The Matchbook Diaries

Label Walls

The application of a label escalates and facilitates positive or negative connotations to almost everything.  A common strategy for those seeking attention is to boldly connect with a label and then to slide publicly to extreme end of that label.  A label is not alive.  A label nearly always implies or invites judgment.  Assumptions then get made – the person who identifies with a specific group must have these core values, etc.  But life, inside of a single cell organism all the way up to the life inside of a human being, all of this life is staggeringly complex.  Countless events in the uncontrollable universe act upon that which lives, and in each moment, if there is consciousness, the master of that life makes choices – to run, to stay, to eat, to mate, to hide, to fight, even to love.  Where there are labels there cannot be understanding or connection; we lose that chance.  We made the label the master the moment we applied it.  Simple is not better in every case, particularly regarding relationships. 

The gift of god-like consciousness is utterly wasted if the only thing it is used for is judgment.  It feels so sophisticated and powerful to exercise dominion by defining others, by separating out the wheat from the chaff, by distributing affection cautiously, prudently.  But this is not how God does it at all.  God gives us all one big sloppy kiss.  God chucks love around, but God’s not casual about it.  That’s  the thing.  We misunderstand.  Just because God’s love is free doesn’t make it cheap.  We are astronomically expensive.  God bankrupts the divine account to reach out to us, which suggests that the one thing that matters above all others is relationship. Between you and me there is this entity that is neither you nor me – the relationship.  James Joyce has this fabulous observation about piers – he calls them “disappointed bridges”.  That’s what labels make us.

It’s salacious, a succulent perversion to use consciousness to make every life in your own periphery a pier, untouchable.  Once you label someone untouchable, there is little or no danger that there will ever be any kind of connection between you and that Ugly One.

I’ve been touched too much, so my instinct is to never let anyone touch me again.  The consequence of my decision to isolate and judge is desperate loneliness that I then compensate for by being sexy, remote, superior and easily offended.  Such a delightful life!   I know of no one who judges more than I judge.  I do it quickly, permanently, and then there is that rush of power, the feeling that now that one cannot touch me, will never touch me because I’ve pushed them away with a resounding social or emotional punch.  Then I mop it all up and excuse myself applying a bunch of my own labels to myself which are slightly condescending and yet are things I’m secretly proud about – I’m a New Yorker, I’m a Jew.  Those are usually the big ones.  What a load of crap.

But here it is – how can we be anyone if we touch no one?  If we push out and away everyone who frightens, confuses, inconveniences and challenges us, what are we building, creating, besides a wall?  God’s breath, that thing we call life, it’s in everything.  Everything that lives does so by the grace of God, courtesy of that divine breath.  There’s that famous poem, the one so often quoted that it’s trite – in it Frost writes, ” Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Something?  It’s God.  God doesn’t love walls.  God’s breath blows them down so that life can touch life – there’s great power in that touch, which is why evil seeks to impede it.  God,  as an entity of Immaculate Perfection, possesses the only right and ability in this or any universe to construct a Real wall.  God’s perfection is a wall.  It’s categorically impossible to breach perfection.  Perfection is impenetrable no matter what moral passport you hold.  And yet, there is that gap in the wall of God, so wide in fact that, “Two can pass abreast”.  So we hold hands with Mohammad or Moses or Buddha or Jesus Christ or whatever name we choose and we walk through the hole in God’s wall into the place where all divisions cease.

God wants to connect with you and with me and with the people we hate.  God wants a relationship, and if God thinks that a relationship with me personally, if God thinks I’m worth it, when I know I’m damned inconvenient, then a relationship must be an exceptionally valuable thing.  Relationship must be worth more than anything else.  Moreover, labels, these things we use to classify one another, these then, these must be extremely hurtful to us who use them.  The labels are the anti-relationship.  Clearly there are people, predators in human skin, who have moved beyond the point of redemption, but these people are rare.  Most people (me) are just difficult, but not impossible.  I suspect that the most precious thing in this world isn’t a thing at all, but that invisible condition that you and I create and sustain when we elect to be in relationship with each other, no matter the cost.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing: I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, To please the yelping dogs.
The gaps I mean, No one has seen them made or heard them made, But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game, One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather He said it for himself. I see him there Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying, And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’