Monthly Archives: February 2012

Location, Location

Here’s a thought – does our geographic location really determine the appropriateness of our actions?

In other words, does our moral compass rest on the compass rose?

Mull over this absurdity for a moment – you’re sitting in church and a younger couple, fighting their raging hormones like they’re contestants at the Running of the Bulls, are making out furiously in the pew in front of you. Finally noticing the piercing stares and slack jaws , the young man pulls away from his lip-lock and scoffs, insisting that if he were sitting outside in the park or in a popular night club that this behavior would be completely appropriate and it’s only because they’re sitting in church that no one understands their actions.

Closer to home – you’re a student in your senior year at a small, private, “faith-based” liberal arts college in the northeast. Your campus is really lovely, academics are decent and the student population generally has a reputation of being closeted, naïve and completely ignorant as to how the “real world” functions. You come across a few characters on campus whose behavior is less-than palatable. Their attitudes, ideas, treatment of others and perceptions of their little universe are negative and usually skewed by their resentment of their upbringing. When confronted or caught in an act which might mar their reputation, they become horribly defensive and formulate an argument that sounds very similar to the justification from the scenario above.

In summary: Just because we are in a place where a certain behavioral expectation and accountability has been established, does that give us the excuse to act as we wish just because we claim people don’t understand us?

Oh, now I remember… in the Bible, Jesus said that we should go out and become just like the world because that’s acceptable, and we should just blow off any obligation we have to strengthening our character and modesty because those Christian school people are a bunch of squares anyway. Let’s go eat some fish, man.

No…. No, he did not.

It wasn’t about whether or not it’s frowned upon where you are but not in some teen night scene. That’s really not the point. You can’t just blame the disapproval of your actions on the narrow-minded bigots you are stuck with. Policies and rules and social implications do not just all become obsolete because you choose to have an attitude and act in ways that defies all moral constructs. What is sad is when we reach a point where we cling to that petty justification and shut everyone out as a result. 

A Matter of Choice

I’m a writer, it’s a holiday. Obligation states I acknowledge the day. Carrying on…

I have spent the last three years following a progression in terms of Valentine’s Day – a year of singleness followed by a year of year of dating followed by a year of being engaged. Despite the fact that I spent one year without romantic attachment and this year was spent with my husband-to-be, I haven’t really monitored distinct differences in the days or how I was affected by them. I know that this year I had plans, but the overall feeling of the day itself is no different.

For me, that really speaks to the nature of love, not some silly holiday.

I have always felt loved. I have not always felt like I deserved it, but that’s where grace comes in.

A slightly younger and more cynical me wrote this about Valentine’s Day four years ago:

“Love” – it doesn’t exist. Sure, we can claim it’s the “reason for the season” and give all our affection to the one we “love” the most. But what happens when Valentine’s Day is our only excuse? The rest of the year we ignore the needs and emotions of others, but as long as we buy those carnations on Valentine’s Day, our lack of love the rest of the year is pardoned with a standing ovation.

Don’t get me wrong, handing out flowers every day of the year won’t make every day a day for valentines, but we should keep that same mindset. Why only have one day to love people?”

Apparently, I was a bit of a linguist as well:

“Besides, we don’t know what love means anymore. People date, throwing “love” out in the open and two weeks later break up and feel like life isn’t worth living. Uttering a simple word will not change emotions or expressions, and our overuse only proves we are ignorant to what it truly means: “Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” and “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.

Love doesn’t have to be a romantic, swooning overdrive of the soul. But we use it like we use any other word: without thought and without understanding. Too often we use it, thinking we know what it means and how it feels, but we are almost always wrong. Love is not an emotion: it’s a state of the heart. True love, not the fluff that we lace into so many conversations, is not shallow, stingy or simplistic. Love is nowhere near that tingling we get in our stomachs when our adored person of choice comes down the hall. Love is the soul-deep affection and compassion for others that cannot be replaced, cannot be formulated no matter how influenced your brain is by it. True love lives for others, and not itself. Love is forgiving. Love is selfless. Love has been destroyed by society.”

I don’t think I would stitch that last statement onto a pillow – my heavy-handedness stemmed from singleness, teen angst and frustration at people with heads as empty as flower pots. Despite my hyperbole, however, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Love has been stained by societal expectations and its new understanding influenced by the media. TV shows for anyone over the age of thirteen frequently offer the idea that love is synonymous with sex and that love is as easy to return, lose, or exchange as any sweater from the Gap. In terms of what we know from popular culture (and seeing as culture is a societal construct), Love can be defined in three ways:

1. Love is a living thing that, if not fed and watered and influenced by the proper measures of attention and care, will die and cannot be resurrected – no choices, only consequences. When it’s gone, we replace it with another living thing and the cycle continues until we finally bite the dust.

2. Love is a state of being, just like “fatigue” or “hunger”. There are periods of life when people are “in love”, but that time fades and we can fulfill its needs through various outlets including sex, gifts and shallow material offerings.

3. Love is a mirage. Marriages today are like jobs – fifty years ago, a man worked the same job all his life and then retired. Today, if a man is lucky, he stays at the same company for ten years before being laid off or becoming bored with his prospects. Love is really just an illusion but doesn’t actually exist. It’s a placeholder for whatever better thing will come along.

Who wants to be in a steady, consistent, monogamous relationship when there’s so much love to find in the world? Who wants to be trapped with only one option? In the words of Peter Pan, “Forever is an awfully long time.”

True love is not a trap or a cage.

Love does not inhibit and it does not deny. Love never fails.

Love is not a status or an incurably diseased organism or a worn-out idea. Love is a choice. Love IS a state of the heart. You choose to love someone. Love only dies because people willingly let it die – they stop tending it, they have no desire to nurture it, and after all the care they poured into it in the beginning, they try and seek the easy way out. Worse than just letting love die is letting it die because attentions were drawn elsewhere. There were “better things” and “better opportunities” that came up, and the previous object of affection was a mistake or a misstep.

I choose to love, even when there are no guaranteed rewards for my actions or promise of reciprocation. I love because I am called by God to love, because I am made to love, because I cannot deny it or escape it. Love does not die of its own free will as love is not a living thing by its own will – it is a symbiote, surviving in unity with a human host, given in perfect example by God who created it.

I pray that fifty years from now, people will ask me how we ever did it, how we ever managed to stay in love this long. I hope that even then, I will look over at Matt and squeeze his hand and be able to quote Isaac from The Fault in Our Stars:

Some days, it wasn’t easy.
“But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway”

No matter what happens, I will choose to keep the promise anyway.
That’s some of the very most we can do in this short life.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

So The Dowager Countess Walks Into Tim Horton’s…

It feels like the beginning of a very long joke.

Some couples have movie dates. Some couples curl up on the couch to catch their favorite sitcom. My fiancé is no simple creature, and I am no simple girl. We hit the whole town, see the sites, and spend two and a half hours trying to watch an hour-long episode of Downton Abbey.

It begins very simply – a thought.

Let’s watch Downton Abbey over Skype Monday night, he says.
Fantastic! Right after work, TV date it is, I say.

It becomes a little more complicated – Monday is a horrible, disagreeable day.

Are we still watching Downton Abbey? He asks timidly.
*sniffle* Of course. Why wouldn’t we? I reply.

A terrible afternoon later – in my emotional distress, I strike brilliance.

*blubber-sob-sniff* Y-y-you know what we should do? I ask.
Aww, what’s your idea? He inquires tenderly.
*trumpeting nose blowing* W-we should meet in Warsaw and w-watch together at T-Tim Horton’s!

Brilliant. A date it shall be. I’ll bring my headphones.

Fast forward through my ten minutes in Symphonic Winds, a dinner eaten standing up and a very long night calling answering machines and disapproving parents of alumni – I’m on the road to Warsaw.

Early on in the longer-distance portion of our relationship after his graduation, Matt and I became mildly attached to the town of Warsaw, New York. It’s halfway between Houghton and Corfu, home to a McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s, Tops and Wal-Mart, mom-and-pop shops and a few scattered gas stations. It’s the kind of town where the Wal-Mart closes at ten and you can buy everything there except the items you’re really looking for. You itch and squirm watching emaciated cats slink around the dumpsters behind a popular family diner, but you make up for your disgust by watching puppies play through the pet store window around the corner. It’s not a lot to look at, but it has a settled, quiet feeling of familiarity. It’s this place we know.

After a half-hour of driving hunched like Quasimodo, squinting into the dark, singing along to my iPod, and almost making raccoon confetti, I pull into the coffee shop and wait for Matt. He arrives only a few minutes after, dark chocolate and flowers in hand (daisies, my favorite), and proceeds to tell me that our friend Timmy Horton does NOT have Wi-Fi, but his greasy older brother McDonald’s definitely will. Bemoaning my temporary lack of coffee, I accept his gifts with bubbliness and joy, and we hop in Nanny McPhee (his car, another story for another time) and drive a minute down the street.

Entering McDonalds, we immediately discover that fast food joints don’t usually cater to the soulful coffee shop writer or the productive businessman on his lunch break – the only power outlet is right in front of the main counter. Besides this fact, they are closing their dining room in ten minutes. I spent five of those ten minutes with my laptop perched on a half-wall attempting to connect to the free internet. The second five minutes was spent ordering chicken popcorn dippers and starting the download of our episode from iTunes.

Unfortunately, the world is not a wish-granting factory* and the episode will not magically download in five minutes.

Fortunately, the kind employees informed me they would still have the Wi-Fi active and I could pick it up from the parking lot.

Unfortunately, my laptop battery has the energy of a sugar-rushed toddler – it musters massive excitement and productivity for two minutes and then crashes out-cold for hours.

Fortunately, I have an AC adapter in my car so I can run my computer out of the cigarette lighter.

Unfortunately, my car is still at Tim Horton’s with the cops stationed across the street and the creepy guy sitting smoking in his parked Volvo.

Fortunately, as we walk out the door to the parking lot, I spot an outlet conveniently placed on the front of the building, nestled in the landscaping.

Plug ‘er in.

Why drive a whole two minutes in warmth and comfort when you have outdoor power access? Like some sort of dignified crack addict, I snuggle comfortably in the mulch against the plate-glass front window of Mickey D’s and munch on my food while the episode starts its lengthy download – 45 minutes. We came all this way for Downton Abbey. If it means a little mulch on my jeans and cold chicken plus the judgment of total strangers pulling in for a late-night snack, so be it. We need our fix of noble Lord Grantham, the snarky Dowager Countess, dashing (and lame) Matthew Crawley and our utter despising of Thomas the Unbearable… and the whole host of other cast members. But those are the ones we talk back to the most. Or yell at. Or refuse to acknowledge at all.

Ten minutes later: one eighth of the episode is downloaded, the internet is on the fritz, my hands are frozen stiff and all that is left of my chicken is oily cardboard and some honey mustard. The time is  11:30 p.m. Matt has the level-headed idea to pack up and drive over to Tops to check on their internet situation, if there even is one. After leaving me in the car and running inside, he returns from the scout to report the good news that Tim Horton’s employees are big fat liars and they-do-so have internet. They just deny it to keep away the riffraff. We’re not riffraff, we’re just BBC fiends. The second good news is that if TH boots us out, a restaurant in town keeps their wireless on all night and we can get it from two blocks away. Back in the car we go.

We know better than to just skip in the door flaunting our internet usage all over the store. We craftily enter, order drinks and a red velvet brownie and take a seat in a corner. Good, paying customers are worthy to stay and peruse the web while drinking out of the fine beige china. Again, the laptop makes an appearance. And again, disappointment… there really is no internet. Tops workers are horribly misinformed. Downton Abbey is rapidly becoming Downturn Abbey, and Hannah is getting tired.

Rather than just surrender, the determination of young fools in love (with both each other and their Masterpiece soap opera) drives us to the next realistic solution – parking Errol Flynn (my car, the swashbuckling Honda Accord) in the dark restaurant parking lot in town, sketchily sitting in the backseat while the car idles without its lights. For the first time in history, a couple is only using a car’s backseat for innocently watching British television together on a much-needed date after a very long and miserable day.

In actuality, hooking up the computer to my stereo provided us with the best viewing experience to date. Our internet held and we streamed the episode from PBS with only one brief wireless glitch. The sound was good, the episode was intense, the coffee was comforting and delicious and the company was the absolute best. Parting ways an hour or so later, we both agreed it was another successful midnight adventure for the Bear and the Trundlebug.

The punch line? Two best friends just came to see what Warsaw.

Because this episode of Downton Abbey was set in World War 1?


I think we’re done here.




*Thanks for this brilliant phrase go to John Green from The Fault in Our Stars

** Be grateful. Your alternative was a joke about the invasion of Poland.

A Calming Thought

When only one piece of the sky falls on you, inspect carefully to see if the rest of it is really caving in before jumping to conclusions. One crumbling piece of bad news does not an apocalyptic disaster make.

Life Tip of the Week: Don’t be a Chicken Little.