If you haven’t been under a rock, then you probably know something about the media firestorm surrounding Chick-Fil-A restaurants. The mess started when, as part of an interview about Chick-Fil-A, President and COO Dan Cathy, when asked about his company’s support of traditional family values (and thus opposition to same-sex marriage laws), said they were “guilty as charged”. In turn, many supporters of marriage equality vowed to boycott Chick-Fil-A restaurants, the mayors of Boston and Chicago both threatened action against the chain (or engaged in political grandstanding, or both), and The Jim Henson Company, who had partnered with Chick-Fil-A in making toys for inclusion in kids’ meals, decided they would end any further partnerships with Chick-Fil-A.
So what does this have to do with me? First of all, my family likes Chick-Fil-A a lot. In the days when Chick-Fil-A restaurants were only in mall food courts in Tennessee, Kim would get excited when we’d drive through Georgia, because they had stand alone CFA locations, and we’d always have to stop and patronize at least one. Now that we have those locally, we eat there more than we should. I like that the owner of the Rivergate and Glenbrook locations (and maybe others) is a Vanderbilt fan. We like the food, and the employees are courteous.
We’ve been trying to reduce our fast food intake, and eating out in general (with varying degrees of success), so we haven’t eaten at Chick-Fil-A recently. I disagree with Chick-Fil-A’s stance on marriage equality, even though I’m a committed Christian (my stance on many issues differs with the standard evangelical Christian positions, but I won’t get into that here). Are we going to boycott? Probably not. It’s not that I don’t feel strongly about the issue. It’s just that my wife and daughter wouldn’t give Chick-Fil-A up completely even if I was willing to, and I’m not sure I am.
Still, as much as I disagree with CFA on this issue, I believe they have a right to express their viewpoint (or the viewpoint of their executives; I doubt everyone in the company feels the same way). I don’t believe the governments of Boston or Chicago, or any other American city, should be able to keep them from opening restaurants based on their political stance. If people don’t want to eat there or other companies don’t want to partner with Chick-Fil-A, well, that’s the cost of exercising your free speech. And if the story ended there, I probably wouldn’t have felt moved to write about this.
But the story didn’t end there. Soon after the Muppets announced that they were parting ways with Chick-Fil-A, the restaurant announced that they were recalling the current Henson-produced toys due to a supposed safety issue (this article is a good summary of what has happened since, though the article is not completely neutral). Certainly it is possible that the recall had nothing at all to do with Henson Company’s decision to “boycott” Chick-Fil-A. And it’s more realistically possible that the fake accounts defending CFA were created by supporters who are unaffiliated with the restaurant chain.
Still, I don’t believe all of the spin coming from Chick-Fil-A about their decision to recall the now infamous puppet toys. In fact, to me this is a bigger deal than the original controversy. Why? Because Dan Cathy, in the original article referenced above, states that Chick-Fil-A’s corporate ethos is “based on biblical principles.” While Christians may disagree as to what the biblical response is to homosexual persons; what most of us agree about is that, in all but extreme, exceptional cases, it is wrong to lie. I think that’s even in some list Christians make a big deal about.
To people who aren’t Christians (and even some of us who are), it appears that, while CFA believes that civil marriage should be held to biblical principles (or their interpretation of them), when it comes to their own behavior, they appear not to even meet the basic biblical standard. That’s hypocrisy. Now, I will concede that it is possible (if highly unlikely) that CFA is telling the truth regarding the recall. If so, they need to do some serious p.r. work to convince the public of that. When you claim to operate by biblical principles, you set high standards for yourself.
It’s nearly 2am on a Sunday, and I’m listening to Coldplay, from the album X & Y. A significant sign, to be sure, but whether it’s good or bad, I don’t know.
I really like Coldplay. Oftentimes their lyrics leave something to be desired, but musically I find them compelling. Many of their songs reach me on a deeply emotional level, which is what I want from music, really. And that’s definitely what I want right now. And while my writing is much too inadequate to do justice to my emotions, especially right now, I have to try.
Coldplay released X & Y in June of 2005. I bought it pretty soon after it was released. I was still a student at Vanderbilt and was doing a summer internship at my former church’s counseling center. These seem like fairly random details right now, even to me, but they aren’t. My clearest memory of that summer was on June 22. It was a Wednesday, and I was preparing for children’s group session, though I can’t remember why were doing that on a Wednesday (church night).
My cell phone rings, and I step out into the hallway to take the call. It’s Dad. He tells me he has bad news, or something like that, some kind of warning that I need to prepare myself. He tells me that my uncle Kevin has died. He has to tell me over the phone because he’s at work, and he can’t get home to Mom in any reasonable amount of time. He knows that I, like he, have an uncanny ability to focus at times like this, and that while Mom will be far too upset to drive to the condo that Kevin shares with my grandmother, I can get her there, and I’m close enough that I can be at their house in ten minutes. And I am.
How can I describe my relationship with my uncle Kevin? I think that, at that point, ours was the best relationship he had in the family. He was living with my grandmother, in an enmeshment of the mother-son bond that wasn’t healthy for either of them, but was absolutely necessary for both of them. Her life would be almost completely unhappy until she also left us three years later. His relationship with his sister, my Mom, was loving but difficult, doubly so with Dad, though that’s not my story to tell. Kevin loved my brother and sister dearly, but he wasn’t an easy person to get along with, so there was distance there. Again, not my place to characterize, anyway.
Then there was me. Of course, I sit here now, cursing myself for not making more time, for ducking his calls when I was too busy, or at least being glad that he didn’t like to talk to me on the phone for a long time when I did take his calls. And most of the time I did. I was the one he reached out to. From the time I was in high school, we would hang out, and I was the one he confided in, at least in the family. And it was a two-way street. Granted, our relationship was complicated, as was any relationship with him; Kevin wasn’t above using people, and I was patient and tolerant, and not above being used, I suppose. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think I suffer from any nostalgic delusions about how great it was then.
The thing that stands out to me about Kevin is that he was maybe the only person in my life that accepted me unconditionally. That sounds bad, and I need to clarify: there are many people in my family and in my life who love me unconditionally. Both of my parents do; I have no doubt of that. So does my wife. And there are others whom I will not enumerate, because to do so would be to slight others I would leave out; suffice it to say that I am ridiculously, embarrassingly wealthy when it comes to the category of people who love me unconditionally, and I only hope that I can say that it is returned. Kevin was one of those, to the extent that he could love, but it went beyond that. No matter what I did, he always accepted me on my terms (whenever he was capable of accepting anyone; he was a complicated man). Maybe acceptance isn’t even the right word; it’s something like acceptance and approval, but neither word is sufficient on its own, and my vocabulary is inadequate to express my emotions. It won’t be the last time, I’m sure.
I guess what I mean is that Kevin didn’t judge me. Whatever I did in my life, he could tell me that he did something stupider, or meaner, or less legal. Kevin had a gift of putting things into perspective when things were tough. In counseling, we are trained to have “unconditional positive regard” for our clients, meaning that we are very reluctant to judge, and that we are always on the client’s side. In order to do that effectively, we are prohibited from having any relationship with the client outside of the therapeutic bond. It’s simply too hard to be always accepting, never (or rarely) judging, and always encouraging with someone that you are in relationship with. You’re too invested, and your own emotional well-being is at stake. But with Kevin, when his demons weren’t raging too far beyond his control, he could be that with me as much as I can imagine someone being. I’m sure that, if I came to see him confessing that I had just committed murder, he would have told me to pull up a seat and tell him why that person needed killing. It’s not healthy to get that level of acceptance/approval from most people in your life, but it is nice to have an uncle Kevin in your corner.
So I pick up Mom and go to Nannie & Kevin’s place. I won’t go over the details too closely, because that’s not the point of why I bring this up. I do visit his bedroom, and at first don’t see him; somewhere there is this irrational hope that this has all been a mistake, an almost tangible manifestation of that denial that is the first stage of grief. But he’s there. I have a few moments with him before the ambulance and the chaplain arrive, and I don’t think to bring my prayer book with me and pray with him. Later, as they are wheeling his body out of the condo, the chaplain lets Seth and me pray over the body, but when they first arrive, I am no longer allowed in Kevin’s bedroom, in case there is any question about the manner of his death.
So what does all of this have to do with Coldplay? That album got me through that week. I don’t grieve well or effectively; I brood. I’m still trying to work through some of this grief now, almost seven years later. But listening to X & Y helped me feel, helped me process. “Fix You” and “Talk” were particularly helpful songs. There is a good deal of organ sound in the keyboards in this album; maybe that resonated. “Fix You” seems to have been written , at least in part, around Gwyneth Paltrow’s father’s death; and as much as I tried to help Kevin with his inner demons in life, it had extra meaning to me.
So why am I listening to this at now well past 3am on a Sunday, when I’m due to be in church in six hours? My dad’s father is dying. I’ve known this for a while now. He is about to be 84 years old. He has Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer. He has lived a long, full life. He has seen six great-grandchildren come along, and he will probably still be with us when the seventh arrives in May. I hope he will be with us enough to realize it when his new great-grandson arrives. He has started to forget who his last two great-grandchildren are. He is my last remaining grandparent, and I am watching him slowly leave us. I’m grateful for the time we have right now, grateful that he remembers who I am, grateful that he remembers still who my daughter, his first great-grandchild, is. But I expect a day will come when he doesn’t remember.
I do think that my GrandPap loves me unconditionally. His approval, however, was a thing to be earned. Our relationship has been mostly positive, but fraught with misunderstanding and, on rare occasions, anger and frustration. But most of the time I have earned his acceptance and approval, and I’m a better person for having done so. For the last several years, especially since Grandma died in 2000, Pap has just been appreciative of time with family. If anything, the Alzheimer’s has increased that. I remember how relieved he was when I narrowly avoided dying in 2008, when I made it through the very same open-heart surgery that Grandma never woke up from. I don’t know that I ever saw him so moved as he was then, and I’m still humbled by it.
So now I watch the man that taught me how to drive have his keys taken away, for fear that he might not find his way back home. And I also see my own father slowly going through the process of losing his father, trying to shoulder it bravely, keeping a stiff upper lip, but the signs are there. And he will probably try to shield that from me, trying to take care of his family even as he is the one who needs to be taken care of; that is his way. There’s something uniquely profound about a man losing his father, no matter the quality of their relationship, as long as there is a relationship. I know this is difficult for my uncle Mark and my aunt Jann, no less than it is for Dad. But I see it in such stark focus with my Dad.
I don’t know exactly how this will play out. I don’t know how long we have, though I’m trying not to take any of it for granted. But there are days when it hits home for me more than others. There are nights when it’s quiet, and I’m alone, and I think about these things. I brood. I begin the work of grieving. And that’s why I’m listening to Coldplay right now with tears running down my cheeks. And I don’t think sleep is coming to me soon.
The fact that I haven’t blogged in nearly two months belies what I said I was going to do in that blog post, i.e. blogging on a regular basis. It probably doesn’t matter, as I don’t think anyone is waiting with bated breath to read what I have to say, but I still intend to do better. So here are some random thoughts, which seem to be easier for me than trying to pick a topic and stay with it. Think of this as a collection of tweets. This may become a regular feature of this blog.
- I hate the word “impactful.” (I actually tweeted about this, so this is redundant for anyone who follows me on Twitter.) Surely this isn’t a real word, right? At the rate it’s being used, though, it will be, and it’s a terrible word. We already use “impact” too often (IMHO) when we mean “effect,” which drives my editor wife crazy. “Impactful” is just atrocious. And yes, I am a complete nerd.
- I was watching CNN Headline News yesterday, and the story of “Father Oprah” Alberto Cutié being received into the Episcopal Church. The anchor said that Father Cutié joined the “Episcopalian Church.” I am an Episcopalian, and I am also more than a bit of a grammar nerd. So it drives me crazy when people, especially in the news media (where presumably one has an editor), incorrectly use “Episcopal” and “Episcopalian.” Episcopal is an adjective, and Episcopalian is a noun. Therefore I am an Episcopalian, who goes to an Episcopal Church, with an Episcopal priest. It’s a little thing, I know. Perhaps I’m really just irritated that the Episcopal Church is not relevant enough for most people to know the difference.
Also, I will probably have more to say about Father Cutié as the story progresses. Suffice it to say that, as several friends of mine have recently left the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church, it’s nice to see someone swimming the Tiber in the opposite direction.
So I’ve decided to start blogging again. I say again because I started blogging about three years ago, and it lasted for about two months and five posts. I think. I’m actually trying to resist the urge to go look.
Anyway, it’s late and, when everyone else in the house is asleep, blogging just seems like a good idea. Or it seems like it will be a good idea at some point. That point being when I actually have something interesting to say and am less conscious of myself and my writing.
As for the title of the blog, “The Bood Abides,” well, my parents used to (and still do occasionally) call me “Bood.” That’s because the called me “Boo Boo Bear” when I was really little, and decided at some point that I might prefer something a little more grown-up sounding. Luckily for me they didn’t wait until I was 17 before making that determination. Anyway, if you don’t get the “Abides” part, well, I’m not going to help you with that.