A couple of weeks ago I severely sunburned my torso while attempting to teach my girls a lesson about loving their bodies. Epic fail. (See more of that story on Facebook or Instagram.) All is not lost, however. Last week, with each layer of scorched skin that blistered and peeled off, I started learning a new lesson which continues this week as I am itching like crazy. It’s the lesson called “Don’t be an Idiot.”
This is a hard lesson for a person like me. My usual routine is to start each new day by finding out what an idiot I was yesterday. I would totally get roasted if I ever ran for office because I change my mind all of the time. The candidate who flip flops on the issues–that would be me. Of course I will never run for office because I like to stay in my pjs and yoga pants way too much, and generally hate wearing make-up. And I’ve noticed I’m not always good at being appropriate (or even knowing what that is).
Anyway, for some reason, I have a lot of friends who are gay men. Go figure. I have no idea why but I seem to be a magnet for them. Gay men and foreigners and pharmacists. Not gay men who are foreigners and pharmacists, mind you, although I’m not opposed to the combination. But I can just about guarantee that I have a higher quota of friends in each of those separate categories than most other human beings. Which in some ways makes no sense because I am a straight, white, small-town American girl who hates going to the doctor and takes virtually no medicine other than vitamins and an occasional—okay, daily–anti-depressant.
When I fried myself semi-skinny dipping and posted about it, one of my pharmacist friends saw it and immediately texted: If you won’t go to the doctor, I may have to break the law tomorrow. You need something for that burn.
Jesus will forgive you, I texted back. And I will visit you in jail.
This is the same friend who once gave me a book with the not-so-subtle title Run Your Butt Off! But that’s another story and I already have about three subplots going here. So I’ll just leave that one alone, even if it is rather revealing about said friend’s character. (Assertive, that one. I like assertive friends.)
The week the shooting in Orlando happened I ran my butt off a lot. Running is one of my coping techniques. I use it to combat depression and general craziness. A healthy alternative, if you will, to Almond Joys. And much better than sitting around crying and wringing my hands, which is what I felt like doing any time I consumed media coverage of the massacre.
When I first heard the news I felt sick. I texted one of my gay friends to tell him I loved him. I remembered that he told me he sat in his apartment and sobbed the whole day when the Chik-Fil-A fiasco happened. He kept seeing people he thought were his friends, people he grew up with in church, etc., posting things on social media about supporting Chik-Fil-A. This felt to him like they didn’t care much for him, which I think is a logical conclusion. Much like my black student who feels hurt by her neighbors flying the Confederate flag. Duh.
He texted me back immediately: Had to leave work. Started crying. Not doing well. I texted him again something about not being overcome by evil, that love is stronger, we have to believe that (faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not always seen), and then took off running. As my feet hit the hard dirt road I thought of other friends and how personal it must feel to be a member of a group that is targeted by hate. I sent them all I had–my love, my witness. My phone buzzed with their replies. One wrote, It’s a sad, sad day. I keep thinking about those poor people and how afraid they must have been before they died. Another didn’t text back at all, which is unusual, so I knew he was throwing himself into his work. My childhood friend said he was galvanized into more activism. From my friend whose fourteen-year-old son is gay I received this message: Heartbreaking news. So much pain and fear…
The main place I run is on a gas well road that cuts through some wild Arkansas wilderness. It’s a pine forest, but along the road honeysuckle blooms in the summer, along with blackberries and all kinds of wildflowers. It is common for me to see animal tracks, among them turkey and deer, and to hear howling coyotes if it’s twilight. One time my husband saw a mountain lion on that trail but the scariest thing I ever have seen (besides our crazy neighbor) is snakes. Mostly I share the road with birds, rabbits and butterflies, and the occasional spider. I love it in the mornings when their webs are decorated with teardrops of dew.
The week of the shooting I saw something I’ve never seen before, however. I saw this:
It was so fascinating to me I took a video to show my kids. They were totally grossed out. But I was mesmerized. The next day I saw another one, and another, and another. Suddenly it was like there were piles of poop everywhere which I guess is a dung beetle’s dream. (I seriously never see this much dung on the trail. Maybe the animals were having a berry eating contest?) Anyway, the beetles were out in force, rolling their little piles like snowballs. I sent one of my friends the video. He responded more enthusiastically than my kids: “Those little dudes are so resourceful! And hardworking!”
“I was thinking they are a good metaphor for Trump.” I wrote back. “Someone who feeds on crap that happens and tries to use it to his advantage. You know how he’s doing that with the Orlando shooting? I think I may write a blog entry about it.”
“Hm,” answered my friend. “That sounds a bit esoteric, for anyone who’s not inside your head.” I think he used a sweet faced emoji after that to soften the blow.
After trying to work out the metaphor and finding it difficult to explain what was in my head in a way that made any sense, I decided he might be right. But I still couldn’t get away from the dung beetles. There they were. Every day. I couldn’t not see them. And I know this is gross, but one day as I started a two mile loop I noticed a group beginning to work on a fresh pile of dung from a raccoon or something. When I returned in about twenty minutes, there was no trace of the pile left! It was just…gone.
I thought about what my friend said. Those dudes were resourceful and hardworking. And they essentially had taken a pile of something nasty and cleaned it up. No huge, sweeping gesture, no dramatic production. They had just done what they could do. Rolling the mess into little balls and taking it away. The best way of thinking about it, the deepest truth, was actually the opposite of what I had been thinking Click To Tweet—another lesson turned on its head.
A family member asked me the other day, “Do we have to talk about gay people all of the time?”
And a student asked me, “Why do we have to read all of this stuff about race?”
Meanwhile, Russell Moore—thank God for Russell Moore—who said “It is precisely because of our gospel conviction that we should stand for religious liberty for everyone” is fielding criticism from prominent Christian leaders who believe Jesus would deport all Muslims.
So I offer to them and to myself and to anyone else reading this blog the lesson of the dung beetle, especially relevant in the wake of Orlando, but relevant also in the wake of everyday life: Nasty, horrible things happen. Like my running road, sometimes it seems like our path turns into a minefield of manure. If we are awake, paying attention, we can’t not see it. Even though it stinks. Even though it’s painful. Even though it’s overwhelming and we don’t know what to do. But we can choose the way of the dung beetle. We can be resourceful. We can choose to do what we can do, whatever that is, just the next right thing. If that means we stretch ourselves in uncomfortable directions, call a friend, or we pray, or we vote, or write, or teach, or preach, or march, or just have a conversation that matters…we do what we can do to help clean up the mess. We work hard. And we keep working till there’s no trace of the pile left.