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Stephen Colbert on Grief

“I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.

“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”


From this excellent interview with Stephen Colbert. Here’s some of my other favorite quotes from this article.

Stephen Colbert on Joy & Agency

“It’s our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. ‘At every moment, we are volunteers.’”

Article about Stephen Colbert


I mean, c’mon. This whole article is amazing. STEPHEN COLBERT is amazing.


“‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”


“But the answer is: my mother.” He lifted his arms as if to take in the office, the people working and laughing outside his door, the city and the sky, all of it. “And the world,” he said. “It’s so…lovely. I’m very grateful to be alive, even though I know a lot of dead people.” The urge to be grateful, he said, is not a function of his faith. It’s not “the Gospel tells us” and therefore we give thanks. It is what he has always felt: grateful to be alive. “And so that act, that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God.

Taylor Swift’s Perspective

“I was trying to make the most honest record I could possibly make, and they were kind of asking me to be a little disingenuous about it: ‘Let’s capitalize on both markets.’ No, let’s not. Let’s choose a lane.”

Taylor Swift


A friend of mine loved Taylor Swift so much that I had to look deeper. This article didn’t disappoint.


“But then I remember that Swift is 25 years old, and that her entire ethos is based on experiencing (and interpreting) how her insane life would feel if she were exactly like the type of person who’d buy a ticket to this particular concert.”


“Swift writes about her life so directly that the listener is forced to think about her persona in order to fully appreciate what she’s doing creatively. This is her greatest power: an ability to combine her art and her life so profoundly that both spheres become more interesting to everyone, regardless of their emotional investment in either.”


“It’s impossible for an artist to control how she is perceived. But an artist can anticipate those perceptions, which is almost as good.”


“When other kids were watching normal shows, I’d watch Behind the Music. And I would see these bands that were doing so well, and I’d wonder what went wrong. I thought about this a lot. And what I established in my brain was that a lack of self-awareness was always the downfall. That was always the catalyst for the loss of relevance and the loss of ambition and the loss of great art. So self-awareness has been such a huge part of what I try to achieve on a daily basis. It’s less about reputation management and strategy and vanity than it is about trying to desperately preserve self-awareness, since that seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.”


“I was trying to make the most honest record I could possibly make, and they were kind of asking me to be a little disingenuous about it: ‘Let’s capitalize on both markets.’ No, let’s not. Let’s choose a lane.”

Stephen Colbert on Faith, Feeling & Mind

“Faith ultimately can’t be argued; it has to be felt. Hopefully you can still feel your faith fully and let your mind have a logical life of its own and they do not defy each other, but compliment each other. Because, logic itself, I don’t think, for me, and Aquinas might say differently, will not lead me to god. But my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will. So, hopefully I can use my mind to make my jokes and not deny my love for god at the same time.”

Stephen Colbert

Alan Watts on What You Want

“Generally speaking, the civilized man does not know what he wants. He works for success, fame, fun, to help people, or to be a ‘real person.’ But these are not real wants because they are not actual things. They are the by-products, the flavors and atmospheres of real things—shadows which have no existence apart from some substance.”

Alan Watts

Hunter S. Thompson on “Live Your Passion”

“As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.”

Hunter S. Thompson, a letter to a friend


I’m still reading this one through. I think I will be for a while.

When an Internet Friend Dies

My friend died yesterday. I got a text as I was leaving my house. “did you see the email!?”

I hadn’t seen the email. I had been entertaining some close friends for a few days.

I want to share a little what it’s like to lose someone you like a lot, even if you didn’t live near them or spend a significant amount of time with them.

His name was Scott Dinsmore. To be frank, he was — to me — a “Marina Bro.” But unlike most of the Bros I know, there were more ingredients in Scott. Fun loving, sensitive and brutally charming; he believed in himself without being arrogant; a child-like exuberance mixed with an upper middle class “we can do whatever we want” kind of confidence; utterly adventurous; it was almost terrifying to make plans with him because you might accidentally end up on an eccentric billionaire’s yacht… or a hot air balloon or something.

He was California and Tony Robins and Evil Knievel and Ekhart Tolle and a toddler boy enthusiastically putting everything in his mouth all wrapped up in one exquisitely manicured DNA string. Oh god, did he ever come from good stock.

I worked with Scott professionally for a time. Scott had grown a huge website. Then he did a TED talk and after that video got, like, a billion billion views we worked together to redesign his site.

I never tired of poking fun at him for the “passion” stuff he wrote about and I always guffawed at how he mangled the beautiful typography I setup for him… italicizing and bolding every other word, throwing in HUGE QUOTES OUT OF NOWHERE and writing in tiny, 5 word paragraphs like his return button was sticky from one of his morning fruit smoothies. He thought it “looked cool.”

I made fun of it, but it fucking killed it on the internet. People ate it up. Scott, even though he was literally extraordinary, felt like he was just one step ahead of you; like you were exploring some ancient ruin and he pauses just in front of you, taking a big breath and turning toward you with a cheezy dad-with-daughters kind of smile to say, “oh man, you gotta see it from up here,” before giving you a hand up.

I made his website pretty and he filled it up and the people kept coming and all the words on that site were written by a person who is dead now.

He was a pair of Sperry Topsiders with brandy and pineapple juice spilled on them. He was the Jimmy Buffet of small hedge funds and the Warren Buffet of the beach. He was like a Tommy Bahama party you were actually glad you went to. Jesus, I’m really going to say this, I’m trying so hard not to, it’s too on the nose: he really was a living legend. His site was called Live Your Legend and he was a goddam living legend. That’s as bad as any of his dad jokes ever were and I can’t delete it because I know it’s true.

His perfect DNA. His stunning bride. His love for his dad. Oh god this is hard. The parents who made him, the woman he loved… I’m just a guy who got to hang out with him quite a bit in the past 5 years. I got to call him and jest and pour him strong cocktails, I got to bar-hop late night in San Francisco and Portland with him during conferences and dream up ideas with him about his business and my own. God dammit, Scott.

This is, I think, the first time I’ve lost a friend I knew principally on the internet. We had only a handful of days together, really. But we texted and tweeted and Skyped and I sent him Gifs and he’d laugh and we’d get serious and he’d recite his nearest goal to me and then I’d laugh… and he’d wear those fucking five-fingered shoes. I really knew him, but when I look back on it the relationship really, principally lived on the internet.

This is the second time I’ve had to watch grief as it moved through me. Two years ago we lost our son Rowan in labor. I hadn’t known Rowan; but I knew him. And I processed that like this and like this and like this. It was the first time I had experienced grief, and it had this weird “I know this person but I also don’t” kind of thing going on.

I feel something similar with Scott. I knew him but we weren’t fixtures in each others’ lives. We cared about each other, but it’s not like we had a weekly call or a season where we lived near each other or a yearly vacation or something like that. Let’s put it this way, he’d definitely get an invitation to my wedding, but he’d be sitting at the “friends from the internet” table… actually, if we were getting married today, most of the tables would be “friends from the internet” tables.

I had this moment when I was grieving my son where, exhausted and isolated and lost under thousands of leagues of dense sadness, I could clearly picture Rowan alive, bundled in his baby blanket, wearing the hat my sister knit for him, sucking on a pacifier and looking at me through the slats in the crib we made for him… and I saw his eyes for the first time… in my mind… and he looked at me with empathy and pride — he was proud of me. For how I was taking care of his mom, for how I was talking through it with his brother, for how I was grinding through the gears inside myself trying to know how to feel and what to do. It’s almost as if he spoke the words: “I am so proud of you and it doesn’t hurt and you’re not doing it wrong and you’re not disappointing me and if you cried for a million years or shouted or wrote until you withered away or never wrote again there is nothing you can do to change how I feel about you, what I know about you. You don’t have to keep trying, you can just be.”

If you’ve ever lost a friend and didn’t know the right way to grieve, if you knew Scott but from afar, tell stories about him amongst yourselves, feel all the things, be reminded of the good stuff we get in these slowly expiring bodies.

Scott, I loved you. I couldn’t see that when we were together, I didn’t know what was at stake. I will keep missing you and the ways you wrote and the shoes you wore and the exuberant perma-youngness that lubed up our interactions.


More on grief & Scott

“I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.”

Michel de Montaigne

“The spirit is really the bouquet of life. It is not something breathed into life, it comes out of life.”

Joseph Campbell

“Religion is a defense against religious experience.”

Carl Jung, via Joey Cambs

“I would have given anything to die in a war that meaningful”

Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

Who Have I Blessed More Than You?

I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.

And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.

And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

Tony Hoagland


This comes from a poem called Bible Study. I’m not as ostensibly churchy as I used to be, but you don’t have to be for this one to hit you right between the lungs.

Here’s the rest of the poem Bible Study by Tony Hoagland:


Bible Study

by Tony Hoagland

Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born
to find people who would love me?
And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?

In the dream JoAnne was showing me how much arm to amputate
if your hand gets trapped in the gears of the machine;
if you acted fast, she said, you could save everything above the wrist.
You want to keep a really sharp blade close by, she said.

Now I raise that hand to scratch one of those nasty little
scabs on the back of my head, and we sit outside and watch
the sun go down, inflamed as an appendicitis
over western Illinois — which then subsides and cools into a smooth gray sea.

Who knows, this might be the last good night of summer.
My broken nose is forming an idea of what’s for supper.
Hard to believe that death is just around the corner.
What kind of idiot would think he even had a destiny?

I was on the road for so long by myself,
I took to reading motel Bibles just for company.
Lying on the chintz bedspread before going to sleep,
still feeling the motion of the car inside my body,
I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.

And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.

And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

“I decided a while ago that I would only do things that were really important or really fun.”

Lawrence Wright


This was a really great interview. He came from evangelicalism, expanded outside of it but continued to explore stories of faith from Al Qaeda to ISIS to Scientology. (Wright wrote the book which that great scientology documentary was based on.)