A Need to Believe

I must admit that I read into things. Maybe that’s why I became an English major, to read between the lines of Hemingway and to be beaten over the head with symbolism when I read Hawthorne. Or maybe that was already in my DNA before, what makes me still buy a book that tells you what a certain animal signifies when you see it (ooh, look a bedbug! I guess that means I need more sleep!)

But I don’t think I had to look too far to see the meaning in one event today.

I was exhausted. I’d been burning two ends of the midnight oil the night before. I was the kind of tired that if I closed my eyes, I got a little dizzy with how fast my brain was losing consciousness. And from there, it wasn’t hard to realize that I was feeling a bit down. I’m currently at a crossroads in my life (but who isn’t really, when they’re in their twenties?), and I’m trying to figure it all out. Today, I was simply tired in more ways than one. I would have liked nothing better than to crawl into a deep, dark hole to rest my head and my thoughts.

And so I was debating my choices (give up or give in) when I heard it. It was a song on the radio. But it wasn’t just any song, if you will excuse my dramatics. It was a song that I had never, ever heard on the radio before. Yet, it was a song that I had desperately wanted to have played on the radio. You see, it wasn’t exactly made for the popular stations. Not what you would call a toe-tapper or the next summer hit.

It was performed by Loreena McKennitt. She’s a new age-y artist who sings about the solstice and the wind that shakes the barley. Think of her as a less mainstream Enya, I guess. She also happens to be my absolute, all-time, favorite musician.

Now, I can’t really impress on you how strange it was to hear her own the radio, but I will try. Let’s just say that the odds of playing Loreena McKennitt are about as good as the odds of playing “It’s Friday” by Rebecca Black on that same station. In all seriousness.

But here she was. My favorite artist was belting out notes in the middle of my crummy day. I was every shade of dumbfounded.

Of course, I could dismiss this as a funny coincidence. I could slap my knee and utter something like, “Well, I’ll be.”

But I didn’t. I took it as a sign. I took it as one might grab a rope to pull oneself out of a very deep and very dark cell. Why? Because that is what I needed to believe. I needed a benevolent message, and I got one.

Yes, our own perspective and understanding colors things. Indeed, it was a well-timed occurrence. But then, why couldn’t that mean that it was also a sign, a personal reassurance? The answer is that it can be both.

I believe that we’re giving footholds like this all the time, to ensure that we keep holding on. But it is up to you to reach out and grab them, see where they are, even in the darkness. If you are open enough, if you are alert enough, and if you need it badly enough, you may just find what you’re looking for. That is, if you have the courage to recognize it for what it is.

Not Perfect, Not Even Close

I don’t think that anyone has any delusions that humans are perfect. That’s why plastic surgery exists, I suppose. And perhaps, on some level, sports bras. Or gyms. Or schools. Or fast food restaurants. They exist because people always want to make themselves better, somehow. And also, because people slip up, sometimes.

So, why do we expect ourselves to be perfect at all, in the first place?

I know, I know. We know, somewhere, deep down that we can’t be perfect. But we still strive for perfection, and we try to do great things, and we know that it will be good anyway. All that shoot for the moon, land among the stars hocus pocus. But why do we need to expect perfection? Why isn’t what we’re capable of enough?

For me, perfection gave me stomachaches when I was younger (but who knows because dairy gave me the same reaction). It made me stress over A minuses and deadlines three weeks in advance. It also did not instruct me on how to fail properly. So, when I would mess up, I took it pretty hard. Actually, I didn’t take it at all because I would just berate myself for being such an idiot and avoid my real feelings. I would never internalize a mistake as something to learn from. I just vowed that it would never happen again.

Now, that I am adult I can say with absolute certainty…that nothing has changed. I’m still a bit of a control freak. The only thing is I have slightly smaller meltdowns when something imperfect happens now vs. my childhood. But still.

My point is that maybe we need to reject the idea of perfection altogether. We’re not “better because we tried.” We’re not whole “in spite of our flaws.” Humans just are what they are.

I say that you don’t have to try to be perfect. In fact, I say that you need to love the fact that you aren’t even near the goal line of perfect. Or on the same field. Or in the same stadium. Because not being perfect, not even close, is actually, truly, very human. And that’s very much a perfect thing to be.

Hope is Not a Luxury

Hope is many things. It is fickle, it is bright and shiny, it is a “thing with feathers.” But it is not a luxury. Rather, it is affordable in every situation. There is always room for hope.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try something out:

When you live your life without hope…

Well, let’s stop right there. You can’t live your life without hope. It is impossible to be alive without it. Because let’s just say that you didn’t have hope. Then you would be consumed by the idea that you will die tomorrow or the day after. Really, hope keeps us alive by telling us that we have another day to try again, even when we eventually don’t.

So, okay. Now, you may think that hope is a liar. Which, I think, is how many people perceive hope. We’re uncomfortable, awkward ex-lovers with hope. We say, well, I don’t want my feelings to get hurt. So, I might as well believe the opposite is going to happen so that I don’t have to be upset when the thing I want doesn’t happen. I’d prefer to be “realistic.”

Except, that is akin to telling the ice cream store employee that you have never been to his or her store before and that you love chocolate ice cream, but you should probably just order vanilla because you’re not really sure if the store offers chocolate. Ridiculous, right? Why don’t you just ask? If they don’t have chocolate, you can get vanilla. And if they do, well, you see where this is going. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if they have chocolate. And it doesn’t hurt to hope for this outcome, either. Hope is a lot like asking for chocolate ice cream because it is your favorite, even if you don’t know if you will get it or not.

Because, essentially, hope keeps us happy (like ice cream). Hope is something that we can hang our hats on, so to speak, at the end of a long day. It’s the little voice inside our head that says, let’s try again tomorrow, shall we? Even when we’re really tired of our situation, we have hope that our circumstances will change, or we will find the courage to change them ourselves. We keep going because of hope.

Now, back to my biggest problem with people and hope. Hope, some seem to think, is only for the very rich in life. That is, the people who have reason to hope. They believe they have a good shot at something because they are smart, talented, strong, etc. But hope isn’t picky. Hope likes a long shot, an underdog, or a bad set of odds.

The reason? There is nothing to be lost or gained by hope. It simply exists. It is the string tugging the wakeboard forward after a speeding boat. It is pulled by the momentum of something else, and it pulls you farther along by how tight you can hold on. It does not care whether you are still on the board or in the water. It will keep going as long as it can. But will you?

Radio is Not Dead

Guys, I am very serial about Serial.

Typically, I wait 6 months to a year for fads to die down before I jump all over them like a lioness on an antelope. (I don’t know why, but I guess it’s because I don’t like to be disappointed by the hype.) And then, months after every man, woman, and child has indulged in whatever I’m abstaining from, I selfishly rave about how amazing a product/show/movie it is, and everyone just gives me a collective duh! 

As you probably guessed, this has also been my experience with Serial, which I have only just binge-listened to today, although its release date was last year.

Serial is a product of NPR and This American Life. Hosted by Sarah Koenig and edited by the intrepid Ira Glass, this season of Serial follows the story of a young man who is convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in high school. There’s only one problem: he claims after 15 years of a life sentence that he did not do it. In each episode, Koenig thoroughly tracks down the bare bones of this mystery to not simply establish his guilt or innocence. Rather, she sets out to tell a story. And only happens to uncover a series of botched misfires and bold-faced lies in the process. (In fact, her amateur detective work has reopened the young man’s case.)

Sounds pretty riveting, huh? And it most certainly is. The more Koenig tries to pin down the facts, the more they evaporate into thin air. It seems that no one is telling the truth, even when Koenig thinks that she has it all figured out.

But this is the stuff of a hundred other Lifetime movies. Why is this one so intriguing?

Well, I mostly chalk it up to Koenig’s relatablility. She is so genuine. She truly wants to get to the bottom of her journalistic inquiry for the sake of her curiosity. Sure, clearing the name of an innocent man would be awesome, but that isn’t what she is there to do. She’s telling an incredibly detailed story that happens to be real.

She’s also very realistic. Koenig echoes the thoughts of her many listeners by never giving a theory too much clout. She is the perfect image of blind justice in a case that never even entertained the idea of a fair trial.

Above all, though, for me, is Koenig’s theatrics. Her voice alone is soothing and riveting. Her telling of the story is not only captivating, it’s full of her own personality. She truly brings everything about this case alive.

And so, I’m listening to my 10th episode when it suddenly hits me. This is more than me geeking out over being a Communications major and loving all forms of media. This is the rebirth of “fireside chats” by the old radio. This is reinventing the medium in a completely new form. This is bringing back an entire history and industry of radio. And the best part? There’s a season 2 in the works.

So, whether you believe that everything truly comes back around after enough time, you should at least know this: sometimes it is completely acceptable to reinvent the wheel. If only so that a new generation can bring their own meaning to it.

Listen to Serial here.