Love: the soft, chewy center of everything (guest post)

Brandon There is nothing to kill a crush like meeting them in person.

In the case of Brandon, he of the now-retired BBE (Best Blog Ever!), he of the mysterious, undisclosed location in the PacNW, he of the curly poet locks and genius pen (and no, that's not code for anything), my crush crashed hard. Not because he doesn't live up to the promise of his silken prose or those sex-ay eyes (see above), but because you can't objectify someone who emanates such a deep-rooted kindness. I mean, I tried, but you really can't. Brandon was probably the person I talked to the least at TequilaCon (out of, you know, the people I actually did speak to) because he was the one I wanted to talk to the most.

There. I've said it.

When I found his blog, I read everything. Every thing. When he put it down and took up guest posting, I immediately fired off an email requesting a post here. I got a polite response, but no post, and I didn't want to be a nudge.

So I was beyond thrilled to awaken this morning not only to sweet, sweet reality (note to self: do NOT eat a pound of butter just before bed, no matter how good it makes the rapini taste), but to a humbly worded semi-request and a really, really long-ass post.

But it's good. And it's about love, and service. And as the world needs a lot more of both right now, especially combined, I cannot think of a more perfect thing to gift-as-a-verb you with on this crisp and sunny California morning. This is a speech Brandon will give today to an extraordinary group of young people. You get it here first.

Brandon, it's all you...

xxx c

* * *

I want to start off my remarks by saying I like all of you, each and every one of you, including the ones of you who have had years 10 times as productive as mine when I was an AmeriCorps member 10 years ago, although you have to take inflation into consideration if you want to make a fair comparison of our accomplishments, because remember, in 1997, a gallon of gas only cost a buck fifty seven, a movie ticket was less than 6 dollars, and the ed award was only $4,725. So really, and I'm just doing the math in my head, so bear with me, carry the 4, cross the 'T,' press and voila, the 20 volunteers I recruited would be the equivalent in 2007 dollars of 537 miscounted votes in Broward County Florida. Go figure. I guess what I'm saying is 1. A meaningful comparison between your accomplishments and mine from a decade ago is difficult, and 2. I like what you've done with the place.

Just because we cannot compare your apples with my oranges, or as they say here in Wenatchee, your aplets with my cotlets, however, does not mean that we cannot pat each other on the back and stumble out of the grizzly cafe tonight at 2 am singing "It Had to Be You," because we totally can, it's just that, well, I'll be honest with you, looking at all of you out here, knowing how far you've come, how much you've accomplished, I must confess to breaking that age old commandment against envy. I envy you, not only because of your accomplishments, but because you have had the good fortune of being able to broadcast, podcast and vlogcast your good deeds, all while listening to inspirational music like Hillary Duff to get you through the really down times, and post all your photos to flickr, with the images photoshopped just enough to actually make you look good while hand pulling scotch broom or stumbling out of the Grizzly cafe at 2am after a long day of tutoring, mentoring, grant writing, firefighting, fundraising and googling that weird guy who sent you a message through myspace. Yeah, he is kind of cute. You know his photo, anyway. Looks a lot like Jake Gyllenhaal. Go figure.

You even multitask, which in my defense, wasn't even invented until after we technophiles discovered the ability to log onto the internet without hanging up our telephones first. Or after we realized that text messaging wasn't just a new name for Morse code. I tried to fax my resume recently and the person on the other end said she'd look up that word, FAX, on I hung up before she found out, very, very afraid of what she might think my intentions were. It's scary out here, and I don't just mean outside the grizzly cafe at 2 in the morning. I mean, you know, it's scary in the 21st century.

But I also envy you because you are all here still smiling, reasonably un-medicated and not nearly as naked as I remember AmeriCorps members how they used to be, back in the 20th century. You remind me of a friend I once had in high school, the only kid I ever knew who liked to work. When he was 16. He would invite me to spend the night, and we would go fishing until late in the evening or hunting morel mushrooms or finding a swimming hole off the Mississippi river, mind you this was Missouri, so all of this is perfectly normal, and no the story does not end with me doing a pig imitation to a banjo reprise, but don't think I wasn't worried about it at the time, either.

Yet, after packing 20 hours of adventuring into a single day, he was still up at 4 in the morning, two 10 gallon buckets of water in each hand ready to water the horses and the cows, but not the rooster, because the rooster wouldn't be awake for another hour and a half, and I just hated him, his enterprise, his determination, his EXAMPLE. And I hated the way he smiled, especially when he would get excited about the prospect of shucking beans in the afternoon. You could tell he liked work in a way that would mean I would have to work, too, or be called lazy, and there's nothing that hurts like the truth, so you work. In essence, he turned me into nothing more than a big fat liar. Although at least I'm not trying to convince you that the corn has eyes and the potatoes have ears.

I later learned that my friend wasn't normal, that he suffered from something known as 'work ethic,' and the only cure is something they sell over the counter at the Grizzly Cafe. And I felt blessed to have eventually escaped this bizarro town where Tom Sawyer fools you into running off with the carnies just so that he might paint the fence all to himself and the convenient store clerks actually check non-laminated driver's licenses in a desperate attempt to keep you from self medicating back into wellness, and this is the part of the story where there are years of peace and harmony, the weather is unseasonably mild, your passions are held in a reasonable check and the path of least resistance is finally free from traffic, you can now afford a car with cruise control and settling is just another word for nothing left to choose.

The calm shattering storm made landfall of course in 1994, the politicians apparently dragging my old friend away from his morning chores long enough to engineer a super virus from the blood the sweat and the tears sampled from what I hope was an upper body garment, and this new hyper disease they named 'ethic of service,' and they made it far more infectious than any previous ethos, so much so that the first victims, in a catastrophe later renamed the Summer of Service, were in essence blinded by the desire to volunteer. In fact, the first time they discovered service, it reminded me of the first time my 2 year old son discovered, really, truly discovered his own pee pee, and for days, weeks, even it was all we could do to convince him that there are other things you can and probably should do with your hands, such is the curse of ethic of service that those who suffer believe, truly believe that they aren't just engaging in an act of altruism, but they are helping themselves. Self service they call it, and it's not pretty. I hear it's against the law in Oregon.

I'm sorry to tell you this, but soon you will all suffer from ethic of service, too, and I would tell you what the cure is, only all those people who need tutoring, mentoring, grant writing, firefighting and fundraising would google me and start flooding my myspace account with messages of adoration and pictures of Jake Gyllenhaal getting my hopes up only to bring me crashing down when I see what they REALLY look like when we decide to meet at the Grizzly Café at two in the morning, and what they really look like is all kinds of angry, hurt and meanness all wrapped up into one big mob of a package.

So I'm not going to tell you. Yes I realize I'm being selfish about this, but I like the way I look, what with the non-broken nose and non-blackened eyes and non-bloodied lip. I like my hair, too, especially after I try a really good conditioner, like Sebastian potion 9. You all should get you some of that.

I also speak to you as an ethic of service survivor, and I have to admit, after a lot of embarrassment, pain, humiliation and itchy redness, I eventually learned that I wasn't dying from ethic of service, but was in fact living with ethic of service. What helps, of course, is that I am surrounded by fellow sufferers who have made this, rather ironically, wouldn't you say Quinn, into the one terminal disease that actually improves the quality of your life, actually makes you better, funnier, more resilient, more interdependent. Yes, you rely on each other, and would not survive long if you were the only ones of your kind.

There is a 2200 acre honey mushroom colony underneath the blue mountains of eastern Oregon. It used to be known as the largest living organism in the world. Until all of you came along, joined hands in a common cause and became one living being with a single heart and 100,000 hands. You used to be like me before I came down with the beautiful disease, constantly at the point where you were more afraid of success than failure, and now you are starting to realize, thanks to your illness, that this is some awful point to reach. It's what climbers refer to as a Himalayan point, a point Himalayan in its mortality rate, not everyone can return from such a point, and those who do often lose their extremities.

But you don't need your hands, your feet or even your eyes, not when the person next to you beats with the very same heart, not when you all share one life giving organ, pumping that gloriously infected blood, the way we as children were so desperate to do when the world was too terrible, and we'd hide behind the fence of the convenient store, shattered pieces of glass, cutting the skin on our thumbs and binding them to our friends, hoping to reach a day like what you have all discovered when you took that oath of service surrounded by people you've really, truly known all your lives but have only now just come to meet, face to face.

I had the distinct privilege of watching you, the performers and the audience, at the talent show last night. I adore your abilities, I adore your smiles, and even listening to your laughter, I adore your fears and your worries. I adore your ability to laugh at how poor you are. And I adore your ability to understand how rich you are in good fortune. I adore that you will write and sing torch songs for the members you served with, that you will one day mourn an unrequited love for the heart they put into this intentional poverty, this walking in each others' shoes, this following in downtrodden steps, this softening of jagged points of view.

Look around you and see the poorest people you will ever see with that greatest of good fortune, that disease known by the one four letter word that is sometimes hardest to say above all others. This love is your good fortune, you are your good fortune. And it is sickening, the happiness it brings me to point this out.

Image by someone at TequilaCon with Brandon's camera, evehorizon via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.