I don’t even know where to start. Today has been such a strange, emotional day. Five things happened more or less simultaneously, each of them affecting me in curious ways. I watched the latest episode of Breaking Bad with my husband, we went out shopping and had lunch (a treat we rarely indulge in), we helped a random stranger take home some furniture from the Salvation Army, I read a snarky news piece on the latest Miss America, and I felt knocked over by the news of another mass shooting.
All of these things within a few hours, and all of them heavily emotional for very different reasons.
To start out with, I love my husband. I’ve always cared about him, and wanted him to be successful and happy for a variety of reasons, But it’s been a while since I’ve felt like this is a guy I can spend a pleasant afternoon beside. No, I should rephrase that, the fact that I enjoy spending time with him has been creeping up on me, and for whatever reason today it stood out. This is someone who I enjoy spending time with. A year ago I was uncertain I would ever say those words again, and even less certain that they would ever be thought about me in return. The realization that we are behaving like friends is so bittersweet, because a very small and mean part of me wants to throttle my husband and remind him of all the damage between us. Yet, that part of me is squashed under the warm fuzziness of not having to think about such rage on a daily basis.
Ironically I owe the fact that realization in part to Breaking Bad, a show which most certainly does not center around Good Old-Fashioned Family Values. Yet watching the show together, debating it, surprising each other with well-thought out arguments and philosophical meanderings about the writer’s motivations has really helped us to remember what made us friends in the first place. We can talk about things: both the things that matter to us, and the things that interest us. It’s the fighting about things that gets us into trouble, that distracts us from the talking. If we can remember to talk to each other: not communicate about our wants and needs ad nauseum but just to TALK to each other, we might be okay.
Never downplay the importance of entertainment. It gives us all something to talk about with joy and excitement in our hearts. That really isn’t a bad thing.
But back to today. We really need something to use as a stand for our daughter’s big terrarium. It’s too big to sit on the piano, so to upgrade the Lizard’s habitat we need something that is, well, huge. We’ll have to rearrange everything. We went to the Salvation Army on the hope that we may find something used to re-purpose but it was to no avail. Oh well, we contented ourselves with stacks of used books for 50 cents a pop, and I got a new pair of pants and a new pair of boots. It was pleasant.
While in the checkout lane we were behind a kind of hard-core grandma, who was buying a lot of stuff. She seemed agitated. I asked her if she was alright and she lit up and asked excitedly if we happened to have a truck. ”Why do you ask?” She’d just bought a coffee table but couldn’t get anyone to agree to help her home with it. ”It’s not far,” she said, “I’ll buy your things if you could help me out.” We decided to help her out but refused her money. It was an interesting ride. She was so passionate about antiques and she had so much knowledge she was so eager to share, even showing us around her apartment and talking about the statues and paintings there. She was so full of piss and vinegar and just on fire about everything, it was so fascinating. As we were leaving, she thanked us for helping an old woman out. I told her age happens to everyone, we’ve all got to be kind. She laughed and said, “oh, sweetie, age ain’t gonna happen to you for a while.”
Maybe so, but it helps to remember our shared humanity.
Then, the shooting. It seemed bizarre and surreal that with all of the news I’m exposed to on a daily basis, it took so long for that to trickle through. People don’t even sound shocked and horrified, anymore, just resigned. ”Another shooting, only 12 dead.”
Only 12 dead.
It makes me sick to my stomach to realize the collective apathy that is beginning to set in, as if we live in a world where people are bound to be killed en masse, and any time where it doesn’t break the 20s it’s not too bad. What is wrong with us? Just a few days ago, a black man in the south was shot for “advancing on” police after having been in an accident and trying to get help, not all the details have emerged but initially it seems the man had done nothing wrong. Then, there’s another shooting in NY where police injured bystanders while trying to shoot a man who appeared to have a mental illness, instead of subduing him by other means.
What a cold world it seems we live in these days.
My daughter has been up in arms about it, too. She tells me that if we want to live in a nicer world, we have to be nicer people. I don’t think it could possibly be easier than that. I know in my own marriage, the key to having a nice marriage has been being willing to be nice. No one wants to be nice to someone who is mean to them, and being mean to someone who is being mean is just asking for more of the same. The show Breaking Bad is all about the same concept, violence breeds violence and greed breeds greed, the answer is never pushing for more- freedom only comes from letting go of vice and the secrets. It seems at every turn that the protagonist may have his chance for the Hero’s Journey but he chooses vice instead, clings to it like a suit of armor, despite the fact that it is killing him. You see the same thing with the people on the news. Fingers point, the blame game is played, anger is spouted off as if it were cathartic, the right thing to do, a solution. It doesn’t matter where you come down philosophically or politically, someone hates you for it and you hate someone else. Real, tenable solutions are the farthest thing from everyone’s minds. It’s as if we as a society have given up, and now we’re just looking for someone to blame for it. It’s the gun lobby! It’s the anti-gun lobby! It’s law enforcement overreach! It’s bleeding heart people! It’s you! No, it’s you! Who even cares, it sure as heck isn’t me! I’m the good guy!
Let’s talk about Miss America. A lovely American woman of Indian heritage won this year’s pageant and the immediate news isn’t about her dedication to STEM studies (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or about her degrees or her platform of cultural competency, it is ironically about the fact that many people are lambasting her for being an “Al Qaeda Plant” or Muslim. Perhaps people need a cultural competency class, because most Indians are Hindu and even if she were a Muslim, that doesn’t mean she has nothing to offer as a spokesperson for women’s issues or a cultural icon.
It’s interesting that every generation seems to have it’s bogey man, communists or Nazis or the Irish or the Jews or the Witches or the Catholics or the Anabaptists or the Native Americans or the, you know, whoever. We always have to have the bad guy in the back of our minds to blame, you know, just in case. I think it’s a reflection of the magical thinking that humans are so infamous for. We believe that certain rituals protect us- be it incantations, or wearing our lucky socks, or knocking on wood. We also need to be afraid, I think. We need to work to overcome the bad things in the world because it makes us feel worthwhile. So we LIKE pointing fingers because it means we’re moving forward. But that’s magical thinking, at the end of the day we aren’t safer. So why do we look for the bogey man? Because if overcoming evil is as etched into our psyches as searching for meaning, as I believe it certainly is, if we don’t look for the bad guy out there we have to look for the bad guy inside.
But just like in Breaking Bad, if we never go dark we never have to worry about that guy out there. We bring the outer evil on us because of the evil inside, just like in my marriage. Ken was never my enemy, even when he was. Even at the worst, my greatest enemy was the things I believed about myself. We lose a lot of beauty from our lives when we close ourselves in to our own worlds.
Like my first instinct, to tell the lady at Salvation Army that I was too damn busy for her.
But I wasn’t, that was just my perception, and once I opened myself up to the possibility of helping I realized that I was helping myself, I was making myself less alone.
If you want to live in a nice world, you need to be a nice person.
You don’t need to get rid of all guns or all Muslims or all newscasters, you need to be nice.
Just, be nice.
Everything else flows from that.
It flows from your heart.
It flows from what you choose to cultivate there.