A week ago, I went to New York City to meet my friend Tek and attend a convention for fans of my favorite cartoon, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I didn’t know while I was making my plans or even while I was in New York that my simple adventure would spark a chain reaction of experiences and observations far greater and more profound than I had imagined.
The chain starts, oddly enough, with a drunk lady. Late Friday night (or early Saturday morning if you’re one of those crazy temporal literalists), I was sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Pennsylvania eking out a blog post so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it during the convention. There were two ladies sitting on a bench behind me, talking too loudly and laughing at inappropriately frequent intervals considering their conversation wasn’t terribly funny. Suddenly, their voices died down, and one of the women must have left because the other turned around and looked over my shoulder at my computer screen.
“You’re here for the pony thing!” she exclaimed eagerly in a voice that sounded and smelled like one beer too many. I gave her a quizzical glance, trying to figure out how exactly she’d managed to surmise that from the grand total of zero words that I’d said to her so far. She pointed at my Rainbow Dash Twitter background. “See? That’s one of those ponies.”
I nodded in acknowledgement, mentally crossing the “Stalker” off of Drunk Stalker Lady’s name with a sigh of relief. “I’m here with my son because he wanted to go to that,” she informed me giddily. Then she leaned over and frowned, her voice becoming suddenly serious. “So why do you guys like that show so much, anyway? Like, if you had to sum it up in one word, what would you say?”
I wasn’t exactly prepared for a drunk lady to ask me for a one-word explanation of my bronyhood at 2:30 in the morning, so I just shrugged. “Uh, friendship, I guess?” It was a decent answer, I suppose, since that is one of the themes of the show and the whole reason that I joined the fandom at large in the first place was because of the friendliness of the bronies, but, as with most of my replies, I didn’t think of the perfect answer until a couple of days later when I didn’t have a chance to use it anymore. That perfect answer, the one word that sums up why I threw in my lot with a bunch of guys who watch a cartoon about ponies, is community. Oddly enough, as soon as I realized that that was why I was a brony, that one little word just wouldn’t leave me alone.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The next really important thing that happened in this sequence of events is that Tek (who is just as much of a big-hearted, godly, pleasant guy in real life as he is on the Internet, by the way) gave me Jars of Clay’s album “The Shelter” as a Christmas/birthday present. He also gave me a boss Rainbow Dash keychain, but that isn’t pertinent to the story right now, just awesome.
Anyway, he gave me this CD which I promptly loaded into iTunes and placed on my iPod. I spent Saturday having an amazing time at BroNYCon, then I listened to The Shelter on the plane ride home the next day. The album is technically called “Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter”, because almost every track on the album features one or two other Christian musicians collaborating with Jars of Clay to create their music. On The Shelter, Jars of Clay and their friends make a big deal out of community, about how it is in the shelter of each other that the people live and how we were meant to take care of each other and love each other and experience life together.
That theme really resonated with me as I listened to the album, especially when I listened to the title track and heard the lead singer from Jars of Clay sing out “We will never walk alone”, followed by just the faintest moment of silence before a whole choir of his friends answered, as if to obliterate any doubt, “in the shelter of each other we will live”. I think that’s the real beauty of community, how whenever we feel alone and we aren’t sure how much longer we can carry the song before our voice gives out, there’s a whole choir of friends with us to sing strength into us, to remind us that we are not alone, that we never will be.
While I was still thinking about how community is like a choir and how we all want to sing with people who love what we love and who love us, too, my friend Jon Coleman gave me a copy of my very favorite book for free, which is amazing. I love how many things in this chain were gifts, partly because free stuff is great and partly because it ties in so magnificently with the very theme of the whole thing.
Okay, so this book is called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller, and it is a work of stunning beauty and incredible depth that defies explanation. Basically, it’s a book about how living a good life is a lot like writing a good story, and while Don spends the whole book plumbing the height and breadth and length of that analogy with breathtaking insight, he sums it up in the end like this: “It’s as though God is saying, Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.”
That’s what got me, the “take somebody with you” part. I just couldn’t escape this idea of community, the concept that while we’re all the protagonists of our own stories, and God is the author, He gave us each other to be the supporting cast in one another’s tales, to help guide and inform and radically alter one another’s stories and make them into something far more incredible than anything we could ever have experienced alone.
We all want to live memorable lives, lives that matter. We want to have adventures and do new things. That’s why I went to New York: to go on an adventure, to leave my regular day-to-day life for a weekend and write some color into this chapter of my story, to meet Tek and go to a convention and see the big city and fly in a plane and get a famous person’s autograph and just do as much living as I could pack into three days. It was certainly a trip full of fun new experiences and unforgettable moments, but more importantly it was a trip that started me thinking about what it really means to matter, to live a good story.
I think that it’s not just about doing the unexpected or trying something new, although the value of such adventures in enhancing one’s story should never be underestimated. It’s not about reaching some kind of final material or even philosophical goal either, as if there was something that we all need to gain or understand or become before it’s all said and done and we will have succeeded.
No, from where I stand, just a short way down the road, looking back at my journey thus far, it seems to me that the key to writing a great story, the key to mattering, is to matter to each other. We need to be there for each other, to care about each other, to gather around those who need what we have to give and give them all we have.
After all, the memories that really stick with us are the ones that aren’t ours alone, the ones that we formed and that we share with our friends. The things that feel special when we think back on them are not the things that we did for ourselves and by ourselves, but the things that we did for the love others and that they did for the love of us. The things that we did with and for and to each other are the things that define us, the things that make our stories take shape for better or worse. I pray that my story will bring a lot of better to those around me, to my community, that I will be an agent of good and of redemption and of mattering in as many stories as I can. I can’t think of a better role to play than that.