126. can't catch 22

Just to prepare you, I’ve got a lot on my mind so this blog may take some abrupt turns. Please observe the “fasten seat-belt” sign.

So I don’t know if you’ve seen it but A&E TV has been playing the made-for-TV-movie, “Knights Of the South Bronx” over and over this week. I like chess (even though I suck at it…current Yahoo Chess rating: 1254) and so I watched it one time through even though it wears it’s melodramatic heart proudly on its sleeve.

Anyway, it’s not really about chess (for really great chess movies I recommend “Searching For Bobby Fischer” and the harder to find, “The Luzhin Defense” starring the lovely Emily Watson and a very young John Turturro). It’s about a teacher trying to do a good deed which turns into a big deal and costs him more than he bargained for although everything works out in the end (made-for-TV, remember?)

So I’m watching this movie and I can’t believe it, I’m bawling like a little baby. But not at the end, because who didn’t see that coming? It’s at some of the bits in the middle like when a mother decides to turn her crack habit around after her daughter wins a small chess tournament trophy. Or when the wife of the chess teacher agrees to letting her husband keep teaching at this school even if it means a huge pay cut and lifestyle adjustment – she comes to this decision after seeing how his work is reaching this one kid who keeps getting beat up by thugs. Or when a wealthy philanthropist (is there another kind?) donates the funds needed to send the chess team to the Nationals.

That kind of selfless love kills me – I mean it crumples me into a little ball like so much soiled hamster-cage newspaper (and wasn’t that a lovely image?) – because it amazes me that that kind of love exists. And a part of me wonders just how much truth there was in those plot elements because in this selfish, cynical world, that kind of selfless, generous love seems about as believable as Julia Roberts marrying Lyle Lovett…and staying married. It just doesn’t compute.

Now, there are lots of stories about generosity, but I think the thing that tweaks me so hard about this movie is how the chess teacher, David MacEnulty, wanted to do this good thing and it actually made a difference. So often, good intentions just pave the road to hell. They go unnoticed and they don’t seem to make a dent – they seem futile and naive instead. Not to equate my meager life with what MacEnulty did, but I’ve seen far too much of my generosity evaporate into thin air. Poof, gone.

See, here’s the thing. Nice guys get shat upon. It’s happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to friends of mine whom I would categorize as nice guys. And here’s the screwed up bit about that. Being nice, good, honorable, kind – it requires a vulnerability. You stick your neck out then get stabbed in the back. That happens a couple times and you start thickening up your skin, you start being less vulnerable, you stop giving even though you want to because they really do take a mile when you hand out an inch. And what began as kindness ends up as fear and distrust and an unwillingness to risk.

There’s a poem thing floating around the internet as spam. Part of it contains the line, “love like you’ve never been hurt before.” Some people read that and think warm, fuzzy thoughts. I read that and I wince, I guard, I wonder what sick brand of masochism would suggest such a thing.

Recoiling from the possibility of love becomes a Pavlovian response. He rang his bell and his dogs drooled. I see the possibility of love and I recoil in fear. Maybe I do miss out on possibilities because of that, and maybe 22 just can’t be caught – I don’t ask her out because I’m afraid of being hurt which causes another kind of hurt which gets associated with pursuing love which means the next time I want to ask someone out I won’t because I’m just as, if not more, afraid.

In the end, on some theoretical level, I know that God is in control and he knows me and my fear. I believe he’s got a plan to work around the complications and whether that means a relationship falls into my lap or he takes me through the long process of working through this fear, God will pull me through. I say this is theory because as I’ve said before, God is God and can do whatever he wants. Maybe he just wants me to toughen up, bite the bullet, make that leap of faith. But I can’t just yet, and besides, there’s really nowhere to leap to right now.

I’ll end with these lyrics by Karla Bonoff from her amazing song, “If He’s Ever Near” (gender adjusted for my situation):

And love’s so hard to find
I guess I’ll just give up trying
But I hope I’ll know her
I hope I’ll know her
If she’s ever near

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