When one of my daughters (no, I’m not telling you which one) was six months old, she would beat herself in the face with anything we stuck in the crib with her. Including the hamster. When she turned eighteen months old, she would dig through the trash cans, pull out used Q-tips, and chew on them. And then when she turned three years old, she would take all her clothes off whenever we had company over and run throughout the house screaming, “I’m naked! I’m naked!” I remember thinking, Great. I’ve managed to raise a three-year-old suicidal Q-tip–eating stripper.
She was five when my brother got married. After the wedding, she sat next to her new aunt and started licking her arm.
“Stop that!” I told her.
“I’m kissing her the grown-up way,” my daughter said innocently.
“You mean with your tongue?”
My new sister-in-law just sat on the couch staring at me as her niece licked her arm. I decided not to bring up the Q-tip eating and the stripping.
Over the years I’ve taken note of stupid signs I’ve seen around the country. On the door of a grocery store I once saw a sign that said, “Push. Do Not Enter.” A friend of mine told me he saw a sign in West Virginia that read, “Free kittens for sale.” In Virginia I saw a sign with lights around it near a construction site. The sign read, “Construction workers present when flashing.” I drove by thinking, That’s the last thing I wanna see. Think about it. I bet you’ll agree.
Humans are peculiar. We do stupid, inexplicable things. At every mall in America you’ll find teenage girls wearing shorts with words written on the butt. I saw a girl with the word Kentucky written on the seat of her pants. I wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing to have the name of your state written on someone’s butt. Does it mean she’s a fan? Anti-fan? I saw a girl with cute written on her shorts. I sat there trying to figure out just what part of her anatomy that was supposed to be referring to. I saw this other girl with all-star written on her butt. I don’t even wanna know what that means.
Humans are indeed an odd, entertaining, bewildering breed full of mishaps and blunders. In this world of baffling people, it’s not always clear who’s on your side and who isn’t. I’ve found you need to be careful who you trust. I have a personal policy to avoid guys who name their trucks Alice, grown men who wear Velcro shoes, and people who use camouflage flashlights. But that’s just me. You can come up with your own criteria.
Yet as bizarre and screwed up as we are, beauty is threaded through our stories. Glory, dignity, and grace bubble up from our souls. We can tell we’re from here but don’t belong here. We’re meant for more than this. We are dust and bones and blood and dreams, skin-covered spirits with hungry souls. We are Hitler and Gandhi; Genghis Khan and Martin Luther King Jr. We are nurses and terrorists, lovers and liars, suicide bombers and little grinning children with milk mustaches.
Sometimes we kiss like grown-ups, and sometimes we sell free kittens.
My sixth-grade daughter was studying for a spelling bee, and one of the advanced words was agathokakological. It took us awhile to track down the definition: “consisting of both good and evil.” What a fabulous word: agathokakological. We humans have agathokakological hearts, motives, dreams, passions. The next day I told my youngest daughter to inform her first-grade teacher that we are an agathokakological breed. I wish I could have seen the teacher’s expression when Eden told her that.
Chesterton called us “broken gods.” Pascal called us “fallen princes.” Philosophers have long wondered how we fit into this world, somewhere between the apes and the angels. To make us into one or the other is to deny the full reality of who we are, because we have both animal instincts and divine desires. Pascal (a philosopher), wrote, “Man must not think that he is on a level either with the brutes or with the angels, nor must he be ignorant of both sides of his nature; but he must know both.”1 Rumi (a mystic poet), wrote, “Half of him is angelic and half animal. . . . The angel is free because of his knowledge, the beast because of his ignorance. Between the two remains the son of man to struggle.”2 A friend of mine told me that we are each Cinderella in the moment of transformation—half dressed in ashes and rags, half clothed in a royal gown ready to meet the prince.
We’re from below and from above, bestial and celestial, children of the earth and offspring of the stars. We are an odd race capable of both martyrdom and murder, poetry and rape, worship and abortion. And Christianity explains why: we are both the Spirit-breathed children of God and the expelled rebels of the kingdom. In the ways that matter most, we’re all from the Garden of Eden. We’ve all listened to the snake. Yet we’re also children of the Father. We are far worse than we would ever on our own admit and loved by God more deeply than we would ever dare to dream. We are both worthless and priceless, terrorists and saints, lost and homeward bound.
the wrinkles of a child’s toes
and the wrinkles on a father’s brow
tell me who i really am.
both more and less
human than i’d ever
hoped to be.