On People

I love the broken. The shattered. The torn. The people who have glued their pieces back together. The jagged. The misplaced. The sharp. They are the true teachers. Not the educated. People who have contemplated death. But chose to live. They love the hardest. Who have fallen into slippery wells. And crawled out lined with gold. And a fucking smile. I love those people.

They shine like stars.

John Kim, The Angry Therapist

My glass is half empty more often than it is half full. I probably need a life outlook and/or attitude adjustment. Cynicism is one of my “character deficits,” as Andrea would say.

She’d always preface her use of psychological vocabulary around me by saying, “we [clinical psychologists], say X.”

After eight years of therapy she’d caught on to the fact that if she didn’t thoroughly explain herself first, I’d take matters into my own hands and more than likely scurry down a psychoanalytical rabbit hole after our session, only to create more work for us next time. 

That is one of the many reasons I adored her. She knew me better than I knew myself most of the time.

Anyway, yes it is true that I am cynical or sarcastic when it comes to pretty much everything.

Everything except people. 

While I don’t deny there’s truth in the saying you can’t change a person, I also think that statement is misleading, because it implies that people can’t change. Or don’t need to.

And that simply isn’t true. 

People are capable of changing as long as they are the ones initiating the process. In order to change, heal, or grow, we first have to replace reluctance with an unwavering commitment to acceptance and discipline.

I think we are all malleable individuals with indefinite potential. That’s the beauty of being human. But we are also the key holders to our own potential, and that’s oftentimes where we find ourselves getting tripped up.

Each day we wake up in the morning we are gifted another chance to get things right. A chance to be better than we were the day before. Or worse. But hopefully you orient towards self-improvement more often than self-sabotage.

It’s kind of funny, all the sugarcoated ways we try to make ourselves feel better about our character deficits. Or to avoid taking responsibility for the person we see when we look in the mirror all together.

“You’re beautiful just the way you are.”

“You are not your mistakes.”

“New year, new you.”

While all of those perspectives are airy and uplifting, they can also be considered avoidant depending on the circumstances.

What I mean by that is this, you can be beautiful and still need changing. You may not be your mistakes, but they may reflect parts of your character that really do need work. And you don’t need to wait until next year to start doing that work.

There’s never going to be a perfect, easier time. Might as well start now.

Since the point of this blog is to be candid, here’s a truth for you, I’ve seen the inside of a psychiatric unit firsthand. Either that makes me neurotic, a victim of the overmedicalization of America, or cool, because Eminem—one of the greatest rappers of our time—has too.

Regardless of what that makes me, a statement like that in today’s world will be met with concern and taboo, no matter who you are.

But the shock value of my suffering and experiences is not the point.

The point is, I think that particular experience is the reason why the subject of people and humanity lends me an optimism and fascination that I have trouble finding elsewhere. That hospital stay was humbling to the nth degree. 

It lent me an inside look into a handful of people who had hit their rock bottom and survived the blow.

See, there is something extremely endearing about watching a person save themselves, from themselves. And something even more special about quietly walking beside them as they do it.

If your path requires you to walk through hell, walk as if you own the place.

That’s what I was doing, I was walking through hell. Walking alongside a number of addicts, abusers, victims, disabled, mentally ill, chronically ill, impoverished, homeless, wealthy, old, young and the list goes on. I’ve seen it all, and it’s all relative and as far as I’m concerned. No category of people, or struggling, or suffering, is better or worse than the others.

Now for the record, I’m not denying that there are still probably inherently bad people out there. People who may fall into one of the above categories and have already used up their share of get-out-of-jail-free cards. People who have run out of chances and deserve none other than to rot where the sun don’t shine for the rest of their days because of the choices they’ve made.

This is not meant to be a comparison of bad to good, nor a list of personality types, illnesses or shortcomings.

This is more so just a contemplation on humanity and a questioning of why we prize normalcy and perfection over anything else. And why anything that falls outside of this socially constructed ‘normal realm’ is accompanied by taboo. Normal isn’t even real. Normal is a myth, one of our most whimsical illusions.

Let’s say I was a Jesus person, this is the time that I would get on my soapbox and preach to you how we are all sinners, but God believes we deserve grace and forgiveness anyway. 

I’m not all that Jesus-y right now so I’ll hit you with this instead. No matter how low, defeated or broken you may feel, there is inherent hope and purpose and light to be found in your existence alone. 

And when we are forced to look inward and fix our broken, dysfunctional, ugly parts, we are choosing to pursue that indefinite human potential. That light.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you there is nothing like the adrenaline rush you get when you finish a race you’ve been training for for months. That feeling of confidence, achievement, renewal– it’s like you’re standing on top of the world. 

And speaking from experience, I think the same can be true at rock bottom. While far more uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is sometimes in our weakest hours that we realize the true magnitude of our strength. 

It is through times like these that we meet ourselves. Maybe even for the first time.

One of my old managers gave me a book written by an author named Steve Elder. It’s called More Beautiful Than Before (side note – I highly recommend). His whole thesis rests upon the idea that every one of us, sooner or later is forced to walk through hell. The hell of being hurt, hurting another, getting sick, losing a loved one etc.

He says the point of walking through hell though, is not to come out of it empty-handed. 

There is a real and profound power in the pain we endure if we transform our suffering into a more authentic, meaningful life. 

He is right. And for the first time after reading this book, I realized that it is our stories of suffering and triumph that bind us together as human beings. Suffering, no matter how much or how little, is common, shared, relatable experience. Whether you can otherwise relate to the person sitting next to you or not.

And since we all go through periods of suffering, I think we all deserve a little empathy and humility.

Speaking of the world’s best manager and my time in the world of retail, I remember one day early on in my shop girl career when I was entrusted to train in our newest employee. 

Her and I got to chatting because the foot traffic was usually low during closing shifts, and as soon as I knew it, this woman was graciously pouring out her heart and soul to me. Her story and the fact that she immediately trusted me enough to share it, brought tears to my eyes. 

Clearly, I shouldn’t be left alone with new hires.

She told me about her childhood, and what it was like to grow up in rural America with siblings who were more or less left to fend for themselves due to a responsibility-averse, sometimes manipulative and manic parental upbringing.

I learned about her young adult years, how she’d shaved her head once and met the love of her life. How she, too, had seen her share of mental health struggles and still managed to put herself through law school. How she was a proponent of feminism and currently serving as a judge on one of our state courts. 

This woman fascinated me. She had one of the most brilliant minds I’d ever come across, and a fucking incredible life story. Still, she was spending her Friday night standing next to me at the shop, there to work this job just for the hell of it. 

Um, I’ll have what she’s having.

I later learned that up until that day, in her 37 years of life, she hadn’t shared with anyone many of the things she shared with me that night. And after the fact, she was completely baffled as to why she felt safe or compelled to do so in the first place.

I, on the other hand, was humbled, and flattered, and arrived at the conclusion that to be trusted with one’s heart, soul and secrets is one of the most special unspoken compliments you will ever receive. To be confided in is a precious, priceless gift.

You never know what someone has been through or where they are on their path. And you never will know if you don’t give them the time of day. Every person you meet has something unique to share that just might help you orient yourself toward that indefinite potential.

Keep in mind it’s up to you to give them that time of day, because you can never be certain you’ll get the chance again.  

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