I’ve watched The Gambler like 20 times (approximately). It’s about the fuck-you position, the position of being unencumbered and un-mastered.
The philosopher-loan-shark in The Gambler says this, The wise man’s life is based around ‘fuck you’. The United States of America is based on ‘fuck you’. You’re a king? You have an Army, the greatest Navy in the history of the world? ‘Fuck you, blow me’. We’ll fuck it up ourselves. (raises his drink) Which we have done. Beautiful fuck you position, lost forever. King George the Third looks like a fuckin’ birthday present.
God gives us that position. One summer my husband and I got to saying “Fuck you, blow me!” as a joke, referring to the film. Our son, of course, ought not to have been hearing any of that, but eventually he overheard us at the grocery store and thought we’d said, “Fuck you, zucchini!” And so, every time we went to the fruit and vegetable section that summer we cursed all manner of fruits and vegetables.
Winning the lottery, surviving death, these are not miracles – everyone reading this has already done both of those. Everyone is immortal. Everyone has inherited a kingdom. So, if death is no threat, and you’ve won the lottery, then what?
Maybe there are 5 or 6 big moments in life – huge, gigantic moments when you are aware that something monumental just happened. The longer you live, the harder it is for an event to make your list of top 5 moments. Every single life, no matter the scale, boils down to living with who you are. We eat, we communicate, we shit, we love, we sleep, we fuck, we feel weak, we feel strong, we wonder. We question and perceive. And we hate.
Hate is human pain (Animals don’t do it.); it’s pain expressed two ways – hate for ourselves or hate for others. I know hate. When you are as profoundly intimate with evil as I have been, you develop an exceptional capacity for hate. I thought hate was for pushing away the things that hurt me or frightened me. I was wrong. I need not push anything away because I’m capable of accommodating it all, and, there is no place safer than right here inside of my own skin with God in my heart even if what I fear is standing beside me.
God gives us the grand miracle of tolerating ourselves, which is step one. Only God can give us the tolerance, patience, endurance and grace required to love who we are even though we know what we are. That’s the miracle to pray for, the miracle of accepting, of loving, of extending mercy to ourselves. The miracle is sitting down in the dead center of life and letting the truth, all of it, catch up, and then seeing that no matter what has happened, is happening, or will happen, God loves you and me and them, too.
Recognizing the joy in ordinary days is one hallmark of redemption. It’s not lowering the bar to agree to celebrate sunrise, the smell of coffee, and the voice of the one you love. When I am in the US, one miracle for me is my dishwasher. I thank God for mine. What a thing to have. If things like hot water, cut grass, dogs, if these are not making me happy, nothing will. It’s not giving up to stop trying, to stop chasing and planning. There is not more, or better. This is the miracle, that nothing is necessary to achieve peace, nothing is missing from you or from me. Nothing is wrong with us except that we hate. Nothing is required of us to make God love us. God loves us now. And God can consume hate.
It is possible, then, to wake up into the bright blue morning in the palm of God, saturated in benevolent, meaningful presence. God says that peace is the gift God gives. What does that mean? It means we are not broken. We are not missing bits. We are whole, complete, and, therefore, needless. God is not in the business of adding on stuff, of fixing us up. God is in the business of loving the living shit out of us. Before my father’s funeral the priest of the Episcopal church where I attended alone asked me about my dad since no one else wanted to talk to the priest. I said, “He died not knowing he was loved.” The intimate family heard this tragic statement and all nodded vigorously, as if what I’d said was true and that they’d known it all along.
My father was absolutely frantic all day long running his businesses. At night, after a half bottle of scotch he would start to calm down and then he would either begin to tell stories or he would want to play a game. He was terribly sweet. He suffered from diarrhea all of his life because his nervous system was always at a breaking point. To make money my father was a whore. He married two rich women, stole from both, cheated on at least one, married two more women after that, and in the meantime lied and cheated his way into a meager fortune of three million US dollars before he died from alcoholism. He told me a story I’m pretty sure isn’t true that when he’d purchased his first Rolex a mugger in New York held a knife to his throat and told him to hand over the watch. My father said he invited the mugger to kill him. While the story is unlikely to be true, the sentiment behind it was the slave driver of my dad’s life. My dad absolutely felt that the Rolex was worth a lot more than his life. The moment he had some luxury item in his grasp, though, he chucked it aside for the next thing. In rooms of his McMansion there were closets full of stuff that was never even taken out of the package. He LOVED to shop. Boy oh boy did we shop and it was so tiring so, so exhausting. At Christmas it was an orgy. The personal shoppers who worked for my father would do all the buying and wrapping at Saks and then this huge truck would back down our driveway and offload these gifts with Post-It notes indicating the recipient. It was the ugliest possible Christmas. But I always went alone to midnight mass, which I love.
Every once in a while my father would stop spinning for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, usually on a weekend morning when we all managed to meander down after whatever late night had been had. If nothing was planned, which normally was not true, but on the rare off chance that there was nothing, my dad would sometimes make himself a tuna sandwich. We almost never had food in the house since we never ate any meals at home, but sometimes there would be mayo and a can of tuna, usually because I put it there. My father would put an astonishing amount of mayo in a bowl and smash it into the tuna with a fork and then sit there at the glass topped breakfast table and savour this fishy confection. Watching him, in those .001% moments of true happiness, broke my heart. We ate expensive food for lunch an dinner, mostly at private dining clubs. It was such an exhausting lifestyle, the constant expense, the total lack of privacy, the incessant getting ready, leaving, coming home again. My Ivy League educated dad, a guy so smart he graduated at 16 and went straight to college, my dad never once recognized that he really just wanted a can of tuna fish.
You are perfect. It’s not a catch phrase. I mean it literally. You are perfect, whole, and complete. Whatever your weaknesses and significant failings are, these do some actually testify to some missing part of you. These maladies testify to your lack of clarity about your position as a child of God. If there is nothing to chase, then there is also nothing to lose. You can go rip roaring into the exhilarating world and cavort with what delights you until you are tired and then you can fling yourself down and rest knowing that you lack nothing, fear nothing, and hate nothing.
The miracle is that we can learn to love ourselves at least a little bit as much as God loves us. It is possible. God knows even the hideous impulses and desires that we elect not to know about ourselves. We are loved, emphatically, sacrificially, forever. It’s not love from God that is lacking. It’s self-love that’s lacking. Pray for that miracle. God, no matter the cost: Show me how to love myself. Make me matter to me. Make me willing to be with me. Make me tolerate the truth, not of my badness, but of my belovedness.
You can be confident that these prayers will be immediately answered. Hate is wasteful. We can’t survive hate. It’s a miracle that God swallows hate and when God does so hate ceases to exist. You are perfect, so is everyone else. Before I even publish this post I’ll have done 17 or 30 bad things, but these are not about my being imperfect, these behaviors are about my being broken, and my normal expression of my brokenness is to hate. Hate is pain. Don’t hoard it, let it be sacrificed in the name of love.