Trust and Love or Fear and Loathing

You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.”

– Russian author Anton Chekhov –

The single most daunting thing about becoming an adult is knowing that people suck 90-percent of the time and realizing that you still have to rely on them and/or want them in your life.

Of course, that 90-percent includes me, and most of you, too. If you’re one of the 10-percent who doesn’t suck, go ahead and stop reading.  You’re probably doing something awesome like volunteering in a homeless shelter or donating some “Toys for Tots” or some other philanthropic venture anyway. After all, that’s what you do: non-sucky things.

Me? I try, I really do. I want to be a better person. I want to give more of my time and energy to others. I want to bang the drums for social justice and I want to trumpet from the highest mountaintops my obvious and undeniable love for all people, places, and things. Want to. Don’t.

Why? Because I suck and I am not worth most people’s time. I know it, I accept it and even though I hate it, I fear I’m past a point of no-return for most people. It will take a certain and very special character to keep up with me.

To put up with me might be a more appropriate statement. I’m obnoxious. I’m selfish. I’m self-centered and more often than not I’m lazier than the average person. I don’t like to do things for other people; I like to do things for myself. I hate not getting what I want, even if I know that what I want isn’t right for me, or good for me, or whatever.

But when I do care about someone? Watch out. It’s overbearing. It’s emphatic. It’s 100mph and if you’re not ready for it, it can be devastating to watch me spin out of control. To me, not you. You’re sitting back, laughing betwixt head shakes asking yourself “Is this dude serious?”

(You do that because you suck, just to be clear.)

I give of myself wholly from the first minute I recognize that someone is worth any of my time. One of the most accurate and almost “whoa” things I’ve ever heard about love is from the movie Wedding Crashers, which is, as most of you knowwidely regarded as one of our generation’s greatest love stories.

“True love is your soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another.”

If, even for a moment, you recognize that counterpoint, are we not almost obligated to pursue it? I recognize the recklessness in that thought, I’d have to be a pretty big idiot not to, but at some point we – the feckless – have to throw caution to the wind, do we not? So what if it fails and fades? What if, just once, it doesn’t? Isn’t it worth it?

I’ve never had a problem getting to know people superficially. I am quick to pick up on what matters to people in conversation and can generally avoid the things they’d rather avoid. I give enough of myself to appear welcoming and in doing so can typically get people to open up to me, too. It’s a “gift” I guess. However, as I’ve gotten older and realize more about how much I suck, one of my greatest fears is that if I truly let someone beyond the superficial aspects of me (which are absolutely awesome, by the way) they will discover the truth about how much I suck. What a vicious and ugly circle.

I want affection, I want love, I want to give it, I give it. Then,  I ruin it because I don’t want to give too much, or I want to give too much, and then I retreat, or they do.

Good job, Jeremy, you’ve failed a fundamental human experience in a completely breathtaking fashion.

I understand that the biggest reason I don’t trust people is because I’ve been untrustworthy myself, and that’s crippled me time after time in my past relationships. That will cripple me in my future relationships if I let it, and that’s absolutely my natural inclination. Fear, push away, lie, hide, create secrets and live in my bubble where the way I’ve been treated or treated others can’t make me feel things. Feelings are icky!

Yes, Jeremy, they sure are. Unfortunately, in this life, I’ve got two choices: feel (icky!) and risk being made a mockery of or prepare myself for a life of meaningless relationships that never edify me, that never challenge me or say to me “Get better! Suck less!”

I have to trust because that’s what makes life worth living. I have to trust not only to the point where someone lets me down, but past that. Forgiving a violation of trust means nothing – nothing – without absolution. To continue to hold on to each and every hurt that anyone has done to me, and to use it as justification for further reclusiveness is hurting me, not them. Especially because most of the people who have affected me are never going to be in my life again.

Love me or hate me. Break my heart or discard it before it becomes a concern of yours, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to give myself to the idea of trust, to the idea of love.

That starts with trusting myself and with loving myself enough to stand up for what I want, and more importantly, what I deserve.

It may not always make sense to everyone else, hell, most of the time it doesn’t make sense to me, but that doesn’t diminish it. There’s no timeline for happiness. When you see it, grab it and if it matters to you, fight for it.

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The Gift of Giving

I like to consider myself, for the most part, as an optimistic person.

I’ve seen enough negative to be able to recognize the positives in life. On the other side of that coin, I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to have avoided the constant and soul-deep misery which has the potential to eliminate our ability to see good at all. We are in a recurring battle against ourselves, one that requires us to simultaneously love and hate everything around us – and including us – to a degree that makes true love – or true compassion or true anything – difficult to believe in.

I’ve struggled so mightily in the last few years trying to define myself. I’ve spent far too much time trying to discern what I needed for me to be happy, for me to be successful, for me to be find purpose. It’s a stunning realization (bordering on depressing; because of the wasted time and empty efforts, actually) when you’ve awakened within yourself the truth of these matters: Maybe we should stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about how we (the royal we) can be of service to other people.

It’s a simple idea, but incredibly difficult to execute on a micro and macro level. Difficult because it goes against our intrinsic human nature, difficult because it certainly doesn’t yield as much applause and attention as it’s worth and well, because generally speaking, we just don’t want to. Why would we spend so much of our precious time focusing on the lives and happiness of others when it seems the big ol’ world doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about us?

I don’t know. I wish I did.

The obvious and immediate benefits of selfishness are often too tempting to deny, and it’s clearly how the majority of people would prefer to live. Aside from just “getting stuff,” we’re also limiting the amount of self we risk losing to others. Others, who like us, are far more likely to take the kindness of others for granted and use it against us. We hate to be weak, we hate to be vulnerable, we hate to give not knowing if we’ll be receiving in kind. If we’re giving of ourselves for any reason other than with the truest intention, then we’re not really giving at all. What value is a gift you give, whether it be material, emotional, verbal or otherwise, if it’s actually just your attempt at bartering for something that you gain? Stop fooling yourself. Either submit to the knowledge that everything you do for others is for your own gain, or change yourself from a wolf in sheep’s clothing to just a sheep, ready for the shearing of others and not giving a darn if you end up naked and exposed. That’s the risk we run, and that’s the only way we’re actually able to enjoy what we give. Sitting back, waiting for your return is no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to give.

I’ve been fortunate to spend the last week in Lowell, Michigan with my brother and his family, a family that is as unique as any you’re likely to find these days. With seven children; three biological boys, each wildly different from the other and four adopted kids (ranging from 18-years-old to 4,) the house is constantly filled with music, laughter, fighting, tears, and screams. Somehow, rather than finding it to be a horror-show, I have been able to sit back and observe it and all I can truly see is a pervasive graciousness and humility of spirit, from the top to the bottom.

Sure, there are traditional family power-struggles especially among the younger three kids,) and yes there is playful antagonization by the older kids, gentle reminders that they are smarter, bigger, stronger, etc., but from sun up to sun down there’s an unmistakable air of giving. Giving of time, giving of support, giving of themselves and their personal self “needs” and wants so that as personal growth happens among the horde, they will develop with an others-focused attitude.

Being around that sort of attitude really helps brighten my eyes to the challenges I face within myself on a daily basis. I struggle with the basics and I generally can’t even fathom the more advanced levels of sacrificing my wants for others, but when its so obviously presented in front of you, how can you ignore it?

Have I been selfish by being away from my family to pursue my own family in the last decade? Have I been selfish by being away from others in the past few years who needed me to be there? Have I been selfish by not walking away when I am told I should just “move on?” Have I been selfish by thinking I should move to Columbus or anywhere else recently? I suppose the answer to all of those questions, on some level, is yes. Each choice, while not entirely awful or egregious in its self-serving nature, has been made with my best interest in mind. Does that mean I’ve not considered the needs of others as well? Of course not.

It is acceptable to want things for yourself, but that doing them without considering how those needs impact or hurt others that you love, is not acceptable. The challenge becomes discerning from inside of your own consciousness what your true motivations are.

As long as we are the guiding force in our own lives, the motivations we rely on will always be wrong. There has to be something bigger than us that gives us hope beyond this life. We give in this life not to receive in this life, but because we’ve been given this life. The only way to honor He who gave it to us through Grace is to give back back to others because of Grace.

I’ve got some very large decisions looming in my own life and while I fear the unknown, I know that everything that happens, if my heart is being guided by the proper motivation, I will be ok, no matter the outcome. This is not to be confused with some misguided sense of “what’s supposed to happen, will happen,” because I don’t for a second buy into that hokum. Our paths are not predetermined, we choose what happens next, but remembering that what happened before, now, or next doesn’t define who we are.

We, through our actions alone, define who we are. What will you do? For what reasons will you do it? When it’s done, when you’ve accomplished the things you never imagined possible, who will you give the credit to? Will the credit go to the same places you direct your blame when things go wrong? It’s either all you, or none of you. There is no in-between.

Give of yourself for others with no concern for what you get in return, or continue to take from others with no regard for the damage you leave in your wake, and make no mistake, that damage is considerable.

It seems like a pretty simple choice.

No Time To Kill

You’ll never know unless you try it.

How innocuous. How simple a concept.

Yet, how tragically difficult an idea to consume when you’re so afraid of everything. Afraid of your thoughts, afraid of your actions, afraid of your dreams, your nightmares and your waking moments. Afraid of failing, afraid of succeeding, afraid of hating something and a fear of loving something even more.

This is how we as people continue to turn our greatest asset – our desire to learn, to wish and to hope, to grow and to engage – into our biggest weakness; the desire to never – ever – let ourselves be viewed as simple, acquiescing or worse: complicit in our undoing in the event that we fall short of our dreams. It’s maddening and it’s heartbreaking and terrible. Stop it, all of you.

I’m guilty of it, and I know it. I spend my time in bed awake, thinking about the shoulda, coulda and woulda, and I spend my days needling myself to stay awake because the world torments me with its endless possibilities and its desire to see me do something. Yes, do anything at all. Just stop standing still and put one foot in front of the other (I think that’s a song, somewhere, in fact I am sure of it,I just can’t fish out the proper words, chorus or melody from inside of my currently hibernating left-brain’s deepest gray matter,) and get off your ass and do something.

I don’t want you, the reader, to consider that my melancholy, “woe is me” nature is a permanent condition. It’s not, I swear. It’s just the introspective, take a good hard look at myself state of mind I’ve found myself in so often in recent years. Ironically, and perhaps unbelievably (even to myself, honestly) this state is a departure from a jovial, unassuming, almost positive person. I am usually the guy who believes that all things will work out “as they are supposed to.”

Which is another one of my least favorite cliches, for what it’s worth.

Things never, ever work out the way they’re “supposed to,” because there is no “supposed to,” there is only what is, and what isn’t. Sure, we could debate for days, months and years on what is and what is not, the ability to discern tangible from imaginary, but that’s not why we’re here. This isn’t a theological debate, this isn’t some metaphysical garbage about life lived “half-full.” This is the story of what we do, and what we don’t do. There is nothing else. There is no ability to predict the future or change the past. There is us; you and me, the world and all of us in it, living (are we?) and hoping (we are) for sunshine in a world gone crazy, a world that’s lost its bearing and has thrown us all for a big, fat, horrible, loop.

We are the lost generation, but we’re not the first. We’re the beginning of a new place, and a new time, and each and every day provides us with the chance to grab the proverbial bull by the proverbial horns (because surely grabbing a real bull, by the real horns, would result in a real gorging that none of us are interested in attaining.)

We are the only ones capable of changing what we think, what we feel and what we yield. We’re on stage, each and every day, but somehow, we’ve also become the listless audience waiting for something – anything – to happen.

Today is the day I have dreamed about. Today is the day I was born for. Today is absolutely the best day it can be, and that is solely – and simply – within my power to control.

I have gone back and forth with myself almost daily in the past few years, contemplating what’s right and what’s wrong for my life, and somehow all that bewilderment has just left mired in ambiguity, sitting in neutral. I imagine a life where I had said “Screw it, just do it,” all too often, realizing that only my decisions have kept me standing still. I’ve long been a believer that in life, we’re going forward or we’re dying – yes, we’re dying anyway – but at least moving forward we’re not constantly battling ourselves about what to do or not to do, we’d just do. Where would end up if we all got into our cars, right now, and drove 80 miles per hour down the freeway of life, only to spend the entire time watching the rearview mirror? I reckon we’d up in a ditch, overturned and likely on fire. That doesn’t sound like how I want to live my life.

Move forward, look forward, you can do that and pay homage to the past, to respect and learn from the decisions we’ve made but stop letting it control you, right? It should just be that easy, but we all know it’s not. We’re bound to things, people, and places and those ties that bind prevent most of us from just up and doing what “we” want, often to our never-ending frustration, but also to our betterment a lot of the time, whether we want to believe it or not.

Few of us want to, or choose to, acknowledge the most damning and simple fact of all: the mistakes we’ve made, the decisions that have put us where we are – where ever you are – are yours. They belong to no one else. No matter how many other people, circumstances or things we want to assign the blame to, each and every part of your life, as it is currently constituted, is because of your conscious choices.

“But Jeremy, you know that some people aren’t born with all the same opportunities, the same chances for a happy life. Why are you being so cold? So callous?”

Yes, there are plenty of people in unfortunate situations right out of the womb, but this blog isn’t directed at them. I know the world is unfair to many, but even those people are not unable to change their situations. Plenty of good has come from bad, plenty of rich have come from poor, and plenty of happy has come from despair so profound most of us in “comfortable” lives could never imagine it.

I’m done standing still, and I hope that the people in my life who read this, who need to kick their own selves into gear, who are fighting against themselves and deciding that life is best lived just “ok,” will wake up a bit, as well. We are not meant for mediocrity. We are not meant for unhappiness. We choose it, we cling to it and we use it to our own detriment. We sit idly by, preferring to say we’re unhappy rather than putting in the work to change it, hoping someone, anyone, will feel bad for us.

I’d rather be someone that inspires. Someone that others see and say “Yes, I could do that, too. I am not defined by my circumstances. I am not forced to be unhappy,” that’s the person I will be. I can only hope that as they have my whole life, my family and friends realize wholly that what I do, I do for all of us, not just myself, and know that no matter where I go, what I do, I’m choosing happiness.  I am choosing to give my life a chance to be what it was meant to be, where ever it’s meant to be. I don’t even know where that is right now, but I know, regrettably, it can’t be in Toledo. I’m meant for something else, and I will find it. I refuse to let gray skies, sadness and most importantly, my own mistakes, prevent me from making my life into something meaningful. I will not be satisfied with life not lived fully.

After all, I can’t let my audience be disappointed.