Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman with Simon Critchley on Happiness

Since what a man seeks in his pleasures is that they should be infinite, and no one would ever give up hope of attaining that infinity, you see why all pleasures end in disgust. It is nature's device for tearing us away from them.  (Cesare Pavese, This Business of Living)
  Amazing video--especially, but not only-- in light of Hoffman's recent death: 

The immediate distinction Hoffman makes between happiness and pleasure reminded me of Pavese. 

 What Hoffman says about acting also echoes Terence's great quote, "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", ("I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.") The greatness of Hoffman's acting seems to come from this tremendous inner humanity and willingness to self-identify with whatever is human, without holding back any of himself. R.I.P.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Marriage *is* for you….just maybe not the way you think...

“Love consists of not looking each other in the eye, but of looking outwardly in the same direction.”
                                                                                       Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry

Like many people, I first read Seth Adam Smith’s “Marriage isn’t for you” when it went viral last fall.  Every so often, it pops up again as another friend discovers it and passes it on, admiringly.  Every time the piece surfaces I look a little longer at the comments. Some of the feedback is surprisingly negative (though I guess that shouldn’t surprise; there are haters for everything on the Internet it seems—I’m sure there’s someone  out there yelling “Puppies—Boo!!!” on some site somewhere). But the piece is so positive, so generous, so….sweet that I haven’t wanted to criticize without thinking things through. It’s taken me a while to put my finger on the problem as I see it.

Smith’s piece is great because it starts from a selfish point of view: Smith worries about his own marital satisfaction and hopes his wife will make him happy—but thanks to his dad’s advice and his wife’s actions, he realizes that’s not what marriage is about. He concludes that it’s about the person you marry and her (or his) happiness, that it’s about family, “It’s about others….”  I admire his honestly and humility in telling his story. I love the way he stresses the kind and gentle way his wife treated him and the realization and transformation it prompted in him—and I think he’s totally right that a loving response often transforms a hardening heart.

But here’s the problem: you can’t make someone else happy. No, really, you can’t. When you are first in love you think you can because of the intensely blissful feelings of new love. But even those feelings aren’t full happiness. And your happiness is bigger than any person—no matter how spectacularly wonderful and well-matched—could possibly fill.

Smith has been married only a year and a half, and I’ve been married for twelve and a half. He has no kids (yet, anyway);  I have five.  But I’m not saying this because I’m old and cynical and tired. I’m saying it because I want love and openness and goodness like his to last and deepen.  I worry that thinking you can make someone else happy will become just as big a trap as the focus on your own happiness. Worrying only about your own satisfaction isn’t good, but it’s dangerous to think you’re going to make someone else happy. Growing up, my mom would occasionally tell me, “It’s not your job to make your parents happy.” My grandmother had been the clear favorite in her family, and had labored under the burden of that for many years, believing that—as the favorite—it was also her job to do what her parents wanted and “make them happy.” I know that’s a parent-child relationship, but similar things can happen to married people.  You start doing all the things you think should make your spouse happy. You put their needs before yours. And then if they aren’t satisfied, you get angry. “Why the heck isn’t s/he happy? With all I do for him/her?” Or, alternately you get depressed, “What’s wrong with me?  

We can, on the other hand, help each other find happiness. We can accompany each other on this long road; we can love each other madly, passionately, truly. We can walk together, sustaining each other,  encouraging each other, making the journey much more fun--but we can’t be the road.  That way lies madness, not happiness. 

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Here is the paradox of the love between man and woman: two infinites meet two limits: two infinite needs to be loved find two fragile and limited capacities to love. Only within the horizon of a greater Love will they not devour themselves in pretension, nor give up, but walk together towards that fullness of which the other is a sign.”

Happy, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Wind Beneath Those Wings

A year ago today, my brother Dan—who’s in the seminary—got a phone call very early in the morning. You see, he was working in a cardinal’s office at the time. “Forgive us for calling so early,” the caller said, “but it’s not every day that a pope resigns!” “What?!?!?” my brother sputtered. 

We all know what that was about, though at this point in time, the singularity of Benedict’s resignation is pretty deeply buried under the media reporting on Pope Francis. I’ve been wanting to write a post on Pope Francis for a while.  He’s blowing me away –and killing me at the same time (this kind of killing:    http://catholicstand.com/pope-francis-is-killing-me/). I love Pope Francis, and I am deeply inspired by him.  
But anyone paying any attention knows that he is usually contrasted sharply with his predecessor. 

Naturally—the narrative is much more interesting that way. Though I recently saw a great little video on Patheos, comparing the two men and suggesting that they exemplify two different traditions within the Church (the priestly and the prophetic respectively : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2014/02/do-the-pope-benedict-and-francis-clash.html), the spin is not usually so positive. 

Today, Pope Francis asked that we pray for former Pope Benedict--which seems like a good moment to note some of the surprising similarities between the two men. Most particularly, their humility.  I remember when Benedict was first elected. Initially, people were all over him, complaining about him being “God’s Rottweiler” and all that. What was the first encyclical he issued?  Deus Caritas Est. All about God’s love and charity, where he even addressed erotic desire, venturing rather substantially into the eros category, and defended erotic love against some heavy-weight detractors in the Christian tradition--and lingered significantly on social concerns as well. (Note that my understanding of this is wholly indebted to brilliant theologian friends and former colleagues. I read papal encyclicals with lots of help). The historical revisionists are already out there trying to dismantle Benedict’s legacy, but those of us who remember his pontificate know better. The man was orthodox, yes. But his orthodoxy already was pushing the limits. He was so confident in his tradition, and so prayerfully certain of his relationship with Christ, that he did deeply radical things. Like resigning. I mean, really, who does that? Benedict was not a splashy kind of guy, and so his dramatic gestures  get dismissed easily. But let’s remember, this was a man who bucked centuries of tradition to resign.  Yes, yes, now that we look back we can cite historical precedent and comments that Benedict had made and  in hindsight it’s understandable and acceptable and what have you-- but it is and was a deeply radical gesture. Benedict was orthodox—but radically so. And so is Francis (pace Rolling Stone).  But while the emphasis during Benedict’s pontificate was on the orthodox, with Francis it’s on the radical part of the equation.

Which brings me to what inspires me so much in both popes: their humility and boldness in listening to the promptings of the Spirit. And man, do they listen!  Benedict, with his entirely unexpected decision, opened the way for Francis. So to those who would reject Benedict, I would like to recall that without him there would be no Francis. And for those who are having a hard time with Francis, it was Benedict’s decision that made this happen. If we have issues, I think we need to take it straight to the top.  For my part, I feel radically blessed in both men. And excited about where the Spirit will take us from here.