You Gonna Clean that Up?…”I. Just. Can’t.”

A friend of mine who is working the 12 Steps recently said, “one of the […]

Howie Espenshied / 2.13.15


A friend of mine who is working the 12 Steps recently said, “one of the most important things I do every morning is make the bed after I get up”. He went on to say that this simple discipline sets a tone for the day. This seemingly mundane task says, “I care about my life, I care about the people around me, and what I do matters”.

I thought about my friend’s comment this week when I listened to a podcast conversation between comedian Marc Maron (on a Dec 2014 episode of his WTF weekly podcast, h/t B.I.C.) and his longtime friend Louis C.K. The episode (actually a re-broadcast of a conversation that took place in 2010) is pretty fascinating for most of its two hour running time (though there were stretches where I wished that Maron understood the concept of “word economy”).

The most stirring part of the conversation for me was early on when Maron and C.K. talked about their lives as struggling comedians in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Maron reminds C.K. of the time when he was in C.K’s apartment and noticed a broken bottle of Tabasco sauce shattered on the floor, looking like a bad special effect from a CSI episode. When Maron first observed the bottle, he knew not to suggest to C.K. (in that moment) that he may want to consider not leaving it there. Three weeks later though, when Maron came back to visit C.K. and observed that the mess (glass nor sauce) had not been tidied up, he gently asked, “You gonna clean that up?”

3044be6c1c61b834_nail-polish-spill.previewC.K. responds with, “I just can’t, I can’t do it.” Step one in the 12 Step program is “admitting that we are powerless and that our lives have become unmanageable”. To my knowledge, C.K. has never entered a 12 Step program, but his simple admission here is step one in all its (non-) glory. A few of us can relate, right? I mean, raise your hand if you’ve done this! Leaving dishes and banana peels under your bed (that your mom finds months later) when you were a teenager doesn’t count. My wife and I raised a few of those people.

No, I’m talking about that ominous feeling that says “my life sucks to such an extent that, for me to engage in the basic act of taking 30 seconds to sweep and wipe up a small mess (that is in plain view for all to see) would be acknowledging that my life is manageable, and I just can’t admit that my life is manageable right now”. I got married when I was 22, and my dear wife would have never allowed this mess to be in plain view for longer than, well, that 30 seconds it takes to clean it up. In those early years, she was the one who did most of the cleaning, in more ways than one.

I still see something deep down inside of me though that connects with this level of despair. It’s that part that says, “if this life is all there is, I just don’t see the point.” Enter step 2. “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. Thanks be to God that He infused me with this belief. I wonder about C.K., though.  Was there a step 2 moment? Who knows. His life changed for the better soon after that when he became a writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and his career took off. He’s now (IMHO) the funniest, and most interesting celebrity out there. So maybe the higher power moment was somehow subverted. More possibly, maybe there just wasn’t an acute rock-bottom addiction that he can identify in his life that was tied to his despair.

I had an embarrassing moment last week. I was charged with administering the “common cup” at church during communion. We have 3 communion options for all who come to table. Our folks can choose to dip their wafer in a cup of wine, take their wafer with that tiny plastic cup of grape juice, or drink from the common cup of wine. I’m new to the common cup. I didn’t know (until this week) that when a person walks up to the common cup and puts their arms behind them, their posture is saying, “I. JUST. CAN’T”.

As the one who is serving, I’m supposed to pour the cup into the mouth of the passive recipient, who is admitting that he/she is unable to “help” his/her own self unless God somehow intervenes and happens first. At least two or three of the common cup partakers assumed this posture. I reacted (cluelessly) by extending the cup a little further, as if to say, “um, here, take it”. They did. It’s ironic though that in that moment, they were giving grace to the common cup bearer!

Where else shall we go for absolution and forgiveness? Or, at the very least, if those sacramental terms are foreign to us in that moment, where else can we go when We. Just. Can’t.