Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

Painfully Incorruptible


“Lay a whisper on my pillow
Leave the winter on the ground
I wake up lonely, this air of silence
In the bedroom, and all around…”

Dear Darling,

I woke up this morning with a sense of loneliness and emptiness, deeper than it’s been in a while — which is saying something. You know well enough that I hit these spells of finding myself needing an intervention, someone to pull me up out of the fatigue, dust me off, cheer me up, take me along.

Surely you’ve felt that feeling before. If you’ve never experienced that emptiness, I don’t know how to describe it to you. It’s the wanting of a voice — almost any will do if it speaks kindly — that reminds you that you’re good, kind, worthwhile, desired, special. But the catch is, you need not just to be told you’re not alone or good or wanted, but to feel it and believe it…and believe it from someone you trust. Now, there are plenty of voices that are complimentary out there…the voices of sheep, those made to feel safe or be safe by my presence. But none of such stature as to make me receptive to their compliments. I think only yours is the one that will actually make me believe that.

You may stop and ask me, “what did you mean by sheep just now?” That sounds derogatory, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to. But years ago I learned that the world made more sense when viewed through the classification of wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. If I never shared this illuminating article on the subject, please read it now. It explains my nature better even than I could, and helped me understand myself — the impulse to serve, the instinct to react, the drive to learn and study how to be more useful to the world. (I’m thinking of certifying as a life guard this summer for instance.) I think it makes sense that for some, God implanted the desire to serve and guard and protect…a compulsion to better the world even if the world worsens you in the process. To care for people, to care about them, to your own endless fatigue. They don’t, after all, care for you in return. I don’t remember the last time anyone called me “just to catch up” or to see how I’m doing, and few are the friends who text me just to see how the day is going.

There is something about dealing with emergencies for a living that sets you apart. It’s not ego or condescension Darling, it’s just the truth. I went out to dinner with my same friends last night, Loswen and Alegfast and the rest. Having just come off the floor of a busy medicine ICU, having stood by those who were waging their silent war against death, I was struck again by the banality and triviality of their pursuits and conversations. It’s one reason why they’ll never understand me, not really. They sipped their wine and their jokes became increasingly vulgar, and I see anew that these people are sheep. They are harmless and safe — exactly what I hope never to be. There’s nothing wrong with being a sheep after all, and these work hard and have their own set of skills and talents given them by God. But I know I would be claustrophobic in their lives, and never be content being a sheep. It’s just who I was made to be.  I’ve never stopped running, never stopped trying to better myself, never stopped trying to be useful.

But when you want to be understood, it’s hard to find kinship among the sheep, and hard to go from participating in the most significant moments in a person’s life — of life itself — to chatting about the most ridiculous stories and useless societal engagements. Maybe I’m tired of being a big person in a world of small people. Maybe I just want the same respect I had for my field that I did when it was only an aspiration. I asked a colleague about it tonight, an officer of thirteen years. He strongly agreed, it’s hard to exist in a world where you are always prepared not for if things go wrong, but when. Because when they do, you have to bring your A-game, he said, and no one understands that. When sheep make mistakes, an art print goes wrong, a printer doesn’t work, a tuxedo is misshapen. When a sheepdog makes mistakes, lives hang in the balance. It would be nice if they would at least appreciate that some of us are willing to face those odds, I mused to him. He chuckled and said he was a bitter man in some ways because of it, but thirteen years has taught him never to expect appreciation.

I could never tell them this is how I feel. Sheep show little regard for the sheepdog until he is needed, but even then, it would be ungentle to tell them, and they wouldn’t understand. And I suppose, to help him forget the weight of life and the battle of wolves, the sheepdog needs the sheep.

“I just feel like whenever you hang around with us, we’re corrupting you!” Dirvestalë exclaimed. (It was his birthday we were celebrating, and though I had no great desire for wine or overpriced entrees, I put myself in his shoes and felt I should be present for a while.)  I spoke not a word of judgment, even as the wine loosened their tongues, so I don’t know whence this observation came. I grasped for tactful words to deflect, but truthfully I’m not sure he’s wrong.

I’m far from incorruptible. But I never did feel as comfortable invoicing God’s account of grace as others seem to. I know I can’t earn salvation, but I’m still puzzled by this equalization wherein the deeds of a man seem not to weigh on his account, such that grace simply steps in and makes up for any deficit. It’s as if God’s grace is an overdraft protection against sin, and we all need that protection and forgiveness, some of us try to need it less, or to make sure the debits are neither as big nor as willful. I want to spend my deeds responsibly, make them be worthwhile and lasting. Sports, pop culture, reality TV…none of that is lasting. “Civic religion,” a friend called it; a slow idolatry of letting the world cozy into your heart. But grace covers every overdraft, and again, how does that promote responsibility?

Sometimes I get lost in the could-be’s or might-have’s. Wondering if I missed a chance, or made the wrong move. I have to remind myself God’s in control, even if it’s hard to believe my circumstances are where He wants me to be. I struggle to know how best to operate within my culture. Where does acceptance, tolerance or compromise end, and integration, grace and evangelism begin? Of Jesus, they said he was a gluttonous man and drunkard who sat with sinners. Does that mean we shouldn’t care about our witness before men? Or doesn’t the world expect that a Christian doesn’t frequent bars? People tell me I can be short on grace. Some of these voices are the sheep who find taking a stand distasteful. But even sheep can be wise, and some of them ring with a truth I can’t deny, even if I have difficulty merging it with everyday life. If only my own sins grieved me as much as others. The price of having been a Christian your whole life and having not really made breathtaking overdraws on the account — and living in a culture which makes overdrawing into a spectator sport — you start to feel a little proud of yourself for staying strong and above the fray.

“Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” Aha, but good is a dwindling commodity in this world, that no one can deny. Even the seemingly committed Christians don’t seem to mind the darkness, not as much as they ought. “Doesn’t this bother you,” I ask. Not really. And if we become increasingly tolerant of the deeds of darkness, and accept them in the name of tolerance rather than renouncing the deeds and imploring the doers to escape them, where will our culture end up? (Hint: I think we’re already nine-tenths there.)

Invariably, the people who don’t operate under this model — the outliers — interest me. People who don’t follow the normal script, who stand out and are exceptional, who have seen the darkness, and sometimes live under its shadow. But it’s hard to find someone who’s an outlier and a sheepdog…who knows the weight of the compulsion to serve, who cares and appreciates and listens, if such a thing will be done to them in their turn.

It makes you think and feel and wonder…having never met anyone else like me, is it possible there really is no one else? A man with a legacy of political change under his belt (who just this week was on the line with the editor of the New York Times) but who traded that cape for a plastic hospital gown, who carries enough knowledge and equipment of his own to save a life, or render that life beyond saving, that “funny critter” with his nose to the wind even though he’s not paid to protect?

And the truth is, in finding no one that seems to reflect or understand these perspectives and principles, on what do I base this great hope to find someone as psychologically and emotionally compatible as I’ve thought I might? Maybe I truly am a unique, one-of-a-kind. If I’ve dwelt in my head for this long and still continually seek to explain myself, how could I expect someone else to understand me? If so I need to dismiss the hopes of finding someone that sees the world as I do…maybe expect that the person I find really won’t be on the same page as me in a lot of ways.

You may think I’m making my life out to be grander than I ought. Maybe I am. But Darling, keep in mind, I’m confiding to you the hardships and pitfalls of it all, not the glories. I’m lamenting this existence, not lauding it. It requires massive energy to sustain, and has a cyclic effect of peaks and troughs. Sometimes it depends gentle classic tunes to soothe it, and sometimes the wild and angry storms to appease its tumult.

Believe me my dear, this life, this love, these thoughts, make for far better reading than they do living.


“Make-believing we’re together
That I’m sheltered by your heart.
But in and outside I’ve turned to water
Like a teardrop in your palm.
And it’s a hard winters day, I dream away…”

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | | 1 Comment