In many ways, I feel like a large bear who just awoke from a long, deep slumber and has shaken the snow from his fur to look about him on an unfamiliar landscape. In retrospect, I can’t really be at all sure what happened over the past few months or what caused it but I think that now, finally, it’s over. With the help of many dear friends including my greatest and dearest friend, my wife, I think I’ve come out of this funk a better and happier person. I will not bore you with the details certainly but I will share a few observations and experiences…
Last week at this time we went to my friend’s wedding and it struck me as the sort of thing you’d see in a Lifetime Original Movie. Stuff this good just doesn’t HAPPEN in real life. I’ll let him write his own story in his own time but suffice to say that he married his elementary-school sweetheart after decades of separation. The lesson here simply seems to be that happiness doesn’t just come to you; sometimes you have to wait for it and work for it but it’s there to be had if you just keep trying.
Relatedly, you may recall that I had some concerns about the various spheres of my existence touching at this event. In retrospect, I’m not even sure what the hell I was worried about. My wife carried on with everybody I knew like they were old friends. When we got into the car to leave she seemed really excited to have met all the people I’ve regularly talked about for four years and said simply that “your friends are really funny.” Clearly she had more fun than I did because I was wrapped up in my own silly concerns while she was just there to have fun and managed to do so with great ease. I can’t help but wonder how long before my friends from work start calling up the house to talk to HER rather than ME.
Turning serious for a moment, I have to admit that in the past two months I have had to completely demolish my self-image and rebuild it from scratch. This morning my wife and I had a long talk and during the discussion it became clear to me that six months ago my self-image was basically still the one built for me during my childhood (see my autobiography Part 1). It wasn’t really new information to me, I’d realized that much long ago but hadn’t admitted it aloud to anyone. A lot of the problem over the past few months has been trying to rectify the conflicting ideas in my head. On one hand, my self-image said simply that while I might be an intelligent and articulate person, on a personal level I was more akin to a moldy sack of potatoes, that I had the social skills of a bowling ball with greasy finger holes. For 35 years this was all good. I continued to make no effort to get to know people and in exchange they dutifully ignored me (or more commonly were forced to ignore me after I ignored them). But then there came a break in the cycle. In a few specific cases I stopped ignoring people and instead turned myself toward them. I gave them my time and my attention and to my astonishment they reciprocated in kind. This too was all well and good until the conundrum was noticed. The results of my reaching out to people could not co-exist with my self-image. One or the other had to be explained away or revised. As I sit here I realize there are two paths away from this dillema because I’ve seen someone in my family take the darker path:
The dark path says that your self-image must be correct. If you believe you are unlikeable then who knows you better than yourself? It must certainly be so. But if the self-image is correct then that means the results of your experiment are wrong. There must be some REASON why people act in a friendly way towards you. What could they possibly want? Do they want my money? Are they going to rob me or break into my house? I had better keep these people at a distance because there’s NO way they could really like me. They must have selfish motives of some sort… This is the path my mother took when she told me to “stop calling her god damn it”. She cannot possibly rectify in her mind the conflict between the belief that she is a worthless lump of shit and the fact that I cared enough to call to see how she was doing. She has no choice but to corrupt my intentions with the belief that I worry only about how she spends my inheritance. To do otherwise would force her to amend her own concept of who she is.
Personally, I choose to amend myself and I will openly admit that it’s INSANELY hard to do; typically I’m a relatively self-effacing person so it’s difficult for me to look at myself and admit that it’s just possible people might enjoy being around me. But given recent developments it’s really the only reasonable conclusion I can come to. This is also not to say that it’s over. It’s a task of Herculean effort to tear apart one’s very soul and piece it together again in a more amicable form but I am determined to do so because I’ve seen the darkness and pain of the alternative. More important even than me, I suspect, to this effort is my wife. As I look back over the past few weeks I realize more than ever how deep is her devotion to me and can’t help but believe, now more than ever, that she was the greatest and best Choice I ever made in life.
Now normally, I would stop a blog entry right there. Big emotional and devotional crescendo right there at the end to carry with you around the house as you do laundry and chase the kids. Well, not today, boys and girls. Today we cleanse the palette a bit before we go because life lesson #65 for this month is that people don’t like to be the victims of constant negativity. This is a trap I fall into often with people. When I’m describing something I tend to be complete and hit it from all angles. I’ll exclaim the positives and then at some point roll around to the trivial negative points, if any, and give a nice, rounded picture of whatever I’m describing. I’m just about totally convinced that people just don’t want to hear it. The alloy of 90% giddiness and 10% negativity somehow works out to be “well that sucked.”
Lastly, and I think most importantly, is the realization that the key to life isn’t what you do… or where you are… or what you happen to be eating at the time but rather who you’re with. People, it has become clear, are the fuel on which life runs.