A Not #MeToo Girl in A #MeToo World

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I’ve never been sexually harassed.

When I go on the Internet (which is a lot) I feel like a unicorn. I don’t have a story. I couldn’t tell you a time I felt uncomfortable by the sexual advances of a man. I have felt uncomfortable by people, but not for sexual reasons.

I don’t have a story.

Do I?

Is my narrative important even though it doesn’t involve a #MeToo? Maybe it’s because I’m fresh out of college and haven’t entered the “work force” proper. Is that why? Am I just luckily surrounded by decent men? Do I not play in the same sphere as these power-hungry men who seem to be prowling every corner of the earth?

I don’t know if I will ever be able to come to a definite answer other than – I am not #MeToo. I’ve never been asked to do something sexual in return for something else. I’ve never been propositioned, or coerced, or grabbed. During the height of #MeToo, the closest I could come to #MeToo was a customer at a coffee shop I used to work at telling the female workers to smile, or he wouldn’t give us a tip.

I wouldn’t call that sexual harrassment. I would call that rude. You bet I gave him the most fake, saccharine smile I could every day because that’s customer service and I do that for everyone.

The second closest I could come to #MeToo was being cat-called in Germany while on a choral tour. The men were obviously drunk and several hundred yards away from us as we crossed the street in our formal concert dresses. It was scary, but I was with a group of men and women. I just kind of brushed it off. They were drunk and they were idiots (probably.)

So. I’m not #MeToo. Is my voice still important? Honestly, I don’t know. Because I don’t know what it feels like. Am I privileged for not being #MeToo? Possibly. Once again, it’s strange to be a not-#MeToo girl in a #MeToo world. I watch woman after woman come forward about man after man and I can’t raise my hand and say “me too.” There’s no way for me to relate to her, or her to me. We may as well be from different countries, it seems.

I am well aware that there are still things I can “do.” I can still speak up for women who have gone through these things. There are people in my life who have had these things happen to them. I could speak up for them…but they’re already speaking up for themselves, so how would I help?

But, if I may be so bold…are we glorifying victimhood? Are we inadvertently making it “cool” to be a victim of sexual harrassment? Are we only putting relevance on those that have a story?

I am not #MeToo, but I’m not ashamed to not be #MeToo. I wouldn’t classify myself as a Feminist as the world defines that term. I don’t owe my worth to that moniker. I don’t find my worth in a #MeToo statement or even a not #MeToo statement. I find my worth within myself and within Christ. (Yes, I’m going to get preachy.) Men and women, bad men and good men, #MeToo and not #MeToo are equal in the eyes of Christ. Equally lovable, equally redeemable. Equally sinful, but equally loved.

I have every confidence that our society is redeemable. And ladies: it’s ok if you don’t want to be seen as a victim. #MeToo does not define your worth or lack thereof. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about all of the recent sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men. Which ones are real, and which ones aren’t? Are they all one or the other? Are only men capable of sexual misconduct? It seems difficult to differentiate fact from fiction when anyone can say anything.

So honestly, I don’t know what else to say other than what I’ve already said. Ok, maybe just one thing: let’s not make this about revenge. Let’s make this about becoming better. Better together.

Remember who you are and Whose you are, first and foremost. Whether you are #MeToo or not #MeToo, be strong, but be kind. Try to understand as best you can. If you are blessed enough to be a parent now or someday, raise your sons to be respectable and raise your daughters to be strong.

And while you’re at it, be strong and respectable yourself. You deserve it.

a. w.

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Writer’s Envy, Or, an Inch of Influence.

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In recent weeks I’ve had more time to read. I used to be an avid reader, especially of the classics, but college will do things to you. After reading a social science textbook for three hours straight, trying to make sense of abstract concepts and miles of charts…sitting down and reading a book afterward isn’t very appealing. The number of books I read for fun as an undergrad is probably in the single digits, and for some reason nonfiction was more interesting to me in the midst of my studies (I guess it made it easier to code-switch when it came to reading textbooks.)

But a few weeks ago I dove into a fantastic book – No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien. Yes, he’s related to who you think he is. His writing takes a definite cue from that of his grandfather, but with a unique modern voice. As a fictional look into the events leading to the first World War, Tolkien is able to write about the subject with a knowing omniscience that his characters are oblivious to, especially after having a grandfather who served in that war.

Something I enjoy doing as a reader and a writer is (I don’t know if this is out-of-the-ordinary or not?) is to imagine the writer’s life as I’m reading. Try to pinpoint certain scenes or characters that possibly hinge on the author’s own experiences. Does this author fix on atheism vs. theism because he was raised by a believing and non-believing parent? Is the romantic interest based on a spouse or lover? Why did they choose these specific names? When writers read, they’re almost always reading as if the book were an autobiography. They see layers; not just the characters, but the one who created them.

For me, another thought that comes into my head while I read is: How can I write like this?

Or, better yet – how the heck am I supposed to compete with this? 

I call it Writer’s Envy. An easy enough term, and a phenomena that’s easy enough to diagnose. If you read something and wish you could write like that, that’s Writer’s Envy. Even if you’re not a “writer” (everyone’s a writer in some capacity, but not everyone enjoys writing,) you’ve probably experienced Writer’s Envy.

In recent weeks I’ve also had more time to write. Before now, the last time I truly sat down and hammered out some writing for my novel (when I say novel, I basically mean eight-year passion project that keeps me busy when I’m bored) was last August. Awhile ago. I often feel guilty about how little I write, even though I call myself a writer.

“Why am writing when they write so much better than me?” Unfortunately, this thought goes through my head often. It’s not always when I’m reading novels. I’ll read blog posts and wonder how could get that many followers, or comments, or likes. How do I get there? (Sometimes that has a lot more to do with optimization than writing, but that’s an entirely different blog post altogether.)

Whoever you are, whatever you do, this thought has probably crossed your mind before. “Why are they better than me? Why can’t I be that good?” Sometimes it seems like someone gets good at something overnight when you’ve been struggling for years to hone your craft and make people notice. And that doesn’t seem fair! (Because it’s not. Didn’t you listen to the grandpa in The Princess Bride?)

When you hit these walls, it’s easy to stop. I won’t even say “give up,” because that sounds like you’re pity-partying yourself, and that’s not always the case. You just stop, because you feel like you’re getting nowhere and your time might be better spent doing something else. Sometimes you just stop. Because it feels useless.

Fun fact: I’ve stopped writing this blog post three times. It has taken me almost a week to write this. Because I sit down to write, and I don’t feel like I have anything useful to say. Why would I write something that’s already been written before?

I’m glad I haven’t stopped though. I wrote voraciously in middle school. Then high school happened and I didn’t write as voraciously, because I had actual homework that took up actual time. Then life happened and I had other things that took up actual time (like a degree.) Now that life isn’t as busy and is a bit more predictable…I’m not writing as voraciously as I did in middle school, even though I could.

I’m going to challenge you to do something I’m challenging myself to do this year: take time to do what you love, even if you feel like it’s not worth anything. Is my novel ever going to be in front of any other eyes other than my own, and my roommates’? Maybe not. Will it be the next Game of Thrones and become a TV show that gets put out so fast I can’t turn out novels fast enough and it ruins my narrative so I have to kill everyone in the story? More than probably not. Will I have a Wikipedia page with scholarly citations? Again, probably not.

But do I love writing? Yes. Do I love looking back on what I’ve written and get inspired to write more? Yes. Do I want to tell stories? Heck yes.

Even if I’m only given an inch of the world to influence, I want that inch to be fertile, to cultivate maybe one or two people to plant their own inch of influence. It will be worth it to someone, or something, or some time. And if all else fails, it will be worth it to you. 

So write on.

Life doesn’t discriminate
between the sinners and the saints
it takes and it takes and it takes and
we keep living anyway
we laugh and we cry and we break
and we make our mistakes
and if there’s a reason I’m still alive
when everyone who loves me has died
then I’m willing to wait for it.
I’m willing to wait for it.
Aaron Burr, Hamilton

a. w.

Anxiety & Depression: What It Isn’t

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When something happens to you, you react. That’s not a foreign concept to anyone. If you fall and skin your knee, you feel pain. If you lay out in the sun for too long, you burn. If you watch a funny movie, you laugh. You react.

But people react differently to things, whatever they happen to be. We all have that one friend who gets a cold and acts like the world is ending. Other people get the flu and act like nothing is wrong. Some people can’t walk after they skin their knee. Some people barely burn in the sun, or the burn goes away after 24 hours. Some people have no souls and don’t laugh while watching Zoolander (I’m not judging. Okay. I’m judging.)

There’s no one way to react to one thing. Depending on who you are, how you are, and a number of other things, your reaction will follow suit. A lot of reactions are involuntary – like a sunburn. Of course, you could control your exposure to the sun, but you can’t control what the sun does to you. That’s why you put on sunscreen to reduce any possible negative effect. And you’re usually not questioned as to why you put sunscreen on.

When you break your arm (or any bone,) people usually don’t want a complete medical explanation of where and why and how. “Was it your ulna? Is there nerve damage? Was it a compound fracture, a hairline break?” Sometimes you provide these details to them anyway, but no one needs to know the details to know that you broke your arm. They see the sling. They don’t tell you to take it out of the sling or the cast to show them. That would be potentially damaging to your arm.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was sixteen years old. Not just “anxiety and depression,” but a type of it. It brought me some pretty dark days. Simple things – disagreements, arguments, disappointments – would set me off for days. I would cry myself to sleep repeatedly and find no joy in anything. In a sense, I “overreacted” to everything. I started taking medication to help balance things out, and it helped. It didn’t cure me, but it helped balance out those highs and lows.

That anxiety made me lose almost twenty pounds in the course of four months simply because I was too depressed to eat. It made easy relationships difficult, simple decisions complex, and sleep a stranger. I was afraid of being alone in my own house because then I would be alone with my thoughts.

A counselor that I had at the time described it perfectly. Anxiety and depression is a cycle. Something triggers your anxiety, causing your brain to go into overdrive. But your brain (and your nervous system) can’t maintain that level of energy forever. It burns out leaving you feeling empty and pretty darn exhausted. After a cycle of these two extremes, you feel like a pretty useless human being. When you’re not up, you’re down, and when you’re not down, you’re up. There’s no reliable in-between.

When I talk about my depression and anxiety troubles, I feel like I have to explain myself in order for people to understand. Compared to most people impacted by depression, I have it easy. Most of the time, my depression tends to be situational. I tend to overreact to things one way or another. And the problem is, once you’re so deep inside your head, it’s hard to get out.

My question is, why do we feel the need to explain ourselves when it comes to mental health? Most people don’t ask for the nitty-gritty specifics when you break a bone, or even when you have a headache. You just have a headache, or have a broken bone. But can you just “have” depression? Some people ask why you’re depressed if there’s nothing wrong. Do they ask you why your bone is broken? I mean, all you did was fall. Are you sure it’s broken?

We try to apply “logic” to depression that we don’t apply to any other health-related thing. If you simply stop thinking about your broken arm, it won’t be broken anymore. Or, if you’re a Christian, if you simply pray about it, go to God about it, it won’t be broken anymore. A sane person would say that’s not logical. But if you simply stop thinking about being depressed, you won’t be depressed anymore!…Right?

Well, no. That’s not really how it works.

“But, Audrey,” you might say, “Anxiety and depression are kind of new things. Thanks to the Internet and – ”

Well, yes and no. The Internet and social media has certainly perpetuated mental disorders, but there are millions of people who use social media and don’t succumb to clinical anxiety and depression. Some people already have the seed planted, and social media is simply the water or fertilizer that feeds it. Simply blaming rampant mental disorders on the Internet is a bit short-sighted.

I believe that depression is a disease. It’s treatable, but it’s very difficult to be “cured” of your depression. Just like any disease, you can take steps to making it better, like changing your lifestyle or seeking medical help, but for most people, it doesn’t just go away. It might get better for awhile, but then something significant happens – a big change, positive or negative, it doesn’t matter – and you feel like you’re right back where you started.

If you’re affected by this disease, I feel for you. It’s not a weakness. If anything, it’s a strength. Because most days you have to act like nothing is wrong. You have to smile even though you don’t feel like it. You might wake up feeling like you don’t want to get up and face the day – but you do anyway. Because that’s the person you’ve become. Someone who doesn’t let anything stand in their way.

Keep fighting, even when it gets hard. Because I promise you, it’s worth the fight.

a. w.

Satan has no power in Christmas Carols.

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There are a lot of cushy Christmas carols. And for good reason. Who doesn’t want to hear about cute baby Jesus asleep and cooing in his manger? The perfect soundtrack for opening presents on a snowy morning. And what about Joy to the World? Fantastic. It’s a happy day, let’s be happy and sing happy songs.

Although Christmas is the season of light, I think sometimes in the midst of the cuteness of Christmas we lose sight of the real reason Jesus came – because we’re crappy people living in a pretty crappy world. Can you name the carols that these lyrics come from?

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Dawn in our darkness, and lend us thine aid. 

To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. 

O come, thou Rod of Jesse free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny. 

That’s straight up theology right there. Sometimes Christmas carols like to fudge things a little bit – pretty sure Jesus cried like most human babies, and we all know the three wise men didn’t actually visit him at his birth. (Also, it probably wasn’t a cold night, but Christmas! Snow!)

But these lyrics don’t pull any punches. They use real Scripture to drive home the “real meaning” of Christmas – and believe me, you’re not gonna find the “real meaning of Christmas” in a Hallmark movie (Love, Hope, Joy – cushy words that we don’t always know the exact meaning of.)

You’re going to find it in darkness. Because that’s where we all were before the birth of the Christ.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1-3

Christians don’t like to talk about Satan that much anymore. That’s kind of a polarizing name. “Oh really? You guys believe there’s this reddish-looking guy with hooves and horns sitting on your shoulder?” Satan has taken a backseat in most modern theology – why would we want to tell people they’re going to Hell to hang out with this horrible guy?

The truth is, Satan looks good to us. Why else would we sin all the time? He shows us ways that look like they lead to truth and light, but before we know it, we’re on a path of darkness. In Hebrew, a rough translation of satan is “accuser.” Satan may seem like our friend, but once Judgment day comes, he’ll make sure all of our sins are laid bare before God so we can go with him. I’m just being straight up with you. Satan does not have your best interests at heart.

Enter the Rod of Jesse. Before the birth of Christ, there was no mediator between God and His people. God was strict judgment – follow these rules and then you’ll be set free. But because He loves us and is jealous for our love, He sent us a sacrificial lamb that would put dark shadows to flight. That would stomp on the head of Satan.

Although Satan has no power, he’s still very real. And if we choose to, we can follow him willingly, whether we realize it or not. By leaving out the darkness of a pre-Christ world, we sanitize the message of Christmas. Jesus came because we are crappy. Jesus came because we deserve Hell. 

But that doesn’t have to frighten us. These carols also remind us that Satan does not hold claim on our souls any longer. A tiny baby changed that entire narrative. See, the theologically intense carols can live harmoniously with the cushy ones. We can rejoice because of that deep truth. Let’s balance both instead of one or the other.

We have just entered the season of Advent. Wait patiently on the Lord; He has not forgotten you. He has done what no god has ever done and sacrificed His own blood so that we can live with Him forever.

Bid all our sad divisions cease, and be Yourself our King of Peace. 

What’s So Funny About Virginity?

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It’s a typical Hollywood trope. Teenage boy goes on search of self, navigating the trials of high school and, before his senior year is out – getting laid. Usually with the help of his friends. Antics ensue, sometimes involving hookers or porn, often involving alcohol and that one hot girl in his class. By the end of the movie, he’s transformed from a dorky, invisible boy to a full-fledged man. All because he “did the deed.”

At the risk of sounding like a Puritan, teenage, pre-marital sex is the norm in pop culture and in society in general. It’s cool to have popped the cherry, and it’s almost a competition to see how young you can get it done. Granted, this post isn’t going to be just me wailing about how all teenagers are degenerate now, throwing around their bodies to whomever will take it, but I’d just like to get that fact out of the way: when you’re a teenager, it’s not really cool to be a virgin. It’s certainly not cool to be a virgin in your 20s – and if you listen at all to pop culture, it’s really not normal either. I mean, seriously – when was the last time you watched a sitcom or network drama and two unmarried twenty-somethings didn’t have sex?

Somewhere along the line, the whole idea of virginity became funny. In movies, virgins are shown as the socially inept and often naive counterparts of their cooler buddies – usually the same buddies who are trying to get him (or her) laid. Take The 40-Year-Old Virgin for example. Just the title alone. The title is supposed to be surprising – he’s in the middle of his life and he’s never had sex? Gasp. He’s depicted as the most wholesome human you could possibly meet – including playing with dolls and, according to an IMDb synopsis, “doesn’t even watch porn or masturbate.” The audacity. While there are layers to the story, the main point of the film is that the main character is socially inept because he’s a virgin. And that’s hilarious. Once he reveals to his work friends that he’s a virgin, they immediately go on a quest to try to “fix” that, like virginity is a problem that needs to be solved.

Because you’ve never really lived until you’ve had sex, right?

I could go on with a plethora of other movies about the rite of passage that is being “deflowered.” American Pie (the ultimate buddies-get-laid comedy), The Virginity Hit, and Cruel Intentions (not necessarily a “funny” example, but one that has a little bit different implications.) A few years ago, a documentary called How to Lose Your Virginity examines virginity as a societal (and patriarchal) concept meant to supress your sexuality. The organization behind the documentary even gives out “V-Cards” to schools and organizations, which acts as sort of a punch card for every time you have a different sexual experience.

While there are patriarchal implications to virginity (a lot of times women feel more pressured to be virgins, and men feel more pressure to conquest), I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. By dismissing it as a societal construct, we dismiss some people’s deeply-rooted personal beliefs and values. Do not read “rigid moral code” here. I’m not talking Virgin Suicides.

I’ll put it this way: we all know stereotyping is wrong, right? Stereotyping racial groups, sexual orientations, and social classes is frowned upon in media. So stereotyping a virgin as being socially inept, sexually naive, and irrevocably awkward doesn’t seem very tasteful.

“Okay, Audrey, calm down,” interrupts the Internet. “Don’t you believe in expression? Why are you advocating for people to supress their sexuality? Virginity is funny because it’s such a ridiculous concept in this day and age.”

It might be for some, but for others, it’s a choice they’ve consciously made, and it’s a moral code they’ve stuck by (I know “morals” don’t really hold much weight in this day and age, but I’m going to use it anyway.) In other words, I don’t care what people do. I’m not going to tell you how to live, but I am going to tell you that some people live differently than you, and it doesn’t make them awkward or laughable. While sex isn’t such a taboo topic anymore, virginity is. People get uncomfortable (or even apologize) when they find out someone is a virgin. People think it’s weird when a boyfriend and a girlfriend haven’t had sex yet. That’s just kind of how things are nowadays, and I understand that.

My hope is that we can change the conversation about sex, especially as Christians. It’s not suppression to be a virgin. It’s not naive to be a virgin. It’s not wrong to choose to be a virgin. It’s also wrong to shame Christians who have lost their virginity. All things, even virginity, are redeemable through Christ.

I live as a virgin because I am called as a Christian to honor God in all things, including my body. I don’t always adhere to that calling. Sometimes I eat way too much nasty food or abuse my body so that I get sick. Your life is about more than just sex. Your sexuality should never define who you are. It should also not define how you see other people.

For now, I’m done spouting off one-sidedly about this. But let’s keep the conversation going.

a. w.

The Freezer: A Folktale of Suburbia

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There’s literally nothing to talk about. It gave him anxiety. Is this all suburban life is?

He didn’t know why he decided to move there. Maybe it was because he wanted to prove something, prove he wasn’t a washed-out college partier or deadbeat postgrad, prove he didn’t need his parents’ money, or even their hometown. Maybe that’s why he moved into the suburbs, 26 and single.

It wasn’t the swankiest suburb he’d ever seen – no ridiculous rules about shrubbery or garden parties every Thursday night – but it was far beyond his studio apartment in the city. It was quiet. A few cul-de-sacs, a few barking dogs in the evening, a few neighborhood kids playing in the safety of their street. The city was ten miles away, a mere skyline decoration. This suburb stood between the downtown commuters and the country-club members on the south side, making it look dull in comparison. Maybe the white picket fence had chipped paint, but it was still the American dream.

When he first pulled into his driveway after his first day at the office (in an Impala, not a Lexus, which seemed to be the preferred car of his neighbors), he walked into his stranger of a house and expected to have 2.5 kids and a mid-century housewife to greet him at the door. But his only greeting was a silent stare from the stack of cardboard boxes he hadn’t unpacked yet. I should get a dog, he thought, throwing his computer bag over the arm of the couch.

He thought about dinner on his way out to the mailbox. His refrigerator boasted a box of cold pizza from move-in day and a carton of eggs. Pizza omelette, he thought, amused at his own dry wit. Well crap, I’m becoming boring already. The neighborhood was quiet. He heard the growl of a school bus a few streets down.

He looked up from his mailbox and realized his neighbor was outside. Waxing his Lexus. He was an older man, probably close to retirement, with disappearing gray hair and a friendly-looking face. His stomach hung slightly over his belted khakis in true suburbanite fashion.

He looked up again after snatching the solitary bill in his mailbox to see the neighbor looking back at him. He flashed a half-hearted smile and made his way up the driveway. He glanced again and saw the man still staring at him with a toothy grin. His blood pressure rose a little bit. What was there to stare at? He wasn’t much to look at – a little bit tall, a little bit of a neglected five o’clock shadow, crumpled green gingham. He smiled feebly again.

“Hello,” he murmured loud enough for the man to hear.

The man took the invitation to speak. “You snuck in here,” he said, his voice loud and jovial. “Didn’t even see any moving vans.”

“I didn’t have much to move,” he replied. He made to his front door but the neighbor kept talking. “Came from the city.”

“I’m Jay,” said Jay, evidently. “It’ll be good to have a neighbor again. Been awhile since the other one moved out.”

“Colin,” said Colin. “It was a great asking price, and I wanted to move out of the city.”

Jay was a man who smiled a lot, it seemed. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Colin. Good to see young folks back in this neighborhood. Seems like they all up and leave once they’re grown up.” He threw his polishing cloth over his shoulder and sauntered across the grass toward Colin. “If there’s ever a thing you need, just give us a knock. Even if it’s just for a, y’know, a cup of flour or somethin’.” Jay chuckled and Colin forced a laugh.

People still do that? Colin shook Jay’s hand. “Thank you, sir.” Why did I just call him “sir?”

Every day since, Colin would come home and Jay would be there, waxing his Lexus. Jay was not a shy man. One afternoon, Colin somehow found himself giving Jay a tour of his modest two-story. Not long after, Colin came home to find Jay mowing his lawn for him. Jay merely waved and continued on as Colin retreated inside.

As September waned on, Colin got a knock on his door one Friday afternoon. No sooner had he opened the door than Jay sailed in and plopped some items on his kitchen counter.

“Lucy makes the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever had,” he said, pushing a Pyrex dish across the formica toward Colin. “She cut these for you, too. You should be honored; she doesn’t cut her flowers for just anyone.”

Next to the dish of cookies was a vase of brilliant red roses. They almost looked like they came out of a Technicolor movie.

“Say, it’s a bit short notice, but how ‘bout you mosey on over for dinner tonight? Lucy’s whipping up some meatloaf, and I’ve got a bottle of brandy I’ve been dying to open. I’d love to share it with some company.”

“Mosey.” How quaint. He thought about pizza omelettes, and then said, “Sure.”

“How’s about six?”

“Sounds great.”

Jay sailed out of Colin’s house, and Colin thought about his first few weeks as a suburban neighbor. Jay seemed like a nice enough guy, and what’s wrong with making friends with the neighbors? What do I wear to an impromptu dinner party? This wasn’t the country-club south end, so he didn’t have to worry about running out and buying boat shorts. But he didn’t want to show up in his musty work clothes, either. He found a pair of cargo shorts in a yet-unpacked box and a not-too-wrinkled polo from another. The five o’clock shadow would have to do.

 

“Come on in!” said Jay as he opened the door. A cat darted like an orange flash from the house and between Colin’s legs. “Don’t worry about him. He prefers being outdoors. ‘Specially when the missus is cooking.”

“You have a very nice home,” said Colin, because he felt obligated to say something about it.

“Thanks!” Jay spoke loudly even when he was inside. “Bought it in ‘89 when they were still building this neighborhood up. We were newlyweds, wanted to settle down in a nice burg. Seems like we found it, ‘cause we’re still here! Let’s go out to the patio. It’s a nice evening.”

Colin never knew he would envy someone’s lawn until he saw Jay’s backyard. It was the definition of immaculate. An oak tree stood at the far left corner, trimmed perfectly so that the boughs didn’t hang down too low or dangle into Colin’s own pitiful yard. Around it was a large bed of various flowers, not a color or petal out of place. In the center was a firepit with two matching chairs, and the first birdbath that Colin had ever seen that wasn’t covered in algae. It was guarded by a – of course – white picket fence.

“Do you have any tips for greening up a lawn?” Colin figured this was what neighbors talked about.

“Good soil.” Jay winked at him. Colin was confused, but he played along, assuming it was another suburbanite code he hadn’t gotten used to yet. As he scanned the yard, he noticed a brown patch adjacent to the flower bed. Jay must have seen his eye land on it.

“The missus is putting in another rose bush. The lady loves roses. Our last neighbor did too. Had to dig up a plot for them. It’ll look nice again soon. I hate having bare patches in the lawn.”

The screen slider opened behind them and Mrs. Jay came out with a pan in her oven-mitted hands. She was a short and somewhat dumpy woman with short brown hair, and a face as red and jovial as her husband’s. They could have been fairytale characters, thought Colin, they were so saccharine sweet. She smiled up at Colin when she saw him.

“You must be the new neighbor!” Her voice had the same lilt that every kind neighbor had. She set down the pan on the table and released her hands from the oven mitts. Colin went in for a modest handshake, but she grabbed his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.

“Luce, don’t scare him away!” Jay laughed.

Lucy’s laugh was loud and long. “Oh, stop,” she said. “Weren’t you going to get that brandy out?”

“Ope! That’s right.” Jay disappeared into the house.

“Have a seat, Colin,” said Lucy, gesturing to a chair around the glass table. “I’m afraid it’s only leftovers tonight. If Jay had told me sooner – ”

“I’m as surprised as you are.” Colin forced a small laugh. There’s literally nothing to talk about. It gave him anxiety. Is this all suburban life is?

“Well, I hope you like meatloaf. It’s my specialty.” She looked sideways at him. “I’ll have you know our last neighbor gained five pounds before he moved out. My cooking’ll do that. But you can afford it, you’re so skinny.” She plopped down in the seat next to him. “Do you like my flowers?”

“Yes, ma’am. They’re wonderful.” Colin was glad she was a conversationalist, because he couldn’t think of anything beyond “You have a very lovely home.” I’ll have to practice my midwestern drollness, he thought.

“What are your favorite flowers?”

Colin paused, slightly taken aback by the question. She looked at him with dollar coin-sized eyes.

“Uh…daisies?”

“That’s just lovely.” She couldn’t be real. Hallmark hired her. She was the quintessential neighbor lady.

He sighed inwardly when Jay came back with the brandy and tumblers. Jay poured Colin a stiff glass. “Let’s eat! Luce’s meatloaf is to die for. Even leftovers.”

Lucy cut into the loaf and gave Colin a heaping slice. “Dig in, kiddo.”

“She made this out of some frozen beef patties in the freezer downstairs. Can you believe it? The woman’s a genius.”

It was just meatloaf, but Colin didn’t argue. They were nice enough to invite him to share it.

“So what do you do for a living, Colin?”

“Working my way toward financial planning,” said Colin after a bite. “This is good.” he added. Lucy and Jay glanced at each other and smirked. How sweet.

 

Things seemed good there. So incredibly normal, Colin thought. The both of them were too quirky to be boring, but they were…normal.

Is this where I’ll be in thirty years? He thought, looking from the husband to the wife to the meatloaf. He took a long drink of brandy. Normal.

They talked. Tongues loosened with liquor, and Colin felt as though he’d known them for years. The sun went down and the solar lights glowed in the dreamy backyard. Lucy turned on the hanging lights above their heads and things felt as they should be. Colin was drowsy and at peace. Maybe this isn’t such a bad place after all. Nothing wrong with a little suburbia. If his college friends could see him, they’d call him a bourgeois sell-out. But his parents might be proud.

Jay and Lucy told him not to bother as they cleared away the dishes. Their voices wafted from the kitchen as plates were washed. Colin listened with half interest.

“You know, the freezer is running low downstairs,” said Lucy from the kitchen window.

“I know,” replied the voice of Jay beside her. “I’m on it, honey. I promise.”

Colin found himself looking at the time on his phone and yawning. He had an early morning coming. He stood up and said warm, slightly tipsy goodbyes to his hosts. They smiled warmly and clasped his hands.

“Let’s do this again sometime, son,” said Jay, leading the young man to the door. “We’d love to have you again.”

“Of course. You want me to close this behind me?” Colin stood halfway between the storm door and Jay.

“No, no, son. You’d be surprised how safe this neighborhood is. I haven’t locked my doors in twenty-five years. You’re as safe as a kitten around here.”

Colin smiled and walked out into the cricketed summer night. He didn’t lock his door when he entered the house.

 

October set in, and Jay and Lucy spent the last few warm evenings of the year on their patio. The evening was still bright. Lucy sipped wine, but Jay had only a glass of iced tea. They sat enjoying the company of one another. Finally Jay sighed, patted her hand, and said:

“How do you like your roses, Luce?”

Lucy smiled and her cheeks turned as red as the flowers. “They’re lovely.” Jay had planted the bush only a few days before, and the blooms were in their prime. Another bare spot now stood next to the bush, freshly dug.

“What would you like me to put there?” asked the ever-attentive husband.

Lucy thought for a second, then replied, “Daisies.” She paused. “He said he liked daisies. He had a good heart.”

“It was delicious, too.”

They heard a beep from inside the house. “Ope! The meatloaf,” Lucy scooted up to retrieve their supper. “You know, I’m really glad you stocked the freezer, hon. I was getting worried,” she called from inside the house.

“Me too, darling. I’m sure it won’t be long before another one comes along.”

Lucy came streaming out of the house with the fresh meatloaf. She was beaming down at it and gave it a strange little pat with her oven-mitted hand.

“Did you hear that, Colin? Someone will be moving into your house soon! You’ll just have to settle for the freezer. Dig in, Jay!”  

Classical Crash Course, conclusion: Requiem for a Requiem

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Dying is kind of a scary thing to think about. Whether or not you believe in something after death, it’s the fear of the unknown that causes discomfort when we come face-to-face with the reality. Although it is scary to think about sometimes, we have Hope that we might find eternal rest after our struggles here on earth.

Needless to say, the topic of death elicits a lot of emotions, from anxiety to terror to hope to peace. When someone we love dies, those emotions hit home and death becomes very real. That’s probably one of the reasons we memorialize the dead so much. We don’t want people to be forgotten simply because they’re gone. We build memorials, recite eulogies…and write songs. Sometimes they become popular – in fact, it’s not uncommon for people to memorialize people in this way. It’s also not such a new thing.

In Roman Catholic liturgy, the souls of the dead are remembered via a requiem mass. Requiems are highly structured, including Scripture readings, chants, and hymns, with the purpose of sending the deceased soul on its Heavenly journey. There are lots of parts to a requiem mass that might get kind of boring if I list them all out, so here are the important bits (at least, for our purposes):

Kyrie eleison (KEE-ree-eh eh-LAY-zohn) translates from Latin to “Lord, have mercy.” This is a prayer of supplication for the dead person’s soul.

Sequence. The sequence (or sequentia if you’re fancy and/or Latin) is like a liturgy inside of a liturgy. Some important parts of a Requiem sequentia are the Dies irae (DEE-ess EE-reh), which translates to “day of wrath,” evoking the coming Judgment day; and the Lacrimosa, which means “weeping.” This portion also alludes to the Day of Wrath, and how “full of tears will be that day.” (I’m pointing these two guys out because I’m gonna talk about them later.)

Sanctus. This part of the requiem praises God for his holiness (Sanctus translates to holy.)

Agnus Dei (AHN-yoos DEH-ee) is a supplication to the “Lamb of God,” who “takes away the sins of the world.”

In Paradisum sings of the glories of Heaven and that the beloved’s soul will be carried thence to its rest.

In a nutshell, that’s a Requiem. I’d encourage you to look further into the liturgy. It’s fascinating.

In this Classical Crash Course, I’ll actually be tackling four different composers who have each tackled the Requiem during a different musical period. The requiem is very popular among composers because composers like that kind of structure. The libretto for their vocalists is literally written out for them already. So A LOT of composers have written Requiems. I tried to look up a number, but no one knows for sure how many have been written.

At least makes for some really good music.

From Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem: Dies Irae, aka, “Prepare to get shook cuz y’all are going to Hell” 

Please tell me you’ve heard this piece before. It’s insanely popular. And it’s crazy. And it’s scary. You probably get why it’s called “day of wrath” now, don’t you? That hammering bass drum goes right to your bones. Verdi wrote his Requiem in 1874 after the death of a man he revered. Verdi wrote a lot of operas,  so don’t be surprised if this sounds too dramatic to be “church music.” Verdi was definitely a drama queen. Even though the Catholic church didn’t like women singing in the liturgy, Verdi swished his fur cape on his grand staircase and said “eff you. I’m gonna write this for sopranos anyway.” And good thing he did, because it’s fantastic. 

From Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor: Lacrimosa aka “Like if U Cry Everytime” 

If the first bit made you sad…prepare to get sadder, because like I said, lacrimosa literally means crying. Here’s the translation of the full Latin text:

Full of tears will be that day
When from the ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged;
Therefore spare him, O God,
Merciful Lord Jesus,
Grant them eternal rest. Amen.

It’s meant to scare you. It’s a call to action for all mortals to beg for mercy. Mozart, a staunch Roman Catholic himself, didn’t finish his masterpiece by the time of his death in 1791. He died of an undiagnosed illness at the age of 35 – proof that we all should be ready for that dies irae. 

But don’t worry. The Requiem isn’t all sad and gloomy. (Verdi’s might be an exception. If you listen to his Messa all the way through, you will still feel depressed at the end.) In fact, the point of the Requiem is to point us toward the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Which brings me to…

John Rutter’s Requiem: Agnus Dei aka “You’re a flower but not in a good way” 

I will admit, the beginning of this piece is spooky. It’s still meant to evoke a bit of fear and trembling in the midst of a mighty God – and to remind you “man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live” (special thanks to our boy Job for these uplifting words.) But after this chilling reminder, the hope that is the Lamb of God enters the scene. Then, Rutter sort of changes the rules and adds to the Requiem (his Requiem in general is pretty unconventional) by interjecting a musical quote associated with Easter, before the choir then quotes John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord.” (Bonus: Listen to Lux Aeterna if you want to go to musical heaven for six minutes. Then come back and finish reading.)

Interestingly enough, Rutter doesn’t consider himself a religious man. The incredible dynamism and heavy text of his piece would make me convert if I were a non-believer, not gonna lie. There’s so much to love about this Requiem, specifically the hope that is infused into the added text. Listen to the whole thing if you get the chance.

From Gabriel Faure’s Requiem in D Minor: In Paradisum aka “An apology to Mrs. Faure because I slept with my pianist” 

Faure’s Requiem is a bit different. It’s very gentle. Early critics called his work a “lullaby of death,” but according to him, that was kind of the point:

“Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.” 

Faure’s Requiem is not written to eulogize a specific person. I’m not sure if you can write a Requiem for funsies, but maybe he did. The finale of his Requiem, In Paradisum, sums up the work pretty well. It has almost a shimmering quality to it, with the string section providing a bed for straight-tone sopranos singing souls into Heaven. An interesting thing I learned about Faure as I researched this was that he had a way with the ladies. While he had a fairly good marriage, the boy also got around a bit. Many of his romantic relationships lasted decades and were often extramarital. He struck up many a liaison with many a pretty ingenue while married to his wife, who really didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

It’s interesting to me that most of this beautiful, sacred music came from people who are broken. If I’ve learned anything about composers in this series, it’s that many composers could not keep it in their PANTS. Yet they still wrote beautiful music. Beautiful religious music. Sacred music.

And I think that’s because music, like other art forms, rises beyond whoever creates it. Music has the power to transcend the darkness and brokenness of the human condition and point us toward something Greater. I don’t want to turn this into a sermon, but I think music can be one of many indicators that we were created and designed. Maybe not all the composers I’ve talked about knew this, but it’s pretty evident in the amazing things they created.

So here’s my challenge to you: let your gifts, your strengths, your talents rise above you. I wrote about ten old dead guys so you could see that you have as much potential as they did. You can create a masterpiece of your own and literally change the way people do things. You can’t see it now, but people hundreds of years from now might.

And who knows? Maybe someone will write a song about you.

Or even better, a blog series.

a. w.