A Love…

It’s possible to love someone or something so much that you forego concern for your own well-being and immerse yourself in concern for the well-being of another or others. You can do this solely from a feeling of love. This more than any other idea is the core of Catholic theology, for example, I would say: God loves people this much, and so did Jesus, and we can grow in this ability, too.

It’s an incredibly powerful idea. It’s interesting to imagine a world in which more and more people were captivated by it. There are mediating practical considerations that pertain. Yes, of course, and they matter.

But I think that world might be a better world overall.

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Love

I’m sitting here contemplating a few very lovely days, and I’m struck by the extent that love is simply opening one’s heart and withholding judgment (not discernment). When I think about how simple it is, it really seems true, and obvious, that our basic nature is love.

Something to Be Proud Of

I have really mixed feelings about the Fourth of July.

I lived in Belgium for several years growing up, and seeing America from the outside, and seeing how Americans often behaved abroad made a big impression on me.

I saw America as home, and I missed America continually, and I thought of America as a place of bright, great human achievement, but more than anything, I think, living abroad made clear to me that The American Way was not the epitome of every worthy human virtue the way we were raised to think when I was growing up. There are good, human things that other cultures do better than we do, and sometimes we are just ignorant, and childlike, and bullish compared to other cultures. Also, and significantly, until very recently, we’ve tended not to take a lot of time really learn too much about other cultures, and by not taking much care to know the other cultures in the human family, we also can’t really know ourselves.

In retrospect, the world in the second half of the twentieth century seems to have been like an older sibling striding around, followed by a gaggle smaller siblings, who engaged each other and admired the big sibling who had virtually no idea they little ones existed (that’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s apt in some ways, and pretty endearing. Then 2001, it culminated in monumentally tragic misunderstandings).

Anyway, in the 80s, I moved back to the U.S., and the feeling of distance I’d developed overseas persisted. It lingered, just a hint of interstice between me and ordinary patriotism, throughout my teens and twenties. Then, after 9/11, it exploded. I watched what seemed like virtually the entire country, confused, scared, and fiercely mobilized, march loudly and ravenously in directions I knew in my heart it shouldn’t go. By 2003, I retained my passport and my claim to being an American, and I remained in what had become “The Homeland,” but I internally had expatriated myself from the U.S. in a way from which I’ve never fully returned, and from which I might never. Since then, any number of changes have only added to a sense of separation from the mainstream.

So the Fourth for me is always, at best, bittersweet. I think about American ideals and patriotic pride, but all of the celebration seems essentially hollow to me. I am acutely reminded of what I feel has been distorted, tarnished and flat-out lost.

Today, though, I came across this absolutely beautiful talk, and it had me in tears. George Takei is holding up some of our highest values as a country: hard work, courage, innovation, the drive to do the impossible, and, also, understanding, compassion, wisdom, and forgiveness — by telling seldom-told stories about internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the brave acts of all-Japanese army units fighting in Europe.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

[My father] was the one who suffered the most under those conditions of imprisonment, and yet he understood American democracy. He told me that our democracy is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as a people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are. He told me that American democracy is vitally dependent on good people who cherish the ideals of our system, and actively engage in the process of making our democracy work.

He concludes,

Because of the heroes that I have, and the struggles that we’ve gone through, I can stand before you as a gay Japanese American — but even more than that, I am a proud American.

I am reminded what our elders have to offer. I am inspired, and I am reminded that the highest ways humans can live remain out there ahead of us always. Calling to us, always.

Thanks, George Takei.

Gifts

In my building, packages are delivered to the lobby and left sitting there, but when I get packages delivered, an old woman in my building often brings them downstairs and puts them in front of my door. She has caramel-colored skin and a wooly grey thatch of hair. She is small, has a bird’s bones, and a bright, neurotic smile, and her eyes are shrewd a just a little loopy. She smiles and laughs a lot. We speak briefly when we pass in the hall, and her side of the conversation often consists entirely of a cheerful, “Yes, yes,” or “Okay, okay.” She speaks what I think is Portugese fluently, so I’ve assumed she’s from Brazil.

She brings the packages to my door because she believes I did something that I didn’t do. She explained it to me once using three and four words at a time. From what I could understand, our building supervisor told her that I helped fish something out of the trash for her one time — which I would have, but I didn’t. She is extremely grateful, she told me, and that’s why she brings the packages. She was very insistent.

I’m honestly not sure that I could explain to her that I didn’t do whatever she thinks I did, and I don’t think I’m going to try to tell her. I’m not the least bit attached to the convenience of her gift to me, and right now I feel a little guilty for not telling her, but I feel like telling her would somehow spoil something.

In Whom the Force was Strong

This past Friday Topher Grace’s legendary one-film cut of the Star Wars prequels appeared online to be viewed and downloaded for a few hours before an inevitable copyright claim demanded its removal. I tried to get it, but the server was jammed. In the flurry of comment traffic that followed, I was able instead to get a copy of a 2-hour cut of the prequels by another fan, though.

One thing I noticed watching this fan’s edit (it’s called Star Wars: The Last Hope) was that it would have taken much, much more than a careful streamlining of the story to make these films work. There’s just too little that’s archetypal or deeply humanly interesting in them to make them work at any length. You just needed a different story. Personally, I think Heinrich von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas would have been a great model for Anakin’s arc. There are other good ideas out there. Most of the alternative ideas are better than what was actually written. Alas!

But another thing I notice is that these movies work in no small part because Ewan McGregor is so totally committed to his role as Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s more committed than any other actor in those movies. Hayden Christiansen, Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson are all doing an all right of job of it, and Liam Neeson is just like, “Hell, I’m Liam Neeson,” the whole time (which is, I believe, the core of his career, and, perhaps, not a bad thing to be experiencing from the inside). But Jimmy Smits is kind of looking sidelong at the whole thing. And, meanwhile, Ian McDiarmid is like, “Fuck it, I’m sixty, I’m getting paid a mint, and GL is the most hands-off director in the galaxy. I’m ‘onna do whatever the hell I want!”

Not Ewan McGregor, though. Every scene, he’s in it to the hilt emotionally. Every last stodgy line, he makes richly alive. And every single moment, he’s creating what Alex Guiness’s Obi Wan actually would have been like at that time. It’s actually pretty moving, all things considered.

I really honor him and feel a little bit badly for him. He threw his heart and soul into giving far and away the best performance in all of that work, and it amounted to a role in the prequels. Then he finds out that J. J. Abrams is making another series of movies. But he did the prequels.

My heart goes out to Ewan McGregor.