Somewhere along the way I think I completely missed the concept of grace. I don’t know if the church I was raised it completely forgot about it, or if it just never sunk in. We’d always sing “Amazing Grace / How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me,” but I don’t think I ever understood what that meant.

Grace is unconditional. Grace is total and complete. Grace has amnesia. Grace means there’s nothing you can do to be loved less, and nothing you can do to be loved more. Grace is actually unfair. Grace means forgiving when it’s easy, and when it’s hard. Grace means loving when it’s easy and when it’s hard. Grace is what makes Christianity so unique, and that’s why I’m so dumbfounded that I never understood this before.

Since grace is the basis of Christianity, it should also be the base of my life. It should be the base of my friendships. It should be the base of my marriage. It should be the base of my family. That is so hard to do. That’s why marriages fail, because people don’t have any grace. Grace means letting go and forgiving. That means I can’t keep score. I can’t count the number of back rubs I’ve given versus the number I’ve gotten, or count the number of hours I spend doing chores verses the number of hours my wife spends doing chores. That’s not love, and that’s not grace. That may be just and fair, but it’s not loving and gracious.

Grace means cleaning up the kitchen regardless of who cooked, regardless of who did it last time, regardless of how many plates and dishes and pots and crusty silverware there are. Grace means doing the laundry because it needs to be done, not to earn brownie points. Maybe I’m stretching my definitions here, but I’m beginning to understand what it means to love my wife like Christ loves the church. Like the prodigal son, like the woman who lost her coin. That kind of love is so contrary to what we want to do. We want to point fingers and keep score and declare who hurt who and when and use that as some sort of mirage to avoid dealing with the hurt and pain. Forgiveness is really crazy if you think about it. It seems to make sense when we’re talking about sibling rivalry. But what about Hitler? Would you forgive Hitler? Jesus Christ would. That’s so insane to us, but that’s the way God works.

And he commands the same of us. If God can forgive Hitler, if God can forgive me, then shouldn’t I be able to forgive anything as well? Even something as stupid as leaving dishes on the coffee table? When everyone else is busy looking out for number one, God tells us to look out for everyone but number one. Imagine a world if Christians actually did that.

Another one rides the bus.

I ride the bus to work every day. Just like I did some ten years ago on the way to school, I stand outside every morning and wait for the bus. After a brief venture into the world of vehicular freedom, I’ve come back to blessings of mass transit.

At first riding the bus was a financial necessity. I was two weeks out of college, one week of a marriage ceremony, and one day into a brand new job. My wife had to get to school and I had to get to work, two destinations in opposite directions. The bus seemed like an easy solution, but I had no idea I’d like it so much.

I leave the apartment at 6:45 a.m., and if I timed things right, the #67 picks me up a few minutes later on the same block. If I didn’t time things right, it’s no big loss. I take a ten-block hike down to University Avenue and pick up the #16 or the #50 there. Ten blocks may sound like a lot, but it takes about seven minutes and is good exercise–something a desk-jockey like myself could use. If I was lucky enough to avoid my exercise and catch the #67, it just takes me a little farther down on University and I pick up the #16 or the #50.

At first all the numbers seem a confusing, and they are. But you get used to it. The #16 and #50 are actually the same route, it’s just the #50 is a limited stop route, which means it only stops at the major cross streets, which means it’s about 10 to 15 minutes faster than the #16. Of course the #16 comes every ten minutes, while the #50 only comes every half-hour. All this basically means if I miss the bus I don’t have to wait long for the next one.

My ride on the #16 or the #50 is the long part of the trip, and the part I like the best. This trip takes about half an hour, and gives ample time for letting your mind wander. But more on that later. Once I get to downtown Minneapolis, I have a few choices. I could opt for lots of exercise, and walk the ten blocks to my office, or I could catch one of the many buses that travels the same route. I only offer the walking option because for the first month of my commuting experience I didn’t realize I could take a bus. Now I always take a bus. And when I say one of the many buses along that route, I mean many. I could take the #4, the #6, the #12, or the #28. And those buses come at least every ten minutes.

With all those bus numbers and transfers and waiting you’d think riding the bus would be a hassle. And maybe it is. But it’s taught me patience. I’m the kind of guy who looks at my watch every two minutes, just to make sure things are still moving along. But when you ride the bus, you suddenly have to give up a lot of control. Even if I get to the bus stop when the bus is supposed to be there, there’s always the chance that the bus came early and I missed it. No matter how early I show up, the bus can always come late. It teaches me to just chill out and not be so worried. I know that eventually I’ll get where I’m going, I just have to be patient. Unfortunately, I’m still learning that lesson. I still try to leave work at 4:30 on the dot so I catch that 4:32 bus, even though there’s a 4:36 bus that still gets me home to my wife at about the same time. So there’s still some patience there to learn.

When you’re actually settled into the seat and riding the bus, it’s a wonderful experience. You don’t have to keep your eyes on the road. You can let them wander all over the road, dance across the many bumper stickers on the car next to you, even take in the sites of the city as you roll along. You can even close your eyes and drift off to sleep. This is a great option for those dark winter mornings, but there’s always the danger of waking up in the wrong city. A guy I work with often rides the same bus I do, and he often opts for the eye-closing option. I’ve had to wake him up on a number of occasions, and he has a few stories about missing his stops.

Zoning out is a great way to pass time on the bus. Rather than build up anger and frustration while you fight traffic on the freeway, you can just relax. Relaxing is a lost art when you’re hurrying from your front door to the car door to the entrance ramp to the exit ramp to the parking ramp to the cubicle door and back again.

But even better than zoning out is the opportunity to read. Last year I read 37 books, most of them while riding on the bus. Never in my life did I dream I’d read that many books. Not even in college when you’re supposed to read until you can’t see straight did I read that many books. Of course reading may not sound that exciting to you, but as a writer, it’s my livelihood. And reading isn’t the only thing you can do. You can write, you can read, you can listen to music, you can sleep, you can make new friends. Bus riding just has so many more options that driving in your car all by your lonesome.

Another one rides the bus.

Something New

Sometimes you need to make a clean break and start over. Things come to an end and you need to move on. That’s where I’m at, and it’s time for something new. It’s time to expand in new directions, do new things, and I’m more than ready. I’ve been ready. It’s been building up for some time now. Amazingly I have the freedom to do things the way I want to do them.

The future is more that full of possibilities, and I’m eager to see where things go. I’m eager to see my schedule open, and new opportunities fill in where old work recedes. It’s freeing. It’s empowering. It’s something I probably should have done a while ago, but that’s okay. Sometimes it takes you a while to realize what you really need to do.

I’m Not a Storyteller

Telling stories. I like to tell stories. But I don’t consider myself a storyteller. When sitting around the campfire I’m not the one to pour forth with the tales. I don’t make them up as I walk down the street. Sometimes I do, but they’re often not stories. They’re situations, scenarios, sometimes characters. Wouldn’t it be cool if this happened sort of things.

I say this simply because I’m a writer, and I’m still trying to figure out what sort of writer I am. Recently I’ve been reading a Stephen King novel, my first, and I’m amazed at the way the guy can tell a story. No matter what you think of the guy’s literary ability, you have to respect his story telling. He can get your heart pounding in your chest when you’re sitting in your lazy boy on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Sometimes I wonder if I can do that. Part of me says I can’t, and part of me says I just haven’t tried.

I’m Tired of Being a Sponge

Sometimes time is spinning a little too quickly, a little too freely. You think you should say something, but you bite your tongue. You let it go. You’ll bring it up later. Sometimes you want to avoid confrontation. An hour later you’ll wish you had attacked, you’ll relish the possibility of the moment, burn with regret.

Am I supposed to make everything right? Am I supposed to say the words to everyone I know to get them to snap out of their own little world? Or am I the one living in my own little bubble, thinking I understand it all, thinking I have the clarity, the authority to know what’s right and who’s wrong and just how it’s supposed to work. I’m so self-righteous. Pride is the king of all sins, and it loves the title, too.

I can’t fix the world, and I don’t think I’m supposed to. But I’m not supposed to sit on my hands, getting drunk on prime time TV and late night reruns. There’s enough pain in my own circle of friends and relatives, but what am I supposed to do? Soak it up like a sponge and hope someone remembers to wring me out, hope they don’t leave me lying in the sink, bloated and full of questions and hurts and doubts, yearning to be wrung dry, wrung clean. Am I supposed to stand up and be the preacher man, calling a spade a spade, or am I supposed to put a hand on your shoulder and be there for you, loving and supporting like a friend. A good friend has to be both, don’t they? Or do you bite your tongue and let the bitterness take root? It seems easier than speaking my mind and facing the consequences. But at least the consequences are readily apparent, they don’t take deep root in your heart and come back to haunt you when you find that you can’t weed them out.

I’m tired of being a sponge.

Starting Over

There are people everywhere you look. You have to try to get by yourself, to get away from all the humanity. The people living out in the small towns, out in the fields might wonder at the sanity of talking about a population problem. They see nothing but room around them, open space, empty fields, quiet. But plop them in the city, watching the cars pass in the thousands, and they’ll understand.

A reoccurring theme in literature is what happens when you have to start over. It’s happened in our history several times, the colonies, the space stations, the stranded explorers. A fight for survival when man suddenly has to take a step backward to take a step forward. The Lord of the Flies touched on this, boys trying to survive on an island, apart from civilization. The question is if untamed human nature will splinter and shatter and cave in upon itself. Entropy.

I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King, and the very same thing is happening. 99 percent of the world’s population is wiped out by a super flu, and the survivors are left to rebuild society. I wanted to read the book because the thought of a plague was interesting, but now the even more interesting part is watching the survivors cope. Watching the empty towns disintegrate and wander what will happen with all their inhabitants dead. Nature begins to take over again, but how long will it take for nature to overcome a stranded truck, a stretch of asphalt, a lone house, let alone an entire town, or worse yet, a large city.

It’s all interesting stuff, especially when you consider the sudden role reversal. Artists and musicians and all kinds of workers are suddenly worthless. Your skill at fixing wiring is useless when there’s no power. Your skill at playing the guitar is worthless when you have nothing to eat.

Values are suddenly re-prioritized, and it makes me wonder why they weren’t that way in the first place. Some things are important, the rest is just details.

I’d like to be a lucky bastard.

Sometimes I think writers are granted an excuse from the normal expectations of life. In some ways it’s an excuse, and in other ways it may be seen as a curse. In order to be a writer, you have to actually write. Most writers don’t start off getting paid to do that, so you have to do something else to pay the bills until you can work your way up to supporting yourself with your chicken scratch. Most never make it. The result is that writing is something you have to make time for. You sacrifice things like a social life in order to be a writer. You have to come home from your day job and sit down and pound out a pile of words every night, just so you can hope to improve and some day have something you call yours. I’ve never really thought about that sacrifice before.

In some ways I’ve let this collection of online thoughts be my writing for the past few years. And in some ways it has been. Every few months I’ll pound something out here that will end up being the rough draft for something else. But notice the term “every few months.” If that’s as often as I’m doing some serious writing, I should really give up on my dream of being one of them paid writers. In some ways this collection of thoughts could be seen as a sacrifice. I’ve spend twenty minutes a day, not quite every day, for the last three years putting these thoughts together. I never edit them. And often I don’t go back to them to pull anything out. Not much of a sacrifice. That’s like offering your toe nail clippings when spilt blood is required.

So lately I’ve been thinking that I need to get serious about writing. I need to actually do some writing. I need to stop sitting on my butt watching TV every other night when I could be writing. And it’s not that I’m a big TV watcher. There’s probably three or four TV shows I watch on a regular basis. If you add it up it’s about four hours of TV watching per week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but imagine if that was four more hours of writing every week.

Sometimes I think writers and artistic people just like to sound all sacrificial and pompous. Look at me, giving up something for the sake of my high artsy-fartsy calling in life. My wife would probably make fun of me if I told her I wasn’t going to watch Judging Amy tonight because I want to be a professional writer. I should make fun of myself for that. But at the same time, there’s a certain amount of work and sacrifice that needs to be done if I want to call myself a writer. It’s not about being professional or being famous, or even making a buck (although that’s always nice).

And the beautiful thing is that if you’re really honest about wanting to be a writer, it’s not a sacrifice. If I really want to be a writer, then I should be writing rather than watching Seventh Heaven. I should enjoy writing, not see it as a load of work I have to do in my evenings to work my way into the publishing world. That’s a crock. That’s the wrong motives. That’s focusing on what writing gets me, and sucking it up so I can get there. I imagine most true writers love the writing part, and aren’t too thrilled about the professional world of writers. If I really love writing, I wouldn’t bitch and moan about spending my evening writing. And I hope I’m not doing that.

You know you’re doing what you love to do when you do it even though you’re not on the clock. If you’d volunteer to do your day job, then you’re a lucky bastard. I’d like to be a lucky bastard someday.