I'm not going to pretend to know how it works, because I don't. I know as much about how it all comes together as I do about hadron colliders, or trigonometry, or Dave Brubeck’s 'Take Five" written in 5/4 time.
In fact, I can't even tell you for sure that it does work. I've never seen actual, quantifiable proof. I've never witnessed evil crack open like a bad guy in a video game, spewing forth all the life points or honeycombs or whatever you need to defeat the bigger bad guy and win the game. Sure, I've seen little glimpses of it here and there, but I can't pretend to know how, in the grand scheme of things, it all ends. I just have to believe it does.
To say that yesterday was a bad day would be an understatement. Every waking moment seemed like undeniable proof that my life philosophies are a heap of steaming dung, or, at best, that they go completely unnoticed. I've long believed in doing good deeds, in random acts of kindness, in a kind of this-life Karma that, bit-by-bit, drives out evil and replaces it with love and goodwill and peace and justice. A ripple in the pond of humanity. A societal butterfly effect. I'm not in a position to do big things, so I do what I can, when I can. Leave a bigger tip. Bake a batch of cookies. Put someone's story in writing. Use talents for good. For free. For someone who's in need or down or just having a tough time putting their thoughts and feelings on paper. Give a stranger a ride, or a gas card, or a hot meal at the North Market. Rescue a dog. Maybe five. Work extra hours. Whatever. Whatever's needed, whatever I can, whatever is possible. The golden rule, and all that. Sometimes to a fault. Like, I can't pay someone back what I owe them, or I can't buy groceries, or I can't afford to fix the muffler on my car(s) or pay my mortgage. You know, all that responsible stuff. Back when I was a charistmatic fundamentalist, I called it being "led by the Spirit." I believed if I did whatever "the Spirit" led to me to, even if it was to give my house payment to someone who lost everything in a fire, God would provide. And that has largely been true, for the most part, especially if God works through the ever-patient people who keep bailing me out, which I believe God does.
I don't know why God gave me the kind of heart/brain/emotions/personality type that God did. I don't know why I'm impulsive and largely governed by emotions, the strongest of which are compassion and empathy and guilt and fear and, okay, indignation and defensiveness. I don't know, either, why God didn't give me the wallet of a millionaire, or at least the skills to become one, to go along with these tendencies toward philanthropy and these strong compulsive urges and this insatiable hunger for beautiful things and ideas that cost (but don't make) money. That's one of the parts I don't understand, in the same way I don't understand hadron colliders, or trigonometry, or jazz in 5/4 time. It's all part of the beautiful, messy, ridiculous mystery of the thing. And it's hard to make sense of it all when you have a brain that functions like mine does--that everything has cause and effect, that I get what I deserve, unless it's a good thing, and then it's just all-out, inexplicable, grace.
I'm going to be honest here. Yesterday, I almost gave up. I don't know what that means, exactly, but I almost did. The things I've been doing for the past, oh, 20 years or so that should be paying off by now aren't. I got really bad news in the mail. Some people I love hurt my heart pretty badly. I dropped the ball and let people down. The good stuff that happened last week got chewed up and spit out by the bad stuff of the moment. Someone got mad about my loud muffler. Someone didn't like something I wrote. Headway gained was lost, and so was my footing. Hope was deferred. My heart was sick. I felt like I was eroding. Like all the beautiful, protective greenery on my surface had been stripped away, and my next layer was crumbling, breaking off in huge chunks, and tumbling into a chasm. All of my inner guts were exposed, and they looked pretty much like what you think guts would look like, all messy and ugly and raw.
These are the times when you wish for a mommy, or a knight in shining armour, or a winning lottery ticket. This is when you're sure that all those good deeds you've done will pay off, and justice will shine and gleam like a brand new Airstream. The winning lottery ticket. The unexpected windfall. The breakfast in bed.
But no. That's not what happened. In fact, it only got worse.
By the end of the day, I was a heap of quivering saltwater sobbing in the corner of my room. "I'm done," I said to no one in particular. "No more LOVE! What good does it do to care if the world keeps yanking all the good stuff out from under you?"
The truth is, though, I can't quit everything. I can quit (or at least take a hiatus from) a few things, things that aren't affirming or helpful, but I can't quit everything. And even in the face of adversity, even when I feel abandoned and betrayed and forgotten, even when it doesn't make any sense to keep giving it, I can't quit love.
There are a lot of mean people out there. Egotistical, greedy, manipulative, and downright vindictive people. When you come across them, and they twist their daggers in your back, you still have a choice. Sure, you can be mean right back, but that's just going to make you feel crappy. You can become calculated and vindictive, too, but then you'll just be suspicious of every person you meet. For me, I have to continue to choose love, especially when I don't feel like it. I have to choose that those people are hurting, even if they don't say why. There's a hole in them, like there is in me. And while I might not be able to fill that empty space in them, whatever I do counts somewhere, maybe even a continent away.
Because I believe there's an alchemy there that takes place, and I don't pretend to understand it. Like I said, I've never seen it crack open a hard, hard heart on the spot. But there's a reason Jesus put such an emphasis on it. Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love and love and love and love. And when you're exhausted from all the love, love some more. Get away in a boat, when you can. Turn over a few tables when you see injustice. But don't cauterize that part of you that's made to love. That doesn't mean to be "nice," which my friend Leslie says is a terrible four-letter word, or to be a doormat, or a whipping post, but to keep an eye out for what is beautiful, what is good, what is pure, what is honest, what is true. Those things might wipe away the nasties. They might give you the strength you need to hang on and, for another day, choose love.
And, eventually, if we all choose enough of it, even when we don't understand it, I have to believe that, in the end, it's a formula that works. It's a prescription we need to follow to survive. Eventually, I think--I believe--love wins.