Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Inside Jokes and Other People's Emails: "A Hypothetical Eulogy for My Friend, Rod"

Beth and I have an inside joke from an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”  The movie that gets ridiculed in this episode is called “Squirm.”  In it, a pack (herd?) of killer worms picks off, one-by-one, a group of common-sense-challenged adults wandering in and around an isolated house in the woods.  At one point, the hero and his girlfriend decide that their best chance for survival is for the hero to retrieve boards from a known-stash of plywood.  The couple would then board themselves in the house until, uh…  OK, I don’t remember the details of the plan so much.

Anyway, the hero goes to fetch the plywood, and instead trips and sprains his ankle.  He limps back to the house, where his girlfriend calls out to him, “Did you get the plywood?”  At this point, the peanut gallery who is watching the movie for the purpose of ridiculing it yells out on behalf of the hero, “No, but I sprained my ankle!”

For Beth and I, “No, but I sprained my ankle!” has become a code phrase for, “I didn’t accomplish what I was supposed to, but in attempting to achieve the desired goal, I actually made things worse (or discovered that things are worse than we realized).”

For example:
BETH:  Did you fix the leaky drain?
ROB:  No, but I sprained my ankle.
BETH:  Oh no.  What happened?
ROB:  When I was trying to detach the plunger from the drain so I could snake it, I snapped the mechanism holding the plunger in place and scraped my hand on the faucet.

So that’s our joke.  Hold that thought while I shift to about a year and a half ago, around Christmas time.  At that time, I exchanged a flurry of emails with a friend of mine (Rod, married to Niccole) who had recently moved to Kansas City and was looking for a new job and a new church, all while trying to deal with his own “demons,” as he put it.

I had sent him an email, talking about some of my own struggles with adjusting to homemaking and church finding and depression.  This is a portion of the email he wrote back (that I share with his blessing):

…We have had a pretty eventful past few days.  Christmas went well, other than waking up at 3:30 in the morning with a horrible toothache.  We went to Springfield on Sunday and Monday to see family.  Unfortunately my toothache never subsided and by Monday morning, was forcing my body into a pretty uncomfortable position.  I woke up Monday with my hands and feet swollen, my head just wasn't working right (which I thought was the pain) and frankly I was having a hard time coping with life at that point.  Niccole rushed me to urgent care where they determined that I was dangerously close to sepsis which is basically blood poisoning from your body's inability to fight a bad infection.  Apparently your body starts shutting down and limiting blood flow to extremities and you can eventually die.  From a stupid TOOTHACHE!  Sheesh.  I need to listen to my wife more often, clearly. She had been pushing me to go to the doctor since Christmas morning.  ANYWAY, I received a shot in the bum with antibiotics, some serious pain and antibiotic pills and a stern warning from the doctor about not letting things like that go too long.  Yep, I'm a mess.  No surprises there though.  We are now home and this morning I woke up with MUCH LESS pain than the past few days which was NICE!  It's still sore and achy but at least it's better.

I'm sorry to hear that you and I are battling the same demons.  I try and make myself believe that nobody else could possibly be going through this same kind of crap but reality tells me that I'm not alone with this. I wish there were a better way of removing these feelings of not being worth anything to my wife and children other than counseling but as Niccole likes to point out, that's why it's there.  I'm not all that comfortable in telling people about my inner-most secrets and fears either. As a matter of fact, I sent a prayer request to what I believed was my pastor’s personal email for him to disperse appropriately.  In the prayer request, I put that I'd like it to be kept in confidence because I really poured out my heart and soul in this thing.  I even mentioned my feelings about how I think Niccole and my oldest daughter would be better off financially and such without me.  Imagine how surprised I was to receive a copy of this email a few minutes later.  As did Niccole.  And anyone else on the prayer request email list.  It got sent out because of a logistical error, but I started receiving all sorts of emails from people I don't know about my prayer request.  These emails I received were amazing.  People I don't know and who don't know me were reaching out and letting me know that I'm loved and that while they don't know me, they were willing to listen if I wanted to talk.  What an amazing feeling that was too.  And still is.  The pastor and I emailed back and forth a little bit about how it's quite possible that God not only wanted people to get that email but wanted to use that as a tool to teach me about the gift of receiving help when we ask for it.  Good stuff.

So I'm rambling quite a bit here which means I should go.  Thank you for your friendship and for allowing me to ramble on. Have a blessed and happy New Year!

About a week later, I wrote a poem for Rod.  I sent it to him, with an explanatory preface.  I then sent THAT email to Beth, also with an explanatory preface.

Around this time, I was getting ready to launch my blog.  I was pretty terrified.  It seemed like something God wanted me to do, but I was gun shy about committing any time whatsoever to writing.  My most recent attempts at changing the world through the written word had, by my estimates, succeeded in communicating mostly the opposite of what I had intended and had spawned far more pain and misunderstanding than they had clarity and vision (vague, I know).

Right now, as I’m typing these words, I don’t know if this post will communicate anything other than my penchant for prolonged and non-linear communication.  This may be one of those “It’s my blog and I’ll blab if I want to” posts.  My HOPE is that the hodgepodge of inside jokes and other people’s emails will exemplify the idea of writing (and reading) as a metaphor for leaning into the unseen work of God, even when the results are uncertain and the efforts seem futile.  Additionally, if God uses any part of this post to bring insight, joy, or conviction to anyone who reads it, then a theme of this writing may be that God can use even our most disjointed efforts and logistical mistakes to work for his good (a truth that I wrestle with almost every day).

Here, then, is the email I sent to Beth, which includes my response to Rod:

Hey, Beth,
This is what I was writing yesterday.  It’s a response to Rod’s update.  A couple of things:  First, I just wanted to share this with you, because I actually like it pretty well.  It was fun and it amuses me.  Second, I made a conscious choice to stick it out and finish it.  I was in the living room and had written about half of it, and started to get very antsy.  I kept thinking, "The house is a mess.  Clothes need to be put away.  Etc., etc., etc.."  I have told you before that, if I'm going to write, there will be some days where my "productivity" for the day will be "a paragraph", and maybe not even one that anybody will ever read.  And, if I'm lucky, the house will not be any worse than it was in the morning.  Having spent most of the last 3 years hating who I am for not being more productive and/or on top of things, choosing to ignore the "voice of the unfolded clothes" to do something like finish a poem is kind of a big deal.  It felt like a big deal at the time, even though I'm still pretty nervous about being able to tell when to listen to the "V.o.t.U.C." and when to finish the poem.  ("Did you get the clothes folded?"--"No, but I wrote a poem that maybe one person will read" sounds an awful lot like "Did you get the plywood?"--"No, but I sprained my ankle").  Anyway, all of this is to say what I did yesterday felt important and scary, and kind of like a dry run for what many of my days may be like if I'm going to write.  And I'm actually pretty pleased with the finished product.  So because of all that, I wanted to share it with you.  I'm also very, very glad that Rod liked it.  His short response--both the content of it and the urgency with which he shared it--felt like a divine affirmation.  That's all for now.  See you tonight.


Hey, Rod--

Not sure what this says about me, but after I read your last email, I started thinking about what if you had died, and then (more bizarrely) started writing a limerick of sorts that could have been read at your hypothetical funeral.  I had a window today to email you back, and ended up using that time (and then some) to actually finish and write out this little ode.  I realize this is, well, a bit odd.  ("Hey, I almost died the other day."  "Really?  Let me write a limerick about it!")  But it is what it is.  As darkly comical as it might be, I hoped it was poignant and affectionate as well, and that it goes without saying that I'm very glad that this is only hypothetical.  Do with it what you will, share it with whom you will.  I trust that we are enough on the same slightly-twisted wavelength that you won't find this offensive--or at least not in a long-term sort of way--so without any further disclaimers, here you go.  I'll copy 2 versions, the 2nd with the stressed syllables highlighted in case you want to read it out loud to people at dinner parties or something. 

Here lies Rod, a true servant of God, and a friend ‘til the end to Niccole
And though sleepless with sepsis poor Rod fought and kept his deep need not to cede his control
“I’ll be fine, it’s just pain,” to his wife Rod explained, puffy hands not withstanding this claim
“And if God wants control he will faintly cajole—not imbed in my head this great pain.”
Now he’s gone and we see that the pain in Rod’s teeth he ignored, from our Lord, was a call
With us still would he be if instead of his teeth had our God grabbed dear Rod by his balls?

Here lies Rod, a true servant of God, and a friend ‘til the end to Niccole
And though sleepless with sepsis poor Rod fought and kept his deep need not to cede his control
“I’ll be fine, it’s just pain,” to his wife Rod explained, puffy hands not withstanding this claim
“And if God wants control he will faintly cajole—not imbed in my head this great pain.”
Now he’s gone and we see that the pain in Rod’s teeth he ignored, from our Lord, was a call
With us still would he be if instead of his teeth had our God grabbed dear Rod by his balls?

I am waiting for my daughter to get home so I can load her up to take her back to her mom's BUT I wanted to let you know I think this is AWESOME lol!! I am near tears from laughing so hard. I will try to email more later but thanks for this, it's just great!!!!!!

Thanks, Rod.

And, reader, if you made it this far, I tip my cap.


Post Script: Rod’s response to my seeking his approval for this post:

As a committed and diligent reader of your blog, I'm excited to get an insight on your blog before it's posted.  Even more so that you have included the limerick and some of our correspondence in it.  I wouldn't want you to change a word of it. I feel like God used those experiences and those difficult months to prepare me and to prepare Niccole for the ups and downs that were a mere six months down the road...foster parenting. I use the tooth issue as a reminder to see the doctor when my body starts telling me something is amiss.  My experience with thoughts of depression, loss and hopelessness helps me to both relate to our kiddos and get them the help they need. I see the hand of God when I get the chance to look back on emails and letters from days gone by. I see how He guided me, protected me and allowed me to learn so that I could be a stronger "me" now.  I pray you, Beth and the girls are all doing well. Hopefully we will see you soon!!

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