When the worst of my depression hit in the fall of 2001, I quit reading the newspaper. For years my morning ritual was to go from front to back, soaking up as much as I could. As I worked to learn how to live through the darkness visible, one piece of advice I found was to give myself a break from the daily news. I did, and it helped. Before too long, my daily reading was replaced by a daily listening to NPR, which kept a kind tone in its reporting and did more than repeat headlines.
At our house in Durham, I had a radio/CD player that lived under the wall cabinets and gave me the chance to listen everyday. I could tell you the name of pretty much every host for every show on NPR’s playlist. When I installed the radio, I stripped the screws, so it stayed behind when we moved north and I replaced the technology with a portable Bluetooth speaker that allows me to play music from my iPhone. NPR does have a station in iTunes, but I have chosen not to tune in because these days are heavy enough. I have a lot of contact with media in different forms, and I have decided to let the news find me, rather than seeking it out. Find me it does, and I am finding a respite—some room to think and reflect on things other than the standard diet offered by the twenty-four hour news cycle.
I’m not trying to hide from it. I just want some space. We are bombarded with so much that we are expected to somehow be able to respond immediately and move on to the next thing. We hardly had a week to figure out what Ferguson meant before we were on to the next thing. There are ways in which I feel now is the time we should be talking about the implications of what happened in Charleston, but that is ancient history to the news cycle. We will be fortunate if anyone is mentioning any of the recent mass shootings in January or February. The world may be getting smaller, but we are not being offered a global view. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that we are a nation constantly at war, and that we are the Ones Who Are Right.
In her book The Rise, Sarah Lewis recounts a Yoruba myth of the trickster diety Eshu-Elegba.
Disguised as a man, Eshu-Elegba strolled through town in a cap topped with a crimson parrot feather, half painted white and the other half red, bisected by a line from the middle of his forehead to the top of his spine. Some in the town thought that they saw him walk by in a red cap. Others thought it was white. One person who had swept through the entire town knew that the cap was both colors. Chinua Achebe described the lesson of the myth in reference to an Igbo festival masquerade: “If you want to see well, you must not stand in one place . . . If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace.” (187)
I keep reading Achebe’s words again and again: if you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of grace. If we are hunkered down in fear we won’t find any sense of true perspective.
My current train book is Bandersnatch by Erika Morrison, who happens to live here in New Haven. On the ride in this morning, as she reacquainted me with one of my favorite passages from Frederick Buechner:
If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion. (112)
Most all of Jesus’ words were invitations. He took stuck in people like the woman at the well and let them find the room to move so they could also find the grace they needed. In our time people like Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham are using the language of faith as an incendiary device to frighten people to root themselves in hatred; their invitation is to a graceless existence. I am not making a political point here. We cannot lose these words to war. To paraphrase Indio Montoya, these words don’t mean what they say they mean. Words are not meant to be weapons.
When I started writing tonight, I went looking for the clip from the movie with Indio saying those words. It was, as you can see, quite short. The next clip that began playing almost automatically was one of Mandy Patinkin talking about his favorite lines from the movie and he told a story of seeing the movie many years later and hearing a line in a way he had not before. When they get to the end and the Man in Black is talking with Indio about become the Dread Pirate Roberts, Indio says, “You know, I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.” Patinkin goes on to say he loved the line because the purpose of revenge is “completely worthless and pointless” and the purpose of existence is “to turn the darkness into light.”
I know—from no newspapers to Yoruba legends to Buechner to Indio Montoya: it’s a meandering path. Then again, if we’re rooted to a spot, we miss a lot of the grace. Let us side and far in the name of Love. Finding and sharing the grace. Let’s do that with the rest of our lives.