A simple act of kindness reminds Cabot O’Callaghan that our inherent value is not to be questioned.
I’ve spent too many years
At war with myself
The doctor has told me
It’s no good for my health
To search for perfection
Is all very well
But to look for heaven
Is to live here in hell
-Sting, Consider Me Gone
I look everywhere for signs of loneliness. I’m a connoisseur.
All I have are my words.
It’s a cruel irony. Writing is an inherently lonesome art and I already feel profoundly alone. I’ve felt alone my entire life. To write means pain. So I bleed.
Carl Jung said, “Life really does begin at forty. Up until then, you are just doing research.” It’s true. But despite the wisdom I’ve gained, I still succumb to our culture’s ills even as I reveal and denounce them. I wield its ugly weapons and then throw them to the ground in disgust. It’s a daily battle to wake up from the lullaby.
But I am finally alive.
I try to take comfort that at least I’m awake now, that I’ve shed the denial. I embrace my contradictions, my battles. I share them unabashedly because we are more like than unlike. If I only get through to one of you as I bleed, my efforts are not in vain.
I’ve felt rejected and misunderstood since I was a child. I was never enough for anyone. And oh how I tried to wrap myself around their expectations. I became lost in people and social constructs and ignored my heart’s pleas to accept myself.
I know these feelings are distorted. I’ve been loved. But that love came wrapped in thorns. It warped me.
Like everyone, my son has been broken and shoved into boxes. One of the boxes was being diagnosed with ADHD. I cried right in front of the doctor and my ex-wife, knowing they’d never understand what we were condoning, that all we were doing was medicating our son so he could cope with the brutal conformity of our educational system, just like I’m medicated so I can cope with the darkness I witness every day seeping out of smiling, whitened-teeth-fakeness, the empty shiny baubles worn as identities.
But I told them anyway. I demanded that he only be medicated while in school. Shortly after he started the medication he developed a facial tic in the form of a lopsided snarl. Now he also compulsively snaps his fingers.
What have I done?
He started to cry one day as he struggled with his homework. My first reaction was harsh, filled with my own frustration that he was resisting and unable to comprehend. Why wasn’t he as “smart” as I was at his age, able to do what was required with relative ease even though I hated school? “I’m stupid,” he said and my heart ripped wide for him at that moment. Suddenly he was me, a child feeling like I couldn’t measure up, that I was flawed in some profound way that was inescapable. Shame washed over me for being so blind, for yet again falling into our cultural traps.
This is your son, what are you doing? I took his face in my hand and looked at him straight in the eye. “You are not stupid. You are enough. You are worthy just as you are, you don’t need to change. You do not have to be better,” I said softly. I told him what I struggle to tell myself.
Tears welled in his eyes and he fought to subdue them, stuffing the hurt inside just like I did as a child.
It’s no wonder that there is an unending heap of self-help books and ever-thickening clinical books to define mental illnesses. We are consumed with being “better” and “normal.” We give away our worth willingly, believe that it is not inherent. We are taught that. We reduce ourselves to our labeled and perceived flaws. To simply be alive has no value.
I hear the silent voices, the unsaid pleas painted on the faces of people wanting to be accepted for who they are, to be understood. Then I watch as they callously reject others. I’m guilty too. How do we end the perpetuated madness?
Because we are all mad here. None are immune.
This wound expresses itself like a fractal. From the zoom of personal relationships to the pan of nations, the shape is the same. The wound echoes generation to generation, just one destructive strand of many that weave our shared history.
I’m at the breaking crest of a painful wave as I write this. I’m tired. I’m tired of not measuring up, of not being enough, of being too much. I’m tired of kind indifference. I’m tired of being ignored, my feelings discounted because they are an uncomfortable reflection. I’m tired of being condemned of trespasses as the same trespasses are crossed in accusation.
Where’s my worth? A woman recently described me as having a heart of gold. I try so hard to be good. Kind. Patient. Generous. But it’s still not enough.
I feel so unappreciated and hurt, I’ve fought fiercely not to turn it into hate.
The other night I was sitting alone at a local bar, an unpretentious gathering hole with nothing but outside seating comprised of wooden tables and benches. It was busy, clearly a popular destination. But I still felt all alone. The table I sat at seemed to laugh at me, its vast space being wasted. I watched people, looking for loneliness. It wasn’t hard to spot.
A cab pulled up to the curb near where I was sitting but then made a u-turn and parked across the busy street. An old frumpy man, clearly drunk, ambled to the curb near me hesitating and pondering how to cross the street and get to his taxi.
It’s likely that under different circumstances I would have judged him, scorned his obvious weaknesses, his tragic character. But at that moment I was filled with the overwhelming need to show kindness and mercy, the very thing I was starving for. I needed to give a shit about this fool of a man who was likely going to be run over by the uncaring cars ripping by. Other patrons stared at him, seemingly waiting for the inevitable. I jumped up and went to his side. “I’ll help you,” I said. He grumbled-slurred something to argue that he didn’t need help, but I stepped out into the road anyway and held up my hands to make traffic stop.
The drunk old man loped to the cab slowly without thanks and I went back to my seat.
A bartender walked to my table and handed me a beer. “This one is on the house. We were all watching at the bar and what you did was awesome,” he said with a smile as he shook my hand. I almost came undone at his kind acknowledgment and I had to use all my will not to start wailing hot tears.
A stranger told me I was a good man. A simple kindness, unblemished, unweighted with expectation or judgment.
I didn’t have to pay for any of the beers I drank that night.
Unedited Photo: Flickr/Leland Francisco