A judge once asked Charlie Sheen why someone like him, handsome and famous, would have to pay for sex. Mr. Sheen explained that he didn’t pay people to have sex – he paid them to leave.
Similar things could be said of many cheap intimacies in our lives. In the name of efficiency or convenience we avoid the costs of intimacy, and in doing so we pay a steep price. Mr. Sheen’s insight is, in its way, a keen one: what we pay for is freedom from the pain of intimacy and not actually an experience of it. We exchange the reality of intimacy for isolation. This trade brings us to a place where our deepest desires are too painful to share and in that painful place we want only one thing of them: to go away. So we harden our hearts, we pay them to leave, and we find ourselves alone.
I once heard someone say that they’d rather commit a sin of passion than one of cold indifference, and though (thank God) these are not the only options I know what they meant. Let’s just say that, when I stand before the judge, I’ll have more explaining to do about the times I left too soon than the times I stayed the night.
This is all to say that my greatest sins haven’t been moments of too much intimacy; they’ve been moments when I refused intimacy or confused it with something else, something convenient or easy, something passionless. To sin is to deny the duty of love, and cold indifference certainly fits into this category. Let’s call it care-less-ness.
There is a whole litany of saints and sinners who have loved me well – many of whom still do – even when I was unable to return the favor. It’s not that I haven’t offered my own share of tenderness, it’s that being given the gift of presence, attention, or of care, is humbling. And this teaches me that, in the end, it’s not my acts that I’m concerned about as much as the times I failed to act, failed to respond to the gift of love, failed to accept it and failed to give myself to it in response. Often enough these failures were times when I disguised my being careless as being careful.
Looking back on the life I’ve lived thus far, I find that I don’t regret many choices I’ve made. But I sure as hell regret the times when I refused to choose, refused to make a decision. I regret the moments of passive or compulsive assent to the ebb and flow of entropy and decay – a kind of assent that is essentially a denial of desire, acted upon or not. Of course we mustn’t act on every whim, but when passivity replaces passion we find many abused or underappreciated relationships, and lots of wasted time. You can hurt a lot of people by never making a choice, and when – out of fear of failure or mistake or unclarity – we refuse to act we not only miss the mark, we miss an opportunity. We miss the chance of accepting consequence.
There it is. Are we willing to live a life of consequence? Are we willing to accept that our actions (or inactions) are never inconsequential? Is there a greater sin than considering the gift of life and love – your own, someone else’s – something of little worth? Isn’t this the sin of indifference? Isn’t this at the heart of most of our pain and hatred, carelessness, neglect, and refusal? Have we ever chosen convenience over consequence? Have we ever paid someone to leave instead of asking them to stay?
It seems that apathy toward our self or someone else is among the gravest rejections of freedom and love. Indifference feigns tolerance by saying that you’re acceptable in a way that suggests that it really doesn’t matter who you are. Love suggests the opposite: that you’re acceptable exactly because of who you are and not in spite of it. It’s not that it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s that it matters absolutely. When you experience love and find true acceptance it’s an experience of love not because they could care less about who you are, but because they couldn’t possibly care more.
In this life we can’t afford to ask our desires to leave, because it is our desire, wounded and insecure as it may be, that will save us in the end. It is in the great passion of our lives that love is found; it is in our deepest desires that we discover the heart of God, a sacred heart. To hide in cold indifference is to smother a great and warming flame. Our hearts are burning within us. And to deny this is to withhold one of the great gifts of spirit for which our cold hard world cries every day, all night long.