftedness overlapped with my life. That loss, knowing that person is no longer here, a part of this wonderfully flawed and beautiful experience we all share, takes me to a place — not the realm of the fabled ugly cry — but to the outlying and equally as messy outlying domains of sadness.
I adore relationships — both, professional and personal. People enthrall me. I thoroughly enjoy people who invite me into those personal spaces where they show me who they are behind the public persona and reveal, knowingly and sometimes unintentionally, how they came to be the people they are today. Well, yes … it may take me a while to open up with those who are a bit bombastic in their efforts to show me what’s behind their curtail … but I try to always reciprocate. (Don’t judge, I’m a work in progress)
Kindness, character, an ability to laugh at oneself and with others, openness, humility, and a connection to a spiritual life draw me in every time. The thing that works like Superglue to bond that relationship to both my head and heart is the ability broaden to my perspective of the world and how I fit into it. And I hold those relationships dear. Why? For the simple reason that relationships and friendships are a gift. Sure they can be bought, but in the end that’s not a gift, nor is it a thing of value to be treasured.
When I lived in L.A., I retained the services of a personal trainer, Dave. This guy could wield weights several times my own weight and trained lots of people who were “built.” He pushed me, not in a manner that was condescending or demeaning, but in a manner that was respectful yet gave me no wiggle room for whining to do less than I was capable. The end result a six-pack and a great friendship. (Unfortunately, the six-pack has since become a pony keg, but don’t tell Dave.)
There’s the Rockette and stage manager I met while performing the Chicago-Boston touring company of Christmas Spectacular. Granted it took me forever to realize that I had already worked a previous season with Laura, but didn’t know who she was, a fast friendship was formed between the three of us that’s still in tact today. Dan and Laura’s willingness to share their personal journeys coupled with acceptance of my own idiosyncrasies over the years has been … magic. “Long live the Coalition!”
My friendship with Danny, the New York police officer with whom I should have nothing in common, no overlap at all. But our totally different life experiences opened the door to a friendship that has endured long past my annual three-month stints in New York and speaks to me about the value of dedication to a positive outlook. And of course, having a good time whatever the circumstances.
And then there’s Ben, the music director at my church, who opened the doors to his home and heart, and demonstrated a dedication to his ministry of music and a love for people that is unparalleled. His love for people has called me to step up my own game.
I could go on and on and on with tales of people who’ve had more of an impact upon me than they know. My life has been and continues to be showered with family and friends who take my breath away with the care and respect they show others. I’m sure your life has a sprinkling of similar family and friends, but I have the best family and friends. Yes, I’m boldly stating my friends are better than your friends. LOL!
When relationships like these end (regardless of whether they were established via direct contact or online), forget it. Those losses drop me without a net or parachute right in the middle of the great emotional wasteland known as grief. It’s a land I enter kicking and screaming, where I wander aimlessly far too long, and the escape route changes with each visitation. But I will always hold on to my Christian beliefs about salvation and the afterlife. That and gratitude for having the known the person and the hope of being reunited on the other side buoy my spirits and give me the strength to go on.
But despite all my love and adoration, I find myself hating. On so many fronts.
I hate when people deceive one another for their own gain at the expense of someone else.
I hate that caring for others has become passé.
I hate that compromise has been replaced with all or nothing thinking.
I hate that people can no long discern between right and wrong.
I hate that humility is seen as a vice.
I hate that people only respond in unity to disaster rather than empathy.
I hate that nationalism has replaced patriotism.
I hate that people can be so willfully destructive to one another.
I hate thinking that mandates the end justifies means.
I hate that people can not see the inherent humanity we all share.
Hatred of one another is a dangerous thing. The choice to view one another with fear and loathing consumes anyone who would go down that road. It leeches the life force of those who are fluent in its ways and turns a beating heart to a charred and withered lump of flesh. Hatred for others destroys everything it touches and leaves massive ruins in its wake. How sad is it that virtues are only valued either when they are used to demean others or as a ransom note to elevate oneself?
But rest assured, friends. I choose not to succumb to hatred. Instead —
I. Choose. Love.
And I don’t mean a namby-pamby brand of love. I choose a love that is radically welcomes “others.” I embrace a love that understands paradigm shifts don’t happen over night. I want to demonstrate a love that strives to be a force for good to those who are less fortunate. I’m claiming a love that responds with celebration when good things happen in other people’s lives, and not jealousy. I want to become well-versed in a love that is neither arrogant nor sees itself as all-important. I want to model a love that seeks to help others without flying off the handle. I want the ability to practice a love with the hallmarks of forgiveness, truth, a protective nature, and trust that can be see at fifty paces. A love that is optimistic about today as well as tomorrow, that stands strong in tough times, and never fails — that’s what I’m talking about.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s a tall order, but it’s good to have a high standard to strive for. And it’s only with help from above and everyone here that my own broken, flawed, imperfect efforts to extend the love of Christ are even possible.
I choose love, because we deserve better. Now more than ever.
Love one another.