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Last Sunday during Q&A I felt moved to share just a tidbit from a post author Anne Lamott had written in the wake of Robin Williams’ death. It turns out she’d grown up with him in California. If you’ve read any of her story you know she can deeply identify with what harried and haunted–and then consumed–her friend Robin. So I thought her lamentful but staunchly hopeful words were worth sharing in full. You might disagree with some of her appraisals. Maybe I do, too. But what she says of compassion obliges consideration.
This will not be well written or contain any answers or be very charming. I won’t be able to proof read it It is about times like today when the abyss is visible and we cannot buy cute area rugs at IKEA to truck out the abyss. Our brother Robin fell into it yesterday. We are all staring at the abyss today.
I called my Jesuit friend the day after the shootings in Newtown, stunned, flat, fixated, scared to death: “Is there any meaning in the deaths of twenty 5 and 6 year old children?”
Tom said, “Not yet.”
And there is no meaning in Robin’s death, except as it sheds light on our common humanity, as his life did. But I’ve learned that there can be meaning without things making sense.
Here is what is true: a third of the people you adore and admire in the world and in your families have severe mental illness and/or addiction. I sure do. I have both. And you still love me. You help hold me up. I try to help hold you up. Half of the people I love most have both; and so do most of the artists who have changed and redeemed me, given me life. Most of us are still here, healing slowly and imperfectly. Some days are way too long.
And I hate that, I want to say. I would much prefer that God have a magic wand, and not just a raggedy love army of helpers. Mr. Roger’s mother told him when he was a boy, and a tragedy was unfolding that seemed to defy meaning, “Look to the helpers.” That is the secret of life, for Robin’s family, for you and me. . . .
I know Robin was caught . . .in both the arms of God, and of his mother, Laurie.
I knew them both when I was coming up, in Tiburon. He lived three blocks away on Paradise drive. His family had money; ours didn’t. But we were in the same boat–scared, shy, with terrible self esteem and grandiosity. If you have a genetic predisposition towards mental problems and addiction, as Robin and I did, life here feels like you were just left off here one day, with no instruction manual, and no idea of what you were supposed to do; how to fit in; how to find a day’s relief from the anxiety, how to keep your beloved alive; how to stay one step ahead of abyss. . . .
In Newtown, as in all barbarity and suffering, in Robin’s death, on Mount Sinjar, in the Ebola towns, the streets of India’s ghettos, and our own, we see Christ crucified. I don’t mean that in a nice, Christian-y way. I mean that in the most ultimate human and existential way. The temptation is to say, as cute little believers sometimes do, Oh it will all make sense someday. The thing is, it may not. We still sit with scared, dying people; we get the thirsty drinks of water.
This was at theologian Fred Buechner blog today: “It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling.”
Live stories worth telling! Stop hitting the snooze button. Try not to squander your life on meaningless, multi-tasking b.s. I would shake you and me but Robin is shaking us now.
Get help. I did. Be a resurrection story, in the wild non-denominational sense. I am.
If you need to stop drinking or drugging, I can tell you this: you will be surrounded by arms of love like you have never, not once, imagined. This help will be available twenty/seven. Can you imagine that in this dark scary screwed up world, that I can promise you this? That we will never be closed, if you need us?
Gravity yanks us down, even a man as stunning in every way as Robin. We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can’t be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity. You know how I always say that laughter is carbonated holiness? Well, Robin was the ultimate proof of that, and bubbles are spirit made visible.
Some may find her formulations either too tentative or too presumptuous. Can anyone deny though how sound is her advice to concede just how much we need one another? We too easily build our house upon the sand that friends at arms length become necessary when the sinkhole begins to take us down. That’s just another more disturbing call to being present to one another.
Andrew Solomon said better what we tried to say last Sunday about a life doomed in its attempt to fill an unfillable hole–one Robin admittedly sought to fill with admiration, and then alcohol. One we try to fill with whatever we think we can’t live without. And there’s probably more on that list for you than you’d like to imagine:
The same qualities that drive a person to brilliance may drive that person to suicide. Highly successful people tend to be perfectionistic, constantly striving to meet impossible standards. And celebrities tend to be hungry for love, for the adoration of audiences. No perfectionist has ever met his own benchmarks, and no one so famished for admiration has ever received enough of it. . . .Williams’s suicide demonstrates that none of us is immune. If you could be Robin Williams and still want to kill yourself, then all of us are prone to the same terrifying vulnerability. Most people imagine that resolving particular problems will make them happy. If only one had more money, or love, or success, then life would feel manageable. It can be devastating to realize the falseness of such tempered optimism. A great hope gets crushed every time someone reminds us that happiness can be neither assumed nor earned; that we are all prisoners of our own flawed brains; that the ultimate aloneness in each of us is, finally, inviolable.
“Happiness can neither be assumed nor earned.” I think that’s another way of saying that all is a gift. All is of Grace–even if God’s fingerprints don’t appear in the immediate aftermath. In those more precariously hopeful moments, we have to turn our attention to the moment that most revealed His handiwork–what most revealed His love.
As you prepare to come Sunday (and is Sunday something you prepare for or just show up for?) refresh your memory of Paul’s biography by reading chapters 7-9 in the book of Acts (or at least the parts explicitly related to Paul’s life–7:54-8:3, 9:1-31). We’re introduced to Paul, while he still went by the name Saul, as Stephen becomes the first martyr of the church. The throng bloodthirsty with righteous indignation to snuff out this ostensible heretic lay their garments down at an approving Saul’s feet so they had full range of motion to carry out their sentence. Let it sink in just how profound a change of outlook had to occur in Paul for him to move from unqualified derision for the church to an equally unqualified willingness to die for its progress.
To be sure we can point to stories of people who once extolled the gospel and the church who later renounced that faith; but how many among that de-churched constituency laid down their lives to forestall the church’s growth?
By now you should’ve received notice of our First Sunday Lunch Potluck scheduled for September 7th, right after worship. (if you didn’t, let us know; we’re trying to get everyone on the right lists) Here’s a little more detail, including how you can contribute to the culinary cause.
- Ham and chicken breast will be provided.
- The black refrigerator in the alcove is for our use. The white refrigerator in the kitchen is not for our use. The oven will not be available for heating or warming food. Crock pots can be plugged in on the serving tables.
- Please bring a main dish, potato or pasta salad, green salad, fruit, or vegetable relish tray for 10
Questions, contact [email protected] or 817-505-8004.
Among the needs you might pray for, consider these, too:
- for the family of James Foley, and for the other journalists still held captive by ISIS
- for peace, mercy, and justice to fill Ferguson again
- for our students who’ve left for the semester, Emily Comer, and Emma Griffiths
- for Debby Comer as she moves her mother here to the Metroplex
- for FBC and our neighboring churches
Anyone know German? (I don’t.) One has to know more than the language to make sense of this moment, though. Sunday’s sermon will reveal all things–well, not all. (HT: mbird)