Fear and change

be flexible quote from Bruce Lee

Have you ever noticed that human beings are ridiculously awful at dealing with change? It’s ironic, because change is the only inevitable thing in life. That classic Benjamin Franklin quote about death and taxes should be revised to include change too. Death, taxes, and change are certain; sorry Ben, revision for the modern world. Even if a person resolutely vows to never change, if he or she resists personal growth, the world around will still change.

Loved ones move, or die; friends get married or divorced (or likely married and then divorced); people start having children; companies downsize; our neighborhoods grow or shrink; even our bodies change as we age – like it or not! It’s ironic that we have such a difficult time with change, when the world around us and even our own bodies are in a state of constant change. Change, whether we like it or not, isn’t always bad. Change can be very good in fact. I live in a neighborhood that is a thriving, growing arts district full of people young and old who genuinely love the neighborhood. When I bought my house, there was a farmer’s market at the end of the street, now that space is a barbeque and beer joint which is unfortunate for me since I don’t eat meat or drink beer. Even as much as I love my neighborhood and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else in my city, I have moments where I question the change/progress. I love the addition of a woman-owned french patisserie, I can walk up the street and have a freshly made french macaron whenever I want, but I have moments of doubt about a boutique hotel proposed to take over a green space often used for community events like a pop-up dog park.

Like it or not, the world will change and our lives will change. Resisting it doesn’t stop it. We like to think that we have some sort of control over the world, but really we only have control over ourselves. Like the tall, sturdy tree that Bruce Lee talks about, if we don’t bend, if we don’t learn to sway in the wind then we will break. Change will come whether we accept it or not. If we want to make our lives more difficult, we can try to stop it. Who wants to make their life more difficult though? Surrendering to change is frightening, even for the best of us. Letting go of the illusion of control can be outright terrifying. Resisting the inevitable can only result in pain for us. Change will happen whether or not we accept it, so it has to be better to spend our energy in accepting change – to focus on acceptance of the change and give in to the beautiful chaos that is being alive. The alternative is not being alive and change is certainly better than death! Everyone, save perhaps the true bodhisattva, is going to have a moment where change is so uncomfortable that we want to rebel against it. While change is an essential part of the world, fear is an essential part of the human being. Fear lets us know that something is happening, that it needs a response. We tend to label certain emotions as “bad” and fear is often one that we think that we shouldn’t experience. Experiencing emotions is particularly scary and extreme for those with emotional sensitivity/borderline personality disorder, but the entire spectrum of emotions exist because we are supposed to experience them. Every emotion, every feeling, serves a purpose. Fearing emotion is as useless as fearing change; we are going to experience emotions both “good” and “bad,” wanted and unwanted.

In other words: Don’t be afraid to be afraid.

Swim in that fear, let it caress your soul. Invite it in for tea. Say, “Welcome, fear. Come in and sit with me.” Appreciate fear as you would appreciate joy. Feelings are a part of being alive and they’re going to come whether we want them or not, whether we are ready or not. So you can dance with your fear just as you would your joy, or you can fight your fear like an attacker but that will not make the fear go away. The only thing that makes your fear recede is to face it. Change is going to come – meet it at the door, and open it. Don’t bolt it tightly, pulling heavy dressers in front of it and piling bricks on top of that. Change will just come through the window. Perhaps the biggest challenge of life, whether you have an emotional sensitivity or not, is surrendering to it. There’s a saying in al anon, “let go or get dragged.” Surrender is not a passive state, it’s an active one. Surrender means acknowledging our fears, recognizing they exist for a purpose, and letting them sit until they have served their purpose. Surrender means seeing that change is coming and allowing it to effect our lives; be afraid of change – that’s ok. Accepting doesn’t mean liking, surrendering doesn’t mean enjoying; it means that we know that change is inevitable and we accept that we are not perfect, fearless individuals and that it’s perfectly ok to be afraid of it. We don’t let that fear rule us however, we don’t let that fear make us fight change. We let it roll through our spirit like a river, washing away whatever it wants to take with it, leaving us smoother, more polished, like a stone.



The impermanence of being alive

At the end of 2012/beginning of 2013, I lost two friends. One was a very close friend, one of only two people that I texted on a daily basis (the other being my best friend/girlfriend/ex-gf/lover/whatever she is, whom I usually refer to on this blog as “F”). I’ve been dealing with it ever since, and this post is something I’ve been writing in my head in bits and pieces.

We all know that we are going to die someday. That’s the inevitable consequence of living, the humorous “death and taxes”. Most people probably have to confront death and dying a little sooner in life than I did. I know that my sister and I had pets growing up, and they passed away, but I don’t really remember a lot about it. Probably my parents told us that they had “gone to heaven to be with Jesus” and we had cried and moved on. I don’t remember grieving, but I don’t remember a lot of details about my childhood. By 2012 all of my grandparents had passed away, but my family has never been especially close with extended family. Most of my turmoil around the death of my grandparents has been worry for my parents. It was sad, of course, but I didn’t really know them and it was more concerning to me that my parents’ needs were being met in a time of what for them was a deep grief I knew I did not fully comprehend. While I’m 32, solidly in adulthood, I can’t imagine a world without my parents.

When I turned 30, I knew that it was just a matter of time before death started hitting closer to home. 30, after all seemed very “grown up” and it was pretty clear I was going to have to start addressing these things that made me uncomfortable, at least eventually. So when my friend Mike finally found out what had been ailing him, and several rounds of chemo seemed not to do much good, I started steeling myself for my first close brush with death. Mike was one of those genuinely good people that I always feel privileged to know – intelligent, stylish, mature in a way that you only get after real soul-searching, and truthfully one of the best writers I have ever read. His writing about food was my favorite, one piece in particular where he talked about making fudge was so vivid that the reader felt transported into both his kitchen and his past, as he reminisced about learning to cook as a child. Another about learning to make the roux for gumbo (something any southern chef and especially any Cajun knows is as much an art as a skill!) was as beautifully detailed. When I think back on reading it, I remember it as though I was there; that’s how talented a writer Mike was. When he announced on facebook that he would be declining another round of chemo, I prepared myself for grief. I should’ve spent more time hanging out with him in person rather than just talking on facebook! I knew that it was going to be hard, my first real contact with death.

And then my friend Patty died.

I still have the last conversation that we ever had on my phone. I will have it until I change phones, and even after because of screen caps. November 16th, 2012, 10:13PM. The last thing she texted me was “You mad again? Fuck off then! Lol.” I had just turned out the light, about to go to sleep. I thought “I will text her in the morning.” I didn’t know that in the morning I’d wake up to a missed call from her phone number and a text from her girlfriend asking me to call her.

No one expected Patty to die. In February of 2012, she’d had a stroke. She was too young for that, only in her 40s, but she had untreated high blood pressure. We had been friends before the stroke but we didn’t get truly close until after. We had been mostly online friends, but we texted a little here and there. She asked me for tips on things like what to do for her girlfriend for valentine’s day, where to find a hair straightener that her girlfriend really wanted. I’d given her some advice on what to do for valentine’s day 2012, and then I hadn’t heard from her in a while. I didn’t think much about it because we didn’t text a lot. Eventually I thought I should probably text to see how valentine’s day had went, and that’s when she texted me asking how I was. She told me she’d been in the hospital for a month, recovering from her stroke. After that, we became close friends. I think that she was trying to change things after that had happened, get closer to people she’d always meant to, and I was one of them. We talked about everything. She always challenged me on things, and that was something that I really appreciated about her and our friendship.

When I woke up November 17th to a missed call from her phone, I knew something was very wrong. We never talked on the phone. When I finally had the guts to listen to the voicemail, it was her girlfriend crying, telling me that Patty had died during the night. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced shock before that moment, but I went into shock. Even though I don’t do phone calls, I called her girlfriend back. My voice echoed in my head, “what happened?” I asked. Her girlfriend cried and told me about what had happened. I asked questions, trying to see if she was ok, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to feel – nothing seemed real. She had texted me right before I went to sleep. That conversation would never be resolved, it would forever be out there dangling “You mad again? Fuck off then! Lol.” I would never respond to that text. I took the day of her funeral off work, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. I just couldn’t handle the reality of what her funeral meant.

I’ve spent the last few months dealing and not dealing with my feelings about death. I do have religious and spiritual beliefs. I’ve dreamed about her and wondered after if the dream was her spirit visiting me… Who ever really knows? I’m not sure that our human minds are really equipped to deal with death. Whether or not you believe in heaven, it’s really little comfort in our world of instantaneous, constant connection. The first couple months, I just tried to deal with that odd feeling that I was forgetting something – I was used to texting Patty every day and then suddenly I didn’t anymore. What does it matter where she is? I’m here. I don’t have anyone to bounce the last four months of life off of. No one is giving me insights into things, no one is challenging me to say why I feel how I do or why I’m doing what I’ve done. In light of all the recent work and life drama, I wonder what she would be saying to me tonight if she were still here. I have no doubt she would see things that I cannot, because I’m too close to the situation(s).

What do I come out of all this with? It isn’t profound, it’s actually pretty trite. You know those photos with text that people always share on facebook? “Tell the ones you love them that you love them today. They might not be here tomorrow.” It turns out, that is very, very true. It only seems trite if you haven’t just lost a loved one you never said “I love you” to. I never told Patty that I loved her. It seemed weird, at one time we had a flirtation – back before we had become real friends – but she had a girlfriend and I had a girlfriend and it felt wrong to say “I love you” to her. I didn’t want her to think it meant something that it didn’t. But the truth is – she was one of my best friends. In a few short months, she became more important to me than people I had known for years. Our relationship changed after her stroke. We stopped being people who barely knew each other and were flirty now and then, and became real and true friends. I don’t have a lot of real and true friends. I don’t let a lot of people in, but for whatever reason she became one of my dearest friends and she will always remain so. So be trite – if you have the chance. Make sure the people that you love know that you love them. I know that she knew that I loved her, in my heart I know she knew, but still I would give anything to have the chance to say it to her. Of course, those of you that know her know that her “Fuck you” was pretty much an “I love you.” She loved to give the people she cared about a hard time.

The last time I saw Patty in person, she had come up to Jackson for an LGBTQ conference put on by the Department of Mental Health. We are both social workers, I was there both because I wanted to be and because of my job. She came up the second day and gave me shit about the girl I thought was cute. We sat at a long table in the Jackson Convention Center, listening to a lot of people who don’t know anything about what it’s like to be lgbtq listen to lgbtq speakers trying to educate them. I gave her the book that I had bought her, a copy of a book by a scientist who’d had a stroke and recovered from it, that I’d had the author sign especially for her. I wish I had known that would be the last time I saw her in person. I don’t really know how to end this post. Maybe there is no ending, just like it in real life…

I wrote this on March 19th but I didn’t share it. I re-read it today and realized that there wasn’t really any editing that needed to be done. I guess it took me nearly two more months to just be ready to say it all out loud.

most of the world’s problems are due to lack of love

my friends say some of the most profound things that i have ever heard. it’s likely because most of us are sociologists or psychologists or a bit of both. none of us quite fit in with mainstream society, for whatever reasons so because of that we are observers, students of life and searchers for the answers to what drives us all as human beings. a topic that we seem to revisit over and over again is “are there ‘bad’ people?”

they may not be exact quotes but this is how i remember all of these statements:
izzy said once – there aren’t bad people, there are just people in difficult situations and we all do the best we can.
tom said – most of the world’s problems are due to lack of love.
and kimberly, my therapist, said – nearly everything that troubles people and brings them to seek counseling is feelings and the inability to allow ourselves to feel them, or the belief that our feelings are “wrong”.

i think there’s a lot of wisdom in all of those statements. if you look at it from izzy’s point of view, there really are no “bad” people. we are all blank canvasses when we are born and it’s up to our parents, our families, the world, and then when we are old enough ourselves, to paint upon us what it is we will show the world and what it is that will be visible after closer examination. to fit tom’s perspective into that, a lot of what turns people into serial killers or more often just profoundly hurting people is a lack of love – as children, as adolescents, as adults. once we are “grown up” much of what causes us depression, anxiety, and other things that drive us into counseling is due to feelings that we for whatever reason judge ourselves for, don’t want to feel, or are afraid to feel. still, when we are faced with people who seem to present their worst face to the world, who don’t appear to have redeeming qualities once you get past the surface, a part of me really does wonder if in fact you don’t at some point cross over into “bad person” territory. not that we ARE bad people, fundamentally, but that we have gotten to a place where fear, anger, hatred, insecurity, self doubt, abuse (both received and given), a need for control have turned us into the absolute worst possible versions of ourselves.

i think a lot of people, certainly the people i surround myself with and call my family/friends strive to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be. that doesn’t mean we always do the right thing, that doesn’t mean we don’t make poor decisions, it doesn’t mean we aren’t going to take some anger out on someone that doesn’t deserve it, it just means that we recognize that we are evolving intricate organisms and we have made the conscious effort to be better. whatever better means to us: less angry, less controlling, less self-destructive, less codependent, less prone to worry, less passive aggressive, less clingy, less whatever it is that we have identified as something we need to work on. yet it really seems like my loved ones are the minority. granted, i am highly biased and i’m the first one to admit that 🙂 but anyone who’s ever been cut off in traffic by an asshole on a cell phone, who passes you going 90 in a 55 only to get off at the upcoming exit has to wonder – are some people just toxic?

of course, we all have bad days. we’ve all probably been that asshole on the cell phone or the equivalent from time to time. no matter how hard we try, none of us are going to be perfect but i really wonder sometimes if those of us who are actually trying to be better people aren’t the clear minority. i have many examples but i am going to only share a few. the first story is from this morning. a sweet, very cute young woman (who had to be older but appeared to be about 16 years old at most!) waited on my friend and me in a waffle house. she seemed quite nice, but perhaps a bit slow as my friend pointed out. as we reminded her that we had ordered orange juice, and later that we were each supposed to have bacon, and asked for coffee refills, i wondered how many people had already yelled at this young woman who seemed to us to be genuinely sweet and kind, albeit forgetful. i wondered how many people were going to yell at her in the near future, or leave her a bad tip or none at all.

i’m also reminded of an experience an ex of mine had that she told me about. one day she was at barnes and noble and decided to get coffee from the cafe there. she was in line behind a man who seemed to have a vendetta against “fancy” coffee and everyone who drinks it. from even before the woman behind the counter asked “may i help you?” this guy was clearly angry about something. i’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with frappuccinos and the people that make or drink them, but that’s where he was going to direct his anger.
“i want a coffee,” the guy told the barista in an irate tone, “just a plain old coffee. do you even have that?”
“yes sir, we have regular drip coffee.” she told the man politely.
“that’s what i want. just plain old REGULAR coffee.” the man said sarcastically, “a large one.”
at that point, the barista let the man know that they did not have enough drip coffee left to give him a large cup, but she would be happy to give him what they had and then to give him a hot, fresh large cup of coffee in several minutes when the new pot had brewed.
the man waited until she brought him the half-full cup of coffee before he threw it on her and started screaming.

i’ve often pondered on whether anything makes that type of behavior ok. let’s say the guy has anger problems to begin with, and that morning he had been served with divorce papers saying his wife was divorcing him and wanted sole custody of their children – does even anything that extreme justify throwing hot coffee on a barista? even one that was rude, which the woman had not been in the slightest? what if his father had just died? what if he had just found out he was HIV+? what if his daughter had been raped? what if his brother had been hit by a drunk driver and just woke up from a coma to find that he would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair? i go over and over possibilities in my head, but i can’t think of a single thing that makes it even slightly excusable to assault a barista. especially when the cynic in me tells me that nothing so extreme had likely happened to that guy – he’s just an asshole who has probably kept doing things like that until for whatever reason he couldn’t get away with it any longer.

i want to go up to people like that. i want to say “what makes you so GD important?” (i hate the GD word and i don’t use it, but i think ya’ll all probably know what i mean, and i’d say it too.) “what gives you the right to treat others like they are no better than dirt under your shoe? what have you done that is so great? what makes you so special? you are selfish, entitled, and a waste of air. people like you are the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the world. don’t you have anyone that you care about – God, your mother, your grandfather, your mentor – what would they say about how you have just behaved? do you have no shame, no sense of human decency, can you really not see the value in this PERSON that you have just demeaned, harmed, and mistreated, even if their only value is to hand you the cup of coffee you so desperately crave?” i’m pretty sure a person like that wouldn’t fathom what i was saying anyway, so if i ever worked myself up to the level of anger it took to say that, i’d likely just punch them in the face. luckily, i work my aggression out by writing and blogging, not throwing cups of coffee on baristas or punching those that do so in the face.

even though i know i’d have to apply it to just the sort of people i have been speaking of, i propose that we create a bill of rights of sorts for humanity. i say that because so much of what we do – good and bad – is learned, that we put it down in writing: this is how you are supposed to behave. this is how you are to treat every living being on this planet, humans and animals alike. not everyone would adhere to it, but at least then we would know that everyone is on the same damn page.

#1. every single person that you come in contact with has value. it does not matter if you have had a bad day, it does not matter if you have had a bad life, whomever you wish to take that out on, it is likely not their fault. they are a feeling, thinking, loving human being. they deserve your respect. it doesn’t matter if they are black, white, asian, native american, gay, straight, genderqueer, bisexual, male, female, any possible combination of things you can come up with, that person has value and deserves your respect. that person is not a stereotype; they are not a composite of every other man/woman/gay person/gender varient person/african-american/immigrant you have ever known before – they are an individual. the fact that you are also a human being demands that you see them as a human being.

speaking of respect? #2. every person you know or will know deserves your respect until they give you a reason to take it away. that rich white male isn’t necessarily the patriarchy until he shows you that he is part of it; perhaps he is a feminist and a stay at home dad. that african american woman that checks you out in the grocery store might be someone who has a college degree and was laid off from a good job and just wants to continue working until she finds something in her field; she’s not necessarily a single mom just because of her gender or her race. the person on the cell phone who cuts you off in traffic (yes, i hate him too, i’ve likely screamed obscenities he will never hear) might be a doctor on the way to save someone’s life on his day off; he could be on the phone getting all the information he needs before he gets to the hospital and has to rush into surgery. i know that chances are he’s not, but we shouldn’t make assumptions about other people, especially people we don’t know.

i have heard it said that “people have to earn my respect” well fuck you. the kind of people that say that are the kind of people who have been disrespected in the past, and that’s very sad, but as i would say to mr. drip coffee thrower, what makes you so special? people deserve respect until they give you a reason to take it away, and i mean a real reason – a racist joke, a homophobic opinion, a rant against the homeless, etc – not that they made you wait five minutes for coffee. that is not a real reason.

if we were just to teach ourselves and everyone around us these first two things, there wouldn’t even need to be any more rules to live by. respect others, respect yourself, know that every human life has value. it is profoundly simple, i wonder why we all have such trouble with it? i’m not any different. i judge, i get angry, i think the worst of people for silly reasons, i will never be perfect. so maybe it’s even more simple than those two rules to live by – perhaps we only need one: deal with every person you cross paths with in love. if tom is right, if most of the world’s problems are due to lack of love (and it does seem quite likely given the world we live in) perhaps if we pause for a moment before speaking, before acting, and ask ourselves “is this loving?” maybe we would all be a lot better off.