April 28, 2009

Masks

Joe started an interesting conversation about walls over at his place. Don’t you love it when someone plants a fertile seed that grows on its own? He has me thinking about personal walls, or masks.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”   — Oscar Wilde



I cannot see through most of the masks that people present. I do not have the kind of perception that apparently most people have to see through a person’s fa├žade to the “real” person inside. It used to bother me, but those masks have a purpose: to protect oneself. I have come to accept people at face value—it is what they want from me anyway—and I find that doing so allows for trust to develop. Sometimes the trust is great enough that the mask slips away. I allow that the mask I see is just that, and in time I will be allowed to see through to the real person. Meanwhile I will accept you as you wish me to see you.

Conversely, I cannot wear much of a mask. I am pretty much unable to present myself as anything but who I am. That leaves me vulnerable, I suppose, to those slings and arrows of personal attack. But it is what it is. The same openness that makes me vulnerable also leaves me able to connect on a deeper level than if I were defensive. I acknowledge the risk inherent in that, but the reward easily outweighs the occasional penalty.

Wilde’s observation about masks evokes a different dynamic, that having the mask gives us the ability to tell the truth. Hiding behind a guise allows us to take risks that we would not if our true selves were transparent. Do you find that to be so? Putting on mask is so difficult for me that I cannot maintain it for more than a few minutes; it provides no respite at all. But it is clear that many rely on that distance that it gives to be able to handle difficult revelations. The mask is more than a sentinel, it is a persona. Having put aside the real self, the new self can take the risk.

We guard our hearts so carefully, no one more than I. When my father died, I put up a wall no one—including my husband—could trespass. No one would ever hurt me like that again. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to allow my patient husband in, to give him the power to burn me to the ground as my father had done. Abe knows the power he has, and he wields it gently. The reward for my trust is the finest love I’ve ever known. Having reached the moment of greatest vulnerability, I found that taking the risk yielded a great treasure.

Interesting armor, walls and masks. It is sad but understandable that we need them. They are taken down only slowly, as trust is earned or strength is gained. If you lack the tools of discernment, as I do, you can still take the chance of being hurt, knowing that it will happen sometimes. But the gift of connection is worth the occasional pain.

Photo courtesy of Serrator.

April 27, 2009

Boys And Their Toys

Keith Loutit in Australia has taken time-lapse photography to a whole new level. Using techniques that are a mystery to me, his videos turn everyday scenes into miniatures. This particular video makes monster trucks look like Tonka toys.


Metal Heart from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

More of his incredible videos here. Check out "Bathtub IV."

April 20, 2009

"I Don't Know"

Thoughts On Certainty And Control

The anniversary of my father’s death has come and gone once again. It has been 37 years since he committed suicide; he was fifty-five and I was eighteen.

Dad was an alcoholic and the gentlest man I’ve ever known. We’ve all tried to piece together the answer to the puzzle of his suicide, but no one knows why he did it. One of my sisters and I believe that it might have started on the beaches of Normandy. (Watch the opening sequence to “Saving Private Ryan” to see what he experienced.) But early on—and maybe still—each of us who loved him took on the burden of cause. If only...

But that kind of control isn’t possible. Control of anything but your own actions is an illusion. While I might have influence on other people, it happens only with their consent. What they ultimately choose to do is entirely out of my power.

Maybe Dad lost his battle with control. He could no longer bear whatever pain that alcohol could not erase. And his final act of control was suicide. It gave him the peace that escaped him for much of his adult life.

There is a kind of surrender that is not defeat but serenity. It is letting go of control, allowing events to unfold as they will and adapting to them. This means giving up the goal of certainty, described variously as absolute truth, conviction, knowledge, and reality.

We all want certainty. It is not a weakness so much as a hunger. “Knowing” reduces fear of the unknown, one of the greatest fears we have. But knowledge is a journey, not a destination. For the moment we settle on a conclusion or set of beliefs—“The Answer”—we stop moving, thinking, examining, assessing. Therein lies the problem with certainty: it provides us with a sense of security which leads to stagnation.

I think those who are most at peace don’t need certainty and control as much as others. They are open to change, new information, diversity, and conflicting points of view. (Don’t count me in this group yet. Too far to go.)

It’s taken me many years to accept that I will never know what haunted my father so much that he had to end his life. I cannot know because I have chosen life. I can finally say “I don’t know” and let it be. I can apply that kind of acceptance to the mystery of God and yet still seek knowledge, insight, and wisdom. It is quite freeing to understand that “I don’t know” is an answer in itself.

Apple or PC?

People who know me well know I'm all Apple all the time. When I sat down to buy my first computer, I studied all the reviews. The one that ultimately swung me to Apple read:

"It comes down to this: one is automatic and one uses a stick shift. They will both get you where you want to go. How easy do you want it to be?"

Being naturally lazy, Apple was the obvious choice. I've never regretted it. Don't roll your eyes at me. We Mac owners are known for our zeal. But today I was rewarded once again with the real reason I stick with Macs.

I burned out my Powerbook after five years of heavy use (well, that and dropping it twice). As usual, I went to the clearance section to buy a refurbished laptop. Except for my daughter's brand new MacBook Pro for school, I have always purchased refurbs and have always been happy with them.

But my new MBPro presented a buzzing sound a few hours into downloading all the software and upgrades. I took it to the store, where they said it would need a new fan. I only had it twenty-four hours! Fine, take it. I'll wait a few more days.

Today, Apple Inc. called me to tell me they wanted to keep my refurb and instead give me a brand new, better 15" MacBook Pro. Faster chip. More storage. Did I say brand new? Same price: $5oo less than retail. Woohooooo!


This is just the latest example of many years of consistently the finest customer service I have ever experienced anywhere. I say this as someone who worked in retail and knows what it means to be able to pull this off. I've worked with Apple on software issues over the phone with Americans whose native language is English. (Their customer service center is in Georgia—the state, not the region in Russia.) Their service reps named "Cindy" don't have to ask me if Smith is my first or last name, unlike any telecom company with whom I've dealt. If you have a software issue you can't figure out from their massive online database, an Apple "genius" at their store will take you through the steps, no matter how long it takes, for free.

Yeah, they cost more. You get what you pay for. And you get the best customer service money can't buy.

Hey! I got through this entire post without gloating about how Macs are impervious to all those viruses. Oh, wait.

April 18, 2009

Overheard: The Quick Stop Store

I didn't have enough cash for my small purchase, so I handed the kid at the counter my credit card. I spoke as I signed the slip.

Me: "You know, a lot of places don't make you sign for under twenty-five."

Kid: "Uh, company policy makes us ask for a signature even if you're over a hundred."

Me: (Blink, blink. Oh.) "I meant dollars, not years."

This may be why these places are held up.


P.S. If this works, it will be my first BlackBerry post.

April 16, 2009

The Sting

Today I saw a young man who believes he saw the face of death, and it was in the mirror. He doesn’t realize yet that a positive HIV result is not the quick death sentence that it used to be. But it will absolutely change his quality of life and shorten it. He looked about twenty years old.

His boyfriend paced just outside the entrance with a cigarette, waiting for his turn in the clinic. He looked at the floor when he walked by the desk at the AIDS support center. I didn’t see either of them leave, but my heart and prayers went with them. Life has changed irrevocably for them both.

If this doesn’t apply to you, it does apply to someone you know:

HIV is still out there, and it continues to spread at an alarming rate in both hetero- and homosexual communities. It comes down to this: don’t even ask a potential partner their sero status; just assume every time the answer is positive. The best answer they can give you is the result of the last test they had, and it may have changed since then. They may honestly not know. It is not worth the risk to trust the answer “No, I’m negative.”

Always, always, always use a condom. Always. And understand that there is still a possibility, however small, of transmission. (It isn't "safe" sex, it's "safer" sex.)

Just as is the case in all risky situations, you must measure risk vs. reward. Is there a balance? With HIV, there is no reward worth the risk of this disease. Someone you know knows someone with AIDS. It’s out there, and it’s still infecting people. It’s preventable. Don’t allow yourself or someone you know to get stung.


April 12, 2009

Hallelujah!

It is the end of Holy Week. Holy cow. Palm Sunday called for our department's greatest preparation with the palm parade and donkey, and now our church's second-busiest time of the year has come to a close.

It’s times like this that I’m a little envious of those whom I serve. They are given the moments to reflect, the atmosphere in which faith is examined and culminates in glorious worship. I had a small taste of it today as I awaited the end of the early service. I had to rush in and rope off five pews in front of the pulpit for our Church School volunteers before the crowd reached them. The second and third services are always packed. On Easter, our busiest Sunday of the year, we extend our gratitude to those volunteers with premium seating in the sanctuary and Starbucks and Krispy Kremes in the teachers’ workroom. Nothing but the best for our best.

To appreciate the rest of this post fully, click on "Handel's Messiah" at the top of the playlist in the right-hand column.

As I waited for the service to end, I heard the beginning strains of the traditional close to Easter service, Handel’s “Messiah.” The choir was supported by brass and percussion and our magnificent pipe organ. I opened the door just a crack to hear it better. Ohhh. The congregation had its back to me as they watched the choir sing from the loft in the rear of the sanctuary, so I stepped in to join them in their reverie. Oh my.

The choir stands under a huge rose window. Imagine hearing “Messiah” ring out, filling the space, while looking at this window in spiritual communion.


As we lifted our hearts in song and praise for God’s astonishing grace and love, my eyes grew misty, and I was pulled finally into a moment of unhurried and heartfelt community worship. I don’t pretend for a minute to understand all the mystery of God. I have so many questions and moments of weakness. But this instant of connection brought home again the absolute certainty I have in God’s love for all of us, each of us, unchanged and exactly as He made us to be. I am unsure of so many things, but this I know.

May you know that purest of love as I do on this glorious day.

April 4, 2009

Crash And Burn

Not me. My computer. My emergency backup laptop went wonky and suddenly displayed a screenful of vertical color stripes. Then nothing. The Apple genius "fixed" it, and while he was gloating it went dead. Off to the shop.

My original — and now current— Powerbook has a habit of shutting down randomly in several languages. Three techs have declared it a software issue, but having completely wiped the hard drive and reinstalled the OS, it was not cured. Until I get the other laptop back (or a new computer...hmmm), I am stuck with a computer that keeps shutting down and losing all memory of previous transactions.

This is my lengthy way of saying that I am having to rebuild my bookmarks from scratch. I can read most of my favorite blogs from my BlackBerry, but I can't comment. If you haven't heard from me recently, just know that I'm still reading! I hope this thing stays on long enough for me to po

Update: I'm having Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream.