Saturday, August 23, 2008


When I got to our Park apartment later than Jason one day, I noticed his coffee mug on the dresser. Knowing it to be fresh, I opened it and took a sip, and there was still warmth to the coffee. It was in an insulated travel mug, so this wasn’t surprising on the level of physics, but it suddenly made me feel very close to him, like ‘hey, Jason was just holding this mug not that long ago.’

Last week at a gas station, I had a conversation with the attendant that left me both amused and troubled. He was in his 60’s, and upon seeing my drivers’ license, said, “Well, there’s a picture of a young person looking spry and youthful! Keep up that smile!” That was nice enough to hear. But then, waiting for my credit card to run, he grew more speculative. “You know, they say the golden years are when you’re my age. That’s not true. Don’t believe it. I’ve talked to a lot of people my age, and everybody agrees that the golden years are when you’re young. Enjoy them.” While I signed my name, there were further utterances about the pain and aches of aging. If you’ve seen Saturday Night Live, this was a waangh-waangh moment.

I tried to recognize the truth in his words, acknowledging so with my damningly youthful smile, but I was mostly speechless. He was light-hearted enough that it didn’t warrant me grabbing his hand and saying, “I’m sorry, Sir. Real sorry about you getting old.” As soon as I got out to the van, I thought of things I could’ve said about all the wisdom he’d earned to pass along to us know-nothing kids, but it was too late. Instead I left with a strange warmth in me, because it was better than your average gas station transaction but basically sad with little sense of redemption about it.

So, I've been thinking about warmth. When you’ve gone away from someone, their presence sticks with you awhile. There’s still a dab of warmth that can last for days or even years. If the overall experience was good, resulting in mutual understanding and knowing, it’s a comforting warmth; if it wasn’t, because you spent too much time trying to prove yourself or thinking of yourself as either the hero or the victim of the relationship, then it’s more like a sweltering, bothersome heat. And maybe if there was some passion involved, it’s a Ring of Fire like Johnny Cash sang about. One thing’s for sure though – we leave some kind of heat inside people just by our presence, and they in us.

intermission photo: a fire this week near the Park

warmth PART II

In Portland a few months ago, I was skimming through a marriage book Rachel and Cameron were given before their wedding. The author proposed that the primary goal of marriage is to produce holiness in us, not happiness. Evidently marriage is less trying if we stop expecting our spouse to make us happy! Who knew?! Okay, maybe we all knew this to some degree, but it’s real easy to forget.

I think the author was specifically referring to the common tendency of trying to change our spouse. I’ve learned from experience, mine and others,’ that nobody’s innermost character changes by my efforts, blatant or subtle. Likewise, I don’t respond well to other people’s efforts to change me. But rather, we observe. I am inspired by people living their own lives well and reaping the benefits. That is what brings about change. I think. Isn’t that how mentorship works? The mentee picks up on the character of the mentor, as seen in everyday life experiences. You can’t designate yourself a mentor and sit somebody down to list off five characteristics you’d like to instill in him this week.

Anyway, I like the idea of carrying a holiness perspective into all relationships. And when I say holiness, I mean completeness, wholeness. In Christian terms, having the “fruits of God’s Spirit” become more and more part of our character (the fruits like love, joy, peace, etc.). If I allow myself to be driven crazy by a relative’s or friend’s personality quirks, I assume they are failing in their duty to make me happy or accommodate my need for a perfect relationship. But hey! What if I instead think about just how patient and forgiving I’m becoming by my interactions with them? If we’re different enough, chances are they’re having to concentrate on how loving they’re becoming by being around me.

But even that (thinking in terms of my own self-actualization or what have you) is an ultimate focus on me and might just be an intermediary step. When I further think of each person as a strand on the big, beautiful tapestry of humanity, I can actually go from enduring them in hopes of my own character development to being GLAD for it out of the sheer joy of color and variety! Why oh why would I want them to be the same hue and shape and size of strand as me? I can try to know them for the sake of knowing them, without hoping to change them.

And so, if these outlooks are sure enough in me, maybe the warmth people feel from our interactions will be the comfortable, home-coming kind that inspires growth and not the sick heat of judgment.

Amen, and amen.


tamie said...

Beautiful one: this is *exactly* the kind of thing I so love reading. It's just perfect. Keep on writing, friend. I am reading.

tamie said...

And I love your definition of holiness as completeness. Amen indeed.