My Christian daughter says I’m going to hell

Write for Advice
Cary’s classic column THURSDAY, OCT 4, 2007 03:10 AM PDT

I don’t believe in God but I want to allay her fears.


Hi,

I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter whose mother has been taking her to an evangelical Christian church her whole life. Her mother’s family is entirely Christian. I am not a Christian, and in fact think that organized religion is actively harmful to her development into a rational adult. None of my friends are Christian, nor any of my family.

Her mother and I split up right before she was born, but I have been an active parent. She lived with me for fifth and seventh grades and has been with me every summer and every other holiday. Right now, I have her every other weekend. Religion is not the only issue her mother and I have had, but until this point we have been able to compromise and get along with each other pretty well.

As my daughter gets older, however, she has started to become fearful that because I am not a Christian, I am going to hell. When I try to explain my beliefs (that I don’t believe in God or a higher power), she cries. I am certainly not trying to deny her mother the right to take her to church, but I don’t want to cut my two weekends a month with her short to take her back to her mother’s to attend church. Nor do I want her mother telling her that I am going to hell.

It has gotten to the point that if I even try to broach the subject of religion (mentioning my belief in evolution or that homosexuals are not sinners), it upsets my daughter greatly. Obviously, this is not what I want, but I do want to be able to communicate to her what I believe.

Her mom thinks that I am denying her freedom by not taking her to church on the weekends that I have her, but I am just trying to help her see that other people believe other things and that having an open mind is a good thing.

What am I doing wrong? And more important, how can I talk to my daughter about this without making her cry?

Unholy Father

TuscanAd_Voice2015

 

Dear Unholy Father,

Does football exist?

Some would argue no. Surely they have heard people speak of football and argue forcibly about its rules and the conduct of its games. But they have never been to a game and would never go to a game because to them football is a mass illusion with a peculiar, inexplicable allure for millions of clueless fools, on whose hard-earned dollars certain unscrupulous people get very rich.
If your daughter is not a football fan she might argue thus. Moreover, she might argue, football is harmful to the development of a peaceful, nonviolent culture.

To which you might respond, well, if football does not exist then how can it be harmful?

And she would say, well, people gather to watch games, but what they are watching is not really football. It is just a bunch of people believing in football. There is no actual football. It is an illusion, a group hallucination. But it warps people’s minds and diverts them from more important things.

To which you might reply, Have you ever been to a friggin’ game? How can you say that? What can this thing that we are doing possibly be if it is not football?

Well, she might say, that’s your problem. All I know is that football does not exist, and if it did exist, I’d know.

How can you know unless you go to a game? you’d ask her in exasperation. Moreover, how can you know what goes on there after just one game? You would need to attend games regularly for maybe several years, or at least a couple of seasons, before you could really feel you know what’s going on there!

Exactly.

What I am trying to say is, the way to help your daughter grow is not to debate the existence of God. It is to go to church with your daughter and experience what she is experiencing.

You can argue about who is winning and who is losing. But at least watch the game.

Her problem is not that she believes in God. It’s that she believes you are going to burn in hell when you die. It’s her concern for you, and her fear for you, that are the problem. She wants to believe otherwise but has no solid grounds on which to place any hope. If you go to church with her, you will make it possible for her to believe that there is at least a chance that you will not burn in hell. From this she will derive great benefit. It will give her some peace of mind. The peace of mind she derives from it will help her in her schoolwork and in her relationships with others. It will help her sleep at night and it will improve her attitude toward you. It will be one less complaint she has against you. It will be one less wedge her mother can use between you. And it will be the only way you will ever be able to argue with her about religion with any credibility, should you choose to do so when she gets older.

Now is not the time to argue with her about religion. Now is the time to strengthen your bond with your daughter by participating in things that matter to her, by showing her that you respect the way she lives her life and by showing her that you have an open mind.

But don’t just go to church with her. Meet with one of the officials. That’s right, wander right down on to the field and speak with one of the guys in the striped shirts. Or whatever they wear. Arrange a private conference. In this private conference, you can say whatever you like. It doesn’t matter really. It might be a good conversation or it might be utterly ridiculous. But show your daughter that you are willing to engage with one of the people she respects. Show her that you have enough humility and independence of spirit to engage, that you are not fearful or dogmatic or close-minded.

In your own mind, you might approach the matter as a consumer. Don’t be glib with the official or you may be ejected. But in your own mind, think of salvation, or “eternal life,” as a product.

How is this product obtained? Are there instances in which people are granted “eternal life” at random, or must every grant be preceded by an act of faith, or surrender? Are there exact words one must use to close the deal, or will any words to the effect of “I’m in!” suffice? Would a silent act of surrender suffice? If a silent act of surrender would suffice, then is it possible that you have already been saved? And, once granted, can this product be recalled? For instance, what if a child were to be a fervent believer and then later lost his belief? Would that initial belief still grant him eternal life? Go over the terms and conditions, as it were.

Once you have done this, and conversed with an official, you might be able to confidently tell your daughter, without going into specifics, that you think everything is going to be OK, eternal-life-wise. She would probably appreciate that.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

My best friend is down on his luck. How can I help?

Write for Advice
Cary’s classic column from SUNDAY, OCT 17, 2010

We grew up differently. I got great guidance from parents and friends. He kind of drifted. Now he’s in a tough spot


Dear Cary,

I have something of a quandary with a friend of mine. He’s my oldest friend, we’ve known each other since we were about 4 years old. At that time we went to nursery school and kindergarten together; we were both children of decidedly middle-class families, growing up in the same suburb. Even though we didn’t go to school together we always spent our summers together, and made a real effort to keep in touch over the years. At some point though, during that time my parents moved along in their careers and my family sort of left the middle class to that ill-defined region between the wealthy and the doing-OK. However, his father left his mother and took off, leaving her to fend for her son by herself and somewhat bitter about the way things turned out, and his life was more difficult for it. But none of that ever affected our relationship, the two of us got along great all through high school, even though I had gone on to the local private school while he stayed at the local public school.

After high school I went off to college and he kind of bummed around working as a ski lift operator so he could snowboard at his favorite resorts. My parents were the demanding types who wanted to make sure that I had a focus in my life that would lead to a career — his father was basically absent and his mother had become shrill to the point where it was a guarantee if she told my friend to do anything he would do the opposite. At this point our lives started to really diverge.

Fast forward a few years — we’re both now in our early 30s. My life isn’t perfect, and there are things about it that I would change if I could. But overall I can’t complain — I’ve worked hard and (finally) find myself in a position where I’m easily self-sufficient. I have no debts, I live modestly, and every month I manage to save a nice sum of money that I plan to put towards a down payment on a house. I have a solid junior-executive position at a good company where I’m on an upward trajectory. I also have no illusions about how I got here. I know that I’ve worked hard but I’ve also had parents and friends who have looked out for me and tried to help me out when they could, and I’ve gotten lucky with some opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of when they made themselves clear. My friend, on the other hand, is in a very different place. After a few years of bouncing around resort towns so he could snowboard and surf during on-seasons, he’s come back to the area where we grew up with virtually nothing to show for it. He had a job doing house remodeling but was laid off because of the recession. Recently when I talked to him he told me he had a part-time job that was barely helping him to pay his rent and bills with almost nothing left over to live on, and was looking for work but hadn’t found anything.

We both come from the kinds of upbringings where guys typically downplay how bad things are because you don’t try to garner sympathy for yourself — you just don’t. So when I hear him say this I know that it’s for real, that’s he’s barely hanging on with what he’s got. I know that he hasn’t been as lucky as I have, he didn’t have parents looking out for him, and he just hasn’t had the kind of luck that I’ve had in getting himself on two feet. I don’t know if he’s worked hard or not, I really can’t say, but from what I know of him I imagine he has. I do know that he’s a good person, he’s easy to get along with, he’s the kind of guy everybody likes.

I want to help out my friend if I can. I offered to have a look at his résumé and pass it around to the people I still know where we grew up, and I’m trying to do that. But I’m also realistic about the kind of economy that we’re in right now, and I know it’s a long shot that he’ll find a job that way. I would like to tell him that if things get really difficult he can come to me for money if he needs it, but I just don’t know how. The last thing I want to do is condescend to my friend and make him feel like he’s a charity case for me, because he’s not. I know that if our situations were reversed he wouldn’t think twice about helping me out. I just want to figure out a way to help him and keep his dignity intact. Can you offer any advice for how I can do that?

Thanks,

Looking to Help a Friend in Tough Times

TuscanAd_Voice2015

Dear Looking to Help a Friend,

The best thing you can do is stay close to your friend. Be honest with him. Help him if he needs help. Go snowboarding with him. See the houses he has remodeled.

Beware of your desire to fix his situation. Know that his situation is not an accident but has meaning; it is like a signature; it is who he is and it is in a sense holy. The way to avoid condescending to him is to be honest in your regard for him. If it hurts you to see him having a hard time, be honest about that. But recognize that it’s his hard time to have. It’s his hard time, not yours. He is learning something he has to learn. He is encountering life on its own terms. He has to do this. He has to knock about until he’s had enough. The time for setting an orderly route was earlier, and it was a job for parents and family, and that job was not done. So he is finding out what life is like at a later stage than some. He is taking things in a different order. Maybe he is spending longer in this phase than one would hope. But that’s his path. Be his friend and respect his choices.

If you do this, time will pass and when he has a change of heart and sees that he needs an orderly direction he may confide in you. He may ask your advice. He may decide he needs to go to college. He may see a business opportunity in the world of resorts. If he comes to you with a business proposition, scrutinize it. Don’t lie to him. Don’t encourage him in something that won’t work. But if he has a workable idea and you have contacts who might help him, be generous. Only do this if you really believe it’s workable. It’s easy to kid ourselves about our friends.

Meanwhile, let’s look on the bright side. He may be having a hard time financially, but he is pursuing what he loves. He is not an office guy. He is an outdoors guy. He knows what makes him happy and he is seeking happiness in his way. His life is harder than yours. It’s harder to make a living that way. But he’s being true to himself.
So if he is your friend, the best thing you can do is be a good friend. If you are a good friend to him, then he will know he can ask for help. And you can give it, too. If you ever see that there is something you can do for him, you don’t have to ask. If it feels right to give him some money, or lend him some money to help him get over a difficulty, then go ahead and do it.

He can always refuse.

What you do not want to do is try to fix his life. What this says to him is that there is something wrong with his life. Remember: His life is fine. It may be difficult and more uncertain economically, but it is the life he has chosen. He chose it out of love. He loves to snowboard. He loves the outdoors. He loves building things. So the equation he has followed is simple: We do what we love and we deal with what happens. After a while, we learn to fine-tune. We know we love to snowboard but we see what happens when we snowboard all the time. We make no money. We have no place to live and no food. So we snowboard but we also do something to make money. Sometimes it is hard to make money. Money is scarce sometimes. That’s the way it is for those of us who just do what we love. We learn to adapt. We learn how far we can take it. We make compromises when we have to.

But the beautiful thing about it is, he knows what he loves. He knows what he values. And he is being true to himself. I wouldn’t change that. It’s hard doing what you love. It can wear you down and put lines in your face. You end up with a leathery neck and tattered jeans and scarred workbooks and callused hands. You end up weather-beaten. That is, you end up with the face that you deserve. Your face becomes the record of a life lived according to what you love.

There’s something to be said for that. So stick close to this friend of yours. There’s much there to cherish. Don’t pity him. He’s doing what he has to do. If he wants your help he’ll ask for it. And likewise, there may come a time when you could use his help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. There’s dignity in asking for help and giving help, and not offering until asked.

Value this friend. You’re a lucky man. So is he.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

 

I won’t grovel for my mother-in-law!

Write for Advice
Cary’s classic column from

After all I’ve been through, I snapped. I don’t want to apologize, but I want my family back.


Dear Cary,

In the past three years, I have had a great deal of loss. My father, both grandmothers and my 36-year-old brother died. My mother had breast cancer and I had a miscarriage. Plus, two of our family pets passed. It has been a great deal to absorb, especially when the onslaught of loss kept going and going.

When a family member grew ill, or near the end, I relied on my mother-in-law to fly in to help my husband with our kids. She is retired, well off, and visited us often. Most visits with her tended to involve her taking us out for meals and taking us shopping. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I appreciated all the gifts and meals out as a diversion from our otherwise tight budget. Holidays were over the top; she even took our family on two Mexican vacations. We didn’t ask for money, or trips, but we did accept them gratefully.

When my last family member grew ill, I traveled across the country and my mother-in law came to stay with my family. The trip ended up being longer than originally planned because I decided to stay for the funeral. When I asked my mother-in-law to change her plans and stay one more day, she said she had a dentist appointment to attend. Furthermore, she asked if the funeral date could be changed or could someone else bring the ashes home. I was aghast. My grandmother’s funeral didn’t take precedence over a dentist appointment?

When I called my husband later that night, he told me that his mother had been concerned over our finances. She was urging him to look for a better job and asking when I was returning to work. She had been talking finances with him the whole time I had been gone, knowing full well that I handle the money in our family. She talked about feeling unappreciated. She had never brought up any of these topics with me, and to do so while I was gone and in such a dire emotional place, just seemed wildly inappropriate to me. I think she was acting needy when I was in a time of actual need.

In the end, my husband took time off work and sent his mother home in time for her appointment. On a layover, on the way home from the funeral, I called my in-laws and told them that I was canceling our next planned vacation to Disneyland. In part, I was angry over my losses and didn’t feel like “business as usual” after hearing her bemoan our finances. I thought, “Fine, if you’re suddenly worried about my money then I won’t spend any more of yours.” I have since returned to work and it’s been the silent (or martyr) treatment from her for almost a year now.

After licking my many wounds for many months, I realize that what family I have left is small and that I want to be close again, at the very least for the sake of my kids. I am at an impasse with my mother-in-law that I’d like to be resolved, but I don’t feel like groveling or apologizing. I miss our old relationship, when we were close and things were fun, but realize that ship has sailed. What should I do?

Mother of All Mother-in-Law Issues

TuscanAd_Voice2015

Dear Mother of all Mother-in-Law Issues,

What should you do?

Grovel.

Seriously.

Grovel and apologize.

It will feel great.

It’s not that the groveling and apologizing will feel great. But when you finally become willing to grovel and apologize, you will have achieved a spiritual victory. You will be free of your wounded pride.

Before you feel free of your pride, you need to grieve. If you feel you can’t grieve because your mother-in-law has withdrawn her support, then you may well feel angry. Your pride may be hurt. If you are used to being the one who handles the money and someone comes in and starts giving advice, your pride is hurt. When our pride is hurt we want to strike out. When we feel threatened we want to strike out.

But you need to take care of yourself. You have “licked your wounds” but you have not allowed your grief the kindness of time. You may feel that grieving is a luxury, that before you can grieve, somebody has to step in and take care of things and make sure everything is running smoothly. So when your mother-in-law tried to take care of her own needs, you felt panic. How can you grieve, how can you get through this, if there isn’t someone making sure everything runs smoothly?

Well, as you know, death changes all that. Death doesn’t wait for us to clean up the house. It comes and plunges us into grief and certain things just have to wait.

The way we live our lives today, we don’t plan for difficulty. When overwhelming feelings arrive, as well they will, when grief arrives, and it will, when sadness comes, and it will, when the life cycle turns, we haven’t made room for it. We haven’t prepared the house for this new visitor.

So forgive those around you, and accept your own grief. Maybe the house will get messy. Maybe the kids won’t be perfectly taken care of. Maybe a little sheen will come off the glossy finish. That’s OK. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Have some compassion for yourself. You’ve been hurt. You’ve been through hell. You’ve been through hell and haven’t given yourself credit. Possibly others haven’t given you credit either. So give yourself credit. Let yourself feel this. You’ve been beaten down. People you love have been taken from you. You lost a baby, for heaven’s sake! Life has taken loved ones from you. You’ve been torn apart. Let yourself feel this. Give yourself love.

How to repair your feelings toward your mother-in-law? One way is to list all the things you are grateful to your mother-in-law for. List all the things she has done for you, the gifts, the visits, the dinners. Just list all the things you are grateful for. Think of what you would miss if she were gone. And thank her for all these things.

When your mother-in-law said she had to go back, isn’t it possible that she lied, that it wasn’t about the dentist, that she had emotional reasons of her own for getting back home? People do things to meet their own needs. They don’t necessarily understand consciously what all their needs are, or how they’re meeting them, so they say things like they have a dental appointment because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. So sometimes it comes out sounding pretty lame. And offensive. But it’s very hard in most families for someone to just say what they’re feeling.

And perhaps you need to grovel — not for your mother-in-law but for yourself. Maybe something in you is calling you to grovel, for it is an oft-observed truth that in what we most resist lies a deep attraction. So go ahead and get down on the ground and feel the ground. Grovel and let out your grief. Let yourself do this. A part of you wants to. Your prideful ego wants to maintain its appearance as the completely together entity who’s in charge of the finances and knows what to do in every instance. But it is your prideful ego that stands between you and relief. So let your ego blab on about its resentments and its anger and its refusal to grovel and refusal to apologize.

You don’t need to be afraid. Death comes. The ego doesn’t want to die or accept the fact of death, and so it stands between us and true grieving. In reality we decay. We lose people. Things fall apart. We leave the stage. We make room for more. That’s how it goes. Every life is full of constant leaving. It tears us apart but that’s how it is.

Just let it go, all this stuff. Let yourself break down. Let yourself fall to your knees. You’ve had enough. You’ve held it all together long enough. Let it go.

Let your tears fall. Let your tears fall into the ocean of tears that have fallen for all the departed for all the years that we have been saying goodbye to souls old and young. Let your tears fall into the river of souls. Let yourself fall to your knees and grieve for all the souls that have passed by us. Empty yourself of this grief. Empty yourself. Empty yourself and make room for all the new souls coming into the world.

Welcome all the new souls coming into the world. Make room for the life to come.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

Writing the column has been a spiritual practice

I do realize now that writing the column has been an aesthetic and spiritual practice. But a spiritual practice must be supported. It was kept in balance by the salary. When we adopt certain practices if they are not supported they lead us to imbalance. That is what I am struggling with now. If I continue to spend four to six hours a day doing this aesthetic and spiritual practice, my life will be out of balance.

Yet  do not wish to abandon it. So I do it sporadically.

In the meantime, I make these notes, so you know I am still here, thinking these words, thinking in this way.

I suppose this is why monks and religious folk have gone to live together and support each other, because to live in this way, giving oneself over wholly to some practice which takes everything one has, one must simplify. One must depart from the world, in a sense. Because there is too much to do.

My father’s widow is stingy

Write for Advice
Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, JUN 9, 2005

I know he would have wanted to give me more money, but his will left everything to her.


Dear Cary,

I’m 34. My father passed away a year and half ago. He remarried when I was 15 but started dating my stepmom (SM) when I was 9.

Dad and SM kept their finances separate. My father was known to help his kids out when she wasn’t looking. For all I know, she was doing the same with her kids. My sister, the black sheep, was barely welcome in their house, but my dad still helped her out. Which is why his will surprised me. My dad left all the money in a trust that SM administers. She gets his pension too, which leaves her taken care of for life.

I hate that this bothers me, but she’s been reluctantly generous since my dad died. She spent the first year crying poor. She grudgingly sent me my father’s desk, making it clear to me how much the shipping cost. She won’t ship any other furniture of his to me unless I pay. Meanwhile, she gave her oldest son her Volvo, the second one she’s given him. She’s now moving her youngest son and his girlfriend into her condo at an extremely subsidized rate. Everything I’ve gotten from her since my father died, I’ve had to ask for.

I’m now pregnant with my first child. I spoke to her before I was pregnant about possibly helping us out financially the first year we have a child. I explained that it would make a big difference because I wouldn’t feel pressure to rush back to work. Since I announced the pregnancy, she has offered to buy me a car seat and some maternity clothes but made no mention of our previous discussion. My in-laws, who are very generous, immediately told us how they could help us financially. They constantly surprise us with their gifts. The abundance has been especially comforting since my dad’s death.

I think I feel abandoned by my dad. I think every day that she is not generous with me I feel extra slighted. I honestly think his will was the will of a man who thought he was going to die at 90. He always assumed he would, even after his cancer diagnosis. How do I move on? Do I bring up the finances with her again? It’s making it hard for me to talk to her and then of course I feel money-grubbing.

Just writing this letter is making me sad.

Wanting More

TuscanAd_Voice2015

Dear Wanting More,

You say you feel abandoned by your father. Your father may have abandoned you many times in the past, physically, financially and emotionally. But this time he did not abandon you. He died. That is different. That is not abandonment. It is an excused absence.

Perhaps he led you to believe that he would never die and he would always take care of you, so his death does seem like a betrayal or abandonment. But who had the largest loss of all? He is the one who lost his life. His loss was the greatest of all.

It is our job, as the living, to make peace with the dead.

What do we owe the dead? We owe the dead the opportunity to truly be gone. That is one great consolation of death — that, as television ads for the advance purchase of burial plots put it, in death we do indeed settle our “final expenses.” Isn’t that a lovely thought, that there finally is, indeed, a permanent caesura to our endless invoices? Perhaps in this painful weighing of gifts is a refusal to let go of your father completely.

It is hard to make peace with the dead when we are still entangled in their affairs. So I think you need to change the way you think about the money and property your father left. To do that, you may need to face with renewed clarity the fact of his death, its utter finality. He is completely gone. Everything that was once his is no longer his. It is no longer your father’s money. It is his widow’s money. The decisions she makes about how to use her money will be based on her values and the relationship that you and she have, not on your idea of what your father would have wanted.

A person’s will leaves certain instructions about the disposition of his estate, and through that legal instrument the dead may continue to exert an influence over the living. But it is a mistake, I think, to reach beyond his legal instructions and presume “he would have wanted this” or “he would have wanted that.” Indeed, he may have told you many things about what he wanted. But unless they are written down, those utterances lose all force as the last breath leaves his body. The living are left to sort it out with the only tools they have.

Those tools are, it seems to me, our values, our human decency, our feelings for each other and our regard for our own security. Among your father’s strongly held values, I take it, was the belief that parents ought to help their children financially when they can, well into adulthood. Now, the values a person lives by are admirable in two ways. One, they have an inherent validity — it’s clear that society benefits from honest dealings, concern for children, etc. Two, they are seen as admirable because of the esteem in which we hold the person. We look up to our parents and emulate their values. That admiration based on our esteem for the person is, I think, the basis on which we say, My father would have wanted this. In saying so, we are honoring not only his values but our memory of him as a person. We are carrying on a relationship with him even though he is no longer here. We do this out of love for him. That relationship, that continuing love for his memory, is vital and should not be denigrated.

But unfortunately it is not a basis for settling property disputes. Many people loved your father and had an idea about what he would have wanted. Many people held him in esteem and shared his values. But the money now belongs to his widow. It is she who must make the decisions about how to use it. If you can persuade her that the values your father lived by are good in and of themselves, and that she ought therefore to give you more money, more power to you. Perhaps you can construct an argument in which you distill and renew the values he lived by and present that to her. But the argument must, I think, be based in present reality.

As a way of working through this you might ask yourself: What is the importance of those values he held and bequeathed to you? Why is it still vital that parents help their children well into adulthood? How did he balance the needs of children and widow, and how ought that be managed now? What concerns for her own well-being might she have that she has not spelled out? Why, on their merits, are her actions miserly or unfair? In short, what is the right thing to do?

As you think it through, you may find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with her actions themselves. Indeed, you may find that there isn’t anything wrong with what she is doing, judging by contemporary standards. If so, you may then be left with only your sadness over your father’s passing. That is a great sadness indeed. In fact, once you think it through, the money may seem the least of your loss, compared to who this man was and what he meant to you.

It is best in life to turn from matters over which we have little control and little responsibility to those matters over which we have great control and great responsibility. Those matters are chiefly the conduct of our own lives and how we care for our own loved ones, whose hopes, like ours, are that we be generous and prosper as long as we can.

Walking on a hillside meadow perhaps one day soon you will feel the wind and it won’t have his breath in it; sitting at his desk one day it won’t be his desk anymore, but your desk. I’m not saying it will happen today or tomorrow, but it is something to look forward to, a state of understanding and acceptance that will make your present anguish over Volvos and car seats seem strangely disconnected from life’s grave and joyous milestones.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

I love you

I love you, O person who is unknown to me. That is what I send to you. I send my love. This is a rare thing to be able to do. I am not being paid for this but still I am sending my love.

When I was being paid, in the many times in my life where what I was writing was a product purchased by a company, such as all writing is when we are paid for it, I still saw my job as one of sending love out through the words. I wanted to do it in a funny and clever way but it was still an act of sending love out in words. I was still trying to cause delight in the mind. I was trying to give you the best of what I can do.

I know I have a gift. At times I have let this go to my head. At other times I have debased myself because of this gift, feeling I had to lower myself and not display this gift. I have my neuroses, my demons and wounds. But I also have this gift. I see and hear things.

What is next? I’m not sure. Oh yes, I remember now: Writing the column is a spiritual practice.

I can still speak directly to you

The advice column has a quality to it that is of a person speaking directly to another person. That quality flows out of the form of it, that it is epistolary in form.

What I can do, even if I am not writing the column is I can still speak directly to you.

What I can do is to speak directly to you, the person who is seeing this. I may not be able to untangle entire lives in the time I have to write. But I can speak to you directly in this way.

This is a literary style. It can be defined by sentence type and word choice. And sound. It has a particular sound, this style of mine, how I write. It is also an intent, embodied in a literary style. The intent is to implore you to slow down and participate with me in a kind of breathing. That is, the slowness of these words is meant to say to you, slow down and breathe with me. Perhaps I am even trying to hypnotize you. I am saying slow down and read these words along with me. Slow down and contemplate our collective powerlessness, out of which grows great strength. I am saying, recognize with me that in this moment as I am writing I am picturing you reading we are together. There are no other worries. In this moment that you are able to read this, you are safe and protected. You are breathing. This won’t last forever. I will pass on and you will pass on and one day there won’t even be a trace of us here on this planet. We don’t know where we will be then. For some reason we are prevented from knowing this. Yet for right now if you are reading this everything is OK. Nothing is going on except that I am sitting in my room in the noise of the heater, with my cups and my crumpled napkins, my plate and my cellphone, my nails that need clipping and my keys and glasses case, my lamp, my stack of mail, and I am only doing this one thing.

I can think about that stack of mail and I can even feel the tension it causes when I think of it, but even that is somewhat under my control because I can return to this simple act of writing to you.

Next: I love you.

The serious writer’s predicament

What a radically dangerous pledge it is, to pledge oneself to writing. You must be willing to let everything else slide.  (Or must you?)

If I decide that today I am answering a letter from a person who is suffering, that might be all I do today. If I put limits on it, if I say that because I am not being paid then I can only spend one hour on it, that may cheapen it. What I need to say may require six hours, not one.

What I do in the column is the opposite of a bullet-point list. It is a song. I enter into the spirit of an individual’s life. I try to touch people. I try to move heaven and earth with my prose.

Next: I can still speak directly to you.