Category Archives: Words and Language

Life in a Box?

Mom at Halloween

She squinted at me as I walked through the door and pursed her lips until I came closer—the kind of look she gives the staff when they come in—very unlike the broad smile and the happy “Well!” that lets me know my mother knows exactly who I am.  I pulled a chair up next to her wheelchair and took her hand in both of mine, and she began to chatter, though the sentences I understood gave no hint of the bonds we’ve shared for the past 57 years.

As I sat with her, it became clear that she knew I was someone who cared about her, and she seemed happy when I kissed her as I left, but she showed none of the emotion of my previous two visits, when she spoke my name and waved to me, clearly reluctant to let me go.

It was a difficult visit for me, coming on the heels of losing one of my best friends.  As I sat next to her, I wondered why God would leave my mother here, trapped in the haze of a stroke, and take my friend, who was still in the middle of doing so much good that he is mourned by hundreds.  And I wondered again at the unfathomable ways of God.

As so often happens when I’m wrestling with life’s unanswerable questions, a snippet of a line came to me from literature—from a play where the characters ask whether life in a box is better than being dead.  I pulled the play from my bookshelf and looked at the lines I had taught and highlighted.  Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead uses two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to ask the questions about life and death that make our heads spin.  My seniors either loved or hated the play, but no one was ever indifferent.  Some students loved the circular questioning, and others hated that Stoppard asks the questions but gives us few answers.  In the second act, Guildenstern says this to Rosencrantz:

“Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off—I’m going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather to be alive or dead?  Naturally you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You’d have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking—well, at least I’m not dead! In a minute, somebody’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out.  (Banging the floor with his fists.) ‘Hey, you, whatsyername! Come out of there!’”

I understand exactly how Guildenstern feels.  When I stood by my friend as he lay in a box at the viewing, I had to resist the urge to say aloud, “Get up. Come out of there and tell me this isn’t real!”  And as I sat by my mother, I wanted nothing more than to hug her and bring her out of the box that life has placed her in.

As all of us do when we’re dealing with pain, I reminded myself of the many people I know who’ve suffered far greater losses—the parents who lost their one-year-old, the 15-year-old who lost her single-parent mother, the 28-year-old son of my friend who lost his father.  I know how fortunate I am to have had both my mother and my friend for so long as a wonderful part of my life, my happiness.

Ultimately, I know that these are unanswerable questions.  Is life in a box better than no life?  Does knowing my loss is less than the unutterable losses I could have suffered make the pain less?  Does believing, as Stoppard says at one point in his play, that every exit is an entrance somewhere else make us grieve any less?

Again I look at the highlighted lines, searching for something more than just the circular questions we all ask.  And I find it in one of Rosencrantz’s insights later in the play:

Be happy—if you’re not even happy, what’s so good about surviving?  (He picks himself up.)  We’ll be all right.  I suppose we just go on.

That is exactly what we do, isn’t it?  Whether the box of our lives is small or expansive, whether we believe in Heaven or not, whether our pain is great or greater, we go on.  We look for the moments of joy.  We smile and sometimes even laugh aloud when we remember the people we’ve lost as they were when they were fully human among us.

So let us tell those belly-laughing stories and remind ourselves that we’ll be all right.

Does God Make Mistakes?

Jordan's Drawing

Jordan’s Drawing

Returning to work today after the death of one of our family’s dearest friends, I gave myself a pep talk, trying to convince myself I could make it through this one day before the weekend.  I flipped on the light switch to my windowless office, and the first thing my eyes saw was this drawing by my friend Wayne’s grandson.  I smiled, as I do every time I look at the picture, but this time the smile was seasoned with sadness that Wayne would never again show up at my door with one of Jordan’s drawings in hand.

My sorrow has sometimes taken my breath away this week, and every time it does, I know that I can’t begin to imagine the grief of my friend’s wife, his son, his grandson, and his 87-year-old mother who lost her only child.  The first time I spoke with my friend’s mother, she amazed me by thinking of my pain in the face of her profound loss.  “Sweetheart,” she said, “I can hear the hurt in your voice.  We both just have to remember that God doesn’t make mistakes.”

I shared this with a colleague today who asked how my friend’s family were doing.  My colleague said, “You know, I hear a lot of people in my own faith say that, but I’m not so sure about that.”  And we both paused to share stories of the things that shaped our respective views of God.

And I think for the first time this week I may have at least a partial understanding of why Jesus told his disciples that they needed to be like little children in their relationship with the Creator.  As a person who values intellect and reason, I’ve always struggled with that story in Matthew’s Gospel.  Does Jesus mean I’m supposed to be gullible and naïve? I ask myself.  I can’t quite accept that I’m meant to put aside my intellect and accept the ways of God without question.

But as I’ve struggled this week to understand why my friend would be taken from a world where he was still in the middle of doing so much good, I’ve decided once again that it’s okay to question God—that if I believe in a God who is bigger than my understanding, then I’ll never have all the answers in this life.  When I think about how little children face the unfathomable, I know that they often ask life’s big, unanswerable questions and accept it when there isn’t a clear answer.  They ask their parents questions and then run off to play with complete joy, even though their parents have just given them a jumbled explanation, an uncertain answer.

And so I grieve.  But I know that when I walked this morning, I still needed to enjoy the beauty of the stars.  And when I go to the beach, as we so often went together, I need to put my toes into the sand and know that my friend is now a part of the incredible universe that surrounds me.  He is in the waves that wash over my feet, the ocean breeze that touches my face, the horizon that seems eternal in the distance.

So I remember, yet again, the words of the playwright Thornton Wilder:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

And so, my friend, I commend you to the eternal.  As long as I draw breath, I’ll give thanks that, for 20 years, you and I shared this earthly journey together.  It makes my grief a little less to believe that we haven’t seen the last of each other.

Does God make mistakes?  I think probably not.  And I have love and hope and faith that my friend and his loved ones will all somehow reunite as part of the great I Am–even if, like a little child, I’m not quite sure how that will happen.

So tell me your stories of seeing God through a glass darkly.

Are You Kidding Me, God?

Family Bible

Mom’s Family Bible

There it is.  Right in the same chapter with the verse that Christians have quoted for 2000 years to say that Christianity is the only way to God.  And yet I’ve never heard a sermon that focuses on this verse, one of the most intriguing things that Christ ever said.  And it is, perhaps, the single biggest reason I don’t believe the Bible can be interpreted literally.

Thomas, always the one to question, has just asked Christ to explain what he means when he says that there are many dwelling places in God’s house, and Christ has responded that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that Thomas shouldn’t worry about having a place with God.

Philip follows up by expressing his confusion and pleading with Jesus just to be plain—just to show them God’s face.

Jesus’ response astonishes me anew every time I read it:

“Believe in me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe in me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14: 11-12, NRV)

Now I don’t know about any other mere human out there, but in all the years I’ve lived on this earth, I have never met a single person, Christian or otherwise, who believes he or she can do greater things than John describes in the thirteen chapters leading up to this scene.  Jesus turns water to wine at the wedding in Cana.  He accepts water from a Samaritan woman he has never met and tells her everything she has ever done.  He heals the son of a royal official without even being in the room where the sick boy lies.  He heals a paralytic—despite the fact that it is forbidden on the Sabbath—and gives a perfectly logical explanation of his actions to religious leaders.  He feeds 5000 people with five loaves and two fish.  He walks on water to stand beside the disciples who are terrified by the storm…and more than a little scared of what they’ve just seen Jesus do.  He saves the life of a woman who is about to be stoned for committing adultery, gives sight to a blind man, raises Lazarus from the dead.  And even people who see these miracles with their own eyes walk away in disbelief.  Not even his own brothers can believe him.

So are you kidding me, Jesus?  I believe in you—and I believe the world could be a better place if all of us had your compassion, your wisdom, your love.  I believe in the God who sent you.

But if I’m supposed to read the Bible literally, as so many of my fellow Christians do, then I can’t quite find it in me to believe that I could do a single one of the things you did in the books leading up to this moment when you tell me that I can do greater things than you did.

But if I’m to read the Bible literally, then I have to believe that I, too, could raise someone from the dead.  And in the wake of losing one of my dearest friends on this earth, there’s nothing I’d like to believe more at this moment.

I don’t think even the most conservative Christians in the universe would say that they believe they can perform a single one of these acts that John describes to us and leaves us to untangle 2000 years later.  In fact, if someone uttered such a belief, those same literal readers would probably label her a heretic.

So I will read these stories of God for the people of God as best I can in my limited human understanding.  I will have faith that my dear friend is dancing with the Spirit of the universe and just beginning to understand what I cannot about the great I Am.  I will do what I can to follow the example Christ set for me—to be compassionate, to seek wisdom, to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength.

And I will remember, as a woman of great faith once told me, that I have something to learn from everyone I meet in this life—from people who share my faith and people who do not.  Because the one thing I believe most of all is that if people of every faith and no faith worked together to be a Presence in the world, then we truly could do greater things.  We might all have life…and have it more abundantly.

Feeling Fat?

Mom and Marcella

Mom with Marcella (before I was born)

I love to eat.  I rarely find it easy to turn down a piece of chocolate or a baked potato drenched in butter.  So when Governor Christie’s weight and eating habits dominated the news this week, I watched, fascinated by a conversation that flared back and forth across a country where it’s increasing difficult to remain trim and healthy.  And once again, a complex issue turned into a series of sound bites volleyed across the country’s air waves between two people who had never met each other.

Forced at the age of three by my dad’s job loss to move into a shack on a relative’s property and eat government bologna and cheese, I found my own eating habits shaped early.  I have vague memories of my tiny mother standing at a ‘50s style diner table, wrestling to slice those big blocks of meat and cheese into thin slices, trying to stretch that government handout across several days.   Still petite at the age of 23, she already had three children and was pregnant with a fourth. Continue reading Feeling Fat?

Believe in Unicorns?

Unicorn

I’ve read it, heard it, sung it hundreds of times.  I even wrote about the passage, line by line, in thoughts for the day for my daughter, thinking about every single phrase that speaks to us of love.

I know the history of it—that it is part of a letter Paul wrote to an important city church that considered itself spiritually mature and full of wisdom.  I know that Paul’s words in the rest of the letter have been used for hundreds of years to silence women and justify slavery in churches equally sure of their spirituality and wisdom.

But in spite of knowledge and understanding, in spite of my push and pull relationship with Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament letters, I continue to read it, to admire it, to strive for the kind of love it defines.

First Corinthians 13—the hymn to love—is sung at weddings, read from the pulpit, inscribed on countless scrolls and wall hangings to remind us that love covers a multitude of sins:  “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Paul directly states his meaning, without the figurative language or parables of the holy texts that sometimes confuse us.  But today I understood the obvious—something I’ve never realized in all those hundreds of times I’ve read it—that having love is even greater than having faith.

That it should be part of today’s lectionary was an interesting coincidence (or maybe not a coincidence) for me.  This week one of my friends posted a collage of past presidents in military uniform alongside a picture of former President Clinton in a band uniform and President Obama in a turban.  I challenged him for posting it, and after a back-and-forth that convinced no one of anything, one of his friends resorted to insults, telling me to stop being holier-than-thou and to go on away in search of that unicorn I’m always chasing.

Though I rarely pay attention to the content of her posts, her reaction to mine made me think, especially when I read that verse this morning.  How do I love someone who makes me angry?  How do I live my faith without coming across as the church in Corinth did—and as so many churches do today—as certain that I have all the answers about what it means to seek God?

I try to remind myself every day that finding understanding and wisdom is a journey—that, truly, the best I can do is “see through a glass darkly,” as Paul says in this chapter.  I know that I must keep looking, every day, for how to be the face and hands and feet of God in a world where it’s easy to get sucked into anger and become self-righteous.

But when my faith wavers and I start to believe that maybe I am hoping for a unicorn, love truly is the greatest of these three.  Love—in the faces of the people who love me in spite of my flaws—picks me up and plants my feet on the ground again.  Love makes me believe in the world in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

And so it is this morning that I think about the purest kind of human love I know—my love for the child I carried inside me and brought into the world with unadulterated hope and faith and joy.  Nothing could separate me from the love I feel for her.  Though we may sometimes disappoint each other, we have faith in each other and in the power of our love.

I’ll never feel that kind of love for the person who thinks I’m searching for unicorns.  But I can at least let go of my anger and hope that she can do the same—that we can forgive each other when words offend.

It’s a lofty aim, and it doesn’t mean I have to stop engaging people when I believe they’re being unjust.  But she’s challenged me to live my faith in humility, to hope for a wiser world—and greatest of all, to keep reminding myself that perfect human love is a unicorn worth chasing.

So tell me the stories that give you faith in human love.

Politician or Leader?

Congressman Hechler

That’s me in the middle in the white dress I made for the occasion.

Al Gore was the keynote speaker at a conference I attended in 2006, and he spoke eloquently to a group of teachers and filmmakers about the importance of educating our young people to take better care of the planet.  Having launched Current TV a few months before the conference, Gore touted the importance of connecting our students to technology and film.

Hearing a preview for Gore’s interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Showyesterday morning, I rolled my eyes, picked up my bag of books and my car key, and left my husband to watch Gore hawk his new book.  This evening I learned that Lauer spent more time skewering Gore for his decision to sell Current to Al Jazeera than talking about the book that I won’t be buying.

I grinned, pleased that the interview didn’t go as well as Gore had planned.  He called himself a “recovering politician,” but I’m not entirely convinced he isn’t setting the stage for a presidential run in 2016.  If he does, I won’t be voting for him.

I met Gore at that 2006 conference.  I had practically danced when I got an invitation to a reception after the keynote.  He said in his address that he was eager to talk with educators and filmmakers about how they were teaching young people about issues facing our country.  I watched as he spoke for about a minute with each person—longer with those who had clout at the conference.  I listened politely as he talked with people aspiring to get his attention for their projects.

When it was finally my turn, I shook his hand and introduced myself, and I didn’t get a complete sentence out of my mouth about my students.  As I talked, he looked over my shoulder at a well-known media personality on the other side of the room.  Before I finished the sentence, he said, “Well, good for you,” his feet already in motion to move past me, his hand in the air in a wave to the person over my shoulder.

I had stuck with Al Gore when most of the country thought he was an alarmist about climate change. I stuck with him after the ridicule that followed a campaign comment he made about taking the initiative in “creating the Internet.”  I stuck with him after the debacle of the 2000 election.  By 2006 he had reinvented himself, and I stuck with him as he made fun of himself on late-night shows and found other ways to advocate for the issues that mattered to him.

My mom used to say, when I tried to encourage her to vote, “What’s the use in voting one dirty bunch out and another dirty bunch in?”  I lectured her for her cynicism and badgered her until she started voting again.

But in that moment when Al Gore debunked the myth he’d created about his belief in the importance of great teachers, I understood how my mother felt.  And while I was no fan of President George W. Bush, I was glad that if someone had to lose to him, that someone was the man who had brushed aside a teacher he had claimed to value as the key to the future.  In that moment, for me, Gore ceased to be a leader and became a politician.

I still disagree with my mother about the uselessness of voting, and I think there are leaders in both parties who try every day to live up to their ideals.  But I wish that all of us could have one minute with the candidates—one unfiltered minute.  For me, it took less than a minute for Gore to destroy everything I’d ever heard about him from the media, a few seconds that didn’t even register in his brain.

And I’m glad that as a teenager, I had the opportunity to meet leaders in West Virginia who taught me that some are leaders first and politicians second.  Congressman Ken Hechler sponsored a group of students from my high school for a weekend in Washington.  Though none of us could vote, he took the time to walk around the Capitol with us and to ask each of us questions about our lives and our dreams.  He ushered us into the office of Senator Robert Byrd, who, though he was legendary, invited us to sit down in his office and talked to us about the history that surrounded us.  And after the trip, Congressman Hechler sent us all a personally signed photograph of the group from his district.

I want to believe that we still have leaders like Congressman Hechler and Senator Byrd who believe it’s important to give attention to the least among us.  Do you have stories of such leaders?  I’d love to have you share your stories in a comment.

What Can We Promise?

Ash & Mrs. Hacker

For 2 ½ months now, I’ve been writing in this blog about my belief that the answers to most of our questions and issues aren’t at either extreme but, rather, somewhere in the middle.  I know there are other voices out there who feel the same, but because harmony and compromise don’t sell air time or newspapers or magazines, these are not the voices that are replayed in the media.

Today, on the one-month anniversary of their loss, a group called Sandy Hook Promise—some of them parents who sent their children to school on December 14, not knowing that their lives would never be the same—called today for a sensible conversation on gun control.  They took no position. Instead, they called for meaningful dialogue—called for us to promise to do everything we can “to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.”

I’m humbled.  Four parents spoke at this event, and parents of eleven of the children were present.  One spoke of how she sent two children to school that morning but only one came home.  Another spoke of waiting for her son to come crawl in her bed and cuddle.  As I watched them, I wondered at their strength and thought that, if I were in their position, I’d probably still be in my bed with the covers pulled over my head, hoping that I’d wake up and find it was all a bad dream.

Though this story ran on the evening news, when I looked for more details, I found it nowhere on the front page of the Washington Post online.  Stories about the debt ceiling, check.  Stories of Lance Armstrong (and is anyone really surprised?), check.  Stories of the Golden Globe Awards, check.  And even a story about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas saying something during oral arguments for the first time in seven years—something that no one heard, followed by endless speculation about what he might have said.

But despite the minimal media coverage of the Sandy Hook Promise, these parents steeled themselves to speak in spite of their pain.  They felt it was important to say that some were not gun owners but that others were—and that those who were gun owners were not afraid to talk about making changes in gun laws.

I keep thinking about what my daughter was like in kindergarten and first grade—about how I missed taking her for her first day of school because I was a teacher.  I have only pictures to remind me of that day.  So I took the day off when it was her turn for her Superstar day, the day her kindergarten teacher honored her, as she did each child in the class, with a bulletin board and a week in which she was the special child in the room. And I do have her—a vibrant 26-year-old who makes me proud every day to be called her mom.

I continue to ache for these parents, whose children are forever frozen for them at that moment in their lives a month ago today.  I pray that these eleven parents—and the others who were not at today’s event—get what they are asking because they deserve that and more for their courage today.

And I hope for all of us.  There are small movements—people who are speaking up in favor of conversation and compromise.  And if these parents can speak from hearts full of pain, we owe it to them to forward their cause.

What can I do?  What can you do?  What can we do together?  Let’s imagine.

Change the Team Name?

Like many of my fellow West Virginians, I’m a mongrel. Had I been asked by my teachers to do a project on my cultural heritage, as is required in some courses in my school system, I would have had a difficult time producing anything that clearly defined my lineage.  Unlike my husband, who knows with certainty that his father was Polish and his mother was Scotch-Irish, I only have vague notions of my parents’ ethnicity.

My dad often said that we had “some Indian blood,” and in the days of my childhood when the cowboys were far more popular on television and in stories, he seemed just as fond of the Indians. He particularly liked the Cherokees, who are native to Southern Appalachia and whose blood flows in many descendants of settlers in the Appalachian and the Great Smoky Mountains. In the few trips Dad took out of West Virginia before he followed my siblings to Richmond, he visited Cherokee, North Carolina to play in high stakes Bingo games and won $20,000 the last time he played. But he was almost as proud of the picture he had taken with an Indian in full headdress as he was of the money he had won there.

I’ve always felt conflicted, then, when the subject of the name of Washington’s football team resurfaces, as it does each year.  This week, the mayor of Washington expressed a wish to see the team move back to the city and change its name because the mascot has become a lightning rod as the worst of the offensive team names.  Subsequently, Washington Postcolumnist Mike Wise suggested that if quarterback RGIII had more character, he’d take up the cause of getting the team to change its name.  I commented on the article, thinking about what I was like as a 22-year-old and wondering if Wise had thought about himself as a 22-year-old when he wrote the article.  That’s a pretty heavy burden to place on someone so young.

At the same time, I’d just finished reading Sherman Alexie’s award winning novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, largely autobiographical, in which he talks about leaving a reservation in Washington state to attend a school that would more likely pave the way for him to go to college.  In numerous interviews, Alexie talks about the lack of education and the epidemic alcoholism among Native Americans on reservations and speaks proudly of the fact that his children have never seen an Indian consume alcohol.  I admire Alexie tremendously, and while his life is very different from my own, like me, he worked very hard to have a better life than his parents had.

This week, before the mayor’s comments and the Post column, I read a comment from Alexie in an interview on the subject of mascot names.  He pointed out that full Indian headdress was part of Native American religious rituals and wondered whether we would tolerate having a priest mascot who ran around the court or the football field in full ceremonial robes.  That may be the best argument I’ve heard yet for changing team names.

I love Washington football.  But as a teacher of language, I’m always bothered when language offends.  So I looked up the derivation of the word “redskin” on Dictionary.com and discovered that, while the first definition lists it as slang that is often offensive, one of the definitions calls it an old-fashioned term that derived from a tribe of Indians that painted their faces with red ochre—not because of the color of their skin.

And since I usually try to bring my blog posts back to where I began, I decided to check the derivation of the word “mongrel.”  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the definitions, though not the first, listed it as a taboo term for a person of mixed race.

Isn’t that interesting?

So I’ll continue to cheer on the team I love.  But it will always bother me that someone is offended by the mascot of what I consider to be the real America’s Team—not that other one that we defeated handily in the last regular season game—the one that so proudly calls itself by the name of the white people in hats and chaps and spurs who played a part in nearly making Native Americans extinct.

So, as usual, this issue is more complex than the two opposite sides.  I wonder what my dad would have thought?

How Far Have You Traveled?

Oceana from Porch

The World from the Porch of My Childhood Home in Oceana

I love books.  Books remind me of all the places I’ve been—the places my heart has traveled that I might forget until I read a character who travels to a similar place.  Books take me to places I’ve never been—and even now, when technology can show images and carry voices to me from the other side of the world, I still love it when the words on a printed page can conjure worlds and places that dance across my mind.

For a girl like me, who grew up in a coal mining town in the Appalachian Mountains and never saw the ocean until I had my first teaching job, books were and still are a source of awe to me.  And something in my life has always taken priority over traveling to the places I’d love to go—buying my first house, having children, and even now that I can afford to travel, finding a place close enough to allow me to relax and think.  Though we would love to travel, my husband and I have not yet traveled to a single place that requires a passport.  We only acquired passports after one of our children, who’ve traveled far more than we have, said, “What if I decide I want to get married in Italy?  You won’t be able to come to the wedding.”

Though we constantly put off traveling for something that is more important to us, I’ve probably traveled the world through books more than many people who’ve been around the world and back hundreds of times.  And just as they stop in awe as they see the wonders of the world, I often find that a simple word or phrase can take my breath away and make me pause in awe.

Most recently, my mind lingered over a verse that pulled me in—a verse hidden among far more well known ones from Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, a verse in the same chapter as the words that a lot of Christians have taken to mean that only they can come to God.  Christ is talking to the disciples in that circular way that sometimes makes them crazy—in a wealth of figurative language that makes it difficult for them to understand the nature of his relationship to God.  And then he tells them this very surprising thing:  “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

I was so skeptical that I went to the Web and read the verse in ten different translations before I could believe what I must have read and heard hundreds of times over the course of my life.

As I’ve been looking beyond teaching and working with teachers to consider my next calling in the world, I hope to be able to do sometimes for others what great authors have done for me—to put words together in a way that will make my readers’ minds linger in places they’ve never been.  But do I believe for even one second that I can do works that are greater than the works of the Christ whose birth I’ll celebrate tomorrow?  Words fail me in trying to describe where my brain goes as I think about that.  I want to laugh out loud, to put an exclamation point here, to somehow let you know how much the thought of that boggles my mind.

And then I do laugh out loud, knowing that I’m joyful when even one or two friends or strangers tell me that this blog has helped them or made them think.  But what if I could somehow bring myself to believe the extraordinary promise of that verse?  What if all of us came to believe in the extraordinary power of a single human in a world in so much need?

So while I still hope to use that passport to see places I’ve never seen, I also value going back to the places I’ve been, seeing treasures hidden in the sand of that ocean I didn’t see until I was 22.  And that’s why I’ll continue to travel the holy texts of my faith and the writing of the great authors I treasure.  Perhaps somehow, with all the mind-boggling force of the great thinkers who have come before me, I can somehow build on what they’ve done and make a difference in my world, the way that Christ made a difference in his.

Over and over again, writers speak to me long after I’ve put their books back on the shelf of my library or in the archive of my e-reader.  I hear their words, dancing in my head, and they give me hope.

So tell me a favorite quote of a great prophet or writer or thinker that dances in your head.  Tell me the words that take you to far-away places in search of the awe of a better world.