Friday, January 28, 2011

"I love you Steve," turns into "You failed me, Steve"

I seem to be on a kick lately of watching movies about mentally ill musicians. I just finished watching the movie The Soloist. The plot involves a newspaper reporter, Steve Lopez, who tells the story of a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers, who had once attended Julliard School of Music and who was a gifted cellist. It was interesting, but not what I would call profoundly moving, with the exception of one scene. Nathaniel had just told Steve that he loved him, and Steve was feeling the pressure of being the only positive human contact Nathaniel knew. Steve tells another character, "I don't want him to love me. 'I love you Steve,' turns into 'You failed me, Steve.'" And this potential of failing in yet another relationship (as we get hints of the failed relationship with his ex-wife and son) is more than Steve can bear.

That admission struck me like a ton of bricks. It was at once so obvious that he might feel that way (I immediately understood his emotional logic) and yet it was such a completely foreign idea to me (I don't believe it has ever occurred to me that anyone would think that way).

I had many thoughts at once upon processing this bit of dialogue. I thought of how I would consider anyone I love as a reflection of God, of human love as a taste of the transcendent, and therefore demanding or expecting something from another limited human being that I would expect to satisfy me fully doesn't seem logically consistent in the least. Holding out a worry as this character does seems to indicate the pride of feeling he really was all that was operative in the good that was happening. He was no instrument, in his own mind. I can understand that this is a terrifying feeling. There is only peace in knowing there is One who is greater who fills and animates us, who is closer than our own breath and is the Meaning of everything. Otherwise, my goodness, the pressure on anyone's back to be the All for another! Yikes!

But then I also thought of how my own love for God went through a phase where this exact sort of thing was involved: "God I love you" did become "God, you failed me." For example, when I was in the throes of dealing with my infertility, I did get very angry at God and didn't understand where His love was in all of the pain. I remember going to confession and identifying with the older son of the prodigal parable. Here I am, doing everything right, and you don't even give me a goat to celebrate with my friends!! But at that point I wasn't really relating to God at all; I was sorting out my own heart to be able to relate to Him again not as an idea, but as a Person. A personal God with a desire for a personal journey with me. With a will of His own, with things of His own to share with me. I was missing out on that completely and just fishing for things I wanted. God's goods; His products, things He could do for me. But not God Himself. Same is true with people. If I'm just fishing for what I want in a relationship with another person, I'm going to be missing that person completely.

In the movie, we do see that Steve was sorting out his own heart to be able to relate to Nathaniel as a person instead of a story or a project or an annoyance. I guess there is quite a journey we need to make sometimes, just to be able to meet another person as a person, rather than as a tool, a toy, or an obstacle. Without an admission, an acknowledgment, an awareness, an experience of Transcendence, what is the hope for any sort of personal relationship at all?

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