Friday, September 09, 2005

I Contradicted Myself and Then I Wrote This

Not even a month ago, I proclaimed
Jennifer Hyatte was stupid. And by "stupid," I meant "a person who is not very bright."

Because how bright can you be if your idea of living happily ever after involves helping a felon escape and murdering a prison guard?

Then, a few days ago, I wrote with some sympathy about criminals who look a lot like us. And by "us," I meant me, of course.

Some time today, in the midst of my illness-induced stupor, I remembered my proclamation about Jennifer Hyatte a few weeks back. I stopped cold. My glaring inconsistencies flashed to neon light and I broke into a cold sweat (although, admittedly, that could have just been the fever). Why, when I read about Jennifer Hyatte shooting a prison guard to free her husband, the prisoner, did I roll my eyes and shake my head at her actions? I easily sorted her into the Stupid Category. And yet, when I read about Judy Brown, who taught at the college I attended, I sat with my mouth agape, stunned. I didn't think, how stupid is she? in suburban judgment. I felt pity, sorrow that she essentially drove her life off a cliff for love.

I know for a fact that Judy Brown is not stupid. I could not easily slide her into the Stupid Category, which presented a problem for me. Why would someone do something so stupid if one was not stupid? It was so simple to stamp "Stupid" on the forehead of Jennifer Hyatte and move along. That could never be me, I thought, because I am so bright and all.

I didn't feel any pity whatsover for Jennifer Hyatte and the thing she did for love. I figured if you are stupid and you do stupid things, you ought to pay for it. And none of that has much to do with me.

The truth is that if you do bad things, hoping that good things will result, you are mistaken. Never in the history of the world has it been possible to plant pumpkin seeds and have tomato plants sprout. You get what you plant. (I know all about this, being smarter than the average bear.)

Jennifer Hyatte wanted to live happily ever after with the man of her dreams. So, she did a series of bad things and ended up with . . . bad things.

Sabine Bieber wanted babies in her care to nap peacefully. So, she did a bad thing and ended up with . . . bad things.

Judy Brown wanted someone else's spouse for herself. So, she did a bad thing and ended up with . . . bad things.

The small bad things ended up sprouting and growing into giant bad things, it seems. And did all the bad stuff start with self-absorption? Some people call self-absorption sin. (Just tonight, I came across that idea in Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I can't think of a better description of what sin is, really. I've always been told that sin is "missing the mark," as in missing a target, but why? What's the motivation? Self-absorption.)

If I line up the pieces of these stories, I find self-absorption central in each one. I find self-absorption in my own life, too, even though the very nature of my life forces me to put other people before me. Isn't that what Jesus asked us to do? To love our neighbor as ourselves? To serve one another? The farther we get from following His instructions, the more myopic we become, until at some point, we can't see beyond our grabbing hands.

The more we do bad, hoping for good.

Just like Jennifer, Sabine and Judy. Just like me.


Blogger Julana said...

I could actually see myself doing what Jennifer did more than what Judy did. You can make an idol of another person to the point that people around you are relegated to a status of comparative insignificance. Her murder was impulsive, commanded by her boyfriend, done in the heat of escaping. Judy's seemed cold-blooded.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Self-absorption. How true.

Now I'm running all my favorite songs through my head, replacing the word 'sin' with self-absorption. Very revealing!

5:43 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Wow... that was SO well written - brilliant, even. (And I am stunned re: the Judy Brown story... who knew?!)

7:23 PM  
Blogger Christi said...

It kinda makes me think of this woman I heard speak yesterday. She was talking about how sometimes we talk to people, but we are really not listening to what they're saying. We're just waiting for the next pause so we can say what we think and want to say. That's so me. I kinda thought that might be a bit self-absorbed, as if the only important part of the conversation is what I have to say. Of course, it's not nearly as bad as that stuff!

9:09 PM  
Blogger Vashti said...

I too am very self-absorbed at times and I know that I can be judgemental (although sometimes it is so hard not to be, especially in situations like you have pointed out). I have a particular situation in my life right now where I know I'm being very judgemental. As I work through it, my mom sent me a meditation written by a Buddhist Monk. It is really powerful. If only I could master this! I hope you don't mind my sharing it.

The 4th of the 5 Mindfulness Training Thich Nhat Hanh

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

9:25 PM  

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