Before I start, these quotes (and a Billy Joel song) came to mind as I was writing:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
– William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”
It is better to be silent and let people think your an idiot, than speak and confirm it.
– Tao Te Ching
Today, I skipped my Quaker meeting (church service) because I’m trying to help my wife set up a website for her business. After an 8 hour day of that, I worked another shift at the convenience store. Then I came back home and tried to comfort my wife as she struggled with WordPress. Her frustrations and my assistance for my beloved one are a story for another time. I’m not the ideal husband and we’ve had our troubled waters of disagreement and conflict, but I’m devoted to my wife and child and ever strive to be the better part of who I am for them. Suffice to say, it was a busy, difficult, day (and I certainly didn’t live within the “freeze” of PTSD today).
With respect to the convenience store, one thing which happens at all jobs is that small talk ensues. One thing I’ve learned is to not talk too much. I find that if I am a bit reserved, people project a sense of maturity and “cool” onto me. Sad to say that, with respect to social interaction, it’s best to hold your cards closely to your vest and not offer much about yourself. LISTEN to what others say. This is what all folks hunger for, so I’ll say it again: LISTEN, just listen. Hear what they have to say more than dwelling on the responses you may want to give them. Acknowledge. Validate. Feed another’s starving soul. Ask relevant, supportive, questions about what they talk about, but never speak freely of yourself and your own life. It’s sad that we can’t all be freely outspoken about our dreams or the deepest parts of ourselves, but, unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. People assume. People judge and make conclusions in their reactions to whatever you may say. It’s not an “evil,” but only that “thirst” from which we all desire to be heard and validated – first – before we ever are aware of anything beyond those parched lands we travel amidst masses of other thirsty souls. Because of this, it’s more effective – as well as being in the spirit of compassion – to listen in an emphatic way so that they find a connection to you through their projection of themselves in you.
This may sound a bit manipulative. Perhaps it is, but I come at this from the perspective of empathy and compassion rather than self interest, neurosis or (god forbid) sociopathology. I spent decades trying to get people trying to like me in what I said and what I did. This didn’t even work a little bit. In a way, it was the same attempt at manipulation, but from a place where I was helpless, weak, terrified and strove to make people pity me rather than allow them to see me for who I actually was (am). I believe that, contrary to Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince,” it’s the means which justify the ends rather than his “end’s justify the means.”
In addition, perhaps there’s a touch of maturity in my attitude and actions towards my co-workers as well. I don’t feel the need to be heard and validated by them as much as in the past. Though I still almost shake with anxiety, I’ve been able to find enough personal support and healing to not have to be so desperate for constant approval and validation…from absolutely everyone who crosses my path. I’ve accrued enough healing and strength so that I can be (mostly) present within the moments of my life and, if I can’t live as the best of myself in the present, at least I can be mindful and accommodating to my fears and tremulations.
I’m no hero. There is nothing special about me. I have no grand “secret,” “truth” or unusual “inner strength.” I’m just a regular person trying to get by in what I consider to be an unusually brutal world. Why I’m not institutionalized or dead from a drug overdose or homeless or chosen suicide (to end the pain) is something I just don’t know. I am, however, neurotic, often irritable, judgmental and suspicious of others, sometimes angry and resentful, completely distrustful and suspicious, cynical and repulsed by humanity in general. I’m a curmudgeonly older man who doesn’t enjoy the company of others and just wants to be left alone in an expansive, empty wilderness (don’t tell my wife or son!). It seems that the trend in the electronic world is to paint oneself as having some special, Disney like quality about themselves and their lives. I am no such person. I don’t just despise life, but existence itself…and yet…
…and yet I believe in the better part of all of us and believe, fanatically, that this is something worth fighting for.
This is what (Philadelphia) Quakers are all about. I’m not here to preach or try and “convert” anyone. Philly Quakers are just as quirky as everyone else, but I have found groups who are compassionately inclusive and believe in a “divine presence” within all, which has no resemblance to the “god” I was raised to believe in. That “inner light.” “That of God within.” This is what reaffirms my faith in something greater than myself – and a part within myself which extends to that within all others. This is what gives me hope. This is what gives me passion and determination to crawl forward and refuse to quit. This is what compels me to press forward into the evening fog and strike (even blindly) at the snarling beasts which I hear all around me. If there is nothing else, I believe in the core of who I am and what it’s striving to manifest. I believe in “light” and “the good,” even if I’ve never seen or experienced it.
I choose to to seek and strive for that “light,” even in the face of eternal darkness. I accept nothing less…To be honest, I demand and deserve nothing less. Traditional “gods” be damned to their own hells.
Be Well, My Friends,
P.S. I don’t know why, but as I was writing, these songs came to mind:
Hope I’m not offending anyone…but after all, this is my journey and the best understanding I can make from it all.