Let’s Cause a Scene

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” – Albert Einstein

Over the past few weeks, my brain feels like it’s stuck in a death-spiral. The conversations in my head are never ending: There’s all the tweets and emails I’m crafting to tell Trump that he not only seems petty but also remarkably stupid – his life seems to be a testament to the fact that money can buy you almost everything: wives, power, prestige, and even the most powerful seat on earth; there are the inner dialogues between me and my Trump-voting friends and family members, with whom I’m still having trouble communicating; and there’s always the meta self-talk that evaluates my own idiocy for even bothering to care about these issues since I can’t change anything. And it’s that impotent feeling mixed with a brain that won’t stop rehashing things no matter how hard I try to make it quit that feels so insurmountable. Peace feels impossible.

I mean…

Can I really change anything in the minds of the old men in the cigar shop who spew racism and elitism without realizing that some of us don’t agree? Should I really say something to these men I barely know?

Can I really do anything about the enormous injustice happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline? How is it even possible that we (“Americans”) would consider doing this to Native Americans? It seems unfathomable to me that the North Dakota authorities are trying to block the roads that allow the protesters to get food and water. Yet we decimated their population once; why wouldn’t we do it again for our own gain?

Can I really change my long-time mentor’s mind about Trump. We have been long-connected because we see the world differently; we are critical of group-think, and particularly the group think of rich white Christian people. How can I move forward without seeing him differently now? We’ve talked and said our peace, but I still feel stuck from moving forward.

The same scenario is happening with some family members: I don’t know how to express my feelings of disrespect for the choice they made while maintaining the overall respect of the relationship. So many people out there are calling for unity and what not, but I sorta think they’re unaware of what their asking for. We didn’t just have an argument about which football franchise is better, the Patriots or the Packers…We had a raging fight about which fundamental, core values will prevail moving forward. Certain matters can’t be swept under the rug, at least not by me. The list of people who want me to let these matters go is embarrassingly long. It’s not that I don’t want to, but when my screwball brain can’t make sense of something, it is incapable of peace. Whether the conversation continues in real life or not, it will continue in my brain. Some have been going on for decades, literally.

Which brings me back to my brain: It NEVER stops. EVER. When I wake up in the middle of the night, my brain picks right back up in medias res as I plan my brilliant letter to the world that will make everyone see the light. But then I read stories like the one of a man spewing racism in a drug store check-out line. A woman worked up the nerve to confront him and flat out asked her peers to join her in standing up to him. But they didn’t! At least not at first. After a few minutes, some of them joined her, but it didn’t happen quickly. So while this was a story presented as a triumph, I saw it as a story that confirms my fears: people are going to sit back and watch evil things happen because that’s what most people do. Even otherwise good people. Most people’s primary mantra in life seems to be, “Don’t make a scene!”

So I think of the Einstein quote, not just in regard to Trump; this is bigger than that. For me, the question is to what degree do I want to make my own people-pleasing life somewhat miserable by speaking up in the face of injustice. One way to look at it is that I am going to be miserable if I don’t speak my mind because of injustice, but I’m also going to be miserable if I do speak my mind because of my fear of rejection. If that’s the case, I suppose I’d rather be a pariah who speaks the truth than someone with lots of friends who don’t know how I really feel. Not quite a Sophie’s Choice but a shitty choice for sure.

I’ve been thinking out loud but I actually want to make a point and not just pontificate. The point is simply the one Albert Einstein made: our world is not endangered nearly as much by Trump’s climate science denying team as it is by those of us who think climate change is real but do nothing. Our world isn’t endangered as much by the kid who spray paints a swastika on a black person’s house as it is by the handful of neighbors who know which kid did it and don’t confront him.

On Wikipedia, they’re doing their annual fundraiser, and the banner says that if every user gave $3, the campaign would last 15 minutes. Think about that! Think about the power of doing something, even something tiny.

So, if those of us who are passionate about the environment fund environmental companies and causes, we can overcome any policy Trump’s team puts in place. And if enough of us cared about the pipeline issue to protest at Senators’ offices or even go join the actual protest itself, maybe we could do something. Our Facebook posts aren’t enough I don’t think.

But here’s the rub: it only works if all of us who might rather stay silent actually give the $3, or the like.

This isn’t, hopefully, just another rah rah speech from someone who happens to be angry right now. This election has made me feel invested in our country in a way I never have. Honestly, I have probably been as lukewarm about our country as I could be. But now that the stakes feel so much higher, I am committed to giving money to organizations that will be overlooked in Trump’s America. I am committed to being involved in causes that I think will make the world my kids inherit a better place. I’m passionate about the climate change issue; I’m passionate about equal rights for the LGTBQ community; and I’m passionate about fairness in our healthcare system for ALL people, especially those who have been overlooked in the past.

As for my mental illnesses, here’s where I (also) need your help. I get discouraged very easily. I need people who will stand with me and hold me accountable to staying this course of activism. I need other mentally ill people, who understand what I feel when I hit a setback or when I feel despondent about the state of the world, to help me keep my chin up. I need people who will make commitments that inspire and challenge me and others to take similar action steps.

I’m grateful for Facebook because, despite it’s potential for distraction, I have made new friends and reconnected with old friends who have made me feel much, much less alone, both in my political beliefs and in my mental illness. We are more connected today than ever before. That can make it easier for ISIS to organize, but it can also make it easier for us to organize. No matter what your platform is, you need to stand on it and shout. And so do I.

So whether it’s funding research for depression or raising money to educate people that Muslim doesn’t equal terrorist, let’s do something. I’m in a fighting mood. Who wants to join me?

Here’s a great place to start: http://jezebel.com/a-list-of-pro-women-pro-immigrant-pro-earth-anti-big-1788752078
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

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Dear Taylor Swift

This was originally published a year and a half ago. For some reason it was on my mind again and I thought I’d re-share.

 

Dear Taylor Swift,

Yes, I am a 40-year-old man writing a letter to you, but don’t get weirded out just yet. Give me a minute to explain myself.

You see, this morning on the way to my daughter’s school, she (as usual) asked for my phone so she could listen (primarily) to your music. She’s 7, and you are her favorite (and don’t tell anyone but I do love your music, too while I pretend to be strictly a Death Metal sort of guy). This morning, my little girl played your song, “Never Grow Up.”

I am somewhat sure it changed my life. No, seriously.

As is often the case in the morning, I was a tad grumpy, and to be entirely honest, I gave her the phone in part so I wouldn’t have to feign fascination with 7-year-old questions and observations. Now don’t go judging me, Taylor, until you have kids of your own. They’re amazing, but they ask a lot of questions, and at least in my daughter’s case, come out of the womb with plenty to say and may well never stop talking for 7 years. But back to my life being changed…

So I’m not a big crier. I suppose that for a male I might be somewhere in the normal range, which means I might tear up at a movie when a dog dies or when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is especially awesome, but for the most part, it’s mainly when that irritating thing called death comes close to home that I do my real crying. Unfortunately, that means someone close to me has to die about twice a year so I can get my stuffed-inside-pretty-damn-deep-emotions out. I will admit that once the tears make their way over my lower eyelids, they can tend to be all-consuming for a few minutes. But that’s usually the end of it, even when death happens.

But thanks to you, for literally the only time in my life that I can remember, I cried all day. As my daughter played the song this morning, it was just a little tearing up that led me to reach back and grab her hand just to hold it for a minute. Suddenly, instead of wanting the carpool trip to be over, I found myself wanting to hit pause so I could absorb the maniacal beauty of this fast-fleeting time in life when kids’ shrieks (some good, some bad) dominate my life.

But when she got out of the car, I started to replay that song over and over. I don’t know what in the world attracts us to things that evoke that mixture of joy and pain that makes us do that strange thing known as crying, but whatever that impulse is kept me listening over and over again. And gradually, the watery eyes turned into actual rolling tears. And then I couldn’t stop…for hours. There was so much wrapped up in the words of your song that got me crying…

I cried because I love my kids so damn much it actually hurts sometimes.

I cried because I don’t always do a great job of expressing it to them, and sometimes I’m sure I hurt them in ways even they won’t understand until they have their own day-of-crying at age 40.

I cried because I wished I could go back to my own childhood, but not because it was so blissfully naive. It was quite the opposite. I spent my childhood petrified of all manner of things: being left somewhere by my parents, germs that might fly into my body invisibly, accidentally telling a lie, making God mad and being sent to hell, and just generally of something tragic happening to my loved ones. I obsessively ended conversations with my parents with “I love you” because when you have OCD and hear one of those horrific stories that I think people make up just to scare the shit out of kids so they’ll appreciate their parents more, you tend not to forget such scary stories (you know, the story where a kid doesn’t get what he wants for his birthday, tells his parents he hates them, storms off, and then during the day, they’re hit by a Mack truck, and the kid comes home to find the present he wanted waiting as a surprise which had been planned all along (did you hear these same stories, Taylor? For me, they struck a nerve that was already all too alive.)). So I cried for myself, honestly, for the fact that I have felt far too “grown up” since I was 4. I cried because your song says that to a child “everything is funny,” but I don’t remember anything funny about being a child; I just remember being confused and unbelievably scared. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that to a child “everything is scary as hell”?

I cried because last year one of my students did a talent show dance to your song and needed a little ballerina to join her, and she asked my daughter. When it actually took place, I only teared up, beating myself up inside that I couldn’t shed some real tears about this overwhelmingly perfect moment in time. But I made up for that lack of tears today.

Ellie Ruth in last year's Wesleyan Talent Show

I cried because that memory reminded me that I’ve had to step away from a lot of people and activities I love to try to get better in my brain.

I cried because I used to believe that God loved me and cared about me, but nowadays I struggle mightily to believe anything of the sort. It’s not that I wanted that foundation to crumble; sometimes foundations start crumbling and don’t know how to stop, it would seem…sort of goes along with the whole loss of innocence your song is about, I guess. You don’t want to lose your innocence (or maybe you actually do) but you don’t really have much of a choice once the cage door is opened.

You’re probably getting depressed, but I’m done with my sad list now, and I’m actually writing to say thank you, so let me get to that part.

Thank you for helping some dam inside of me break open. The truth is, many people, at least historically, have perceived me as put-together and on-the-ball. You know: stable, self-assured, level-headed…those sorts of things. But on the inside I’ve always been very aware that I’m a pretty emotional guy. Unfortunately, the emotion I’m best at expressing is anger, but you and I and the 7 people who might read this now know that my anger, humor, and sarcasm are actually masks for a lot of pain I feel inside but don’t know how to get out. I got a lot out today, so thank you for providing the chisel that broke a dam I’ve been building all my life.

Thank you, also, for a poignant reminder that our little ones do grow up. The part that really gets me is the bridge where you talk about daddy’s coming home and remembering little brother’s favorite songs. During that part, my daughter blurted out, “Josiah’s favorite song is definitely Jingle Bells!” since that is literally the ONLY song he ever wants to listen to. If he wants music, it’s that song on repeat since Christmas of 2013. But all day as I’ve listened over and over to your song (enough times to move that song up a few notches on the charts), when it comes to that part, I really crack. Those images are so relevant to me, and I dread the day when the “DADDY!!!!!!” shrieks fade into unintelligible grunts when I walk through the door.

Finally, Taylor, and please keep this between us as I’m very private about these things, I’ve been going through a bit of a tough time lately. Usually, when someone close to me dies, the tears are incredibly cathartic. It’s probably pretty obvious to say that crying is a natural part of grieving, but I am quite sure I haven’t begun to grieve the recent losses I’ve experienced.

Until today.

So thank you for playing a small, unwitting part in this cathartic ripping open that I apparently haven’t solved just yet. Maybe when you read this post you can have a good cry, too, for you have had to grow up pretty fast for different reasons than I did. You seem to be handling it pretty well, but then again, perhaps, like me, you’re spending most of your energy to stay “put together” so the 29 zillion people who recognize you won’t see the little kid inside of you. The same one that’s inside all of us; the same one that we all need to take good care of, to “re-parent” as the psychology term says, to cherish and love because no one will ever understand us as well as we understand ourselves.

Sincerely,

Tim

P.S. My daughter really wants to meet you, so let us know when you’re available to meet. I’m sure you can squeeze us in, right?

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Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But the reality is that this endeavor has grown beyond a simple blog. I’m already spending a couple of thousand dollars a year now that I’m podcasting and doing some advertising (promoting) on Facebook. Currently, the ball is rolling to start at least one and hopefully multiple small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company. That, too, will require time and money. Long story short, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while at the very least offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

    1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
    2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.

FOR THE TWO ABOVE, YOU CAN MAKE THEM RECURRING MONTHLY IF YOU’D LIKE TO. Just check the box to this effect.

  1. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.

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More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Parenting Your Inner Riley

When my friend Riley died, I reacted how I always react when someone dies: I went numb. Around me, people cried and told stories and cried some more and laughed and told some more stories, but I just sat through it all, numb. Of course I didn’t want to feel this way. Well maybe some part of me did want to so I didn’t have to feel the pain. But I knew that being numb wouldn’t last forever, and while it did last, it only would make me feel like a jerk for seeming cold or distant or uncaring.

But I couldn’t stay numb forever. One of my dearest friends – one of the people who really understood me – was gone. I was bound to break.

Three weeks later, I sat in a Mexican restaurant and the dam decided to burst. Neither the stares of the other patrons nor the periodic stopping by of the waiter could embarrass me enough to stop the flow of tears. With my poor friend sitting across from me, helpless, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I couldn’t stop.

My Mexican-restaurant friend couldn’t possibly have handled it any better. He let me cry and he didn’t try to offer stupid platitudes that were supposed to make me feel better or stop crying. After I had been going for a while you gently asked me, “Tim do you know anyone else who has the same sorts of struggles and battles that you have? Anyone who might have felt like you feel now?” I told him through a sardonic laugh, “yeah, but he just died!” And then he asked me something life-changing. He said: “Tim, if you knew that Riley was feeling like you’re feeling right now, what would you tell him to do?”

At that time, for me, the answer was obvious: I was in a miserable work situation that was making my life harder and harder by the moment for many reasons I won’t list here. I knew I needed a break, if not forever, for at least a good while. But this decision came with a lot of unknowns and a lot of fear. If I were talking to Riley, I would have told him these things would work themselves out, that his sanity was worth more than any paycheck or job security. But in my own life, I simply couldn’t accept the advice I would’ve freely offered to Riley. I was trying to muddle through, even if it killed me.

I don’t want it to seem that I was crying about my job; I was crying about Riley. But I also knew that my job was contributing to my extreme depression, the kind that might well lead me down the road Riley had just taken, a dangerous intake of alcohol and drugs that stopped his heart. I knew that my job was a weight on my shoulders that would make it impossible for me to move forward or heal in the way I needed to at that time. I knew I needed to walk away from my job, at least for awhile. I knew that’s what I would tell Riley to do.

Psychologists often talk about parenting your “inner child”. It’s really a beautiful practice to take out an actual picture of yourself as a precious little boy or girl whose eyes indicate a deep hunger to understand and to be understood…to be cherished…to be safe…to be loved. We have all been that child. In psychological terms, inner child work means treating your current self as you would that little boy or little girl who is easy to feel compassion for.

And sometimes when I’m trying to have compassion for myself, I imagine the little boy in the pictures I have who is in fact me. I have a few different pictures in my mind of myself as a seven or eight-year-old child, and I can see the pain and struggle behind those eyes. It’s easy to feel deep compassion and love for that little boy.

But I don’t always imagine my childhood self in order to feel compassion for my inner self. Sometimes, it’s easier to think of someone else for whom compassion comes easily. Believe it or not, I often imagine Riley. Sometimes it’s easier to have compassion for someone else than for ourselves. That day in the Mexican restaurant, the person I imagined who was hurting and desperate was Riley. And Riley was a stand-in for me, for my inner child. As I thought about my job and how much it was harming me, I imagined what I would tell Riley to do if he were in the same situation, and it wasn’t even difficult to know the right thing to say. I told him that he deserved a break, that he was fighting a damn hard battle, that he deserved to wake up in the morning and want to be wherever he had to be that day, that he deserved a work environment where he was supported and loved and accepted for exactly who he was. Talking to my inner child as if I were Riley made it remarkably easy for me to know what to do.

It’s never hard for me to find compassion or grace for Riley. Sure he had addictions and mental health problems that Some might say made him imperfect, but never for one second do I feel incapable of loving the person who he was inside, who cared for people so much that it almost hurt him more than he could bear. I feel that way too, but I’m also far too hard on myself. So when I imagine my inner child, or my inner Riley, I can be a lot easier on myself because I know that I’m hurting and I know that I’m scared and lonely and broken and often desperate. But like Riley, I also know that I’m trying my best.

So that’s the lasting legacy, among others, that Riley has left with me. In a weird sense, he is my inner child. I can always have the proper perspective on myself when I look inside and see that I’m a lot like Riley, just someone who’s trying my hardest – often failing, but always trying.

I’m grateful to Riley for many things. He will forever be one of the people who really understood me. I will always be able to imagine conversations with Riley where I felt understood and loved and appreciated no matter how warped I actually felt. When I can’t bring myself to care for the little boy inside of me, I can always look to Riley and imagine how I would care for him. And if I care for myself in that way, I can care for myself the right way. For that and for many other things, I will always be grateful to Riley for teaching me how to love myself a little better.
 
 
For more about Riley, check out the foundation Riley’s Wish
 
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Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!

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Lessons from a Tattoo

I got my first tattoo three years ago. I had always liked tattoos but knew that if I got a dolphin coming out of the waistband on my lower back, I’d probably regret it at some point. I knew I couldn’t get one unless I could be sure I’d never think it was ridiculous. I figured that my kids’ and wife’s initials with an infinity symbol would probably be safe. Hell, even if Ann divorces me, we have two kids together so I’ll keep her initials. I’ll just require her share of the retirement money in exchange for doing so. But I digress.

People often tell you that once you get one tattoo you’re going to want more…they’re like Lays Potato Chips apparently. And, well, they are in fact just like Lays, only less fattening.

After the ice (my skin) was broken, I immediately wanted another one, and I knew what it would be. It would come from a 10th century Japanese poem I found in a book I was reading. This poem wouldn’t leave me alone. It haunted me, in a good way, and I wanted to have it with me all the time. Here’s the poem:

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
~Izumi Shikibu

It was so simple but so profound: it seemed to fully encapsulate my own experience of life…Life is windy, terribly windy. Life is a ruined house with a shitty roof to boot. But damned if that stupid roof doesn’t sometimes let in a little moonlight that’s make-you-weep beautiful. So often, any sort of book or greeting card or song that has a look-at-the-bright side message wants to oversell the good side. Like this:

Although the sea breeze can be a bit harsh every fourth year or so
the SUNLIGHT is so beautiful that you have to be an idiot to
focus on anything else. So quit complaining if the air conditioning blows a little
too cold for your liking.
~Tim Blue (ca. July 1,2016. 8:33 pm)

And shit like that makes my skin crawl because life is really really hard. At least it is for me. I’m a bundle of anxieties, obsessive thoughts, deep bouts of depression, uncontrolled fits of anger, and every once in awhile, gentle kindness with a fun sense of humor. Unfortunately, the light I can see is usually “just” moonlight. I am unceasingly aware of the crappy house I live in (the one called my body and brain).

But man can moonlight be beautiful. Way more beautiful than sunlight, IMHO (ask someone who texts a lot). And if we’re all honest with ourselves, the houses we live in are all pretty broken. I mean, we are all living in houses that are going to ultimately fail us when that little monster called Death comes calling. We’re on the Titanic, people. We know how the movie ends. But ironically, we all went to see the movie anyway. I, for one, wanted to see Kate Winslet’s boobs. But the other 2 hours and 59 minutes were pretty worth watching too. So why go see a movie when you know the ending and that most of the people will die? Because there’s something very, very beautiful about the doomed, moonlit lives they were living.

And the same goes for us. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that your life is more of the moonlit kind than the sunlit kind. Maybe you, like me, curse the ruined house you live in once or twice a minute. I’d love to wrap this up by saying “it’s all going to be fine!” But it won’t. The old bumper sticker put it well: Life’s a bitch, and then you die. And life is a bitch. And we will die.

But I hope you’ll look up and see some moonlight every once in awhile too. And I hope you’ll cut yourself some slack for how hard life can be. If you’re like me, you’re pretty tough on yourself. But you’re probably trying your best. And you probably deserve a lot more moonlit nights than you think you do.

So here’s to moonlight. And here’s to those of you who keep fighting despite rarely noticing much light of any kind. And here’s to remarkably painful tattoos that serve as a permanent reminder to notice the moonlight while you’re looking up, cursing your drafty roof.
 
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Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!
 
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Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Forgive Yourself

forgive yourself

I talked to a long-time friend this week: He’s shut in his house with raging OCD. All of his friends have gradually drifted away. His final remaining friend jumped ship on him this week because he failed to bring his kid to baseball practice…again (their kids are on the same team). Well, that’s easy enough for someone who doesn’t have contamination obsessions to say, but when everything you touch, every smell that wafts into your nose, every germ that might be floating in the air brings the sort of fear that most people only experience for a total of about ten seconds in their lives – when the plane really might seem to be actually, for real, no joke, crashing – it’s a lot harder to take the kid out into public than it might seem. YOU try taking your kid to the baseball park…or anywhere…knowing it’s going to make you feel like you are, by choice, stepping into the crossfire of a gang shootout.

What is my friend’s reaction to his own internal struggle? He berates himself for his “weakness”; he takes the blame when his friend tells him “maybe you shouldn’t have any more kids”; he sees himself through the lens of stigma: “Maybe I should just wear a shirt around that says, ‘Don’t befriend me; I have OCD; you’ll regret it, and you won’t understand,’” he thinks. “I am a failure.”

Then there’s my other “friend”…and by “friend” I mean me. God, what a failure I feel like so much of the time. When I left the first job, I could tell myself, “It was time to go for lots of reasons, not just depression.” I could tell myself that my friend had just died, and anyone would need some time to recoup. Then I got another job…one that seemed much more manageable, even though it was only half the pay and three times the students, I told myself it was do-able; it was the right thing. I made it through a semester and a half and then, once again, failed, failed, failed. I couldn’t walk back through the door, answer another student’s question, fake it through another lecture, or grade another paper. Adios, second job. Hello, additional evidence of my worthlessness. Now what? Who’s going to pay the bills? What will my kids think of me? How long till my wife kicks me out? Then what? Live with my parents? Hmmm, sounds like a winner of a plan, you failure.

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You hear the word “stigma” associated with mental illness quite a bit. Most people would agree that there’s at least some degree of stigma associated with being handicapped by a mental illness. Many of those same people will say they believe mental illness is as real as a physical illness, yet they don’t necessarily act on those beliefs. Secretly (or not), they think, “he’s got some stuff to work through” rather than “gosh, he’s really sick!”

Tragically, many of us view ourselves the same exact way – as “weak” or “a faker” who just doesn’t have enough will power to get life together. We berate ourselves for our not getting better despite all of the counseling we’ve invested in and all of the medicines we’ve tried. We compare ourselves to our happiest, most stable, most successful friends and wish we just had the balls to face the day head on – to make lemonade out of lemons, like they seem to do so easily.

I’ll use myself as exhibit A (and if you’re observant, you’ll want to point out that I lack an exhibit B…sorry): I’ve lived my whole life with OCD, and I have plenty of evidence that mental illness has a tangible impact on my ability to see the world clearly. I can trace its powerful control over my brain back to age five. Long before I knew anything about mental illnesses, I can point out specifically how my brain was operating differently than everyone else’s. Sure every kid is scared his parents might leave him somewhere; but not every kid constructs every second of every day around making sure his parents are within arms length (literally and figuratively) so he doesn’t get abandoned. Not every kid walks out of the movie theater with a soaking wet shirt because he’s been spitting out the germs he has to have been inhaling in that dirty theater…and he spits them into his shirt because it would be a sin to defile the theater by spitting on the ground. And not every kid tells a story about something that happened on the playground that day but then remembers that he left out a small, unimportant detail and believes he has actually told a lie because of the omission. He then finds some awkward way to bring the story back up so he can fill in the missing details and correct his sinful lie. There’s something haywire in there, right?!

Yet when my obsessions take on a new shape, my first thought isn’t, “my brain is acting up again.” It’s, “Tim, you idiot. Get over it!” By contrast, I seem to have developed chronic tendonitis in my elbow. It hurts bad enough that even lifting the remote control can be quite painful. And yet, I have never once told my elbow what a piece of sh*t it is or wondered why I’m not more able to overcome my “weak” tendon. No, I work around it. In fact, I baby my poor wittle weft ewbow because it hurtsies. I put stinky rub-on medicines on it to make it numb, and one of these days, I might even break down and go for yet another cortisone shot. Another way of framing it might be that I forgive myself for having a faulty elbow.

Recently I was recounting to my therapist what a terrible job I was doing at certain aspects of my life. I was going on and on about how bad it was, and she stopped me and said, “Just stop, Tim. You need to forgive yourself.” It wasn’t the first time I had come across this idea, but it was the first time another person had said it to me. It reminded me, once again, how powerful that concept is. If you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance that you, too, fight a daily, hourly, second by second battle against the very thing that controls your entire being – your brain. It’s a wild horse that won’t be controlled yet you beat yourself up for that fact. I promise you this, though: If you start practicing self-forgiveness, it won’t fix your mental illness, but it will change your relationship to it.

Self-forgiveness takes practice. I mean like actual, you-have-to-work-at-this practice. Like, you need to put a post-it note on your mirror, teach your parrot to say, “give yourself grace, Billy, you’re doing your best,” or set a reminder on your phone. Without the practice, at least for me, my brain’s default self-talk setting seems to involve words like “loser”, “failure”, and “piece of stinky poopoo”. However, if I speak to myself like I’m a small child who’s trying hard but struggling at something new – “It’s okay; settle down; I’ve got you; don’t worry; shhhh; it will be okay…”, my pain doesn’t go away but it becomes something I can tolerate having inside of me. It’s like putting 3-D glasses on in a 3-D movie. Sure, you can watch it without the glasses, but putting the glasses on radically changes your relationship to the movie. The next 2 hours will be a completely different experience thanks to the glasses.

I hope you’ll give this a try, no matter what you tend to beat yourself up about. Life tends to beat the hell out of most of us one way or another…wouldn’t it be nice to have an attitude toward your own suffering that didn’t, in fact, make that suffering ten times worse? (That’s rhetorical…the answer is that yes, it would be nice and maybe even life-changing.)

PS. A few updates on the endeavor to start a non-profit:
1. The ball is rolling and I’m excited…I’ve taken steps to begin doing some speaking and to get some of the official non-profity stuff rolling as well.
2. Podcast #1 is recorded but there are all sorts of technological hoops I’m learning how to jump through before it’s officially a podcast that you can download on iTunes. It should be out next week (I know you’ve been dying to get your hands on it like it’s Harry Potter or something, but be patient. Perfection takes time.)
3. As always, I want to ask you to join in the fight against loneliness and isolation by letting someone know they are not alone…somehow…anyhow.

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A Daily Dose of Death (and Grace)

image
Let’s assume for a minute that this life is All There Is, that Death is The End. You get your 80 years, more or (much) less, but that’s the deal. One life; one death; done.

Pessimist that I am, I tend to look at death as tragic, but not so much for the dead person as for those of us left behind. And indeed, the untimely death of a loved one can and often does leave the lives of those left behind in tattered ruins, sometimes irredeemably.

Death is often thought of as a one-time event at the end of our confusing lives. We all know there’s a sand timer dripping out the sands of our days, never letting us know how much sand is left in the top half, and we’ve come up with many explanations for the seeming cruelty of all that is left unexplained as those sands drip through – why do dogs have to die? Why do children die? Why do we die? When do we die? Why can’t we know more? Why can’t we understand more? Why must we ask ‘why?’ despite the lack of answers to that fundamentally human question? Why? whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

But on the other hand, while we are aware of the dramatic deaths of people taken by disease and tragic accidents, we are surrounded by small daily deaths that aren’t nearly as threatening to us:

We breathe in; we breathe out – a microcosm of life then death.

We wake up…a new day, a new life. We go to sleep…precious sleep, death to the day behind us.

Each step we take gives birth to a new moment, leaving behind the old moment, never to return.

Seasons come to life, slowly, gently killing off the previous season.

We embrace the new opportunities, the new stages of life, tending to look forward more readily than we look backward.

Death is forever all around us, but there’s something gracious, proper, and kind about our daily deaths. How many nights of your life have you lamented having to go to sleep? Are you ever sad to exhale? Worried that there won’t be another breath waiting for you in one moment? We might lament the passing of a beautiful fall or a life-bringing spring, but even summer and winter come with their pool parties and snowball fights – bits of joy in the midst of a season whose death comes eventually as a relief, as a moment of grace.

I don’t claim to know much about the religious stories’ validity. Is there a heaven? What about reincarnation? Or what if we just end up exactly as we were in the year 1743 – entirely unaware, literally non-existent.

I don’t claim to know or, frankly, to have much in the way of belief in these matters. But if I examine the fact that most of the deaths we die are actually not so scary, even pleasant and beautiful – just as beautiful as the precious moments when life needs a pause button. And isn’t it true that our permanent Deaths create the very Grace embedded within the frightfulness of ceasing to exist? Would anyone want to live on forever once their loved ones are lost? Once their health declines past the point of physical pleasure?

In most stories, immortality is a curse, not a blessing. The immortal character grows more and more embittered and estranged from the pleasures of the world but without the relief brought on by death.

Perhaps my argument is a bit circular…Because of the deaths we must inevitably encounter, Death becomes an act of grace. Just as circumcision is a gift to male children who will be surrounded by other circumcised children. Better to commit the horror of slicing off part of a boy’s most sensitive body part days after birth than to risk the rejection and mockery he might face in 12 or 14 years by not doing the slicing. Indeed, death is scary and largely left without satisfying meaning. I can’t pretend this isn’t a large part of Death’s Reality.

But for today, circular though it may be, I feel the need to acknowledge the Grace buried within the bosom of Death.

 

 

***Please share this with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

 

 

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The Wisdom of Rust Cohle

rustIf you haven’t seen the HBO series True Detective (season 1) with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, quit reading right now, and go watch all 10 hours of it. Did you do it? Seriously, it’s way better than this post is going to be…go watch it.

Now that you’ve watched it, thanks for coming back to read the rest of this.

So do you remember the scene when Woody’s character tells Rust’s character that he has a really grim perspective on life and to basically keep said perspective’s to himself? Cohle responds, “Given how long it’s taken me to reconcile my nature, I can’t figure I’d forego it on your account.”

When I first saw this scene, I went back to this line over and over because I wanted to remember the beautiful line out of the mouth of a man who sees the glass as not only half empty, but what’s left in said glass is inevitably poison.

I’m only about half way done with my life, statistically speaking, but it seems to me that the first half of our lives is spent trying to become what other people have told us to be, and the second half (I hope) is spent finally “reconciled to our nature,” living out a life of authenticity.

One of my favorite books to read to my kids is called “I Like Me.” On the cover is a pig dressed like a ballerina. The pig spends the book telling her readers all the things she likes about herself, from her round belly to her curly tail. The book is clearly one of those everyone-gets-an-award, self-esteem books, but I don’t say that in any pejorative sense. I think everyone should get an award…at least everyone who brings something unique to the table…which is everyone.

Having spent my entire adult life as a teacher, I have had a front row seat to watch mixed messages get sent to still-developing adolescents. Schools/Adults/Institutions… tell kids over and over and over that it is great to be oneself, that every person’s unique gifts are needed and valued. Then we give awards to the kids who were good at school (smart), good at sports, or good at popularity. The kids who are great at computers or great at making the uncool kids feel cared for or good at diffusing tension between her friends…they just get overlooked because those skills are harder to appreciate and value than the skill of having the highest GPA.

It’s a hard problem to remedy (maybe impossible), but most of us spend a good portion of our adult lives unraveling the damage done to our psyches by the cultural messages we receive as kids about what makes people valuable or worthless. I’ve met virtually no one who felt that their Truest, Innermost Self was highly valued as s/he was growing up. Even the kids who do win the awards end up feeling like people aren’t seeing the Real Them.

Eventually, whether we were cool kids or decidedly dorky, we have to decide to love and value our truest selves no matter who is paying attention or wanting to hand us an award.

The beauty of Rust Cohle’s statement isn’t that we should all strive to be more like him. He’s essentially a Nihilist, so the world would get pretty ugly pretty fast if we all saw things through his lens. What’s so beautiful is that he accepts himself for who he is. No apology; no trying to be someone different because he makes his police partner uncomfortable. He just is who he is, like it or not. And that’s a pretty beautiful thing.

For me personally, one of the more harmful notions of conservative Christianity has been the belief that, to be a human, is to be something flawed. Think about that message for a second: From the moment you are born (conceived, even), you are tainted, broken, warped, sinful. That message doesn’t exactly help any of us grow up with a strong sense of our own value and worth. Add the societal messages of how our value comes from our brains, our athleticism, or our popularity, and we’re all basically doomed to see ourselves as pieces of poop (forgive the aggressive language).

Here’s the good news of the gospel of humanism: It’s ok to be you. Are you quirky? Quirk it up like a boss. Are you fat and can’t get skinny no matter how hard you try? Put on a bikini and rock it, girl (or boy). Fuck what other people think you should wear to the pool. Are you weird? Weird people are far more fun to be around than normal people; please, please, come hang out with me, weirdos! Are you neurotic? Yeah, me too. So what! Our brains don’t seem to have the let-it-go gene that others have. Letting it go isn’t inherently better than not letting it go, so just do your best to find whatever peace you can inside your neurotic head…but don’t hate your neurosis; they’re inevitably doing you some good, too. Start looking for it.

The pretty girl wishes she was the smart girl while the smart girl wishes she was the carefree girl while the football player wishes he could come out of the closet and get the lead in the musical. Reconcile yourself to your nature and then don’t fucking forego it on anyone’s account. You are beautiful just as you are. Anyone who tells you different or makes you feel different should be promptly removed from your Facebook friends list (and your life).

 

 

***Please share this with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

 

 

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Dear Taylor Swift

Taylor SwiftDear Taylor Swift,

Yes, I am a 38-year-old man writing a letter to you, but don’t get weirded out just yet. Give me a minute to explain myself.

You see, this morning on the way to my daughter’s school, she (as usual) asked for my phone so she could listen (primarily) to your music. She’s 7, and you are her favorite (and don’t tell anyone but I do love your music, too while I pretend to be strictly a Death Metal sort of guy). This morning, my little girl played your song, “Never Grow Up.”

I am somewhat sure it changed my life. No, seriously.

As is often the case in the morning, I was a tad grumpy, and to be entirely honest, I gave her the phone in part so I wouldn’t have to feign fascination with 7-year-old questions and observations. Now don’t go judging me, Taylor, until you have kids of your own. They’re amazing, but they ask a lot of questions, and at least in my daughter’s case, come out of the womb with plenty to say and may well never stop talking for 7 years. But back to my life being changed…

So I’m not a big crier. I suppose that for a male I might be somewhere in the normal range, which means I might tear up at a movie when a dog dies or when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is especially awesome, but for the most part, it’s mainly when that irritating thing called death comes close to home that I do my real crying. Unfortunately, that means someone close to me has to die about twice a year so I can get my stuffed-inside-pretty-damn-deep-emotions out. I will admit that once the tears make their way over my lower eyelids, they can tend to be all-consuming for a few minutes. But that’s usually the end of it, even when death happens.

But thanks to you, for literally the only time in my life that I can remember, I cried all day. As my daughter played the song this morning, it was just a little tearing up that led me to reach back and grab her hand just to hold it for a minute. Suddenly, instead of wanting the carpool trip to be over, I found myself wanting to hit pause so I could absorb the maniacal beauty of this fast-fleeting time in life when kids’ shrieks (some good, some bad) dominate my life.

But when she got out of the car, I started to replay that song over and over. I don’t know what in the world attracts us to things that evoke that mixture of joy and pain that makes us do that strange thing known as crying, but whatever that impulse is kept me listening over and over again. And gradually, the watery eyes turned into actual rolling tears. And then I couldn’t stop…for hours. There was so much wrapped up in the words of your song that got me crying…

I cried because I love my kids so damn much it actually hurts sometimes.

I cried because I don’t always do a great job of expressing it to them, and sometimes I’m sure I hurt them in ways even they won’t understand until they have their own day-of-crying at age 38.

I cried because I wished I could go back to my own childhood, but not because it was so blissfully ignorant. It was quite the opposite. I spent my childhood petrified of all manner of things: being left somewhere by my parents, germs that might fly into my body invisibly, accidentally telling a lie, making God mad and being sent to hell, and just generally of something tragic happening to my loved ones. I obsessively ended conversations with my parents with “I love you” because when you have OCD and hear one of those horrific stories that I think people make up just to scare the shit out of kids so they’ll appreciate their parents more, you tend not to forget such scary stories (you know, the story where a kid doesn’t get what he wants for his birthday, tells his parents he hates them, storms off, and then during the day, they’re hit by a Mack truck, and the kid comes home to find the present he wanted waiting as a surprise which had been planned all along (did you hear these same stories, Taylor? For me, they struck a nerve that was already all too alive.)). So I cried for myself, honestly, for the fact that I have felt far too “grown up” since I was 4. I cried because your song says that to a child “everything is funny,” but I don’t remember anything funny about being a child; I just remember being confused and unbelievably scared. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that to a child “everything is scary as hell”?

I cried because last year one of my students did a talent show dance to your song and needed a little ballerina to join her, and she asked my daughter. When it actually took place, I only teared up, beating myself up inside that I couldn’t shed some real tears about this overwhelmingly perfect moment in time. But I made up for that lack of tears today.

Ellie Ruth in last year's Wesleyan Talent Show
Ellie Ruth in last year’s Wesleyan Talent Show

I cried because that memory reminded me that I’ve had to step away from a lot of people and activities I love to try to get better in my brain.

I cried because I used to believe that God loved me and cared about me, but nowadays I struggle mightily to believe anything of the sort. It’s not that I wanted that foundation to crumble; sometimes foundations start crumbling and don’t know how to stop, it would seem…sort of goes along with the whole loss of innocence your song is about, I guess. You don’t want to lose your innocence (or maybe you actually do) but you don’t really have much of a choice once the cage door is opened.

You’re probably getting depressed, but I’m done with my sad list now, and I’m actually writing to say thank you, so let me get to that part.

Thank you for helping some dam inside of me break open. The truth is, many people, at least historically, have perceived me as put-together and on-the-ball. You know: stable, self-assured, level-headed…those sorts of things. But on the inside I’ve always been very aware that I’m a pretty emotional guy. Unfortunately, the emotion I’m best at expressing is anger, but you and I and the 7 people who might read this now know that my anger, humor, and sarcasm are actually masks for a lot of pain I feel inside but don’t know how to get out. I got a lot out today, so thank you for providing the chisel that broke a dam I’ve been building all my life.

Thank you, also, for a poignant reminder that our little ones do grow up. The part that really gets me is the bridge where you talk about daddy’s coming home and remembering little brother’s favorite songs. During that part, my daughter blurted out, “Josiah’s favorite song is definitely Jingle Bells!” since that is literally the ONLY song he ever wants to listen to. If he wants music, it’s that song on repeat since Christmas of 2013. But all day as I’ve listened over and over to your song (enough times to move that song up a few notches on the charts), when it comes to that part, I really crack. Those images are so relevant to me, and I dread the day when the “DADDY!!!!!!” shrieks fade into unintelligible grunts when I walk through the door.

Finally, Taylor, and please keep this between us as I’m very private about these things, I’ve been going through a bit of a tough time lately. Usually, when someone close to me dies, the tears are incredibly cathartic. It’s probably pretty obvious to say that crying is a natural part of grieving, but I am quite sure I haven’t begun to grieve the recent losses I’ve experienced.

Until today.

So thank you for playing a small, unwitting part in this cathartic ripping open that I apparently haven’t solved just yet. Maybe when you read this post you can have a good cry, too, for you have had to grow up pretty fast for different reasons than I did. You seem to be handling it pretty well, but then again, perhaps, like me, you’re spending most of your energy to stay “put together” so the 29 zillion people who recognize you won’t see the little kid inside of you. The same one that’s inside all of us; the same one that we all need to take good care of, to “re-parent” as the psychology term says, to cherish and love because no one will ever understand us as well as we understand ourselves.

 

Sincerely,

Tim

 

    P.S. My daughter really wants to meet you, so let us know when you’re available to meet. I’m sure you can squeeze us in, right?

**P.P.S. People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!
For your tearful pleasure:

 

 

 

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Honor Your Realities

Be-True-1-2-640x430Every so often, I use my bathroom mirror for some other reason than to take shirtless selfies (according to my computer, “selfies” is either misspelled or not a word…get with it, MS Word!).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, my bathroom mirror. So recently I got the idea to buy some dry erase markers and write myself daily reminders on the mirror. I’m sort of thick-headed and need regular reminders about all sort of things – like to put clothes on before leaving the house (but after taking the selfies for the day).

The other day, I wrote this: Honor your realities, without shame or judgment.

Our realities are our realities, plain and simple, right? You can’t wish away the fact that you are older or younger or happier or depressed-er or fatter or skinnier or shyer or outgoinger or shorter or taller or saner or insaner than you are (apparently, Word doesn’t like some of those words, either…picky, picky!). People spend entire lives wishing that their realities were something other than what they are…but no dice. Our realities are our realities. Period.

So what should we do about them? Here are a few of the options I’ve tried in the past:

Resent them.

Pray for them to change.

Try to hide them.

Lie about them.

Overanalyze them, hoping they will morph into something else.

Philosophize about why they are what they are.

Talk to therapists about them, hoping to understand them and, by doing so, change them.

Numb myself to them with shiny new things or sudsy beverages.

And thus far, not one of these strategies has effectively changed even one tiny aspect of my realities…my truths, if you will. Some things are just true for me and they will never NOT be true for me (if you’d like to know what these are, there’s a whole year’s worth of blog posts for you to wade through at your leisure…I won’t recount them here).

So I decided to change my approach to my own realities: Instead of trying to analyze them away, I will honor them without shame or judgment. Why should I be ashamed of things I can’t change or even control? Why should I judge myself for that which I did not choose? Yeah, I’m moody and complex. Okay, there’s plenty of good stuff that comes with those qualities, too, so why shouldn’t I try to quit feeling ashamed of them? Walt Whitman, yet again: “I exist as I am…do I contradict myself…I am large…I contain multitudes…I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.”

Everyone’s realities are complex, messy, unsavory in some ways, beautiful and profound in others. Here’s a helpful metaphor: We all have bodies. Parts of our bodies are beautiful and appealing, and parts of our bodies, we don’t even want to look at in our bravest moments. Hopefully we all have something about us that we can acknowledge is beautiful, but I’m 100% sure that we all have parts of our bodies that we aren’t eager to post pictures of on Facebook.

But the fact is that every part of our bodies serves some useful purpose, from our internal organs to our kneecaps to our eyes to our armpits to our toes. Why do we spend so much time wishing our bodily realities could be different? They never will be. Ever! But isn’t it beautiful to see someone who’s “comfortable in her own skin,” even if that skin is wrinklier or more blemished or pudgier than the “ideal” skin is supposed to be? Of course! It’s beautiful when someone honors her realities without a sense of shame or judgment.

Children are very good at this, especially in regard to both their bodies and their emotions. They aren’t aware (yet) that their naked bodies aren’t something to parade around no matter who is looking; they aren’t aware (yet) that some things shouldn’t be cried about or screamed over. Children honor their realities without shame or judgment.

So join me in trying to look my realities in the face without the shame or judgment that almost always accompanies these truths that cannot be changed or undone.

 

 

***Please share this with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

 

 

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Turtles, Parades, and Unconditional Love
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turtles, Parades, and Unconditional Love

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My friend Scott recently put me on to a new country musician named Sturgill Simpson. I can’t remember the last time I got so hooked on a new musician. Part hillbilly, part existentialist philosopher, part drug experimenter, part brilliant musician and lyricist…that’s basically a summary of Simpson. If you have any fondness for country music, you should definitely check him out.

In the song “Turtles All the Way Down,” Simpson recounts his experiences with various drugs, saying, “Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, DMT; they all changed the way I see, but LOVE’S THE ONLY THING THAT’S EVER SAVED MY LIFE.”

Another artist I’ve been obsessed with of late is the beautiful, gut-wrenching writing of Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, which was made into a movie that was up for Best Picture at the Oscars. She also wrote a book called Dear Sugar, essays compiled from an advice column she used to write for an online magazine (nothing like the advice columns you’re used to). Strayed lives in the Pacific Northwest, which, by default, makes her a raging liberal. Every year, she takes her two young children to the gay pride parade in her city. Her kids find it entertaining. They love to see the people who are dressed up in their most thoroughly “gay” clothing…drag queens…Village People…the whole nine yards. But while her kids like the “costumes,” she says she always ends up crying, and her kids ask her why. Her answer is that they’re looking at a “celebration of love born out of hatred.” I am proud to say that, while relaying this story to someone just yesterday, I, too, choked back tears for the same reason Strayed does: People saying “this is who I am whether or not you approve” brings me to tears. It’s not that I understand homosexuality any better than any other straight person (I happen to believe that God’s three greatest inventions all exist between a woman’s neck and her thighs), but I don’t believe I have to understand someone in order to support their desire to express love and commitment to another human being. Like many these days, Strayed uses the “love wins” mantra to sum up her celebration of gay pride, gay marriage, etc. Maybe love does win…would that be such a bad conclusion to all of this human chaos?

 

Something else I learned from Sturgill Simpson is the turtles-all-the-way-down story. It goes like this: In the days when people believed that the world was flat, there was a myth that earth rested on the back of a giant, cosmic turtle. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, one of the smart kids finally asked this important question: “But what is the turtle standing on?” To which some unnamed genius responded, “Well, it’s turtles all the way down, you see.”

The turtles-all-the-way-down story illustrates a fundamental problem in the human condition: Our reason/logic will always reach an end point. ALWAYS. Christians use the Bible as their turtles-all-the-way-down trump card; Muslims use the Quran; scientists use data that will eventually be called into question or disproved. None of us really know for sure what to believe.

I’ve had to abstain from Facebook lately because of all the rhetoric lately about who’s right and who’s wrong on the gay marriage issue (or Obama Care…or South Carolina’s flag). It just gets me too worked up to see all of the us-vs-them or we-are-the-good-guys-they-are-the-bad-guys posturing. Human beings are not broken up into two (and only two) teams: good guys vs. bad guys. I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if all of us would simply admit that we aren’t quite sure what the hell is going on around us. We’re not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? We’re not sure whose religion understands the nuances of God better than the other religions. We’re not sure which political party has the right answers. We’re not sure of very much, in fact.

But we can be sure of one thing: That we are UNSURE.

I tend to think we are ALL wrong at some level about EVERYTHING. So let’s quit worrying so much about who’s right and who’s wrong and start with something we can probably agree on: PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED AND FORGIVEN AND CARED FOR NO FUCKING MATTER WHAT. Wanna change the world? Start with radical, careless, overwhelming love and acceptance, and you’ll make some good progress.

I’d rather see humanity moving in the direction of loving and accepting and caring for MORE people rather than fewer people. I’d rather see us quit trying to conserve values that are fatally flawed in the first place…like the “sanctity of marriage.” Uh, people, ½ of marriages end in divorce. We should quit claiming that marriage is so sacred until we figure out how to honor its sacredness ourselves, as straight people. Once we’re above an 88.356% success rate, we can start talking about not wanting “foreigners” inside of our “sacred” institutions. For now, we should wonder why gay people even want the “privilege” of marrying. Are they that eager to hire divorce lawyers?!

As we try to figure out these complex issues as a country and as individuals, why not err on the side of acceptance and love rather than erring on the side of “reasoned” disagreement?

Your supposed reason is faulty.

So is mine.

But there is no doubt that human beings could use more love, affirmation, and acceptance. Even if they are morally corrupt, they aren’t likely to make changes because you have a more “reasonable” thought process than they do. People grow and change through love, plain and simple. Even if you’re right and the Supreme Court is wrong, expressing that opinion will ostracize about ten thousand people for every one it converts to your point of view. Showing people that you love them without needing them to “get their shit together first” will reverse that ratio, winning over ten thousand for every one you offend with your unconditional love (though it’s hard to imagine love like that turning anyone off, but I wanted to keep the math nice and tidy).

So whether you’re like Sturgill Simson, who realized through drug use that love is the most powerful drug on earth…or if you’re like Cheryl Strayed who cries at the bravery it takes for people to come out of any closet that society has locked with a dead bolt…or if you’ve spent so much time thinking about who’s right and who’s wrong and you’ve come to the conclusion that all philosophies eventually dissolve into “it’s turtles all the way down,” I, for one, don’t believe we will do the world any harm by opting for extreme and radical acceptance of our fellow humans as “simply human.” Like you, they are confused, broken, scared, unsure about God, unsure about what happens when they die, unsure about whether it’s more important to fit in or to be authentic. Gay, straight, transgender, murderer, or even Republican…all of us deserve the benefit of the doubt. All of us deserve the life-changing benefit of radical love.

So I’ll end with this admission: I’m sure I’m wrong about most things. But I, for one, do think it’s turtles all the way down.

But I’m willing to admit that maybe it’s actually giraffes. Or cats. If it’s cats, I’m gonna be pissed. I hate cats.

 

***Please share this with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

 

 

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