Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dog House Days

Every once in a while I still manage to commit the kind of vile atrocities that will occasionally land me in that most dishonorable of destinations—the Dog House. It's a place we sometimes unthinking husbands and fathers are all too familiar with. Didn't start dinner before she got home? To the Dog House. Didn't do the pots and pans? Don't bark, just march. Buy something that cost more than fifty dollars without talking it over first? That's it. You're going to the Canine Coffin.
As undignified as being in the Dog House can be, the truth is it's not always such a terrible thing. The Dog House is, after all, a place only people who truly love each other will send each other to perform their penance. Why is that? Why the need for an imaginary prison where, despite the absence of guards, fences or attack dogs, it is every bit as secure as any federal Supermax facility? How is it that being sequestered in a fictitious penitentiary is actually a loving gesture? One reason may be that the affections we share—to say nothing of the oaths we swore on the day day we got hitched—preclude us from inflicting real abuse on each other when one of us crosses the line. For those who are disinclined to harshly castigate their partners—yet still feel the need to avenge their occasional dishonor—temporarily banishing them to the virtual abode of a lessor life form really comes in handy.
Whenever I have been adjudicated guilty of something grotesquely stupid, and Jami or Alycia sentences me to an hour in the Dog House, it is oddly reassuring. I wouldn't be exiled in such a manner if they had in fact lost all hope and truly didn't love me anymore. It shows they have hope for me and my rehabilitation, that I deserve another chance. As long as I am worthy of the Dog House, there's still hope the lawyers won't need to be called in and life won't go seriously sour.
On one occasion I committed the kind of crime the girls thought really deserved a scare. It seems I broke a promise not to play golf one Mother's Day, (like that's a crime), and when I walked into the living room there was a large area cordoned off by cardboard boxes and covered with blankets. Above the make-shift entrance was a poster with the words "Dog House" glaring back at me. When I saw Jami approaching with a doggie dish filled with water, it occurred to me that maybe playing golf on Mother's Day was a crime, after all.
I paid my debt to society that day with honor, remaining motionless in my doggie den for what seemed like hours. Finally, the warden and her young lieutenant consented to my release—just in time for dinner. Soon we were all laughing. It was a laughter permeated with love, and it felt good. Funny thing, though, I never played golf on Mother's Day ever again! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stephen, Remembered

It will soon be 30 years since he died, and yet Stephen's memory remains incredibly vivid. He was just 28 years young when sadness, sickness and hopelessness moved him to desperation. But despite the crude reality of Stephen's ultimate self immolation, his enduring legacy is poignantly life-affirming.
Stephen craved all that life was intended to provide: love, acceptance, belonging, and freedom from emotional pain. And though these longings went largely unfulfilled, there is beauty in the knowledge that he so valued the things that are good and right about being alive, he bravely—and desperately—searched for them right to the very end. It remains a mystery whether his last desperate act was one of resignation that he would never find the things that make life worth living, or one of anticipation where all that he longed for would be found in abundance in a life to come.
The scourge of religious delusion is a potent and sinister beast. If allowed to take hold and fester, it will possess even the most intellectually agile among us, which Stephen most certainly was. It tells us we are so powerless against the malevolent side of human nature that an unwavering deference to forces unseen, unheard, and otherwise unreal offer our only hope for finding joy and purpose. Stephen courageously defied the indecent ultimatum being offered him when he took his own life, but it should never have come to that. We did not answer his call for help. We should have. Doing right by each other isn't always easy. In fact, we know it to be difficult.
With hopes and dreams meticulously gleaned—and eventually dashed—by promises that could never be kept, Stephen fell prey to those who offered false hope, to those who told him the uncertainty of a life beyond was more important than living—to the fullest—in the moment one finds himself. And yet he managed to carve an identity, admittedly imperceptible to some, but plain to those of us who truly loved him and did our best to emotionally care for him. It was an identity rife with intelligence, armed to the teeth with potential, spiced with a deliciously caustic sense of humor, and weathered by immeasurable pain. This was hardly an empty life.
Stephen's memory will always provoke in me a kind of bifocal appreciation. On the one hand, he failed at the practical and the temporal; on the other hand, he seemed to succeed at the ethereal. He was at his best when immersed in the sublime. Very impractical, yet ever so engaging—ever so alive.
Some misunderstood you, Stephen; others strained to tolerate you; a few of us were lucky enough to get close to you. Believe me when I tell you: all of us—each in our own way—loved you immensely. Thank you for making it easy—all these many years—to find the joy.