Dearest Rachel –
There are days when you hear me complaining about a lack of topics to talk to you about. Maybe nothing particularly notable happened (or is expected to happen) that day to fill you in on, or I’ve just crammed my head with a few hours of mindless entertainment while the boys hang out in the family room, so there’s nothing of any substance in my head to commit to text for you. You probably recall days like that in life – we all have, or have had, them – so that’s something you can understand and excuse.
In reality, as often as not, there are many days when what I really want to write about just isn’t appropriate for a public forum – which, let’s face it, despite being an obscure little corner of the internet, this collection of letters is still a part of the internet, and thus, a public forum – despite being the main topic going through my head at the time I’m able to sit down and write you. It’s a real challenge to frequently have to dam up my stream of consciousness, and redirect it toward something more palatable for whatever other people might drop by and read these.
Yes, I’m aware of the fourth wall, here. How could I not be?
So if you don’t mind bearing with me, I’d like to get this off my chest about how many things are mostly verboten for discussion, and how frustrating it is to have to tiptoe around them all the time. To be sure – and you’d point this out to me if you could – I don’t avoid any of them completely, but there’s so much more I’d want to talk about that I really don’t feel at liberty to do so, and you’ll probably understand as I bring them up – not that you haven’t already guessed a couple of them as you’re reading this, I shouldn’t wonder.
The topics I’m not supposed to talk about come in two varieties: those that are considered not acceptable for public discussion, and those that have been determined to be private between ourselves (or in any marital/family relationship). Yes, those sound like the same thing, but hear me out. Some things you can talk about among a group of like-minded people – sometimes at great length, in fact – but you wouldn’t bring them up in a setting like a barroom, for instance, unless you were prepared for a fight to break out. Heck, I’ve been shushed in restaurants more times than I care to admit for forgetting this rule about certain topics and opinions (oddly enough, I don’t recall you ever doing the shushing; maybe it’s just been that long. Still, you know what I’m talking about). Other things are only for behind the tightest of closed doors; one is fairly obvious, but the other (which precipitated this whole essay in the first place) is not. Regardless of category, this sense of having to muzzle myself (and already being aware that I don’t necessarily know when to do so) is a source of deep frustration, since there is so much of myself and ourselves painted with the colors from these topics.
Let me start with the one I do the least pussyfooting around; that of religion. This is one that can’t be avoided, as it informed so much of our lives. We went to a (nominally) Christian-based university, and specifically met within a religious extracurricular organization, just for starters. Our average week saw us (and still sees us) in church as many days as not, between weekend services, Awana clubs, Bible studies and the like – which is not to pat myself on the back for being a good Christian, by the way, as it was you who inveigled me into joining you at Awana, and you were the one who took down the sermon notes while I didn’t (although now I’m trying to, in your absence). Why, it’s the church (and camp) by which I keep in practice with my professional skillset; otherwise, it would completely atrophy out of sheer spite from my job experience. So there’s no getting around the presence of faith in my – and our – life.
On the other hand, I’m well aware of religion’s polarizing nature; both in terms of history and in relating with others in this day and age. Ours is an ever-increasingly secular society, which sometimes appears to be openly hostile to those of faith; there’s a certain sense that one must be careful when discussing such topics in public.
That, and I don’t really try to ‘sell the product’ as I probably ought to. Neither you nor I ever felt the dread of ‘oh, I sure hope God will let me into heaven’ like so many people seem to, since we knew the Way to get in (hint: it has nothing to do with being ‘good enough,’ and everything to do with collecting our entree ticket left for us by the One who was. Although, we should be ‘good’ in gratitude for such a gift as this, and let others know where and how to get theirs). And this is where I fall down; people ought to be informed, but I’ve learned over time that many of them don’t seem to want to hear about it. And so, while I matter-of-factly observe that you’re in heaven, waiting for me (well, probably more just enjoying the place until I get there; I don’t think of you as just sitting around, twiddling your thumbs until I show up), I feel the need to be obscure in showing the Way there to others, so they could have this kind of confidence.
Hand in hand with this, to a certain extent, is the subject of politics. Not that one side is necessarily religious (although honestly, there is a certain perception to that; most of the open hostility seems to come from one side of the aisle, even as they often proclaim from the podium about how devout they are, and how many different churches and shuls they attended daily – one individual, if his tales are to be believed, must live in a world where days are ten hours longer than the rest of us, in order to attend all the places he claims to. Maybe he has Hermione’s Time Turner; it would explain why he looks so old, even for his age and dressed up in a suit like he usually is), but one’s chosen religion, and even denomination, tends to inform one’s politics – or at least, one’s stand on various issues of the day, which usually leave one but a single option in terms of political parties to vote for.
Of course, this results in a sort of quasi-religious fervor toward those parties, and their various stands on this or that topic – and as with religion, woe be unto anyone who dares tell someone that what they believe in is wrong, even without holy writ to back up their convictions. There’s a certain Messianism about the leaders of one party or the other among their followers, along with a demonization of those of the other tribe, to say nothing of characterizing the other leader as the virtual Anti-Christ. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the phrase “worse than Hitler” describing this politician or the other; I really ought to copyright it, and collect royalties every time it’s used, and I would have a guaranteed income for life that even the greatest lottery winners would envy.
The funny thing is, while you know I’ve always been of a conservative bent (because of the environment I grew up and came of age in), I’d always been of the understanding that it really didn’t matter who was in charge, since whatever damage one might do in a scant four (or at worst, eight) year could be undone by the next guy. I was willing to believe that an empty White House (and Congress) would actually be preferable to whoever was running the show; let it all function more or less automatically, and we’ll be better off (especially since we taxpayers wouldn’t be forking over those handsome salaries to all those folks in what is derisively referred to as “Hollywood for ugly people”).
Considering the last couple of years, and how things have gone so far sideways, I’m not so sure anymore.
I’d go into other stories, like how, when we were stuck inside during the pandemic, I would practice reading aloud for my dreamed-of YouTube channel by reading certain news articles to you and Daniel (thus propelling the two of you somehow beyond my own political stance), but there are other things I need to take care of today, and this letter has gone on at quite some length. And I haven’t even gotten to the topic that brought this whole essay up in the first place! Well, at least I have something for later, for a change.
Anyway, until I get put that together, honey, keep an eye on me, and wish me luck. I’m going to need it.
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