Rilo Kiley, Dave Eggers and suffering.
This is a potentially awkward topic, but it’s been on my brain a lot in the last week or so, and I want to see if I can put it into words in a way that will make sense to anyone else (Colleen, you don’t count- we have the same brain).
The sermon last Sunday at one of the churches I attend (yeah…there’s more than one) was about suffering. The pastor talked about how when we suffer, we tend to go one of two directions with it- we ignore it, or we let it become our identity. There are people who refuse to acknowledge their problems, sometimes out of pride, sometimes out of self-protection, and then there are people who use their problems as excuses for selfishness or anger or bitterness.
Now, to explain (and to bring in the potential awkwardness), the reason this sort of thing sticks in my head for so long is that I have problems. I wouldn’t say my problems are bigger than everybody else’s (because obviously everyone has problems), but I know a lot of people who would say it for me. My mom died really suddenly last summer, and that sucks, but it happened and I know there are reasons for it and I’m okay. That’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to talk about selfishness in suffering, and about Rilo Kiley and Dave Eggers, and to make that make sense.
For me, the second route is definitely the one I took after my mom died. It wouldn’t look like it from the outside, and I’ve had people tell me it doesn’t, but it was more true than I realized for a long time.
I’m a Christian, and I know that my mom is in heaven. I’m also a very strong believer in the idea that there’s a reason for everything (because I believe that God has a plan for all of it), and that if you look hard enough, you can almost always figure out what some of those reasons are. When it happened, I never doubted that God loved me, and I was never angry at him for taking away my mom (which normally I think is a slightly irrational way of looking at death, but in this case it was such a crazy-random-happenstance sort of event that there isn’t really another way), because I always knew there was a reason.
Thus far, I think, I did pretty well. So let’s get to the parts where I didn’t do so well.
There is this huge temptation, when something tragic happens to you, to play the hero. If you were to ask me what losing a parent is like, I would tell you I had no idea what it would be like for you, but for me, it was like this:
But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through
You’ll fake it if you have to
and you’ll show up for work with a smile.
And you’ll be better, and you’ll be smarter
and more grown up, and a better daughter, or son
and a real good friend
And you’ll be awake, you’ll be alert
You’ll be positive, though it hurts
And you’ll laugh and embrace all your friends
And you’ll be a real good listener
You’ll be honest, you’ll be brave
You’ll be handsome and you’ll be beautiful
You’ll be happy
Good job if you recognize this, but if you don’t, it’s from Rilo Kiley’s song A Better Son/Daughter. So yeah. It’s basically like that.
There’s this weird dynamic that happens where all of a sudden all eyes are on you, and you have to decide what image you’re going to put up (like the song). About a month after it happened, I read a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which made me decide that the front I would put up was…no front. The book is semi-autobiographical, and in it, the author talks about losing his parents and how that set him (and his siblings, or at least his younger brother) apart from everyone else. And it’s true. Someone close to you dies, and you become special. Or, actually, you become seen as special, which is completely different. It’s not something anyone consciously does, I don’t think. It certainly wasn’t for me. But when I read this book, I could relate so well. I’d never heard anyone address it like that before, though. I’d never heard anybody be that honest about it. I knew that when my mom died, I did feel set apart and special, but I didn’t know it was something you could talk about. I thought, hey, if Dave Eggers can put that in a book and make it impact me so much, why can’t I live like that and maybe impact somebody else? So I decided that however I was going to grieve, I would do it honestly.
Good idea and all, but…I can’t really say I followed through with it very well. So let’s try that part again. And this is where the whole selfishness in suffering thing fits in.
The way that I thought about the whole situation, subconsciously (for a while), was that God had taken something very, very important from me, so when my life was perfect, we would be even. It sounds ridiculous, when I actually write it out like that, but it’s definitely how I was looking at things. So when something didn’t go my way, I felt bitter about it. And the more I think about that, the more RIDICULOUS it is.
I believe that people suck, and that’s why we need Jesus. God made, you know, the universe, and me, and you, and life and everything. So the idea that God owes me is really, really stupid. The idea that I was using this tragic event and my reaction to it as bargaining chips just doesn’t make sense. And I’m glad that I finally realized it, because now maybe I can do something about it.
IN OTHER (MUCH LESS IMPORTANT) NEWS.
-I’m using capitals now! How fun for me! I’ve always had the ability, I just never bothered. I’ll probably keep switching back and forth, until I make up my mind.
-My formal was really fun! I’d post pictures, but I’m too lazy just now. I decided not to stress about it at all, and just to have fun with it, and we all had a blast. I’ll talk more about that soon.
-I need a clever signoff.