Yesterday, for the first time in perhaps a year and a half, I just happened to drive past a dairy farm. I hadn’t intentionally been avoiding dairy farms, though I would be the first to admit that such a place could easily be one of the things in life that might actually be worth avoiding. If you’ve ever been to one, or near one, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, let me paint you the briefest of pictures.
The first thing you notice, as you approach a dairy farm, is the stench. I don’t want to exaggerate and say the stink travels for miles, but the simple fact is that the stink travels for miles. You smell it long before you see it. It’s an acrid smell, a mixture of ammonia, methane, and shit. When you see it, the visuals match. The farm is all silver metal fences marking out the boundaries of dark brown muck punctuated by feeding and watering troughs. A few scattered poles hold up small sections of roofing as token wards against sun and rain. Then there are the cows, of course, crowded together in the small section of shade near the feed, covered from hoof to mid flank in shit or mud or both.
It looks like one of the most miserable circumstances of a life I can imagine. Certainly the cows wouldn’t choose to be there, if they were given a choice. I was momentarily outraged at the insensitivities of my fellow men, who apparently thought that this kind of treatment of these animals was somehow justified. And then I realized: this is the price of cheese.
Silence can be a gift. It can also be a tragedy.
In her book When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams tells of a gift bequeathed to her from her dying mother: a shelf full of journals that her mother had faithfully kept for years and years. When Terry finally had the courage to open them after her mother’s death, she discovered that each journal was completely blank. Her mother had given Terry a startling record of her most precious gift: her silence.
It’s actually happening. Call me crazy, but I was sure it was going to get cancelled. I didn’t know what excuse to expect, but I was certain that something would come up that would prevent us from going.
I’m normally an optimist. But I didn’t see how I would actually be able to pull off a multi-day trip with just Girlfriend and me. She has young children. She has obligations at home. Even after we made the reservations, I was sure it couldn’t actually work out. But Mr. Wonderful took some time off from his work so that he could care for the children, and tomorrow morning Girlfriend and I are headed to Seattle for a weekend getaway.
It’s a little bit baffling for a guy. Well, maybe I speak too soon. There is a certain amount of logic in the idea of it. You have certain things you need throughout the day, and so you carry them around with you in a little satchel. That makes sense. But the term “little satchel” can in no way be applied to the monstrosities that many women carry around and call purses, nor is what ends up in them limited to the barest of necessities for the day. Have you ever seen a purse upended? Have you ever picked through the spilled contents and wondered for what possible purpose was this receipt, or this piece of gum, or this thank you note carried around every day for well over a year?
I know what you’re thinking: “Ha ha! Aren’t you a great sexist? You can make fun of women.” The things is, I don’t enter this topic to poke fun at women, but because I’ve realized that we all carry our purses. Thankfully, our culture doesn’t demand that men carry an actual purse. If we did, we’d no doubt lug a 200 lb bag filled with screwdrivers, wrenches, duct tape, and super glue, along with our own assortment of ancient receipts, mushed up sticks of gum, and fourteen pencil stubs. But that’s what we do emotionally. We carry around our emotional man-purses. And mine has recently been upended.
I wore my suit again. It’s been almost a year since I last put it on. I don’t like to brag, but you know what? I clean up pretty nicely.
The occasion was the baptism of my daughter. She turned eight last month and according to the rules of Mormonism, that’s the age of accountability, the age at which a person is finally old enough to make a significant life choice about whether to follow Christ or not. Never mind that an eight-year-old who was raised in the church has no ability to decide for herself what is true. Never mind that 100% of children born to an LDS family are baptized upon reaching age eight if the family is still active. Never mind all that. This was my daughter, and though I disagree with the practice, I support my daughter. I want her to know that I love her. An event that is important to her, then, is important to me.
I shaved. I put my suit on. I drove to the stake center. I knew what to expect.
I didn’t expect what happened next, though.
(Note: I wrote this mid-July and never published it because I wasn’t sure I had expressed myself the way I wanted to. I wasn’t sure I had been fair to everyone involved. I wasn’t sure I understood even my own concerns. It sat. Ignored at first. And then forgotten. I stumbled on it again just recently. Looking back at it now, I don’t have the same reservations I did before about publishing it, and I don’t want to gloss over some of the feelings I’ve had during this time. So here it is. Just as I wrote it in July.)
I feel like I’m failing. Hm. Maybe that’s not quite it. I feel like I don’t want to fail, but that I don’t know how to succeed. When I began this blog, I promised myself that I would write the truth as best I know it. I would be open and honest about myself as much as I was able to accurately see myself. Sometimes that’s scary. Exposing my weaknesses. Showing my true self, warts and all. But other times, it’s not so much that I’m afraid of being unmasked, but rather that I just don’t understand how I feel.
How can I succeed at being in this partial perspective vortex when I’m living this life in the fog? I kind of know where I’ve come from, but even still, when I try to look back, my memories are filtered through the colored glass of my current understanding of life. And looking ahead is murkier still. I have more questions than answers. I feel a little lost, a little unsure, and unable to explain it all.
I’ve been feeling like mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. While I’m not the world’s largest fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, mashed potatoes go a long way toward making the day something to look forward to. When you get the consistency just right, and you cover it with gravy. Mmm. You know how it’s easy to stuff yourself and still want to go back for seconds? Mashed potatoes always make the list of things that go back on my plate for over-indulgent seconds.
I don’t know anybody, though, who has only mashed potatoes as the meal. They always seem to be a side dish. They’re wonderful, but they’re always a side dish. I’ve been feeling a lot like mashed potatoes recently. Wonderful. But only a side dish.
Tithing was always a heavy medal. The weight caused the material it was pinned against to sag, and the constant flopping around with every movement soon began to be annoying, and the fastener constantly irritated the skin. But by God, as a devout Mormon it was a medal worth wearing.
After all, tithing wasn’t just a sign of devotion, of commitment to the one true God. It was also a commandment with a promise. The very windows of heaven were opened to one who paid a faithful tithe, and the blessings were pouring down in such quantity that there was hardly any room left to receive any more of them.
I had an interesting discussion with Girlfriend fairly recently. We were talking about how rare it seems to be for two people to really connect, to get past the superficiality of acquaintanceship and move to the type of bonding that allows for close friendship. Perhaps it isn’t as rare for everybody else as it seems to be for me and her, but we commented that we had a very limited number of people we each would consider to be true friends.
We spent a large part of the conversation trying to identify what quality, attribute, or event enables the transition from acquaintance to friend. In doing so, we talked about why she and I felt that we were friends with each other. The conclusion we came to was that we felt that we could be open with each other. We trusted each other enough to disclose our deeper thoughts and feelings, and instead of judgment or shock from the other person, we received in return understanding and acceptance. She made the observation: “To love is to be vulnerable; and being vulnerable is the start of being loved”
I was 23, so I don’t feel I can definitely say that I married too young. But I feel I probably married too inexperienced. I can count on one hand the number of girls I dated seriously–that is, those to whom I felt able to say “I love you.” And on both hands the number of girls I dated at all. I didn’t know myself very well. And I feel I didn’t know much about life, to say nothing of girls.
But I’m not going to blame the dissolution of my marriage on either my age or inexperience. Not that I necessarily hold them blameless, but rather that’s not the topic I want to address today. Instead, I want to talk a little about one particular member of my personal ancient pantheon of girls I dated. She was 22 years old and she was my Greek Goddess.