A few weeks ago I listened to Krista Tippett interview Natalie Bolz-Weber on her NPR show “On Being.” Bolz-Weber is a recovering addict and former stand-up comedian who is now a minister of a church she founded in Colorado.
I found her funny and spiritual; smart and real. On being a stand-up comic prior to being a minister she said:
“…comics see the reality from the underside, right? It’s like Dickinson. You know, ‘Tell the truth, but tell it slant.’ So I think that comics do that. They come to the truth from a different angle than most people, but people can still recognize that it’s the truth.”
Then, more recently, this video of Louis CK on why he won’t buy his kids smartphones went viral. I’m sure you’ve seen it already, but if you haven’t, take the 4 minutes and 51 seconds to watch. Louis CK isn’t really talking about smartphones. He’s talking about humanity and our need to do whatever we can to avoid any feeling that resembles sadness or fear, despite the fact that whatever follows that seemingly negative feeling is almost always exponentially better than the two-minute mini-high we achieve by checking out via the countless distractions available to us.
This sense of feeling alone and needing to counter that feeling that Louis CK communicated reminded me of David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, “This is Water.”
I started to say that the speech brims with brilliance and I thought that Wallace would probably hate that. It’s the genius of the speech that makes me dare to assume what Wallace would love or hate. In it, he is honest and poetic in offering elements of truth about the tedium of daily life while also challenging the listeners to make choices to see those experiences from a lens other than the default lens that we tend to use every day. Within the speech, Wallace says this:
“If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”
And then this:
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
Back to Natalie Bolz-Weber. Somewhere toward the end of her talk, she spoke about getting through difficult experiences and the importance of community:
“I don’t think faith is given in sufficient quantity to individuals necessarily. I think it’s given in sufficient quantity to communities. The same with that whole thing like God will not give you more than you can bear. I don’t think God will give you more than a community can bear. And we’ve individualized this thing of faith so much…”
The reverberations of these collected messages, like a great bell tolling within my brain, caused me to stop — not simply pause, but stop in my tracks and consider the nature of my default lens, the reflex to stave off discomfort and the pressure I place on myself to handle everything alone, reaching out to my community of support only when I’m in the greatest pain or, more likely, when I’ve “solved’ the problem and can report the positive result.
In a seeming paradox, the reality is that by revealing my own unsexy vulnerabilities to those closest to me, I don’t weaken those friendships, I strengthen them. And by allowing myself to fully feel discomfort, to drop into the messy reality of my humanity, I find peace.