“The weight of lies will bring you down/and follow you to every town/’cause nothin’ happens here that doesn’t happen there. So when you run/make sure you run/to something and not away from/cause lies don’t need an airplane to chase you down.”–The Avett Brothers, Weight of Lies
The day I noticed his presence was the day, senior year of college, I ate an entire extra large pizza by myself (the Pizza Hut Big New Yorker, as it was known), and didn’t bat an eye.
The day I noticed he had stuck around was when I saw a picture of myself at College Graduation, and didn’t recognize myself. It looked like a Me who had swallowed an entire Me. Perhaps this is the reason–similarly to how my sister brought home a stray cat in mid-December and named her “Christmas”–I chose to name my pet demon, Flab.
Flab. Flabby. Fineous J. Flabberton, if you want to be formal. He’s a demon, and he belongs to me.
Or maybe I belong to him?
He used to live in my room. In fact, he may very well have been the monster under my bed that I feared in my earliest years. But if he was, then he began venturing out from under there early on, stretching out into the roomy yet secluded confines of my bedroom. As toys, books, and clothes would pile up, Flab would stake them out as his personal territory, keeping them just out of my reach, curbing any chance of me picking them up. And so we played our game.
There would inevitably be items that required my attention, for which I was responsible–clutter in the room, overdue library books to return, newspapers to deliver, saxophones to practice, homework to complete; Flab turned them all to chew toys. He stripped them of their value, spitting them up, presenting them to me on the carpet like a cat bringing in a mouse. “Here you go,” he seemed to say, satisfied that I made no attempt to properly dispose of the item. A lot of pets enjoy the undivided attention of their masters, getting held and scratched and pet and rubbed and walked. Flab is never more happy than when he’s left alone. The most he ever wants to be touched is when he sits right on top of me, keeping me from moving for hours, sometimes days at a time. He has kept me from moving even when it puts relationships at risk, even when people around me cry for help. The best medical practitioners of our time will tell you that nothing is worse for our health than our tendency to spend 8 or more hours a day not moving….Flab would keep me down for the full 24 if I let him.
You know one of the things Jesus tasked his Disciples with? Casting out Demons (Matthew 10:1). Demons are a fascinating thing to think about in our age of science and psychology. We haven’t totally given up the notion of demons, but we have relegated them to poetry, rather than prose. When one speaks of demons, we think they’re being fairly romantic or artful in their way of talking about the dark, mysterious, “sinful” things that haunt them. That’s fine. But here I am, trying to walk the path that Jesus laid out, and you know what I find to be more true than anything? Sometimes I cannot bring myself to do what I know “should” be done. I know that I’m a 31 year old white male, living in the most prosperous and privileged society in history…and most days I feel like someone else is in charge of my life. I feel the pain of the world, the sadness of our fragile, finite lives…and rather than live life to the fullest, I find it easier to retreat, to hide, to do nothing.
To say that I’m possessed by demons would be, I believe, refusing to take responsibility for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I think–whether it’s literally true or not–demon possession is a really artful and true way of describing what a lot of people deal with on a regular basis. I just don’t think I’m one of them; I don’t think the problems in my life warrant such a description. I’ve known people who wrestle with demons…who live with evil. I’m not at their level. Not yet.
The demon isn’t in charge of me. But…he’s present in my life. He sits on my chest at night and wants to talk philosophy while I’m trying to sleep. He puts images of my own promise and possibility in my dreams just to try to wrestle me back to bed the next morning.
So why keep him around? Why not banish the little monster into the void and be done with him? Well, even Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus cast out a demon called “Legion,” but even he couldn’t (wouldn’t?) cast the baddies into the void, to cease to be….he put them in a heard of pigs and let them scramble into the night (Mark 5: 1-20). If Jesus wouldn’t destroy these things, what gives me the right to? The children’s movie How to Train Your Dragon, might be the most wise movie of our time. It takes the most basic, classic villain (the dragon!), and demonstrates how a kind and caring individual really can’t even be hateful toward a dragon without sacrificing the very stuff that makes us human. The enemy, in the end, is never “out there,” and almost always within myself…within the dark recesses of my mind and soul that just want, more than anything….for things to be simple…and easy…and fun. These are the parts of me that create villains, real and imagined, so someone else can be “at fault.” These are the parts of me that insist I’m more important than anyone else. And it’s just not true. We’re all in this together. Demons included. The world will never be perfect, and I will never be perfect. I will always be flawed, I will always have my shortcomings. But I’m done kicking myself for all that. Much better to learn what it is to live into a relationship with my pet demon, than waste my life trying to outrun him. ‘Cause he doesn’t need an airplane to track me down. He’s always there.
Flab’s not all bad. He’s helped introduce me to a lot of great experiences. Flab set up my Twitter account. Flab is great at finding Chipotle, and he helps get me out of my own head long enough to enjoy great jokes and deep truths. But…I wish he wasn’t such a heavy part of my life. I carry an unnecessary 50 lbs. of extra weight on my body at all times. That’s Flab. I would like it if he weighed less.
I wish I had a picture to show you, but the kid’s rather elusive. Hard to capture in pixels. And yet ever present, watching over me…looking for stray crumbs I don’t consume. In recent weeks, the reality of my fragile, limited life has set in hard. My frustrations with my personal life, a heart that just doesn’t seem to heal, the death of a friend. It occurs to me that all these things were what got me running into exile in the first place. I was going to find something….better. I was going out into the world to discover the thing that would make me happy…all the time…forever…and help me break lose from my demons. Instead….it just helped me wake up to them.
I’ve sensed Flab’s presence throughout my entire life, but he just got a name last week. And now that I know he’s with me I’m more convinced than ever that running away won’t solve what’s wrong with my life, or with the world.
In the words of Mal Reynolds, there will be “no more runnin’.” Because everywhere you go, that’s where you are, right? And if you have a demon, they’re right there with you. There will always be death, limitation, imperfection. The only question on the table is: will we take appropriate responsibility for our lives, finding the courage to change the things we can, the serenity to accept the unchangeable, and the wisdom to know the difference?
No more runnin’ from sadness. No more trying to demonize Flab (the demon). Just the daily choice to WALK the path of love and justice. Understanding I will never walk it perfectly, Flab and his friends will always nip at my heals and make me stumble from time to time…but to walk at all is a blessing. And the more I walk, the more optimistic I am that I have yet to discover everything life has in store for me. Flab is down to 48 lbs. And I haven’t even started training him yet.
If you’ll excuse me, my pet demon and I need to get to a memorial service. We lost a friend who, though we were never close, she demonstrated to me what life can look like while living with demons. She showed me how brilliant and lovely a human life can be, even when plagued by forces of chaos and destruction. She remains in my heart as an exemplar of a good, human life well lived. She laughed with me at shows, told me a few times about what parts of life I was missing out on…she didn’t allow evil to define her.
So I’m making Flab come with me to pay tribute to this wonderful woman…to remind him (and myself) that he doesn’t own me.
Rest in peace and love and light, Kelly.