Friday afternoon I arrived in Lynchburg and ran into a very special friend of mine, some years my junior, called Victoria. I later rendezvoused with my terrific friend Mary, a few years my elder. After picking up some 3×5 cards and notebooks (I knew I would not use these) at Staples, I went for a walk around Liberty University. The fresh faced freshmen were everywhere, giggling and honing the schtick that becomes the stuff of inside jokes for lifelong friendships.
I saw some balding 28 year old seminary stereotypes, not so fresh faced. They looked like the lonely virgin strawmen I am known to prop up for my own rhetorical uses. The stress carried underneath these mens’ eyelids seemed to tell a story that would concur with my most condescending sentiments.
Notwithstandng, the students were friendly, affable and predictably better dressed than myself at any era of my life past or future. Bibles were carried with care and the racial diveristy seemed ready made for photo ops. Every group of friends could be posing for a McDonalds application cover shot.
Victoria is a freethinker at a place where thinking is anything but free–in fact her freethinking has carried a cost more often than not. Lonely and without her supportive boyfriend (who graduated some years ago and lives far from Lynchburg these days) Victoria just soldiers on through classes and the drudgery of campus life. Her memory of her first wine colored months in her relationship at Liberty might be well accompanied by the song “Have you Forgotten?” by the Red House Painters. A line in the song says plainly, “that’s when friends were nice. Thinking about them made you feel nice. I still can’t believe all the nice things you did for me.”
Most people who have gotten to know my friends like Victoria and Mary are quick to see the common denominator in the people who influence my heart so consistently. They have big hearts. They are unselfish. They are honest and speak their mind. They are low key and humble but never to the neglect of their passion for learning and living. They are the winds of change in my life I needed when I was depressed. I think of my friend Tommy Kiger whose innocense was wounded by numerous tours in Iraq. He is a humble man and a startling intellect. My best friend and hetero-soulmate Joe Dickinson remains the needle of my own moral compass. My wife Laura gives me love and works hard as the provider in the family, since her job pays much better than mine. The sun rises and sets in my son’s smile. At five years old he teaches me more about life in a single moment of affection than the 22 years I lived before he was born.
Laura and I love each other but in my selfishness I am sad to think she may love me for the residue and faint shadow of the person I was at Liberty. Victoria and Mary, Tommy and Joe and the beautiful people at the Lynchburg Secular Humanists association seem to approve of the person I am now. They like me for who I am truly, the person I am simply not allowed to be around others. My mother for instance, bruises rather easily when I speak. Regardless of how much euphemism I employ, no matter the vagueries I use to soften my opinions. She is a Tea Party Christian Baptist. I am a tree hugging bleeding heart liberal with a soft spot for the Bill Mahers and Lewis Blacks of the world. Many of her opinions offend me and mine hers. I love her and she loves me though, and it is a special love a mother can have that allows her the irony of it all.
So…to the point and to explain the title in some fashion. I am basking in the afterglow of 3 days of adventure. I was stretched as a person to speak at Randolph College and bare my soul in front of a video camera. I opened up more than I had planned. There will be consequences for the statements I made. I can never take them back. The cat is so far out of the bag, and I set the bag on fire to ensure the cat’s future safety.
I must learn to accept the love of my mother and my wife on their terms. Many others love me on mine. Sometimes letting people love you is the hardest thing to do. I love my wife and mother while not agreeing with many of their values but hypocritically cry foul when I think of their love for me. I insist they agree with me and validate me. That may never happen. But I hope I can mature in the kind of man who can appreciate their attempts to cherish me. How selfish am I? I am afraid to consider the extent, truthfully. I do know this, I burned bridges at Liberty and lost a great many friends. While I ate cheesecake at Barnes and Noble with my friend Sheila, a businesswoman in Lynchburg–and my buddy Paul Young from LU–I felt like I had a home in their hearts.
Victoria’s shy smile betrays her hopeful heart and blows her cynical cover like a bad poker tell. She loved reading Preacher Boy and my wife hasn’t read it at all. Paul Young wouldn’t darken the door of a place I am speaking as he is a church going Christian. Some of my friends are just facebook acquaintances but it is amazing how much happines they bring me with their sincere support. My emotional mosaic is made up of all these people’s smiling faces and kind words. Like any mosaic, maybe I just need to take a big step back to allow the real picture develop before my eyes. I shudder to think what a beautiful picture it will be.