My car is almost twenty years old and the CD player no longer works, so while driving alone my only options are the radio or silent prayerfulness. I’d love to say that as I dashed out to run errands this week I piously communed with God or said my Rosary but I’ll tell the truth: I turned on the radio.
This is always an exercise in futility, because I am becoming old. The newer music mostly makes me want to chase everybody off my lawn, and the older music is basically Hotel California and Night Moves played on seemingly endless “classic rock” loops.
So when I drive, I’m basically one-hand on the steering wheel, the other click-click-clicking through the stations trying to find anything that will keep me amused for three minutes. Because, thanks to social media, that’s all the attention span I have anymore.
Now, perhaps this has been true for a while, or maybe we had some atmospheric skip the other day, so it’s an aberration, but in my search through the afternoon’s FM dial, I discovered several “talk radio” stations I’d never noticed before, one talking politics from the left, and one from the right, and both spewing vituperation at the other side—at “fat, lazy” Wal-Mart shoppers or “stuck-up, entitled limousine liberals” respectively. Hate, hate, hate: that’s all either of these programs seemed to be offering—unending streams of active, seething hatred. I couldn’t give either channel more than a minute’s hearing before moving on.
Still, pushing through all the channels meant catching them again; it seemed there was no escaping the hate talk—projectile vomiting disguised as rhetoric but having nothing at all to do with actual critical thinking. Finally, I simply snapped the radio off. So much hate. I just didn’t want to encounter it again, even in passing.
Look, I’m no angel. I have spewed my share of snarls and made my mockeries—sometimes I’ve been clever, most of the time, not—but when I decided to stop writing about (or even seriously considering) politics anymore in 2012, it gave me the opportunity to see where I had been, what I’d been permitting to happen in my soul with my too ready mouth—and I didn’t like it. I wanted, then, to work toward delivering something better than the easy sarcasm and mockery that becomes too habitual, too quickly, and pulls your soul into quicksand, while others, feeling validated, are telling you how great you are.
I wanted to love again—to actively, consciously, do the harder work of listening (and really hearing) and repairing my own flaws instead of jeering at the flaws of others, instead of pursuing what Pope Francis calls the “dark joy” of gossip, or one-upsmanship, and the sociopolitical hating that goes along with that and has become America’s default mode.
Back then, I wrote:
I want to love, again.
Youth cannot be reclaimed, and I would not want to, but increasingly I feel a need—a calling, perhaps—to find a way to reach back and recapture one aspect of my youth: a willingness to be a little naive, to take people as they are, rather than as I believe I can classify them. It was how I lived before I became very engaged with politics and religion and chose labeling over loving.
I still have far to go, but I know I am not the same person I was in 2006, or 2012, or even 2016. Perhaps none of us should still be, now, where we were then. If we are, likely we’re further sunk in our mud, but less cognizant of the fact that the sludge of our hate is swallowing us.
But I am willing to recognize this: hate happens. It happens to all of us, unless we’re saints (and that I am not, although perhaps—à la Flannery—I could be a martyr if you killed me fast enough).
Enemies happen too. Jesus even acknowledged as much in the Gospels, when he told us to love them. He didn’t say “don’t have enemies.” He said, instead, to love them. And what is it, to love an enemy? I’d guess it is to see them as human beings, as beloved of God as ourselves; to remain wary of them while also wishing them no ill, but rather praying for their good, that they become clear-headed, wise, gentle—that they be saved.
So, yes, hate happens. But if your hatred is owning you—if it’s the basis of every “witty” joke at work or every sly retweet, or every Facebook rant or conversation over Zoom—then maybe your hate has become an idol too-well served. If your hatred is consuming your whole day’s consciousness, you might be in real trouble, in mind, heart, and soul.
Dorothy Day famously said, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least”—one of the wisest and most challenging lines ever uttered by a Christian. Or by anyone, really.
I still need to work on loving more, loving better. 2012 may have been an instinctual turning point for me, but apparently loving is a wider corner than I realized, and I still haven’t fully turned. Then again, “to turn” is to convert. And conversion needs to be a daily thing, if we mean to live the faith rightly.
In retrospect, I’m glad I found nothing good on the radio this week. It reminded me of who I was and who I want to be. Next time I’m out, I’m going to try to remember not to turn it on at all, but to pray instead. A prayer like along the lines of: “Lord, bless that person I cannot stand, and have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Because deep down I know that—like the Beatles (who never show up on my radio) said—in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.