On Combat and Kierkegaard

I was thinking about leaving work for the day, not yet getting ready but in that hour before when you begin to think about what you need to do in order to leave: how many unread emails would you like to respond to, how many of those niggling tasks that you’ve been putting off? But my friend came in, and we sat at the table in my office, the one with the globe and the stack of books — my wife buys me globes because of how I like maps, which she learned on our honeymoon when we drove to Cayucos and I charted our progress on a Rand McNally atlas. So my friend I’ll call Michael and I sat at the table with the globe, and we talked a little about work, and he also talked about combat, since he is ex-military. He told me about parachuting into a combat zone under fire, and how he was trained and prepared for such an event, prepared to see a member of his squadron get hit, prepared to hit the ground and begin moving, working to accomplish the mission. 

“I miss that clarity,” Michael confided. “Civilian life is so confusing.”

I’ve thought of this over the past weeks, this moment of connection and grace and insight. We lack clarity to our lives. On one hand, this makes sense: if the stories we live are first shaped by our desires, by the want to have something and the need to reach out and get it, ours is a world where desire proliferates. Simply watch a commercial break on television, and you are inundated with all that could be missing from your life. A new car. The right dishwashing detergent. The phone to help you experience life more deeply. Even your dog isn’t living his or her best life without the right dog food. You hear and see this in 120 seconds.

At work, we’re told our white-collar jobs engage us more fully than adding parts on an assembly line, and yet the meetings and email are endless, each with a different priority, each asking something of you, some engagement, and you shift between tasks constantly for nine hours before you drive home in traffic and watch email from your phone. Shifting from task to task, responsibility to responsibility without true awareness of which is more important, science tells us is the perfect way to diminish productivity. Yet, this is how we’ve set up our modern offices. Such shifts in our focus and such clamor to shape our desires: this is why life is confusing to people like Michael and, often, myself. 

If our lives are to have the meaning of a story, I know of no cohesive story where the character wants a new car, and a bigger house, and a wife, and a new phone, and better dishwashing detergent. In fact, stories based on what you can buy — outside of desperate need or sacrifice — are not engaging stories at all. The same is true at work. If I want to move forward on a technical project, and support a branding project, and also spearhead a project with the marketing team, I am quickly in a place of confusion and exhaustion. After all, I also have a day job outside of these projects.

Kierkegaard writes, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

If we go too long without one desire shaping our stories, or if we go too long with incoherent stories, shaped by myriad desires, we risk our lives falling into meaninglessness. As Alasdair MacIntyre writes in After Virtue, “When someone complains…that his or her life is meaningless, he or she is often and perhaps characteristically complaining that the narrative of their life has become unintelligible to them, that it lacks any point, any movement toward a climax or a telos.” A telos is an ultimate objective. An aim. An overarching goal.

Combat provides a telos. I think, in some way, so do maps. They offer a chance to chart progress against a goal, to see where we’ve come. Maps, of course, also offer possibility: “If we turn here we can see Mono Lake.” Maps are an opportunity for a journey, and journeys are not necessarily from point A to B, but opportunities to move forward while experiencing the world. 

MacIntyre goes on to write, “The unity of a human life is the unity of a narrative quest.”

*

If our desires shape our stories, Kierkegaard and MacIntyre argue for one great desire. Kierkegaard calls it the good, and MacIntyre writes of recovering the Aristotelian telos. But how are we to do this? Or, how am I to do it with my white-collar job and endless supply of emails? A telos, it seems, is for the weekend when I can focus on one desire of, say, loving my family and see the narrative of life. What am I to do — what are we to do — on Thursday afternoons when the weekend is far away and life is not a narrative quest but a comedy, where my best efforts turn against me? For this is also a uniquely modern problem — not only to identify a telos but to move toward it, and we can often be uniquely situated where meaningful work toward a goal is difficult. But I’m straying into other ideas.

MacIntyre argues for a certain type of narrative, against a life being a comedy where my efforts turn futile. A quest has a certain narrative shape, against a tragedy or comedy or rags to riches story. In its classic form, it’s meant to get something and bring it back for the good of the community, and half of the story is convincing the community they need whatever you have. For Odysseus, since the Odyssey is one of the most famous quests, almost half of the story occurs after his return to Ithaka and now must make it clear that his return is good — though it assuredly won’t be for the suitors. 

If the stories we live are about our desires, a quest asserts that one desire must be above those others. If we want our stories to have coherence, to have meaning for us, we cannot pull from a grab bag of desires every morning or every commercial break, or even every workday. We must have some conception of an overarching desire. MacIntyre again: “Without some at least partly determinate conception of the final telos there could not be any beginning to a quest.”

*

I cannot answer your telos. For myself, however, I have thought about who I was as a child, and who I want to be when I am fully grown. I have thought about what I need to live, and what makes me alive. I have, tentatively and carefully, shared these ideas with others to see if my work has resonance in the world. And I return, inexorably, to the ideas of meaning and awareness. We must become aware of our lives, of turning off cruise control or autopilot or however we go about our days, and we must see our lives anew, and we must do it again and again. Otherwise, our lives fall into routine and rhythm — which can be helpful — but we must always know why we have such routines and rhythms, or they become banal and binding. Such awareness, I believe, invites us toward meaning. And meaning is always infused with significance and hope, for a meaningful act is a hopeful act. I know of no better way to bring awareness and meaning than story, by telling stories and by urging people to see the stories of their lives. This is my quest.

I will lose the thread, likely later this week. And I will need to build up, all over again, what I truly desire, and whether I am pursuing this, and where I can impart meaning and awareness. A quest is not a decision, but a daily journey, an overarching shape to our lives, and while I’ll have detours I also hope to move forward. I suppose it would be similar to tracking my progress on a map.

On Homemade Art and Stories

Beside my desk, on the wall to the right, hangs a work of art. It is four pieces of construction paper taped together with orange tape; each piece of paper is a different color. The art makes a sort of lopsided and sideways T, and it tells a story and invites the viewer into a world. Across the top is a railroad track, a restaurant below, a windmill and horse and — to the right, where the length of the sideways T extends, mountains and cars and a rocket. My daughter gave it to me on my birthday this year, in the way children have of giving you something they made, and I made a frame for this lopsided T of a picture, stained the wood, hung it beside my desk. It hangs as a reminder, as I write, to make worlds and tell stories. It reminds me, too, of something I would have made as a child. As children we are storytellers and story makers, and I wanted something to remind myself of that, and this was the perfect thing.

I know that “story” is a buzzword now, used in marketing and data analysis, politics and current events and, thankfully, even literary circles. I can’t help but wonder where story has grown so popular because of our loss of it as a culture: that is, the loss of a metanarrative and unifying story with unifying ethics, morals, a unifying telos or end of humanity and each person individually. That is, I am convinced the more society talks about anything — be it story, identity, or truth — it’s a good sign that we lack whatever we’re obsessed about, like a group of starving men and how they will, inevitably, fantasize about food. Our society does not have this unifying story, so we talk about stories without knowing what to do about them, but without a common story we don’t even have a common language to speak to one another.

But we cannot escape that we are storytellers, or we once were, as the picture on my wall asserts. And we know we want stories, we watch them many evenings or binge them on weekends. We also want them, I believe, for our own lives. Or rather, we have them for our lives whether we realize this or not, and we want control over them, and to squeeze the meaning out of them, to realize what this world with its commutes and coffee, email and exercise, sleep and lack thereof, is all for. Yet, we cannot pull our stories out of the ground, fresh and new and ready to take home. Instead, we find ourselves with an amalgam of stories already, bringing the stories of consumerism and success to stories of faith and religion, mixing them and wondering where the narrative lies.

Of course, the consumerist story is one of accumulation. I think of buying a pair of running shoes: I could spend a week’s worth of work on this activity, researching reviews and materials, as if this buying decision somehow validates me. Or, if you’re not a researcher but more of a spender, I think of the evidence of accumulation in our garages and closets, and that self-storage is a $38 billion industry in the U.S. That’s about twice that of the entire music industry in our country. 

And if you are not accumulating products, we are desperate to accumulate experiences, or that seems to be the case form the modest amounts of time I spend on Facebook or Instagram, where our status is measured by the meals we eat and the trips we take. I rarely see posts sitting in meetings or answering emails, which are two activities that take up enormous amounts of my day. This is another story, and a distinctly American one, as if our highest end is to enjoy — or the pursuit of happiness.

This colors my faith, and if I have enough savvy to avoid thinking of God as Santa Claus, which I sometimes do, it’s easy to think of him as therapist or life coach, someone who exists so that I can be fully empowered, fully myself. But whatever truth there is to this, my vision of being fully myself generally falls into one of the consumerist and accumulation camps, with a vocation thrown in for good measure: I no longer have to worry about finances, or meetings and emails, and I have time to write, to sit outside on long mornings enjoying coffee, to philosophize. I find it strange that God isn’t more focused on my own empowerment and, the idea that we often confuse with empowerment, comfort.

A story begins, as I remember a professor telling me in grad school, with what a character wants. Specifically, she said, “To find a story, find someone who wants something and can’t have it.” This is partially why the consumerist-accumulation story is so dissatisfying, apart from deeper issues of what makes a human satisfied: it’s too easy. Any story that can be solved by cutting back at Starbucks and saving up isn’t one that will win our hearts. So, it shouldn’t guide our lives, either.

Think of your favorite stories. I reread For Whom the Bell Tolls this year and was reminded how Robert wanted to fight for freedom and win the war, but he really wanted love. I was recently brought to tears by The Color Purple when Celie’s sister Nettie, who we thought was lost, comes home. The scene was a resurrection, a yearning for life. 

A character wants something. This is where I see the story can diverge from wanting new running shoes and into the realm of faith. After all, this is the question Jesus asks again and again of almost everyone he meets: “What do you want me to do for you?” James K.A. Smith writes that this is the fundamental question of discipleship: what do you want? He goes on to write that our wants and longings are at the core of our identities, but I would amend his statement to say that are what launch our stories. To paraphrase Donald Miller, if we want the kingdom, we live a very different story than if we want a Lexus. Good literature does this. I quoted just two books I read recently, both old books, because good literature re-orients our desires to what is real and true or, if a tragedy, warns us away from those desires that will destroy us. Good stories are not about saving up for new cars, or if they are, the author knows the car means much, much more than a conveyance.

And this idea finally makes sense of the C.S. Lewis quote that we love to bandy about without knowing exactly what it means: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us…We are far too easily pleased.” We are too easily pleased because if we do not want enough, we do not live a true and beautiful story. 

There is nothing more serious than a story. We need such stories to re-orient ourselves toward what is real in this world, toward our deepest desires, so that we can live true, good stories. There is much to thinking about the stories we are living but it starts with this: What do you want? So it becomes a circle. We drink stories to orient our desires, and our desires shape our stories, our real stories in the here and now. 

The picture hangs to my left so I remember this, and I remember it, and I remember it. I grew up drawing such pictures and telling such stories — stories of love and hope, of sacrifice and, yes, violence. Today, I want to tell such stories because they are true, because they tell us what is most real in this world, but mostly because I see my desires drift from beauty and love to a new pair of running shoes far too easily. I want to desire more, because my desires shape the story I’m living. I want to live a story of beauty and truth and goodness, of hope and sacrifice and even pain in the cause of the kingdom. But I cannot get there, I cannot get my desires high enough, without a story to reorient me — even if it’s the thick and lopsided story that a seven year old drew hanging beside my desk. 

We Demand Windows

What then is the good of — what is even the defence for — occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feeling which we should try to avoid having in our own person?…The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and selectiveness peculiar to himself…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own…We demand windows.

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

On art and its importance

If writers work to bring words to what is, and if we cannot know something until we have the words for it, what about all of art? There is communication outside of words that stirs us and moves us. If the dancer could use words, she may, but words are not able to express what she feels.

So she dances.

Other forms of art, the purely visual, musical, dance, sculpture: these do not help us build mental houses the way words can; rather, they help us first to feel. They may not stop here, but they certainly offer a feeling, an experience. Stories are the same, as they don’t give simple answers or solutions to problems, but they help us experience the problem. They are a shared experience.

The same is true with visual art, with performance art. These are shared experiences that help us feel what the composer or artist or performer has felt. They are moments of connection. We crowd around paintings or sit through performances to experience sadness, hope, beauty: the things that make us human.

Those cultures that lose art lose their humanity.

On the importance of words

On Sunday it was cold, and we all huddled in the living room close to the fire. I played the piano, and Brooke read. At one point, our ten year old asked if I had written words to the song I played. I said yes. Macia, who is seven, followed with another question: “Did you write the piano words?”

We laughed at this phrasing, but it rings as truth now. Children have an economy of words because of their lack, and this economy demands creativity. Thus, children are artists because they are creating mental constructs at all times, and they are finding and making new connections.

These mental constructs of how the world is — these are formed and reinforced with the words a person knows. This means that as we face new constructs, we need old, familiar words with which to engage them. It also means that, when we have no mental construct, or no words for something, that something may as well not exist.

The writer works, then, to bring existence to the world, to give words to what is so that we can know it is.

Identity and Instagram

Part I is here.

We live in an age of expression. Think of Instagram or Facebook: the former is supposedly worth $100 billion; the latter worth more. These are platforms existing, primarily, for individuals to express themselves. Yes, companies have found ways to monetize the platforms, thus giving them value, but the monetization is simply a sign of the platform’s power. We are desperate to express ourselves.

This is a human need, of course, to voice our thoughts. We’ve listened to songs and read poetry for thousands of years, and social media simply opens the playing field to all. You don’t need to afford parchment, not to mention the huge expense of education, to gain an audience. Even a lute, I’ve heard, can be tough to come by (you have to know people).

I realize our inner expression, the navel gazing, we may pin to Petrarch, who climbed up Mount Ventoux simply for the joy of it, but came down focused on his own soul: “Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again.” He had been reading Augustine’s Confessions, quite famously, and concluded that this inward gazing was more important than the joys of the view.

But where was I before Petrarch got in the way? The age of expression, where our thoughts and reactions are paramount. Yet, if society most longs for that which it most lacks, we don’t lack avenues for expression, or even what to say. Again, we lack knowledge of who we are. We must express our identity; otherwise it does not exist.

Expression, however, is not enough. We cannot yell into a void. We must be heard, acknowledged by those near us that we are who we say. This is no different from ancient networks of identity, which have always been reliant on others and our place in a community, although the degradation of our modern networks (see Part I) means that we need self-forming communities to tell us who we are. As we lack these, we search for anyone to listen and acknowledge what we say about ourselves. If we’re refused such acknowledgement, we claim those who don’t hear or don’t support and praise our identities do us violence. But, those faraway from our lived experience have never given us identity: humans gain their identities from close relationships.

We have replaced tight-knit human communities with online interactions, and in doing so we have moved from the relational to the transactional. Yet, a transaction — whether someone liking or post or even acknowledging our right to claim a certain identity, cannot tell us who we really are. 

Yet we each, post by post, are shouting who we are and desperate for someone to agree.

2:150

We went skiing yesterday. Our youngest, who is seven, fell on her first run and her confidence evaporated. She has been skiing before, and she has done well before — for a seven year old who has been skiing a few times. After her fall, I held my pole out to brake her and guide her, but she broke into tears as our gentle beginning run gained a modicum of steepness. I felt sad for her, for her fear.

Fear, I have heard, is our most primal emotion. It may be our first emotion, fear and shock, as we are pulled from out mother’s wombs and feel the coldness and startling light of a hospital room.

*

If Psalm 1 seems naive and moralistic, Psalm 2 reads as false to our modern minds. A brief summary: the rulers and peoples set themselves against God, and yet these people are shackled by the God they are set against. God shrugs them off, declaring the king he has set in Zion. This king will possess the earth, break the nations like a potter’s vessel. So, kings and rulers ought to serve the Lord with fear and trembling. His wrath is quickly kindled, but blessed are all who take refuge in him.

This is far from the easy spirituality of our western world, whether Christian or “spiritual but not religious” or the reserved Judaism you see portrayed in films, or even eastern religions, a dash here or there thrown into the soup of individualistic American religion for — good measure? To cover all the bases? Just in case?

The psalm asserts God’s rule and reign, and anticipates a messiah, as no king of Israel ever ruled the entire earth. But if God watches over the righteous and will not let the wicked stand, as we saw in psalm 1, why is our experience so different? Why does it often feel like the king has abdicated, and the world is left spinning with no one at the wheel? Apart from the judgmental language of psalm 2, it at least promises someone in control.

In fact, in the circles I inhabit, these promises of God’s control land on someone’s lips at precisely the time it doesn’t seem like God is in control at all, like some vapid incantation. I think of friends who struggled for years to get pregnant and the pain they felt from the church. But, of course, God is in control. That’s the problem then, isn’t it?

*

On that first run, we didn’t let our daughter loose. She was skiing with her grandpa, and what greater gift is there for a grandpa, or a granddaughter, than sharing an interest? I don’t know what happened, but they fell. They, of course, lost control. And for a seven year old, that fall broke her confidence so fear could come rushing in and overwhelm her.

She could not ski without tears on the next run down, because she was afraid. I promised her she would not fall.

*

There are three characters in this psalm. God, his anointed, and the rulers or peoples: the nations rebelling against God. The problem with this is that old sleight of hand to access a story, and to identify yourself with one of the characters. The first is out, and the second — I haven’t yet been able to assert my dominion over the earth, despite my best efforts. What if I am the one kicking and trying to throw off the shackles? What if I am not the tree in psalm 1 but part of the chaff, and my anger and ego need to be shackled?

I know before we went skiing, as we tried to pack the car and leave the house, my anger and impatience ticks upward. This happens on every trip, as if my unspoken timeline and agenda for leaving the house is the only thing that matters, and my wife’s desire to return to a clean house is in the way.

I always try to kick against that shackle.

*

I think of the psalms, arranged during the exile and after, and how psalm 2 would have been discordant. Yet, much of the Bible is discordant with our modern sensibilities, and even much of ancient storytelling, with its happy endings and reunifications. Only in modern times have we grasped that stories, if they are to reflect life, need to end ambiguously and in a sort of twilight, because we get little more than this in our own lives.

What have we lost with this? Faith, for one. Even more, our stories and poems have lost a telos, a purpose for our lives because of the way things our, and we are all now to create our own purpose. The psalms do not let us off so easily. God is in control, and history is moving toward a certain end. And we know, as the arrangers of this book knew, that there are scores of psalms left to complain and wonder about God’s distance, absence, and lack of control. But here, the second psalm and often seen as one of the two opening psalms that set the tone for the entire book: we do not simply see God’s control. We see who we are to be and become, just as in psalm 1.

Serve and celebrate. Be part of this royal order. As we serve with fear, this isn’t our classic fear on a ski run, but fear in a sense of respect and awe. Profound reverence. We end the psalm with what we ought to do, as the psalm often will, not mucking about in metaphysical meanderings. Rather than wondering how God can have control when it does not seem like it, we’re called to be part of this kingdom.

Find the confidence that this telos, this way of life brings: only when you lean into the pole and trust can you begin to see what, or who, might be in control after all. This way of life will not translate to no falls on the ski hill or miraculous pregnancies, but a way forward with purpose and hope and grounding. These are rare in our world.

Also, don’t kick against the shackles.

Purpose of Stories

Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots:

Each [plot] begins by showing us a hero or heroine who is in some way incomplete, who then encounters the dark power…the essence of the action is that it shows us the light and dark forces gradually constellating to produce a final decisive confrontation. As a result, in any story which reaches complete resolution…the ending shows us how the dark power can be overthrown, with the light ending triumphant. The only question is whether the central figure is identified with the light, in which case he or she ends up liberated and whole; or whether they have fallen irrevocably into the grip of darkness, in which case they are destroyed.

Booker explains how this urge toward light and wholeness is why we tell stories in the first place: not as entertainment, or escape, or even to simply make sense of the world. They are devices to lead us toward wholeness and light.

His analysis is fascinating, despite my personal reservations with identifying one reason for an occurrence. I know of few phenomenons caused by one factor, and many caused by a multitude. Yet, a Jungian analysis of stories and how they entice and urge us toward wholeness shows their psychological power — why we feast on them, whether through movies or television or books, or the story of a sports team or player, or simply the story a friend is telling — and how conservative they ultimately are. The bad guy loses, the good guy wins, and the morals of compassion or learning disciplined strength are endemic. That is, they are not morals in a Three Little Pigs sense, but we simply don’t experience many stories at all where the bad guy wins, or where the hero or heroine doesn’t show compassion. Stories are moral devices even in the 21st century.

1:150

Each night, after we have gone through the routines of bedtime, and after Brooke and I have gone downstairs to talk, or read, or watch television, one of our girls comes down. She explains how she is ready to turn off her light, because we let them read past the initial bedtime, and wants a back scratch and a song.

I feel slightly annoyed to be interrupted like this. Yet, either I or my wife goes upstairs and offers a song and back scratch to one, and then the other girl. They are seven and ten, and whenever I go, and especially when I rub the back and sing to our ten year old, I wonder how much longer I will be gifted this.

Soon, she will not want these.

*

Psalm 1 lays out a simplistic moral ethic: blessed is the man who is not wicked, but meditates on the law of the Lord. It seems little more than an arithmetic problem, or debits and credits, and has the crude simplicity we would teach a kindergartner. The righteous man is a tree; the wicked are like chaff, blown by the wind.

The righteous: “On [God’s] law he meditates day and night.”

First, the law. I think of it as rules and requirements, the ancient Jewish code of living. Yet Samuel Terrien writes:

“The Torah is really gospel, for it proceeds from pure grace when it invites man and woman to fulfill the divine design on earth…its diurnal and nocturnal meditation did not represent submission to a rigid discipline or an obligation of abstract obedience, but it blossomed forth as a willing manifestation of gratitude to the extended hand of God” (Terrien, 73).

God’s hand extended, and the law is both invitation and gratitude. Perhaps an invitation to experience the wonder of divine life, and the gratitude therein.

Meditating on this did not simply mean memorizing, or reading, or listening to the text. Rather, it came from the gut. I meditate sometimes in the early morning, before my wife is awake, when I am stunned at how I got her, and how she carries the beauty and compassion and peace that I want to carry. The feeling starts in my chest and catches in my throat. This is meditation. A hushed sigh. Or, on the other side, a groan. This may come at a realization of my own brokenness and selfishness, or at the absurd selfishness of our world.

Sometimes, my wife says, she simply has to cry. This is the meditation the psalmist refers to, the feeling that rumbles through our bodies and erupts inarticulately.

I long for the divine life, whatever it is. I am alternatively blind or frustrated at the unblemished promises of such a life and my own scratching existence.

The closest I can come is this. I must watch. Watch for this divine invitation in the tedium of some days, in the messiness of this life, which seems to slip out of my control every moment. I must watch in the early morning when I wake before my wife, when I have a cup of coffee and the sun colors the sky pink in the east, when I cannot escape work on a Tuesday and miss my book group, when I feel irrationally angry or happy or melancholy. I must watch with ancient texts drumming in my head, or modern novels, or whatever can root me in this moment and this longing, whatever can make me awake to the extended hand of god.

Rooted in the moment: the psalm tells of how the righteous is like a tree. Trees in the Bible, of course, take us back to Eden. We see this most clearly how the curse came through a tree, as Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were not meant to, and its reversal through a tree, though one fashioned by the Romans for Christ to climb. The tree acts as a symbol of the world made right. Whether the Bible has colored the Western mind, which it has to be sure, or whether this is an evolutionary, archetypal symbol, I don’t know. I know gardens and trees are in almost every great story, and often represent a place of wholeness and connectedness, from the olive tree that makes Odysseus’s bed to Jane Eyre encountering Rochester in a garden.

Gardening takes attention and time. My youngest daughter planted a few seeds in cups, and they sit on her bathroom window. She forgets to water them, but I remember. Three of the four have sprouted, and even then my watering seems to have gone on for the last six months, though it can’t be more than a few weeks. The lifespan of a single summer is tortuously slow for a vegetable or flower garden, let alone the lifespan of a tree. Yet, cultivating such a tree or such a life requires nothing more than attention and time.

Watch, and do it again.

Every night when one of the girls come down, I don’t want to go upstairs. I can’t recall a night I wanted to stop what I was doing. Yet, I go. I sing and scratch their backs, and I hope that I am creating in them a posture of receptivity and loved-ness; I hope I am creating connection between me and them. I know, however, that I need to go because it is an invitation to something that I cannot explain, a divine invitation, to watch and wonder at fatherhood or parenthood or love. I don’t have the word for it.

Each night is a divine invitation to cultivate a life I both experience and hope to have.

Language

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different.’ The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well…The great thing about language is that you can just as easily do the opposite: convince people that they are the same.”

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

The beauty of art, and the way that it connects with people, is that it often transcends language. Or, even better, it seems like it was written in my language: the song that describes just how I feel; the painting that helps me see something familiar in a new way.

Even with a novel: in a good one, I find myself thinking like the narrator. I use the same language. The novelist has so successfully cleared the language barrier that I have identified with the story by using the same words as the narrator.

Art, then, attempts to transcend language. The artist is attempting to reverse that mythological Tower of Babel, when differing languages spread people all over the earth, and we have sought for an answer since.