Note from Timothy: As a child in the mormon religion, it was drilled into me that absent that faith, life would be meaningless. Again and again I was told that only the eternity of life, immortality, would imbue the existence of this life, my life, with importance. That only the hope of heaven could assuage the pain of death and loss. For many years, I accepted this notion, simply because everyone I knew and loved told me it was so.
Later, however, upon leaving my religion, I found a different formulation of value. I found that the lack of certainty in my own immortality gave increase to the value of each day, each new friend, and each new experience. I had found that my joy had been amplified.
As I look back upon that time, as I have fewer and fewer conversations with those who are still within the faith of my childhood, it strikes me that they have yet to allow themselves to mourn for the losses that have and will occur in their lives; and absent that mourning, they are unable to accept anew and fully the emergence of new beauty, new love, new truth. By refusing to let that which we love perish, we miss the opportunity to experience it as it is, in its true nature. And in this way, we lose the value of everything. Freud had found the same idea.
Not long ago I went on a summer walk through a smiling countryside in the company of a taciturn friend and of a young but already famous poet. The poet admired the beauty of the scene around us but felt no joy in it. He was disturbed by the thought that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty and splendour that men have created or may create. All that he would otherwise have loved and admired seemed to him to be shorn of its worth by the transience which was its doom.
As an overly romantic kid, I spent a good portion of my youth wearing bulbous headphones, analyzing the lyrical content of pop music. I once passed an entire family vacation listening to “Bennie and the Jets,” trying desperately to both memorize the lyrics and comprehend their meaning. The weird and the wonderful.
Religious leaders were scaring kids with stories of Satan-controlled rock stars and a nefarious tool called backmasking. Ironically, this made me certain the prophets of pop had access to deeper understanding. All I had to do was decode the hidden messages!
The influence of my sweet satan seemingly made me vulnerable to overwrought orchestrations of infatuation. Songs were my education in love. Imagine my joy when dad drove home in a new Chevy van! The things I imagined.
Over time, I began to develop a bullshit meter. For example, was there really a Mandy in Mr. Manilow’s life. I had my doubts.
How Much Do You Feel?
Ambrosia is the fabled food of Gods, famously used by Athena to affix beer-goggles on the suitors of Penelope. I knew nothing of Homer as a pre-teen. For me, Ambrosia was simply a band who understood true love and heartbreak, just like me. I bought all their singles.
Years later, I happened upon those 45’s, inserted the required yellow adapter (a satanic symbol for man on man on man love action) and began anew to analyze the lyrical content of their hit “How Much I Feel.” It’s widely counted as a beautiful blue-eyed soul love song. Even Casey Kasem thought so. But, is it?
Less than thirty-seconds in, the bullshit meter lurched full red. I grabbed the needle so quickly it sounded like tires screeching round Dead Man’s Curve. How Much I Feel? This guy was a lying, cheating bastard. Let’s break it down.
[Note: each lyrical section of the song is presented in a short audio clip. Click on the triangle next to the title to play it.]
I don’t know how this whole business started
Of you thinkin’ that I had been untrue
So, his girlfriend (wife?) suspects infidelity and confronts him. His response is classic misdirection: turn the accusation back on the accuser. The question is shifted from whether he cheated to why she doesn’t trust him. See how that works?
Check. Check. Fold. Fold. Check. Fold. Fold.
Bet small and lose on a weak hand. Just to show we’re willing to play. Just to be in the game.
Fold. Fold. Check. Fold. Waiting for anything worth the risk. Drinking. Playing. Tempting. Patience.
The cards come, eventually, but without guarantee.
Black Ace. Red Lady.
This. Temptation. The game begins. A big bet up front, just to see who stays, who leaves.
Cards flipped. Some help. Some hurt. Small bets. Fake confidence. Feign weakness. Push. Pull.
“All in,” she says. Question called.
You sat at the table. You ordered the free drinks. You traded sarcasm and banter. Tipped the dealer for luck. But, you didn’t sit at the table for these things.
All in? In a flash, you decide. You’re here to play. Risk.
Poker can be lost to greed or boredom. Sometimes we play because we’re tired of waiting. Sometimes we reach for too much too soon. Sometimes we sit at the table out of loneliness, letting our chips dwindle in small, predictable donations.
But, sometimes, knowing the odds, we choose to play.
“All in” I hear the words echo in my head. I feel myself push the chips. Time slows, cards revealed.
Win? Lose? Neither matters. Eventually, you’ll experience both and more.
What matters is that you sat at the table.
You played the game.
“When people began living in settled agricultural communities, social reality shifted deeply and irrevocably. Suddenly it became crucially important to know where your field ended and your neighbor’s began. — Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. in Sex At Dawn”
Whosoever Looketh On A Woman
As we closed our eyes for the congregational prayer, I could feel the closeness of her skin, electricity arcing as from one lead to another. Right hand folded tightly under left arm, index finger extended slightly. A hoped for inadvertent touch.
That act, however innocent it may seem, had the potential to cost me everything.
Three weeks previous, my mission companion and I were shopping at Sears in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. I needed another white short-sleeved shirt, having lost one to bicycle grease.
As I turned to the counter, a moment cliches are made of: Eyes locked, time slowed. She smiled, I blushed.
It was easy to imagine that I had never seen a more beautiful woman.
In the history of pick up lines, this had to be among the worst: “Have you ever heard of the Book of Mormon?” I haltingly stammered, words fighting others I’d have preferred.
Diamond Life: Heaven Help Him, When He Falls
October 1984 | 2:30 am | Provo, Utah
Lying across a sturdy sofa, empty lobby of a dormitory, Brigham Young University.
Eyes smudged with eyeliner, highlighted hair tousled, bleached white 501s.
I’d been at The Star Palace, a refuge from the adjustment of moving out of Seattle and into Pleasantville. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” I danced. Hard.
My best friend back home was black. We frequented black clubs, listened to black music. There’s no “black” in Provo. I adapted; rather than rock steady to the Whispers, I swayed to Swing Out Sister.
In a malaise of misfit and dried sweat, I was watching Night Tracks, a late night music video show.
He’s laughing with another girl,
playing with another heart.
Placing high stakes making hearts ache.
He’s loved in seven languages.
Jewel Box life, diamond nights and ruby lights,
high in the sky.
Sight: red lips, black hair, freckled brown skin.
Sound: delicate piano, driving bass, salvific sax; creating structure to protect, wings to carry a voice soft and soaring, mysterious and familiar.
Heaven help him, when he falls.
And fall I did. No help from Heaven.