My friend Scott recently put me on to a new country musician named Sturgill Simpson. I can’t remember the last time I got so hooked on a new musician. Part hillbilly, part existentialist philosopher, part drug experimenter, part brilliant musician and lyricist…that’s basically a summary of Simpson. If you have any fondness for country music, you should definitely check him out.
In the song “Turtles All the Way Down,” Simpson recounts his experiences with various drugs, saying, “Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, DMT; they all changed the way I see, but LOVE’S THE ONLY THING THAT’S EVER SAVED MY LIFE.”
Another artist I’ve been obsessed with of late is the beautiful, gut-wrenching writing of Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, which was made into a movie that was up for Best Picture at the Oscars. She also wrote a book called Dear Sugar, essays compiled from an advice column she used to write for an online magazine (nothing like the advice columns you’re used to). Strayed lives in the Pacific Northwest, which, by default, makes her a raging liberal. Every year, she takes her two young children to the gay pride parade in her city. Her kids find it entertaining. They love to see the people who are dressed up in their most thoroughly “gay” clothing…drag queens…Village People…the whole nine yards. But while her kids like the “costumes,” she says she always ends up crying, and her kids ask her why. Her answer is that they’re looking at a “celebration of love born out of hatred.” I am proud to say that, while relaying this story to someone just yesterday, I, too, choked back tears for the same reason Strayed does: People saying “this is who I am whether or not you approve” brings me to tears. It’s not that I understand homosexuality any better than any other straight person (I happen to believe that God’s three greatest inventions all exist between a woman’s neck and her thighs), but I don’t believe I have to understand someone in order to support their desire to express love and commitment to another human being. Like many these days, Strayed uses the “love wins” mantra to sum up her celebration of gay pride, gay marriage, etc. Maybe love does win…would that be such a bad conclusion to all of this human chaos?
Something else I learned from Sturgill Simpson is the turtles-all-the-way-down story. It goes like this: In the days when people believed that the world was flat, there was a myth that earth rested on the back of a giant, cosmic turtle. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, one of the smart kids finally asked this important question: “But what is the turtle standing on?” To which some unnamed genius responded, “Well, it’s turtles all the way down, you see.”
The turtles-all-the-way-down story illustrates a fundamental problem in the human condition: Our reason/logic will always reach an end point. ALWAYS. Christians use the Bible as their turtles-all-the-way-down trump card; Muslims use the Quran; scientists use data that will eventually be called into question or disproved. None of us really know for sure what to believe.
I’ve had to abstain from Facebook lately because of all the rhetoric lately about who’s right and who’s wrong on the gay marriage issue (or Obama Care…or South Carolina’s flag). It just gets me too worked up to see all of the us-vs-them or we-are-the-good-guys-they-are-the-bad-guys posturing. Human beings are not broken up into two (and only two) teams: good guys vs. bad guys. I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if all of us would simply admit that we aren’t quite sure what the hell is going on around us. We’re not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? We’re not sure whose religion understands the nuances of God better than the other religions. We’re not sure which political party has the right answers. We’re not sure of very much, in fact.
But we can be sure of one thing: That we are UNSURE.
I tend to think we are ALL wrong at some level about EVERYTHING. So let’s quit worrying so much about who’s right and who’s wrong and start with something we can probably agree on: PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED AND FORGIVEN AND CARED FOR NO FUCKING MATTER WHAT. Wanna change the world? Start with radical, careless, overwhelming love and acceptance, and you’ll make some good progress.
I’d rather see humanity moving in the direction of loving and accepting and caring for MORE people rather than fewer people. I’d rather see us quit trying to conserve values that are fatally flawed in the first place…like the “sanctity of marriage.” Uh, people, ½ of marriages end in divorce. We should quit claiming that marriage is so sacred until we figure out how to honor its sacredness ourselves, as straight people. Once we’re above an 88.356% success rate, we can start talking about not wanting “foreigners” inside of our “sacred” institutions. For now, we should wonder why gay people even want the “privilege” of marrying. Are they that eager to hire divorce lawyers?!
As we try to figure out these complex issues as a country and as individuals, why not err on the side of acceptance and love rather than erring on the side of “reasoned” disagreement?
Your supposed reason is faulty.
So is mine.
But there is no doubt that human beings could use more love, affirmation, and acceptance. Even if they are morally corrupt, they aren’t likely to make changes because you have a more “reasonable” thought process than they do. People grow and change through love, plain and simple. Even if you’re right and the Supreme Court is wrong, expressing that opinion will ostracize about ten thousand people for every one it converts to your point of view. Showing people that you love them without needing them to “get their shit together first” will reverse that ratio, winning over ten thousand for every one you offend with your unconditional love (though it’s hard to imagine love like that turning anyone off, but I wanted to keep the math nice and tidy).
So whether you’re like Sturgill Simson, who realized through drug use that love is the most powerful drug on earth…or if you’re like Cheryl Strayed who cries at the bravery it takes for people to come out of any closet that society has locked with a dead bolt…or if you’ve spent so much time thinking about who’s right and who’s wrong and you’ve come to the conclusion that all philosophies eventually dissolve into “it’s turtles all the way down,” I, for one, don’t believe we will do the world any harm by opting for extreme and radical acceptance of our fellow humans as “simply human.” Like you, they are confused, broken, scared, unsure about God, unsure about what happens when they die, unsure about whether it’s more important to fit in or to be authentic. Gay, straight, transgender, murderer, or even Republican…all of us deserve the benefit of the doubt. All of us deserve the life-changing benefit of radical love.
So I’ll end with this admission: I’m sure I’m wrong about most things. But I, for one, do think it’s turtles all the way down.
But I’m willing to admit that maybe it’s actually giraffes. Or cats. If it’s cats, I’m gonna be pissed. I hate cats.
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