I really wanted to post something tonight, and I just couldn’t figure out what to write about. So I dug deep into the crevices of my computer. I am a digital packrat. I keep everything I’ve ever created on a computer. I have copies of every email I’ve sent and received since 1996. I have old documents…old photos…old sound files I downloaded from AOL, back when I used to have an account with them I never paid for. *ahem* Of course, that’s not true. *ahem* I would never do that.
Anyway…I just found this. It’s an email I sent to a friend in October 1997. I was in my first semester at seminary, and I was feeling like I didn’t fit it. At that time, I did not really want to be a pastor; I just wanted to learn theology. I was even questioning my faith at the time. Seminary is…well, it’s an interesting place to be when you’re questioning your faith. I’d venture to say that I had zero classmates who shared that doubt, at least zero who were willing to talk about it. (Incidentally, my father attended seminary in the early 1970’s. I remember him telling me once that it was an interesting time to be there, because there were a number of folks who were there primarily to avoid the draft. I wonder if I might have found more kindred spirits back then…) I was also living in Philadelphia, an unfamiliar city. (Prior to this, I had thought that the West End of Allentown, where I attended college, was the big city.) I was connected to friends and family via email, but little else. In retrospect, it was actually a pretty powerful and exciting time in my life. In the moment, I felt lonely.
Anyway…a friend emailed me from her college in New England. Her message was longer, more intimate, and more profound than anything she’d shared with me before. She was reaching out for connection, I think, something I was so looking for myself. In her message, she wondered if she would be happier if she were “crazy.” I wrote this in response. Almost twenty years later, I enjoy reading it:
Crazy. I know crazy. Crazy is when you hear a song lyric, and it fits your life better than that of the author. Crazy is when you hear your name whistling in the wind. When you realize how similar we all are, and how much the human race is just one person in a billion bodies, crazy is that leftover stuff inside you that doesn’t fit in with anyone else. Crazy is what you do when you look in the mirror with no one else around. All the bits in your life which you DON’T KNOW if anyone else shares, all the things that you think make you YOU, but somewhere deep down wonder if everyone else feels the same way. And there’s no way to find out if somebody else is the same way… this is what drives us crazy. Embrace it, and lose touch. Ignore it, and lose touch. Or ride the line of fear and excitement, the line between ignorance and embracing, and go crazy. Write an email about it, and wonder if what you’re saying makes any sense. Wonder if there’s really anyone out there who could know what you’re saying. Wonder if you’d even understand it if you read it tomorrow. Wonder if you should even mail it. Do it anyway. Either she’ll think you’re crazy, or she’ll know you both are. Either way, if you share it, you’re crazy.
All day I searched for a way to respond to your mail. I looked on Germantown Avenue, as I drove to church. I found only a place called Freedom Square. I looked at church, listening to the sermon of the supply preacher. I found only a miserable attempt to connect with people in a new way, gone horribly awry by an incredible lack of preaching ability mixed with an exorbitant age. I listened in the radio on the way back, and heard only a strange new song by U2 about God, and a strange cover of the Peter Gabriel song “In Your Eyes,” which I’ve always held is about God. I looked in my fellow seminarians watching football, and found only proof that I am crazy. Crazy to be at seminary, crazy to think I could be a pastor, crazy to be alive. Alive to be crazy.
All I found today was loneliness. Loneliness in my friends here. Loneliness in the warmth all over outside, covering the chills who rightfully owns October. Loneliness in the reading I did for my classes, the loneliness of the Bible, the story of a mythical people who may or may not have existed, who may or may not have been the chosen people of a God who may or may not have existed, and, if so, may or may not be the same God who may or may not exist today. And my own estrangement from all this.
I am lonely as well. Lonely because I saw my two best friends from Muhlenberg yesterday at Homecoming, and I know things will never be the same again between us. Lonely because I don’t know anyone here well enough to cry in front of them, which in turn gives me the only reason I have to cry. Lonely because I know I have to stop this pipe dream of being a pastor, a pipe dream I don’t even dream. Lonely because no one here feels the same way. Lonely because everything I know is arbitrary. Lonely because you reached out to me in a way you never have before, and in reaching back, I’m still hundreds of miles, and hundreds of mails, away.
And this is what it means to be crazy, in my craziness (opinion). I am embracing it now. Depeche Mode sang, as I wrote that line, “Only you exist here.” This is what I always called “gothic.” This is the real version of that. I’ve got nail polish, and black makeup, and black clothing, and a forced painful frown on, but only on the inside. I’ve finally succeeded in internalizing this. It’s always been here. I’ve finally given it a name.
Tomorrow I may regret mailing this, but tonight I am crazy, I suppose. This is not ridicule, and this is not fake in any way. This is me, right now. I’m showing you what craziness can be. It is black, and it is purple, and blue, and green. Love it, if you will. Thank you for giving me an interesting day.
I just checked, and it looks like the next time she emailed me was exactly 364 days later. Not sure what that means.
Anyway…here’s a picture from the day before I sent this email. It’s me and the two friends I mentioned. That’s me on the right, in the dapper denim combo.