Monday, March 5, 2012
MitchWords: Part Six
I didn't share that thought with anyone else for a couple of days. Then I met a good and dear friend for some good tea (Darjeeling tea is quite delicious, it turns out). During our meeting and friendly, open conversation, I mentioned to him this thought that I had.
Before, when my personal life collapsed into an utter abyss as detailed in the first installment of MitchWords, I was prepared to take the next step in my relationship. Now, affording the ring required to enter into this next step is not easy, especially for one drowning in debt from student loans. But I had a plan. This plan amounted to, rather simply, taking my relatively vast collection of comic books and assorted graphic literature and selling it, whether to a local comic book shop or online. Now, certainly I don't have the grandest collection, but it is sizable and does contain, in my opinion, a few valuable gems. Maybe it wouldn't have covered the entirety of the price tag to pay, but it would get me awfully close.
That was the plan. But then the worst happened before I could enact it, so it was placed on hiatus and removed to the recesses of my mind.
An aside: Maybe if I had communicated this plan and intent a little clearer, the worst wouldn't have happened. But I played this plan close to my chest, as I tend to do with certain things I want to unveil suddenly or as a surprise. Plus, in my mind, I thought it amounted to the grandest romantic gesture I could muster: sacrificing the source and pride of my personal (and now academic) hobby for love.
Like I said, life preempted this gesture and it never came to pass. As I was relating this, my friend was beginning to realize the thought I had and his eyes went wide and his jaw dropped open (I mean this literally. I almost started to chuckle as his face displayed a reaction usually found only on stereotypical cartoon characters).
He commented that, as events had played out, if I had gone through with such a plan, it would only have compounded the current tragedy of my life. I would have been out the girl, the comics, and left with an overly expensive ring and nothing to do with it. If it wasn't my life I would almost find it funny. My dear friend compared it to an O. Henry story. Maybe someday I'll write a story version of my life as a comedic tragedy.
I went on to fully explain the thought that had surfaced in my mind. Ever since I was unceremoniously dumped, people have been trying to make me feel better by saying it is all part of God's bigger plan for me. Such consolation really isn't very comforting at all. But I began to think, what if this is true? Let's look at what I have now that I wouldn't if she hadn't have left me: my comic books. These comic books were the foundation of everything that is now Wednesday Theology. Because of these comic books that I had read and collected throughout the years, I was able to write a thesis and find a (admittedly unusual) focus for my seminary education.
So if someone tells me my broken heart is part of God's plan, I could interpret that to mean that God thinks it is better for me to have the comics than to have the girl. The comic books should be more important to me than the girl. That, to me, sounds like a horrible thing to say. And if I'm honest, given the choice, I would gladly have chosen the girl over the comics.
My friend understood and agreed, but then went on to say that he can see graphic literature as being paramount to my life right now. It is at the center of my academic pursuits and could lead to a potential academic vocation. Graphic literature, stemming from that collection of comic books I planned to sacrifice, could end up defining me professionally. Perhaps, he agreed, this thought that I had the other day could be, absurd as it sounds, exactly correct.
Maybe, according to God's bigger plan for me, the comic books are more important than the girl.
And that may singularly and simultaneously be the most romantic and unromantic thing I have ever written.
The following is a fictional story that did not happen outside of this story. Believe the fiction.
As I sit here on the couch writing this, God appears beside me. For some reason this doesn't surprise or shock me. His appearance seems natural, and the ensuing conversation is casual and colloquial, as if I was addressing a friend.
I look over at him and see that he's sitting on the back of the couch, with his feet placed on the cushion. While I might be displeased if anyone else was getting their dirty shoes on my couch, I don't mind when God does it. I'm just curious about his chosen sitting position.
"Why are you sitting up there?" I ask.
God shrugs. "This is your story. I'm just up here to maintain some sense of a hierarchical relationship. Even though we're both sitting on the same couch, you still have to look up to me."
"Oh," I say. "I guess that makes some sense. So, why are you here?"
"Because you're not writing," God says to me. "Why aren't you writing all the time like before?"
"I don't know. I guess I lost the spark a bit. I just feel confused and lost."
"Lost," God repeats. "Because of her?"
I hang my head. "Yeah, because of her."
"Why?" I say incredulously. "Why? Because she was everything to me. Because I loved her!"
"Well, seeing as how she so carelessly tossed you aside after so many years together, she obviously didn't return that sentiment in equal measure," he speaks curtly, crossing his arms.
I reply in a similarly curt manner and swear at God. It comes out of my mouth suddenly and without thinking. I tell God to do something anatomically impossible to himself (although, considering God is incorporeal and isn't restricted to human anatomy, it might be possible. Hmm, maybe this is why comic book geeks shouldn't ponder theological minutia). I immediately regret it, but that regret is soon overshadowed by a distant memory of the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross when talking about the five stages of grief and inevitably being angry at God. To paraphrase, no matter what rage and insults we hurl at him, God is big enough that he can take it.
Indeed, God doesn't even seem to react to my cursing. He stares straight ahead of him at the wall and asks, "If she loved you so much, then why did she leave?"
I remain silent, for I have no answer to this.
"Tell me," God continues, "since she told you over the phone that she is over you, since she has cut off all communication with you, have you been lonely?"
I think about this question for a moment. Obviously, the question should be a resounding yes. I've felt depressed, angry, and terrible in general. But lonely? On further reflection..."No," I say, "I guess I haven't. In this time when I should feel more lonely than I ever have, I must admit that I've never felt more loved due to the overwhelming support and encouragement from my family and friends."
God nods. "Those are the ones that truly love you. They didn't doubt you, leave you, abandon you, or run away when you needed them most. That, my friend, is true love. And I think you need to reevaluate your expectations of love in light of this fact. Tell me, honestly, what is the one thing you want right now?"
"Honestly?" I ask.
"I'm God. I already know all your thoughts. So yes, you might as well answer honestly."
I'm quite for a minute. I instantly know what my answer is, but I'm hesitant to speak it. "Vengeance," I finally whisper. "I want her to feel every second of pain that she has inflicted upon me."
He looks at me directly in my shameful face. "There will be no vengeance for you. Or closure. Or even a sense of justification for what has been done to you."
I look down for awhile and stare at nothing in particular. Eventually God speaks again and asks, "Aren't you going to ask why all this has happened?"
I look at him and shrug. "If I did, would I get an answer or even some kind of satisfactory explanation?"
"No." God's response is absolute.
"Then why even bother? I've begged you for answers before and all I got was silence. I didn't figure this time would be any different."
We both pause and let the silence of the room wash over us for awhile. Finally I ask a question that perpetually bothers me. "I've tried, I really have. I've dug deep inside myself but just haven't been able to do it. So tell me, will I ever be able to forgive her?"
God nods. "In time, yes. When you become so engrossed in your work and your writing that you truly realize it's not about her, and it's not about you, but it's about the idea...then you will finally be able to move past her trespasses. Don't let your current inability to forgive her make you too distraught. Let the fact that it troubles you so be an indication that you're on the right path." He lets out a small sigh. "But in all this, never forget that you're not an innocent in this life. You're as guilty of sin as the next man."
"Believe me," I begin before I can reflect on the irony of a human telling God to trust him, "I know very well my own faults. I will never be able to claim that I am a good man."
"Good. That's the first step to becoming a good theologian."
"Not being a good man?"
"No," God almost smiles. "Being able to admit that you're not a good man."
"Oh." I try to change the subject. "Would you like anything to drink? A Fresca?" Somehow over the course of my life, my version of the anthropomorphized deity possesses a penchant for Fresca. I tend to keep at least one can of the soda chilling in the fridge, just in case I should ever host a divine visitor. It's odd, I know, but what do you expect from me?
This time God does smile. "No," he declines, "I'm all right. Thank you, though."
I try to change the subject again. "What did you mean when you said this was all about the idea? What idea?"
God leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. "The idea that you should be writing about, but for some reason you've fallen stagnant. Why aren't you writing?"
"I told you. I feel lost. I feel...unimportant. I have a poor paying job that's leading nowhere. It's like I haven't accomplished anything. Who am I to write such lofty ideas?"
"Haven't accomplished anything," God repeats. "Those are her words about you, aren't they?"
"Yes," I admit.
"Again, why do you care what she thinks about you?"
I throw my hands up. "I already told you! She meant so much to me..."
"And you thought you meant just as much to her," God cuts me off. "But she ran away, so clearly you really didn't mean that much to her. And that might just be the part that hurts you the most."
I come close to swearing at God a second time. "You know, if you're here to cheer me up, you really suck at it." Maybe telling God he sucks at something is just as bad as swearing at him.
"I'm not here to cheer you up. I'm here to kick you in gear. You're doubting yourself because she told you when she dumped you that you hadn't accomplished anything the entire time she'd known you?
God looks at me straight in the eyes. "Son, you reached into the aether, co-opted and conjured an idea, and cultivated it into an academic discipline that you gambled your entire graduate education on. And you know what? You won! There are professors at that seminary that now talk seriously about graphic literature! What have you accomplished, indeed!"
I shrug. I'm not really sure how to respond to this. "Yeah, I guess," I finally mutter.
"What has she accomplished to say that you've done nothing?" God persists.
"I...I don't make a lot of money." I say sullenly.
He waves his hand in the air dismissively. "Why would you want to be with someone who lets your income determine your worth?"
"It barely pays the bills," I insist, awkwardly finding me in the position of arguing her side. Why am I doing that? How did I get at this point in the conversation?
"Barely is enough!" God almost roars at me. "Barely is more than you need! You've got more important things to do than amass a respectable bank account. The apostle Paul was a homeless, traveling tent maker that relied heavily on the support and hospitality of sympathetic strangers to survive. And what did he accomplish with his life?"
"But, but...come on. Evangelizing to the gentile world and writing about Wednesday Theology are two very different things."
"In scope, yes," God nods at me. "But the sentiment may be more similar than you're willing to admit."
"I'm really not comfortable with this kind of talk."
"No, you're just not confident with yourself and your own abilities. And you really should be. Listen, you used to joke all the time that nobody read your blog. You can't exactly do that anymore. It has been established that there are people out there very willing to read what you write. There's not a whole lot of people on this planet that can say that about themselves."
"It's just a small blog," I continue to protest.
God pauses to take a big breath. "Small ideas have ways of growing into big and lasting ideas. And this idea of yours could be one of those lasting ones. Face it, you will die someday. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow and a six figure salary wouldn't have meant squat. But an idea..."
"Wait," I interrupt. "I'm going to get hit by a bus?"
"This idea of yours," God continues, "about theology and graphic literature could become a lasting legacy. Pursue it, nurture it, and you'll be surprised at just how big it can grow. You have the opportunity to develop an idea that will greatly outlive you. What could be more important in your life right now than doing that?"
Now I'm just intimidated by all the expectations God is laying at my feet. "But, um, it doesn't pay anything," I feebly continue to protest.
"So? The greatest things in life don't pay anything. That's why you have a job. But a job is just a job. This is what you do. You write Wednesday Theology. And you've already moved the conversation in a certain direction. There are academics discussing comic books because of you. There is a class of Sunday school students fully engaged with the material because you inspired your own mother to use comic books in her lessons. All because you went to seminary and said 'I am going to talk about comic books.' You have no idea what this will affect in the future. You have no idea how much this will affect those kids in your mom's Sunday school class."
God reaches over and places his hand on my shoulder. "Honestly, I'm not that interested in what you have accomplished with this idea of yours so far, though that has been substantial. I'm more interested in everything that will be accomplished through it in the future. You need to realize that the story your life is writing was never about her. And it was never about you. It's about this idea."
Once more I'm at a loss for words, so God continues. "You have a purpose in this life, and you finally know, and know very well, what that is."
"What? Writing about theology and comic books? That's a pretty weird purpose."
"Look at yourself. Look at your interests. Look at your life. What about you hasn't been weird? Your purpose suits you incredibly well."
I understand what he's saying. If forced, I would have to admit that I find myself agreeing. But for some reason I still resist. I still want to object. "There are, or were, certain people in my life that would have found more security and viability in me if I had been a little less weird and a lot more normal."
"Bah!" God immediately dismisses my objection. "Normal is boring. Quit pining for a girl that doesn't love you and accept the way I made you. There are a great many people out there that are intrigued and impressed by how not normal you are."
There are tears in my eyes at this point. I'm overwhelmed by it all. I look down at the floor and hear God speak again. "Your life is writing a story. Focus the story on this idea. Write it, and write it well."
I blink a couple times and wipe the tears out of my eyes. Looking up, I see the couch is empty. I quickly look around the room but find I am once again alone. I'm left with a tight, constricted chest and a racing heart. In all honesty, I feel rather terrible now. God's visit was unnerving and, at times, quite disheartening. But I learned some things about myself and about what I need to do. I sure hope I follow through on those.
The preceding was a fictional story that did not happen outside of this story. Believe the fiction.
Bitter. Sarcastic. Handsome.