Monday, January 08, 2007

Hall Pass, Signed by Jesus Himself... Or Else.

Tonight, I walked into Ben’s room to kiss him goodnight. On his wall of posters of the young and glamorous rock stars and actors, one had been ripped down.

Who’d you get rid of? I asked.

Hillary Duff.


She’s turning into an anorexic rabbit, he said.


How quickly someone’s moment of fame can rise and fall. One day, pop princess, next day, anorexic rabbit.

I had dinner with a friend tonight and we talked a long time, until the waiter passed by, unwilling to refill our water glasses for the tenth time. She’s known me almost as long as any friend I have. It is a comfortable relationship, full of bantering about sex and deeply honest revelations about who we are. We start global, and as each course is served, zero in how we see each other and ourselves.

With an outrageous mushroom soufflé and sautéed calamari, we talked about people’s need to be better than someone else, like the conservative push to take away gay and lesbians civil rights in this state. Someone always has to be better, more glorious, and more perfect. Their god is the right god. A child killed without accepting Jesus as his/her savior is destined to hell. Is heaven a special country club or something? Queers, Jews, Muslims- basically anyone who doesn’t agree with their prescription for life- need not apply?

But then, some Jews won’t have us and a lot of Muslims won’t, so I guess we really are on our own.

How can anyone truly be bothered by our marriages? How can someone think our lives can change the world, ending all that we know? If I was that powerful, I would have been able to get the super majority of votes needed to vote the ballot question down.

And, most importantly, is it a coincidence some of the most moral people we know are atheists? Morality for morality’s sake. Not for some key to heaven. Or perhaps is it a hall pass, like in high school, if it's not signed by Jesus your going to detention.

With roasted duckling in a Madeira glaze and seared sea scallops, we moved on to our own needs to be great at something. How, almost at midlife, we are realizing we will never be great at any one thing. Our posters will never adorn someone’s wall. The best we can do, she said, is be okay with being who we are. Really good. Not the best, sure, but good enough.

I thought again about my friend’s funeral in December. How her kids stood up and talked about what a great mother she was. Her grandson said she was the smartest person in the world. Her community showered praise for her efforts to make the world a better place. To me, she was great. Outside of her circle, her community? No one knew her name.

We moaned about our failures as parents. How often we say what we didn’t want to. How often we sounded like our own mothers, the ugliness that can escape our lips.

We know, I said to her, how to say we’re sorry. That’s the difference. And maybe that’s all we can give our kids.

With crème brulee, we talked about giving up the need to be great. Accepting we are normal. Average. We don’t have to be the best at anything to be happy. It doesn’t mean not working hard, or trying with all our ability. It means accepting we are mere mortals and it’s okay. We don’t have to be great to be loved.

In fact, the people who love us, with our shortcomings, for who we are today, are who really matter in our lives. You’re bossy and difficult to be sure, she said to me. I hope your marriage can work. Because even though you are a pain in the ass? It would be a tremendous loss for Jeanine.

Driving home, I thought about how I have for so long wanted to be great. At something. Anything. To be recognized as special, worthy of praise and attention. If the world saw me as special, I would win my mother’s pride. Ensuring a place in her heart, a special place saved for very few. Not unlike some people’s heaven. It felt like I needed a special pass to get in and to stay there.

I may not make it into some other people’s idea of heaven. I’m willing to bet they are wrong about the special key to get in. Like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology, I believe their ideas are outdated and simplistic.

I’ll never be on a poster wall in some kid’s bedroom, only to be ripped down when I’m too old, too fat, too skinny, too gray or… sooooo yesterday.

But you know what? It’s not about being great. It’s about being happy.


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