Colin Kaepernick and the ambivalence of desire

Colin Kaepernick. Photograph by Daniel Hartwig

Colin Kaepernick. Photograph by Daniel Hartwig

San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a huge, new tattoo of a snake coiled around a rising, Michelangelo-esque hand grasping at dollar bills that riffs on “the money is the root of all evil” biblical theme, Katie Dowd writes on the SF Gate blog

But St. Paul didn’t write that “money is the root of all evil.” He wrote that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” That’s something quite different and in keeping with a fascinating piece in The New York Times’ Sunday Review by Arthur C. Brooks, “Love People, Not Pleasure.”  

Brooks contends that the pursuit of pleasure – money, fame, sex – is the root of unhappiness, which is pretty much the tenet of every major religion but particularly Buddhism and Christianity. They hold that nonattachment – which is vastly different from detachment – alone brings peace. Or as Jesus says, “for whosoever will save his life shall lose it.” That nonattachment – not so much an absence of desire, but an understanding of it – is real power, not the kind that comes from a scepter or an army but from within.

Money, sex, even fame – indeed every material thing – are fine in their place. But they can’t replace the love of God and humanity, Brooks suggests. “Love people, use things,” he writes, not the other way around. It’s a noble sentiment but a complex one. People can disappoint, can devastate even. They can’t be controlled. And so we turn to sex, fame, money, drugs and alcohol as substitutes. Even higher pursuits – work, the arts, sports, public service, nature – can become the currency of love rather than love itself. I know lots of people who are married to their careers (something I’ve always been guilty of myself), who have tremendous compassion for people in far-flung places suffering from some disaster but none for their own families, who can weep for the agony of four-legged creatures but that of two-legged creatures? Not so much.

Why? Because real love, true love is hard and more important, it requires an absence of ego, which to some is a kind of capitulation, an expression of weakness. But love requires you to love, whether or not you are loved in return. It means loving in the void, when faith and hope seem far or lost. And it means sacrifice, the Christian losing of yourself, which is something the heroes of my new novel “Water Music” discover, particularly the swimmer Daniel Reiner-Kahn, who is perhaps the most difficult character and the one most like myself.

Which brings us full circle to Colin. He just signed a six-year $126 million contract. He’s put himself in situations in which women have made false claims of pregnancy and rape. He covers himself in biblical verses, which he doesn’t mind exposing. Like Quinn Novak, the quarterback-hero of my upcoming novel “In This Place You Hold Me,” he seems to be searching for that balance between flesh and spirit.

But that balance can’t just be skin-deep. It’s something you have to know in your bones.