How can we deserve love and caring?

In The Lost Weekend, Ray Milland plays Don Birnam, a writer who sold a short story to a prestigious magazine long ago and who has spent the last several decades in alcoholism and failure. Released in the year 1945, it is still a very uncompromising and difficult-to-watch portrayal of addiction. I’d probably put it in my top 20 favorite movies.

One affecting aspect of the movie is how much Don’s girlfriend, father, and others care about him. They support him financially, try to help him get and stay sober, and generally love and care for him. While World War II raged and millions of people died for no good reason, Billy Wilder made a movie about a drunk that continually hurt others but received love and care in return.

To me, this is interesting and piquant. I look at Darfur, I look at Iraq, I look at all the places where people suffer, and die, and see their life’s work go up in smoke and their loved ones slaughtered right in front of them; and I find it curious that here in the United States I can, in relative security, cry over my relationships and breakups and other things that seem trivial in comparison.

This is not an original thought or feeling on my part. In the acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize he gave on December 10, 1950, William Faulkner said,

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

Faulkner most likely imagined nuclear war when he spoke of the fear of being blown up, but I suspect that the average person (in the US or in the world as a whole) carries with him or her greater fear than the average person of 1950. In am not a pessimist about the time in which we live, nor do I feel that 1950 was a better year overall, but I do think there is a different kind of tension in the year 2008 that begs for resolution. If the people of the US at the present moment are not particularly afraid of being blown up by terrorists, they are still worrying about health care, job security, retirement, and a host of other things. Our country seems to be saying, collectively, “When is the breather coming, the time of rest?” My impression is that people in 1950 did not worry so much in this way, that there was a clearer path of job, family, and life in general that let them to go to bed at night feeling that tomorrow would more or less make sense.

The first half of 2008 offered me not very many such nights. In January, my self-described soul mate left me after I had invested significantly in making her life in Indy secure and comfortable, and one of my important clients was unable to pay me, putting me in a serious cash crunch. I was broke with a broken heart.

If Don Birnham could receive help, couldn’t I? Who would be my salvation?

The world came through for me. Relatives and new friends and old salved the pain of failed soulmatehood. An old client put me on retainer, and now I’m doing better than ever. It was not easy and it took a lot of thought, effort, and patience on my part, but I made it through one of the most difficult times of my life. Let me here express thanks to all who supported me.

If I may venture an answer to my question based on my experiences and studies, I do not think we deserve love and care. We do not deserve food, we do not deserve medical care, we do not deserve love, we do not deserve peace, and we do not deserve our lives. We cannot earn these things, nor can we forfeit them through our actions. Further, accepting Faulkner’s wisdom, the wars, slaughters, and other horrible things of the world cannot compel us to view the struggles of our heart as being small in scale, and we ought not let them.

I do believe in the law of karma, but I do not see our actions (which is what karma, in Sanskrit, literally means) as a kind of electrical charge upon us that must eventually be released as a negative or positive current flowing to us. Rather, building upon the wisdom of Edgar Cayce (although the following metaphor is, for better or worse my own), our actions are like threads in the cloth of our being, altering our pattern not as something that happens to us, but as something we are. To extend the metaphor, the love and care we give to others and receive from them are not threads in the cloth, they are the cotton from which the threads themselves are spun. (To be tiresomely precise, I think there are other materials in the cloth, too, some of a less pleasant nature. Such is Reality.)

My message to you, then, is this: you cannot earn the love and care of the world or other people; you can only accept them. Love is not merely an emotion that an animal feels; rather, it is something deep in the code of Reality, something that builds and supports and takes joy in doing so. It calls us to end the genocide in Darfur, to stop harming the planet, and, as Jesus taught, to love our neighbor as ourself. Moreover, your love and care of yourself, your desire and efforts to resolve the struggles of your heart, have deepest meaning: your edification is the edification of humanity, and your aligning yourself with the light does nothing less than illuminate the world.

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