To be heartbroken and staggering. In the best of ways.

I am trying to wrap my head around “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” It is a sad story. Dave Eggers writes what I think can be called a memoir, about the death of his mother and father and raising his 8 year old brother, all while in his early twenties. My thoughts are incomplete, and in order to complete them, or at least progress, I have to write. So. First, he brilliantly and honestly chronicles his thoughts into a piece of art:

“They are scared. They are jealous. We are pathetic. We are stars. We are either sad and sickly or we are glamorous and new. We walk in and the choices race through my head. Sad and sickly? Or glamorous and new? Sad/sickly or glamorous/new? Sad/sickly? Glamorous/new? We are unusual and tragic and alive.” (p. 96)

“How lame this is, how small, terrible. Or maybe it is beautiful. I can’t decide if what I am doing is beautiful and noble and right, or small and disgusting. I want to be doing something beautiful, but am afraid that this is too small, too small, that this gesture, this end is too small…Or beautiful and loving and glorious! Yes, beautiful and loving and glorious!…I know what I am doing now, that I am doing something both beautiful and gruesome because I am destroying its beauty by knowing that it might be beautiful, know that if I know I am doing something beautiful, that it’s no longer beautiful…and worse, knowing that I will very soon be documenting it, that in my pocket is a tape recorder brought for just that purpose–that all this makes this act of potential beauty somehow gruesome. I am a monster.” (p.399)

It is so rare to come across someone who is willing to actually spell out these inconsistencies within himself in an honest way. I feel like most of us have the gruesome part buried somewhere, scared to admit to it beyond the space of our own mind: we keep our faults and secrets buried way beneath the cranium, letting no one know what exists there, and not wanting to admit it even to ourselves. I admire his brutal honesty.

As for myself, despite my better knowledge, sometimes I pretend that it’s possible to really have my act together in every way: that it’s possible to live at all times filled with passion, energy, reflection, noble priorities, etc. etc. etc. This is one of the most exhausting myths. Something that my pastor repeats quite often the hope that Christ offers: “you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” This is the beauty of the gospel, and I’m pretty sure the only reason why I’m still sane. Not that I remember it all the time (as long as we’re on the honesty kick), but the moments that I am feeling most monstrous, I realize that I don’t have to drown in it or be devoured by it.

Second, what I think is most interesting, and important, is thinking through how we are dealing with the monstrous parts of ourselves if we are forgetting the loved and accepted part.

Eggers and his friends started a satirical magazine, which is birthed from: “We need to change him. Inspire him. Him, everyone. Get everyone together. All these people. No more waiting…It’s criminal to pause. To wallow. To complain. We have to be hapy. ..We must do extraordinary things. We have to…A collective. A movement. An army. All inclusive. Raceless. Genderless. Youth. Strength. Potential…” (p. 148). They start the magazine and have some mild success and many good times, but soon enough it becomes: “ever more depressing, routine, improved only by the occasional near death experience…I am at my desk, working on a spread debunking races, one in a long line of contrarian articles pointing out the falsity of most things the world believes in, holds dear. We ahve debunked a version of the Bible written for black kids. We ahve debunked the student loan program. We debunk the idea of college in general, and work in general, and marriage, and makeup, and the Grateful Dead–it is our job to point out all this artifice, everywhere…” (p. 304)

This is quite possibly the most depressing description I have ever read. To think nothing as sacred. To think of everything as deception. Life becomes satire. Nothing is real or true.

Clearly, this is not to say that I don’t take part in (or at least watch others and laugh) commenting on the ridiculous aspects of our culture (much to the thanks of my brother and the Simpsons/Southpark episodes he makes me watch everytime I see him). But I’m becoming more convinced that without the knowledge that we are imperfect and loved, the result is hollow, passionless living…which is the opposite of what everyone was striving for to begin with.

I’m not sure if this makes any sense at all. But. We need to not hold everything at arm’s length to prevent injury to body or soul. I just think that there is so much goodness and truth out there that we miss out on. That is heartbreaking. I can only hope that it causes me to stagger to the point that I have no other choice but to be honest with myself.

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