Month: March 2014

Grief and acceptance

I guess nothing’s bothering me this week. Of course, lots of things are wrong, but I can’t seem to get any of them to spill onto the page. I’m not sure if this is a sign that my soul is crushing under the weight of the world’s problems, or maybe a sign that I’m starting to accept it. sad world

As I consider the word acceptance, I’m reminded of the stages of grief that we learned about in my high school “Death and Dying” course (thanks Mrs. Orth): Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Is it possible that I’ve already mourned the world long enough to accept it for face value? I’ve not quite reached middle age. Psychologically I’ve been forty since I was twelve, but is this really me accepting things? Let’s examine this grief a little closer.
Denial: That one left town a long time ago. I have a well formed knowledge of how cruel the world is. The first time I looked at a house for sale where the dogs were treated better than the children, I realized that I’d been denying that those houses existed. The children that had no clean clothes to wear and no clean sheets to sleep on didn’t exist in my world before that. I had been denying their existence. That denial ceased that day. From then on, I have lived in a world where neglected children didn’t live in the third world, but a few miles down the road. The same is true for the first time I realized one of my clients hosted orgies, or the first time I was propositioned for something illicit, or the first time I discovered a publicly respected person was a drug addict. With each epiphany my eyes were opened and the world I was left with was a little more cruel. So, I guess I’m past denial.
Anger: That’s a toughie. I’ve struggled with letting anger get the best of me most of my life. It’s easy for such an ugly world to rouse my righteous indignation. Anger at the status quo is what drives a lot of my writing. Injustice is a powerful motivator, and I use it to propel me to do things sometimes. I try to remind myself of Luke Skywalker being tempted by the Emperor to use anger as a dark power though. While anger is a town I drive through most days, I’m pretty sure I don’t live there.
Bargaining: Hmm… I strike bargains every day in business, but not with a higher power. I gave up on being able to change God’s mind on anything a long time ago. He knows and I do not. I’m good with that.
Depression: Some may be shocked at this one, but I’m really not depressed. I’m disappointed a lot of days (and I have that natural scowl that I was born with), but for the most part I’m hopeful that there will be a tomorrow and that it will bring something new. I can look back on almost every bad thing that’s happened in my life and see a reason for it, and those days were all followed by a tomorrow. I am a student of history, and that is a fact. Therefore, it would be illogical to be depressed about what tomorrow might bring when it too will be followed by something different. A friend reminds me frequently that I live a charmed life, so I have nothing to be depressed about anyway.
That only leaves us with Acceptance to consider. I’ve never been through any twelve-step programs, but I am familiar with Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer in which you ask God for acceptance of the things you cannot change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I run short on courage a lot of days, and “if I claim to be a wise man it surely means that I don’t know.” -Kansas. Some days I run short on faith, hope, and charity too, but I’ve always had enough to get me through. I’ve told you before that a very cynical realtor once asked me if I was still “trying to save the world.” It was a purely business question and it was intended to infuriate me. It must’ve worked because seven years later it still gets my blood pumping. I guess the answer to that question from my current perspective would be, no. I’m looking at my life these days as just trying to get people into the lifeboats. The world is a loss. History has taught me that. Like a sinking ship that’s too far gone, I will no longer keep bailing. I will however try to help any of the survivors that I can. I’m straining the analogy at this point, but I set out on a voyage for brighter shores. I never intended to save the ship, so why bother? Even though I hadn’t planned on rowing the whole way in a lifeboat, so be it. The destination remains.

Alright, alright, alright!

There’s no worse feeling than being alone; not physically alone, but spiritually. I’ve written a lot over the last several years because I’m lonely. In a world devoid of decency and honor and truth, I feel alone. And so, I write. And the strangest thing happens. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Because with every article (the good ones anyway) someone says, “Alirght, alright, alright!” It seems they read because they feel alone too. And for a few magic moments, as the words spill out of my gut and onto the page, my loneliness is purged. The reader’s magic moment is when they scan through the words and find they’re not alone either. For the time it takes me to write and the time it takes you to read, for those few minutes, we are united in a world where the good guys win. It’s fleeting, but it’s enough to keep a guy going.
Last Sunday night, millions of us rallied around one of those special moments. It happened in the strangest of places, and through one of the most unlikely characters. At the Academy Awards, Matthew McConaughey stood before an audience of silly, self-absorbed entertainers and paid homage to his family, his philosophy, and most astoundingly, his God. A perplexed audience listened as he gave a well prepared speech about a man in the afterlife making gumbo, a nuclear family that he wanted to “make proud,” and a creator that gave him a reason for being. To a group of people used to orgies and drug dens, hearing about wives, children and a deity makes for a strange Sunday evening. In his acceptance he didn’t focus on the movie he’d made, or the plight of people with AIDS, or the impact it’s had on the “gay community.” All of those topics would’ve received raucous applause and approval from the hall. Instead, he focused on the good character he’d played and the good character that he is. The silence from the audience was deafening, but it was not the silence of disapproval. There were no boos or hisses. It was the silence of confusion. They did applaud him as he finished, but I think it was more for the quality of the delivery than the message.
Interestingly, the best part of the speech was not the bravest part. When describing his hero, McConaughey said it has always been himself ten years down the road. He’s never lived up to his own expectations, and he knows he never will. Now in his 40’s, he has accepted that he’ll never be the man he’d like to be, but he’s going to keep striving for it anyway. This is a very optimistic outlook on life. Focused on the one thing in his life he can control, his actions, McConaughey has achieved greatness. I have known great men in my life, but I’ve never known one that accomplished everything they wanted. The great ones always leave room for improvement, and they keep hope alive for the future. When they reach old age and time runs out, that hope is invested in posterity. In less than a four minute speech Sunday, an actor expressed a lifetime of hope.
Hollywood liberals are a very close-minded group. They celebrate diversity as long as it’s attacking societal norms that aren’t really normal anymore. Sometimes it’s as if they’re fighting 1950’s America not realizing that she’s been dead for decades anyway. Last Sunday night, a true form of diversity was on display. We were presented with someone brave enough to be himself. Provided with an opportunity and a podium a Texan rose to the challenge. Should anyone be surprised? That’s what Texans do. It’s what men do. I commented the other day that it made me proud to see him win, and prouder to see his acceptance. There aren’t many John Wayne’s or Jimmy Stewart’s, or actual men left in America. For a few minutes in 2014, we got to see true manliness on display. Not because he’s muscular. Not because he’s the sexiest man alive. The manliest thing he ever did was to humble himself before the things that really matter. In the moment when most of the people in the room would’ve crowed, he gave credit to everyone but himself. What would it be like to have a country full of people like that? What if all the boys grew up and started acting like men? Here’s hoping.