About five years into writing my doctoral dissertation I sat
down to compose a difficult email to my advisor.
I had decided to give up.
I told him I appreciated his unending patience with me,
through my relocation to Connecticut, my engagement and wedding planning, my
struggle to conceive, and all the anxieties of a recently confirmed pregnancy. I didn’t want to spend another minute analyzing
the allegorical implications of Troubleall’s madness in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew
Fair. I was sick and tired. I was throwing in the towel. He wrote back almost immediately.
I wonder if you are aware of the
origins of that phrase.
throw in the towel.
That is a decision
reserved for their trainers.
I did go on to finish my dissertation, and as clumsy and
terrible as the final product was, I defended it before a panel of faculty who
shook my hand at the end of three long hours and called me Dr. Russell for the
My advisor, trainer's towel stubbornly secured around his shoulders, took Mark and me to his favorite diner
and ordered himself an egg crème.
his victory as much as mine.
Fast forward two decades and I find myself in the throes of another
In this corner, a 50-year-old
wife and mother of two who thrives on regular, close proximity to friends and
In the opposite corner, mother-effing
want to “do” social distancing anymore.
many of you, I’m ready to give up the fight.
But every day the damn bell rings to signal a new round.
And every day, I strap on a mask and wash my chapped
hands and maintain a six-foot distance from all but three other human beings on
It doesn’t matter that I’m
sick and tired of it all.
I can’t throw
in the towel, because the choice is not mine to make.
Please, please don’t listen to the idiots who suggest
See, I know about idiots, because I am one, too.
And not just when it comes to boxing
Like you, I’ve known people who have fought harder and more horrible
battles than mine.
They’ve battled the grief of
losing parents and children.
faced terminal cancer diagnoses.
gone off to war, or they’ve been left behind to carry on, alone.
I have always been stunningly
when it comes to offering encouragement to the battle-weary.
I eventually settled on an all-purpose condolence
catch-phrase: “You are so strong.
know how you do it.”
It felt like the
right thing to say.
(Ok, maybe not “right,”
but at least not terribly wrong
I wanted people to know how much I admired them.
I meant it as a testament to their courage.
With unbelievable grace, they’d smile weakly and accept my attempt
Then one afternoon my best friend lost her sweet and humble husband
In the grueling aftermath, I
watched in awe as she kept putting one foot in front of the other.
I didn’t know how to express my admiration, so
I fell back on the phrases I knew best.
“You are so strong,” I told her.
“I don’t know how you are doing this.”
She didn’t smile.
looked me square in the eye, as only a best friend can, and said “What choice do you think I have?”
Thank God she loved me enough to school me.
I think this virus is teaching all of us a similar
We do not have a choice
but to keep fighting.
It doesn’t matter
how tired we are of the masks, or the isolation, or the monotony.
We can’t give up.
If we start pulling our punches now, we’re going to be blindsided.
Just yesterday, my uncle sent me a music video.
He’s a Christian with a capital C, in the same
way that I’m more a “christian” with at best
a lowercase letter…maybe
even a “k”.
(Which is to say, he’s quite
a bit further along on his faith journey than yours truly.)
I wasn’t familiar with the song.
It was performed by an all-boy worship band,
and my first impression was that they had beautiful voices and really
Then I paid attention to the lyrics:
“I count on one thing / The same God that never fails / Will
not fail me now / In the waiting / The same God who’s never late / Is working
all things out.”
Well, that’s comforting, I
It’s nice to imagine (even believe)
there’s a God in heaven who won’t fail us, even
“It will all work out” may be unforgivably
cliché, but wouldn’t it be something if it were also true?
And then came the chorus:
“I will lift you high in the lowest
valley” the perfectly-coiffed boys sang.
And I thought to myself, YES.
is the kind of God I can get behind.
in a pretty low valley right now, and we could sure use a divine hand to lift us
out of it.
Except that, as I mentioned
earlier, I’m kind of idiot.
when it comes to boxing metaphors and expressions of condolence,
but also when it comes to Christian music lyrics.
Turns out, it’s not God
speaking in the chorus of “Yes I Will.”
It’s just some dumb old human being.
Some guy who is in his lowest valley and is still praising God.
Well, that’s bullshit (was my
I need a God who will
scoop me up and rescue me, and instead I’ve got one who expects to be praised even
when I’m sick and tired?
And that’s when I had a teeny, tiny epiphany…the only size
epiphany idiots are capable of having.
I realized my prayers throughout this pandemic have sounded an awful lot like that email I
sent twenty years ago to my dissertation advisor.
In essence, I begged both of them to call an end to the
fight. And they both gave the same reply:
I know my dissertation advisor wasn’t a sadist.
I trust the reason he didn’t throw in the
towel is because he knew I hadn’t yet given it my all.
I like to think the same is true of God.
I trust that when He throws in the towel for
me, it will only
be because I have no fight left.
If I trust in that, it becomes a little easier
to keep swinging.
So whether you watch Fox or CNN, whether you believe in God or in Dr. Fauci, please don’t stop fighting.
When the bell rings for another round, come out
If it helps, try doing it in a bright
satin robe with your alter ego emblazoned on the back.
You’re probably not leaving the house,
|Come on. I had to. |