Belonging..

The most consistently moving and poignant website- to me- is postsecrets.

In it, people anonymously are able to share their deepest secrets. Often, it is that One Secret that has has defined her or his life, that a person is able to share for the very first time. These secrets are shared on a postcard of the secret-sharer’s own design, and sent to an address in Maryland. Looking at the way these secrets are presented visually is sometimes even more difficult than reading the words of the secrets themselves.

forgive

A new collection is posted each Sunday. One of them this week is among the saddest I have ever read there because it represents, I’m afraid, the tip of an enormous iceberg of isolation and loneliness, being experienced by many, many people.

part

Years ago, at a prison ministry weekend event, at a point when the residents of the institution were relaxed enough to feel comfortable sharing real feelings, I heard a man named Monty say this (I am reconstructing this from notes I took quickly as he spoke, because I knew I was hearing something profound):

“All my life, I thought everyone was having a good time, except for me. When I was in the army, we’d go to bars and everyone was laughing. I’d laugh, too, even though I didn’t feel like laughing. I’d make jokes about women that I didn’t believe, because I thought they were what the guys wanted to hear. People liked me, but it was the pretend-me. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t until I’d been in here for several years, and finally made some real friends, that I found out that everybody in that bar felt that way. People feel that way everywhere. I was envying everybody, and everybody was envying me, and we were all laughing and none of us had a goddam friend in the world. Hell, that’s why we were in the army in the first place!”

In prison, irony of ironies, Monty had found a real group of friends. Their shared circumstances, and Monty’s own abilities to be vulnerable and honest, were the foundations of his new relationships. (Which would, because of the crime which landed Monty there, need to last a lifetime.)

Loneliness is a plague of the most widespread and severe sort. It is a plague born, in large part, by the viral cultural environment in which almost all of us live. We learn early on that it is our own bootstraps we must be pulling on, that the point of everything is winning, and that fun- good times- is the reason for living.

Our models in life are the two dimensional beings we see on television or at the movies who seem to have to have mastered those three ‘truths.” They’re happy like I wannabe, but can’t be. They’re on top, like I wannabe, but won’t ever be. They’ve got lots of friends, and I just want one.

The assumptions that most people begin to make, from the time they sit in front of a TV and are able to comprehend, are that there must be something wrong with them if they cannot be like everybody else. Insidiously, a solution to that personal assessment follows almost immediately: a person can buy their way out of their apartness. Thirty thousand scripted commercials into life, and the five year old knows exactly what kind of cereal, toys, soda pop, and clothing will make them happy, “like those kids.” (the two dimensional ones) Over the next 15 years, or so, they will learn that the thrill of purchased “victory” is either unattainable (poverty) or short-lived (there is always a new and better thing, looming). But by that time, the dies of American consumerism have been set, and the 20 year old begins his or her life as a continuing cog in the American Gross National Product.

The only real fulfilling relationships in life are with life. My personal circles of inclusion are almost crazily without boundaries, so what I say may be skewed for you, but I think all living things have the capacity to ground us as individuals in that which is fulfilling, meaningful, and satisfying. All living things offer us the opportunity to belong, “to be a part of something.”

And belonging really is the point. (“Let us make humankind in our image.”) It takes vulnerability to be able to say, out loud, even in secret, “I need to belong” because false bravado and superficial happiness are sub-strains of the infections of American individualism and consumerism.

Here are some living things to which persons can belong. I’m mentioning only a few, as keys to unlock what everyone already knows, but which is often buried under an avalanche of advertising and other cultural bullsh*t:

Belong to the forest, the ocean, a field of wildflowers. They are as alive as you, they will listen to you, and they will sing to you in return. Don’t go to them with any expectations. Listen. Stand still. And listen some more. (I learned from a local rancher- bless him- that if you sit very still for about 25 minutes, the animals- birds, rabbits, deer- will start coming near again. They were watching you; now you can watch them trusting you. It feels good.)

Belong to a living God. God’s not stuck in a book like many of God’s followers. God is still creating. Plant some trees, some tomatoes; learn how, if you don’t know how today. Help God do what God does! There are fellowships of people all over the place who are talking about God, often without even using God’s name. Garden clubs, rose societies, shoot- even cemetery auxiliaries maintain what is often the beautiful place in town. Clean the yard of the old lady across the street who can’t. Call the local Senior Center and find who needs a ride. Re-present God to someone who needs it!

Belong to animals. There are thousands of dogs and cats within a hundred miles of anyone that need adopted, taken care of, or whose cages at their shelters need cleaned. A dog’s love is unique (my personal prejudice) and I’ll shout for the rest of my life that a person can learn as much about God’s love from a dog as anywhere else. But I’ve got two cats I’m fond of, too, and I’ve heard that some people do, against all odds, prefer them over dogs. IMPORTANT: There is NO NEED to buy a name brand pet! In fact, please DON’T! Pick the goofy hound/shepherd cross that licks you through the cage at the pound..you belonged to him before he was born. And you know that.

Belong to people. Big Brother/Big Sister. Mentoring. Downtown Soup Kitchens. Habitat for Humanity. Et al., et al., et al. You will develop relationships in those endeavors, over time. You will belong. It may take a few weeks, even months, and those relationships may lead elsewhere besides the places you thought or falsely hoped they would at one time in your life, but you will be doing vital, necessary, important work. You can even be doing revolutionary work as a volunteer, by demonstrating to others that it is possible to jump off and stay off the treadmills others have designed for us to spend our lives on.

Y’knowwhatI’msayin?

I know you do. Or will. Monty figured it out. I figured it out. If we did, then there is loads of hope for you.

 

 

 

 

Suzuki..a reflection

Page 3, The Essence of Wisdom

Shunryu Suzuki: “Our ‘original mind’ includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Imagine: My dogs, both Labs, are Lola and Salem, and I want to teach them to be more like me. For days now, I have given each of them two bowls- one containing dry dogfood and the other filled with greasy, chopped chicken meat. Today, I served only the dry dogfood and they both stood, looking up at me with pleading in their eyes. I rewarded each of them for their newly found desires with a slice of pizza.

Imagine: I bought Lola and Salem each new rubber squeak toys, the kind they love. I’ve kept them inside one small room of the house all week and played with them constantly. I’d throw a ball across the room, and Lola would run for it. I played Tug the Rope with Salem, over and over. It was exhausting for me, but they loved it. I was their total source of inspiration and stimulation and they loved it. Today, I snuck out of the house for a few hours, but left the back door open so they could go outside and play if they wanted to. When I returned, they were both asleep in their special room, so I closed the outside door, and woke them, with another piece of well-earned pizza.

Imagine: Our two cats, which the dogs formerly adored, have been sticking their conniving, suspicious noses into our special room. The first few days they did that, the dogs would go over to greet them- to touch noses, just like they used to do a hundred times a day. This week, I gave each of the dogs a sharp smack on their backs with a flyswatter every time they did that. “Cats? Cats? You don’t need no stinkin’ cats,” I’d yell at them. By yesterday, when the cats came near, all I had to do was wave the flyswatter in the cat’s direction and the dogs backed off. Today, I didn’t even need to do that. Salem growled when he saw the cats, and Lola followed his example. I gave them each another piece of pizza and lots of loving. “Good, Lola. Good, Salem..”

Imagine the implicit human cruelty in me if such scenes were true. Imagine how awful it would be for me to have manipulated all the natural tendencies and instincts of the dogs in such a way! The dry dogfood is healthy for them and they don’t overeat it, and it actually duplicates what canines would eat raw and naturally in the wild better than fried, greasy chicken ever could. It would be horrible of me to feed them “people food” exclusively just because the dry dogfood repulses me.

Left to play outside, both Salem and Lola will play fight with each for hours a day. They will chase after sticks on the ground, and squirrels in a tree with endless gusto and abandon. They enjoy it when I play with them for awhile, but they can- bottom line- take me or leave me for much of the day. The yard, the wind, the birds, and each other are what makes them dogs just as much as their specie’s biology. How dare I artificially take away their natural desire and ability to be dogs.

And dogs love their packs; packs are a big part of what makes them be dogs. Salem and Lola, complicatedly and consistently, like any dogs, try to make every other animal that comes near them, a part of their pack. The cats, other dogs, my wife and me, friends, visitors- everyone gets nudged, smelled thoroughly, licked, played with, and watched until their place in the pack is determined. But I can also make the dogs hate anything. Give me week (well maybe two) and I could make Salem and Lola hate each other. I could, with a little work, plenty of pizza, and a circumcised soul, make them both into growling, cat-hating, neuroses-filled extensions of my own suspicious self.

Now, re-read Suzuki’s quote again, and this time think of a child, a human child- maybe one you have influence over as an adult. Think about the cruel imaginings I undertook with the dogs, and imagine similar training being applied to that child.

Imagine it.

That’s all.