Thursday, November 22, 2007


I just had Thanksgiving dinner. My dad stayed on a computer in another room while my mother, my three little brothers and myself sat around a table eating Kraft Easy Mac and some chicken, watching I Love Lucy re-runs. My younger sister did not come home, but remained at her apartment in Provo. My seven-year-old brother (whom my parents refuse to allow baptism) sighed, "This was the worst Thanksgiving ever."

I'm sitting here at my computer, and I'm looking at some books around me. I raided the library this week; a co-worker asked if I was experiencing some sort of spiritual schizophrenia. There's the Bible on my left covered with an old Batman comic, and the Qur'an (Koran) on my right. There's a book by Nietzsche stacked on top of The Problem of God in Modern Thought,Teachings of the Dali Lama, and a Johnny Cash album. A book about karma sits on my floor next to an article on Christianity from U.S. and World Report. On top of my dresser sits my Yankees baseball hat, the I Ching and three coins.

I don't know if you're familiar with the I Ching. I wasn't until the other night when I was in a bookstore and impulsively bought it. I didn't realize it was considered an oracle by millions throughout the centuries, and I'd paid $10 for some sort of divinitation device. I decided that I would try using it, and I tossed the coins wrong the first couple times, getting strange answers to nonsensical questions like "How's the weather?" But then I decided to be serious. In this schizophrenia I'm experiencing, I'm trying to feel out where I can fit in spirituality, once and for all. I've established that I do believe in a God, and in Christ. I believe in the idea of karma, but I won't accept karma itself just yet because it rules out the need for a Christ. This is what independence is, I guess. Living on my own has taught me that I can't take anything for granted anymore, and I'm being forced to re-evaluate my concept of God. I have realized that most of my life, my idea of God was divided into two illusions: a harsh divine dictator who only favors the Mormons, or a mysterious Creator quasi-billions of who knows what far away. I cannot fit the father figure into my concept of God. I never found out who God was for myself, or Christ. I just relied on happy feelings and the testimonies of others. As Nietzsche famously proclaimed, I found that God really was dead to me.

So with anticipation, I tossed the three coins and asked, "What is the relationship of the I Ching to God?" I guess I was wondering how the book would help me in my search for a connection to God. I don't know what answer I was expecting, but I didn't expect the answer I received minutes later. The answer was: "Limitation." That I Ching, the books around me, and many of my choices lately could only help me with so much, but in the end could not get me all the answers I'm looking for. I was limiting myself in my search and growth by finding answers in narrow places. I didn't expect something as mystical as an ancient oracle to admit it was too "limited" to help me find God. I almost laughed out loud.

Because it seemed ridiculous. With everything that had been going wrong lately - from recent relapses, to the loss of friends (one being forbidden by parents to associate with a 19-year-old not on a mission), to family disturbances, to failing at school - I felt like I was standing on the edge of a shore, looking into nothingness. Deciding to find God suddenly felt like a joke and a duty at the same time.

So it's Thanksgiving, and I'm trying to find my blessings, but I see only a wide expanse of oblivion around me. A waste land. And when I try to think about things I'm grateful for, I draw a blank. Everything I was grateful for - my friends like Ammon or Ben or Eric, my family relations, and my testimony...all of that has disappeared in less than a year. I've been completely wasted away to find...what? Memories? My music? (I thank God for U2 and the Beatles, and all my music - and I don't mean that flippantly.) One can be grateful for memories and music, I guess. But they are "limitations." They can't congratulate you, or hold you, or even kiss you.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaing. I want to say: feeling like the only person in the universe has taught me to appreciate one thing, and be grateful for another. I appreciate love, and I believe I'm coming closer to understanding what love is and is not. As the great John Lennon once said, "In the end, the love you give is equal to the love you get." And I pondered a few times if I made the right choice in not committing suicide over the summer. This is undoubtedly the worst time of my life. But, for some strange reason, I am excited and glad to be alive for it. It's strange...Indeed, in years to come I may look at this year and say "Those aren't my happiest memories, but they're my most important." And maybe, with that mentality, my limitations will act as signs to guide me down the right road. Then, I'm grateful for my limits.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Left and Leaving

My friend Eric Smith finally left for the MTC, and he'll be arriving in Washington, D.C./southern Virginia shortly thereafter. I didn't plan on it being an emotional farewell, but the last day we were hanging out, I found myself approaching his house very slowly. "If I walk slower," I thought, "maybe...maybe he won't leave as soon." We had dinner, went to see a movie, then dropped me off at my apartment. He gave me his longboard, saying, "You need this more than I do." I said, "Eric...I can't take this. Any time I ride it, I'll think of ya, and then I'll crash into something." He laughed, and then the last thing he said to me was: "Matthew, you are my best friend in the whole world, do you know that? If you can, see that you go on that mission." I nodded, then proceeded to go upstairs, watch a chick flick, and feel depressed for two days. I guess emotions don't get planned.

But assigning me as his best friend only reminded me of another friend, Ammon. He's sixteen, turning seventeen in a month. My twentieth birthday is a month and two days after. I befriended him after he moved into the old house of one of my best friends. We got tight pretty quick, and he started calling me his best friend in the world. Thick as thieves, we were. Then, he got a girlfriend. He gave her all the attention in the world, and planned on marriage and having her wait for him after his mission.

And late at night, I would get in fights with my pillows and scream over it. How could he just move into town, and at a whim fall in love? Just like that? My same-gender attractions drove me to insane jealousy. I cared way too much about him. It's not that I was attracted to him. I was jealous of his ability to love. I saw him happy and blissful every time he brought up his girlfriend, and whenever I looked at myself and saw my empty life - without passion or love - I would go green like a light.

Pretty soon, the tension got us into a fight. We didn't speak to each other for almost a month. After we called it cool, we got into another fight a month later. He was angry I wasn't on a mission, and I was angry he was being sixteen. We didn't talk to each other for three and a half months. We started jamming in a band with a couple of friends. Then we got into another fight about him being immature, and me being different. We didn't talk for almost two months. Then, he broke up with his girlfriend. His depression got us talking again, and finally a few nights ago we hung out for the first time since last spring. Eventually, his parents told me I had to go.

As I left, I reflected on the useless hate I let into my life. And, you know? Most of that hate, I came to find, was aimed at myself. I felt like a failure because my friends were all left or leaving on missions, and I was sitting in my apartment going at it with porn every night. I care too much about everything and everyone but me. And I never get anything back. My heart is too big, I decided. It's not strong, and it's not smart. But it's big. I have a lot of love to give...I do. I just don't know where to put it. I finally got sick of myself. I went out Friday night, and bought a pack of cigarettes. I figured, what the heck, I've been trying to do self-improvement all my life. Maybe it's time to try self-destruction. I took Eric's longboard and skated way out to the city limits, where there are abandoned fields and a cold lake. I sat down, lit one up, and put my lips around the filter.

And that's when I realized....that I have no idea how to smoke a cigarette. And what's more, I was too scared to try.

Which further infuriated me. That I was too chicken to smoke, too chicken to go on a mission, too chicken to change my life. But I wasn't too chicken to walk half a mile to get my wallet so I can buy porn, or not too chicken to jack off in front of a P.E. teacher, or not too chicken to slit at my wrists and cut up my arms with a razor. I looked up at the sky, blasting "Love Reign O'er Me" by The Who, and I screamed: "IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?!!" ...Reaching up for a hand, any hand, is not an unfamiliar motif for me right now.

Sunday night, I called Ammon to see how he was holding up. He said he was okay, then told me, "Matthew...I'm really sorry...but we can't hang out ever again. My parents chewed me out the other night when you were here. The thing is, they don't want me to associate with a 19-year-old who is not on a mission."

I guess that's what I get for my big heart.