A Vacation From My Problems, Vol. 2

I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.

I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.

I’ve been away because I went on vacation and had fun and neglected this space and other life responsibilities.

It was warm and sunny and the food tasted better than I’ve grown accustomed to in this new life where I almost never cook anymore.

Sleep was scarce and now my brain doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to and I won’t be writing anything of substance until that changes.

One thing, though: Because my family is fragmented and lives far away from me, I spend the vast majority of my vacation time visiting them. What that means is, I rarely get away on anything resembling an actual vacation.

I can’t be the only one.

Maybe you are too.

If you are: Get away.

Because there is magic outside your life bubble. The same kind of magic you feel when you write about the things you think and feel and somehow actually feel better afterward. The same kind of magic you feel when you connect with people who understand you because they’ve been there too or are walking the same path.

I’m always like: Why does this help? I don’t get it.

And I no longer ask the question. I don’t understand how my heart keeps beating, or how green plants create oxygen, or how the earth keeps spinning.

It just does. It just helps.

As my friend said: “We need time to get away and sort of escape. Even if what we’re escaping from isn’t bad!”

Excellent way of putting it.

A good way to get unstuck.

After a couple good nights of sleep, of course.

As soon as I hug my son again, I’ll be happy to be back home.

I’m already happy to be back with you.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

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The Unsung Heroes

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:

I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

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Stop Pretending Superman Might Lose a Fair Fight

Yeah. You're beating that guy in a fight. Sure.

Yeah. You’re beating that guy in a fight. Sure.

Antivan asks:

“If Superman and Godzilla got into a fight, who do you think would win?”

 …

Superman. Want to know why? Because he’s Superman. I need everyone to stop pretending Superman is going to lose any fights here on Earth.

I’m not a huge comic book fan. And if any huge comic book fan reads this, I’m positive he or she can school me on some little-known nerd fact that could conceivably see Superman lose a fight, but I’m going to think it’s bullshit no matter what.

Why?

Because Superman is invincible. Impervious to bullets and fire and shit. Ridiculously strong. He can fly faster than a speeding bullet! That’s fast! He can lift entire land masses and fly them into outer space! That’s strong! That means if Superman wants to fly into Godzilla’s mouth and fly around faster than a speeding bullet inside his guts, totally ruining his mega-lizard shit, he’s going to. He might even fire a few lasers from his eyes into Godzilla’s appendix for good measure.

Right now, everyone in Japan who remembers 1954 is like: “Where the hell were you with this ingenuity 60 years ago, Matt?”

Sorry. I was, like, negative-25 then.

Unless Godzilla has a spleen made of Kryptonite, I don’t think this is much of a debate.

Superman is kicking his ass. It’s not even close.

Speaking of which. The ONLY way Superman loses a fight, ever, is if his opponent has a bunch of Kryptonite on hand. Know what happens then? Superman becomes totally impotent. Curls up in the fetal position. I could kick Superman’s ass if I was wearing Kryptonite armor.

Kryptonite is total crap in the context of evaluating Superman’s toughness. Either you have some, and he’s worthless, or you don’t, and you have a ZERO-percent chance of defeating him.

I’m kind of pissed we have a new Batman vs. Superman film coming out next year for this very reason, despite a bit of nerd love for most things Batman-related.

1. Don’t make our two most-iconic superheroes fight, dicks.

2. Batman is my favorite superhero. BUT. He’s totally getting his ass kicked by Superman in a fair fight for all the reasons previously mentioned. The writers will inevitably write some nonsense that allows a regular person with martial arts training, a rad suit, a lot of money and really cool gadgets to fight competitively with the most powerful being on Earth.

I’m not going to like it.

Superman looks sort of lame in his tights and cape (not counting the sweet image I used up top). He’s not likely to win any Tough-Looking Guy contests. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t the toughest.

Superhero brawl? Last hero standing? No Kryptonite?

Everyone not nicknamed the Man of Steel is getting worked.

They just are.

Have a question you want me to answer? Probably not! But maybe you’ll ask one anyway just to be nice! Ask me stuff here, please!

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The Magic of Common Ground

(Image by Harry Evans)

(Image by Harry Evans)

It was the most barbaric, cheap-shot act I had ever witnessed.

Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson bit off a piece of opponent Evander Holyfield’s ear live on television during a fight in what was, at the time in 1997, the most-watched Pay-Per-View event in history.

I’m a pretty nice guy. But if someone bit off part of my ear, I’m pretty sure I’d stay pissed about it for… I don’t know… forever?

Fast-forward 18-ish years. Tyson and Holyfield now act like old friends. Maybe it’s because Holyfield has millions so the jacked ear isn’t a huge liability. Maybe it’s because Holyfield has a huge heart and capacity for forgiveness.

I like to think it’s mostly because of their common ground.

Fighters. Champions. Aging and somewhat incapable of doing what they did as younger men. Fading celebrity.

How many people can understand that? What it’s like to experience that? Hardly anyone.

People need others to understand them. To connect with people like them.

When I first started writing here, I was mostly just venting. Writing therapy because I didn’t want to pay a professional.

It was a huge revelation to me when I realized there were a bunch of other people out there just like me. People who hurt like I hurt. Felt like I felt. People who wanted what I wanted.

People who understood.

I felt so alone.

But then I didn’t anymore. Because we became a tribe.

The magic of common ground.

I Don’t Get All the Fighting

I was having a conversation earlier about American politics.

I’m interested in politics. I care. But I’m constantly disheartened and disillusioned because the average American politician DOES NOT give a shit about the same things I give a shit about.

Near as I can tell, the vast majority of elected officials are more interested in re-election. And they seem to believe that working with members of another political party cooperatively is political suicide.

So Washington is full of out-of-touch, selfish, power-hungry politicians who want to ascend the ranks of American politics and never actually accomplish anything that serves the greater good.

What if we did Everything Differently?

What if the first thing a President and a new Congress did was get together and write down all the things everyone agreed on?

Everyone is for good schools.

Everyone is for accessible health care and affordable insurance.

Everyone is for reducing crime.

Everyone is for efficient transportation and public utility infrastructure.

Everyone is for safety.

Everyone is for beautification and eliminating blight.

Everyone is for jobs.

Everyone is for a robust economy.

And then, one problem at a time, you put the nation and world’s best and brightest minds to work on solutions. In many cases, there are already examples of successfully improving these areas. There is ALWAYS an example of “the best way” to do anything. Someone already thought of it. And it can probably be done even better.

Research a smart, effective way to fix a problem. Then fix that problem. Something on the common ground list.

Why is no one doing this? Why does everyone spend so much of their political currency attacking people who don’t agree with them? I don’t understand why everyone insists on being intolerable assholes all the time.

I don’t want to pretend like cheesy science-fiction films are a reliable predictor of human behavior. But. I do feel confident they are correct in their portrayal of humans from all walks of life banding together to stave off extinction from otherworldly predators.

In other words, if aliens try to eradicate us with big-ass space lasers, I don’t think we’re going to spend a lot of time haggling over whether gay people should be allowed to marry or how to fund Medicare. I think Russia and the Ukraine might be able to set aside their differences. Maybe even North and South Korea.

Maybe terrorists would spend more time beheading menacing extraterrestrials and less time beheading innocent people. I’d like to think so.

My point is that there is ALWAYS a reason to band together. There is always some commonality, even if it’s just—we’re both human.

Why all the conflict?

I get frustrated with all the shittiness. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Because I know I’m an asshole, I’ve gotten infinitely better at slowing down when I hear about people messing up. The mob rallies and rails against the offender. If I had a magic wand, I think maybe I’d put a sin on display from each member of the mob so they can also enjoy the experience of a million stones flying at them.

Almost all of us have committed them.

And redemption is just about the best thing in the world.

Maybe we can practice rigorous forgiveness, like David Brooks writes about in this New York Times column.

Like two warring nations working together to eradicate an alien invasion.

Like politicians with enough balls to get something done by teaming up with someone on the other team.

Like angry ex-spouses who put aside their grievances to love their children.

Like Evander Holyfield.

Who laughs with, smiles at, embraces, and forgives a man who bit off his ear.

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When One Becomes Two

(Image by Nora Whalen.)

(Image by Nora Whalen.)

Ali asks:

You talk about the bottom being pulled out from under you a lot and how to move forward – I’m wondering if you think ur ex felt the same way? Like she tried and tried to get through to you and eventually made the decision to leave. I am the one who initiated the divorce from my husband, and I felt like you describe, but was still in the relationship trying to save it when I felt that way… Just wondering if you thought about that? I felt depressed, alone, experienced the deafening quiet, etc. that you discuss, but my husband was still in the house. Think both partners feel that devastation just at different times? I read your posts and I feel bad for my soon to be ex, and then I remember that I felt that way too, just years ago… When he’s probably feeling it now… Not trying to criticize, just wondering if u think she felt how you felt as well? I started reading ur blog from the beginning, and am up to Sept 2014, so forgive me if u discussed this already. I’ve been finding your writing really helpful in this horrible process. Especially the shitty husband posts – at least now my family somewhat understands why I made this decision, because they are hugely unsupportive of me…

Yes.

I don’t think. I know. Long before I bothered trying to save my marriage, my wife was trying. Her only crime was not knowing how to effectively communicate with me. But, make no mistake, she was the better spouse for many years.

Maybe I was the worst kind of husband. Because I didn’t do that one big thing that totally ruins everything. And I’m nice enough and smart enough where one might have believed I was close to figuring it out.

But I never did.

Not really bad enough to leave. Not really good enough to love. Maybe she felt that way for a long time. I can’t be sure. But I can imagine it must have been hard being that half of the marriage. The one where you feel like you’re the only one giving a shit.

Because, yeah. It flip-flopped at the end. It’s so much harder being the one who cares the most.

The Me-First Only Child

I was an only child.

I have a couple stepsisters I only saw part of the year starting around age 7, and a “half” sister (I don’t like calling her that) who was born when I was 14.

For the purposes of personality and birth-order traits, I’m an only.

And I think that’s fine. Being an only child has its perks, but the older I get, the more I’m realizing how much my only child upbringing may have contributed to my marriage ending.

Here’s the thing: I spent my life having people tell me what to do all the time. My parents. My teachers. My coaches. And I had my bosses at work.

Once I became an adult, it became very important to me to feel liberated. To feel like I didn’t have someone telling me what to do anymore.

So, if I felt like playing online poker, or watching a football game, that’s what I did.

Sometimes, wives want husbands to participate in an activity, or to help with a project that we don’t feel like doing.

Sometimes, I’d fight. Because I don’t want to! AND. You’re not telling me what to do!

I made it a fight. She was going to learn, dammit! No one tells me what to do.

There’s not a lot of room for “I” and “me” in marriage.

There’s you. And there’s the other person. Two distinct identities. Two independent units. And when you’re single, that’s totally fine. Individualism is a nice thing.

Marriage is a union. Like a business merger. When XM and Sirius combined their satellite radio businesses, it was a lot like a marriage. It wasn’t an acquisition, where two companies continued to operate independent of one another. The two combined. Joined forces. Shared resources. And ceased to be just XM or just Sirius. They became something entirely new.

I thought marriage was two individuals agreeing to live together and share resources.

It took me a long time and a separation to realize how mistaken I was.

In marriage, X + Y ≠ XY. Not if you want it to work. If you want it to work, then: X + Y = Z. Something entirely new and different. (Let the record show that the second algebra equation here is incorrect math, but an effective visual aid. I beg your forgiveness.)

It’s We. It’s Us.

Sometimes young people don’t know that. They just think getting married is something you do in the relative near future after high school because that’s what they see everyone else doing.

We’re selfish, by nature. And it’s hard making that adjustment. And a marriage won’t survive without making the adjustment.

My wife spent about a year asking me to help her repaint the concrete floor that makes up half of our basement—the unfinished utility room with laundry and storage and a deep freezer.

No one but us ever went in there. I could not have cared less that the floor needed painted. So every time my wife asked me to make time on a weekend to help her get it done, I’d always find something better to do.

Always.

After many months of letting her frustration build, she just did it herself. The room looked so much nicer when she was finished.

And she did it all herself. Didn’t need me at all.

There were too many moments like that throughout our marriage. It’s an apt metaphor considering how the story ended.

Ali asks:

I felt depressed, alone, experienced the deafening quiet, etc. that you discuss, but my husband was still in the house. Think both partners feel that devastation just at different times?

Yes.

Your husband left you alone in your marriage. Aside from the obvious like infidelity or violence, it’s the most-often cited reason women say they leave a marriage, and a husband’s most-often committed crime.

I left my wife alone in my marriage.

Because I let her paint the basement floor alone.

Because I’d go watch what I wanted in a separate room of the house without trying to engage her to do something together.

Because I’d sometimes decline invitations to go to bed because I was too busy doing something for myself.

Because I was a selfish, me-first only child who took more than 30 years to grow up. And I still have plenty more to do.

Yes, Ali. We both feel the same thing. You just feel it first. When you’re abandoned during the marriage. To the outside world, everything’s fine. He doesn’t cheat or hit you or drink too much or gamble all your money away. He’s nice, so your friends and family don’t understand.

But you can’t take it. And you know you’re not crazy, but no one is validating all of these things that are crushing you.

The marriage train runs out of steam and stops dead on the tracks because one person can only shovel coal into the furnace for so long. If he’d been helping the entire time or started shoveling as you were winding down to keep the pace, the train would have kept moving. But he’d abandoned the job a long time ago. So when you did, too? It was over.

Because a marriage isn’t two separate things. It’s one thing made up of two things mixed together.

I didn’t get it. I was selfish. And I poisoned the one thing I was supposed to be an integral part of.

You see, Ali, we didn’t know what abandonment felt like until you chose to leave.

We never understood that you were feeling that way. It’s excruciating, and now we get it.

Selfish. Dense. Stubborn. Oblivious. Lazy. We are.

And then everything breaks.

And then everyone dies just a little on the inside.

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The Unknown Soldiers

A soldier from the U.S. Army's Old Guard honor guard walks at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington

(Image courtesy of the Jawa Report.)

And the soldier marched.

Twenty one steps. Always. At the end of the mat, he turns toward the tomb and counts: One, two, three…

After 21 seconds, he turns and walks the mat again. Twenty one more steps. Always 21.

He neither smiles nor frowns. He marches with purpose.

He’s the Sentinel.

It is his solemn duty to guard the tomb. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tombs that contain remains of unidentified U.S. soldiers from World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. The Arlington, Va.-based monument is intended to honor all unidentified men and women who died serving their country.

Had they met in life, the soldiers guarding this tomb may have not even liked the men they now honor with such reverence.

Doesn’t matter. There are no judgments. No questions like, “why are we doing this?” or “why do these soldiers matter more than others?”

Those questions aren’t relevant.

And so the Sentinel walks. Twenty one steps. Twenty one steps, exactly. And then he faces the tomb for 21 seconds, not 20 or 22.

Purpose. Precision.

The scene is somber. Respectful. Ceremonial. I’ve only seen it twice, but was deeply moved both times.

The discipline on display is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, every day, no matter what, and has been, every second since July 1, 1937.

For 78 years, soldiers apply to be part of the elite team. A group who sacrifices so much so they can walk the mat. Guard the tomb. Preserve honor and tradition. I use the word “he” to describe the soldier because the vast majority of Tomb Guards have been male, but at least three have been female.

Why do they do this?

Near as I can tell, they do it because they said they would. They do it because they can.

They walk the mat during severe storms.

They walk the mat with hundreds of onlookers.

They walk the mat in the dark of night with none.

What’s Our Problem, Then?

It’s worth asking.

If these men and women can perform this ritual. One of such discipline and precision and honor for people they don’t even know. Why can’t we exhibit an appropriate amount of discipline and respect for those we love and care for most?

What separates those soldiers from you and me?

They will sacrifice their entire way of life to be part of a chosen few. The Tomb Guard.

But you won’t take a deep breath and shut up for five minutes to REALLY pay attention to and care about something your partner needs from you?

Working out is too hard? Being kind is too hard? Doing the best job you can on this project or that chore is too hard?

For the people you love?

For the people who pay you?

For the people who count on you?

What’s our problem?

Sept. 11, 2001, 9:37 a.m. EST

And the soldier marched.

Perhaps with many tourists present. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. is a popular tourist attraction among visitors to Washington D.C.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Clear skies throughout most of the continental United States.

I bet there were people there.

At 9:37 a.m., a jet airliner brushed the treetops perched atop the hills of Arlington National Cemetery. It must have scared everyone. Seconds later, that jet slammed into the Pentagon building. The symbol of American military might and the headquarters for the nation’s Department of Defense. 184 innocent people died in a fiery explosion.

It wasn’t until my last visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns and realizing where the Pentagon was in relation for this to dawn on me. The jet screamed overhead without warning. And then exploded into the side of the Pentagon.

There, a fire raged for hours. Onlookers must have screamed. The nation and many parts of the world were horrified.

What might happen next?

But the solider marched.

Shame is a bad thing. We shouldn’t be shaming people.

But if it’s an effective motivator to change for the better, maybe it’s worth it.

I couldn’t love and respect my wife even when it was hard?

I can’t give my beautiful son my undivided attention any time he wants it?

I can’t work out every single day?

I can’t give more of my time and money to people who need it?

What’s my problem?, I wonder.

Amidst total chaos, the Sentinels walk.

Twenty one steps. Always 21. No mistakes.

For a mission many of us can’t fully appreciate or understand.

They walk no matter what. No matter what. Because they made a vow to do so.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. 

–Mother Teresa

And the soldier marched.

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Thermometers vs. Thermostats: You Don’t Have to be a Bystander

(Image courtesy of iowa.gov.)

(Image courtesy of iowa.gov.)

The black smoke was unmissable against the stark gray backdrop of winter.

Something on the back of an RV had caught fire while parked at an interstate travel plaza and rest stop just outside Elkhart, Ind., which is—ironically—where most RVs are manufactured.

I stopped the car and pulled out my phone, called 911, then hit record to capture video of the burning RV. I figured the explosion would be awesome if the fire reached the gas tank. A handful of cars pulled over too and the other travelers joined my gawking. Why do we like to watch things burn?

“God, I wonder if the owner knows their vehicle is on fire?” I asked.

Everyone around me shrugged.

And then it dawned on me that someone might be inside. Seemed unlikely. But possible.

“No one’s in there, right? Could someone be sleeping or showering?”

More shrugs.

I took a step toward the burning RV. Then hesitated. Then stopped.

Naw. They’re totally inside the building grabbing food or a cup of coffee…

I kept filming.

Minutes later, the fire trucks arrived, sirens screaming. And that’s when I saw it. Movement in the RV’s windows.

An elderly couple stepped off their RV—the combination of smoke filling up their RV and the sound of emergency workers pulling up next to them had woke them from an afternoon nap in the RV’s bedroom.

I took a deep breath and made eye contact with the guy next to me. I could see the same look in his eyes I must have had in mind.

“Oh my God. There were people in there.”

They lived.

What was presumably their home away from home burned to the ground in front of them. A total loss.

But one thought haunts me: What if they hadn’t woke up?

And I just stood there.

Doing nothing.

We Are Often Thermometers

It’s called the “bystander effect.” It’s a sociological phenomenon researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley observed and studied in the late 1960s and wrote about in The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help?.

Sociologists say the presence of other people creates a “diffusion of responsibility.” It means people feel less pressure to take action since the responsibility to do so is now shared among everyone present.

But we also feel a need to behave in “correct and socially acceptable ways.” When others around us are doing something or not doing something, our brains take it as a signal that a similar response is most appropriate.

In other words, we often act like thermometers. We simply reflect the current temperature of our surroundings. As thermometers, we have no other function.

We Should Be Thermostats

I was listening to the guys at Inspiring Awesome talk about this. Thermometers versus thermostats. I liked the metaphor.

A thermostat ALSO can tell you the current temperature. But more importantly? It can serve as a change agent. If something is wrong? If something needs fixed or adjusted? The thermostat can begin the process of making things what people want or need them to be.

I just stood there. Being one of those assholes with a video camera even when a little voice inside me was telling me there was a chance lives were at stake.

But I didn’t step up.

What if they had died in there?

Another time, there was an 80-foot tree in our back yard with a failing root system. My neighbor told me they had spent years trying to convince the previous owner of my house to have the tree removed. I didn’t want to spend $2,000 to have it removed, so much like the former homeowner, I did nothing.

One night, a large storm system that days earlier had been a Gulf of Mexico hurricane blew into our neighborhood.

Tropical storm-force winds blew down the massive tree. A couple neighbors saw the giant fall. I felt the impact sitting on my living room sofa. When I ran to the back window, I saw it laying across our back yard, a totally destroyed garage beneath it.

But that’s not the important part.

The important part is that we had our three-month-old son sleeping in our upstairs bedroom. And I lose my breath every time I think about the wind blowing in his direction that night.

Because of a couple thousand dollars.

Because of apathy.

Because of carelessness.

We are so careless. With our health. Our safety. Our hearts. Our human relationships.

We are often thermometers. Just people getting caught up worrying about what other people think.

But we should be thermostats. Change agents. People who do something because something needs done. Because something can be done. And we can do it.

That family stranded on the side of the road with their vehicle hood open needs help.

That person sitting alone might want someone to say hi.

I don’t want to make any more stories about that time I could have done something.

Things DO NOT have to be this way.

Don’t wait for the person next to you to start running toward the fire. Just start running.

Maybe they’ll come too.

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Good People Ruin Marriage

fight-apathy-or-dont-inspirational-quote

Any time I’d hear about a couple getting a divorce, I always assumed one of them did something bad.

I’d usually suspect the guy. Of cheating. Of hitting. Of being verbally abusive. Of having a problem with gambling or alcohol or child abuse.

But then I got divorced and started talking to lots of other people who are either divorced or in troubled marriages.

And that’s when it became clear that all the common “reasons” for divorce probably don’t cause most of them.

Good people ruin marriage. I don’t mean people, by virtue of being good, ruin marriage. I mean good people with the best intentions ruin marriage. All the time.

They are not bad. They are simply bad at marriage.

Not With a Bang

“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

                – T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

I think most marriages die with someone asleep at the wheel.

Some well-meaning husband or wife just obliviously caught up in the rhythm of comfort and routine. They believe they’re a good husband or wife by virtue of not committing all of those marital cardinal sins.

We do this a lot.

I go to work and church and don’t commit crimes, so my wife must think I’m a good guy!

I don’t do drugs or punch my wife, so she must think I’m a good guy!

I don’t gamble all our money away or stay out late drinking without telling her where I am, so my wife must think I’m a good guy!

We like to think: “Well, at least I’m not like… <insert douchebag of choice here>!!!” and then consider that virtuous.

Just because the worst student in class got Ds and spent a lot of time in detention doesn’t make you a great student just because you got Cs and sat in detention half as often.

Marriage isn’t graded on a curve.

More and more, people are emailing me and asking for relationship advice.

That’s how desperate they’ve become. They’re asking a guy who is batting 0-1 at marriage to advise them on their marriages. I don’t know how this happened.

I can’t fix your marriage. I couldn’t fix mine. What I am good at is asking myself the hard questions and drawing what I consider logical conclusions about things I did in my marriage that led to its demise.

Sometimes, when I write those things down, people recognize the same behavior in their relationships.

It’s Not the Big Things

It’s not.

It almost never is. It’s those little moments you didn’t know were big.

It’s the routine argument, and because it’s routine you don’t choose your words carefully. Because you like to win fights, you don’t take a deep breath and think about what you really want the outcome of the situation to be.

What if someone told you that silly argument over what song was playing on the radio (Shazam would have been helpful in 2003) would ultimately cause real fights and feelings of resentment and a lack of respect for one another and be something that haunted you 12 years later?

Wouldn’t you just keep your mouth shut and thank the heavens for another beautiful day to share with the person you love most?

I would fight with my wife and sometimes she would cry and instead of apologizing and not repeating that mistake again, I would walk away and then the next time we would fight, I would just do that exact same thing again.

Maybe it was pride. I think pride might kill more marriages than gambling or alcoholism or domestic violence.

I would abandon my wife when she was feeling most vulnerable. She just fought—(Fought! Why do we fight people we love?)—with the person who is supposed to be there for her. The person who is supposed to make her feel safe and lift her up during life’s toughest moments.

And I walked away because it was easier. Turned my back on her.

I let her cry instead of hugging because I was prideful and thought I was right.

Why did it matter to me who was right in a fight I can’t even remember?

Remember the topless mall psychic lady in Mallrats with the third nipple? What if a little mini version of her popped up on my shoulder during one of these fights and said: “Hey! Matt! You’re being a moron! 1. You have ONE job, and you’re currently failing. It’s easy to ‘love’ when everything’s going your way! Weak cowards can love on the good days. Real men love when it’s hard. When it’s inconvenient. When you don’t feel like it. 2. This is what’s going to break your marriage. In a few years, you’re going to have a little boy. Some unexpected life challenges will pop up, and because you haven’t built a strong-enough foundation with your wife, you’re going to fall apart. And it’s because of this, right here. You’re going to be in your mid-thirties. And your wife is going to live somewhere else and your son is going to be gone half the time and it’s going to be hard for everyone involved. You’re going to break on the inside. You’re running out of time.”

If that little miniature three-nipple lady said that to me (and I believed her), I truly think I’m prudent enough that I would have changed the way I was doing things.

The things that destroy our marriages are sometimes so small that we’re incapable of respecting the moment enough to behave differently. But if we knew that what we did and said in that moment would change our future one way or the other? Almost as if our entire lives would be determined by it? Wouldn’t we choose the right thing?

I think we would.

I think people do the wrong thing because they don’t know how important that moment is.

You’re going to have a fight soon because you’re a human being. And you’re going to fall into the same behavior you always fall into when you fight because it’s almost involuntary. But at some point, sanity will prevail and you’ll have a chance to ask yourself the right question: What is it that I really hope happens at the end of all this?

I can’t go back and change anything.

But I can be more conscious of right now.

I don’t want to ever again say I didn’t see it coming. That I didn’t recognize the moment for what it was. Something defining. Something that would change everything. Forever.

The little things are the big things.

This is the way your marriage ends.

With a whimper.

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“What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

dear letter

“What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?” she typed into the search box.

She must be so sad and afraid. In her search for answers, she stumbled onto this place yesterday.

Maybe she found something that made her feel better. Probably not.

What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?

If she had asked me, what would I say?

I don’t like imagining her sitting there so desperate for answers that she typed it into Google.

It wasn’t that long ago, I was asking questions a little bit like that.

I can’t stop thinking about her question. If he wants to leave (because he wants someone else or because he wants the freedom to do as he pleases), there’s almost nothing she can say. He’s going to leave.

But, what if deep down he really wants the marriage to work too? What if his heart is in the right place? What could she write?

I’m not this woman’s husband. And maybe I’m not even like most men.

But something like this might work for me.

 …

Dear Husband,

I am afraid.

I am afraid and I need you.

I am afraid you’re going to leave and we’re going to lose everything. All these years. Because all I’ve ever wanted since meeting you was to grow old with you.

This all feels so fragile. You’re the person who makes me feel safe, and you’re not here making me feel safe because there’s this wall now.

I know that sometimes I make you feel like you need to run away from me. Because I’m asking all of these things from you and it feels to you like criticism. Like I’m telling you you’re not good enough.

I know that I can be a mystery to you. That you’re pretty steady and consistent, and that I’m less so. That I can respond differently to the exact same event and that sometimes I lash out at you when things don’t go my way.

I am sometimes more emotional and sensitive than you to things that happen. I know that frustrates you. I understand and appreciate that I sometimes direct my anger toward you as a result even though you had no intention of hurting me. You don’t try to hurt me. And I sometimes make you feel as if you did try to.

I wish I could feel what you feel sometimes. So I’d know what it’s like to be you. Then maybe I could understand.

I always wish you could feel what I feel. So you’d know what it’s like to be me. Then I think you’d understand. I think WE would understand and we’d forever change the way we communicate and treat one another.

I really think everything would be different then.

I feel so hurt sometimes. So sad. So angry. And I just cry. And you’re not available to make me feel better. And sometimes I feel so hurt by you that I’m not sure you even could.

In those moments I wonder if my life would be better without you in it. Maybe with someone else.

We go through life giving our hearts to different people. Falling in and out of love. So happy at the beginning. So sad at the end. We feel so broken and we ask ourselves how we will ever love or trust again? Can we find someone to make us feel loved?

And that’s when it hits me.

The relationship cycle that all couples deal with. Over and over again. People sometimes believe the lie that everything will be different with the next person but it’s always the same because WE’RE always the same.

We think the grass is greener over there, but it never is. We just did a lousy job taking care of our own lawn. If I move over there and keep doing the same things I’m doing now, that lawn will look just like this one.

We can trade one another in. Find replacement partners and try to do this all over again with someone new.

But it all feels so foolish and wasteful.

I choose you.

Out of every person I have ever met or ever will meet, I choose you.

I am so sorry for making you feel like you’re not good enough or as if I regret marrying you.

There’s a little piece of me that’s broken. And maybe a little piece of you that’s broken, too. And it’s hard enough for the put-together people to make marriage work with all of the things that go on in life constantly driving a wedge between us.

But maybe if I work on fixing me. And maybe if I dedicate my life to helping you fill whatever’s missing in yours, we can make this what we always talked about it being.

You are smart and talented and capable. And when we’re not getting in our own way, no one makes me feel as good and whole and safe as you do.

I BELIEVE in you. That you can be and do and achieve whatever you want. I’m sorry I don’t say it more.

I APPRECIATE you. That you give so much of your time and effort to providing all that you do for me. I don’t say ‘thank you’ nearly enough. I am so grateful for you.

I FORGIVE you. Because I know you do not set out to hurt me. And I’m sorry that I hold grudges and put up walls with you when my feelings are hurt. It’s a defense mechanism and I’m trying to stop.

There are many people in my life that I love. I inherited almost all of them. Parents and siblings. Grandparents and extended family.

But I didn’t inherit you. I picked you.

I love you. Because I woke up today and said “yes.” And I’m promising you right here and now, as I did on our wedding day, that I’m going to wake up every day and say “yes,” no matter how I’m feeling.

My feelings are always going to change. But my choice on this matter will not.

I am yours. Always.

I don’t know what forever looks like, or how to get there. But I know that with you holding my hand, we’re going to find it.

Please say “yes” too.

Love, Me

Actions speak louder than words. But if I got this letter, I’d like to think I’d say “yes,” too.

Then keep marching toward forever.

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Maybe It’s Not a Popularity Contest

America's greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it's okay when people don't like you.

America’s greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it’s okay when people don’t like you.

I want everyone to like me and when they don’t I sometimes obsess about it.

I think I have it programmed into my mind somehow that the most important thing in life is whether people like you. When I take a hard look at my feelings and behavior, that’s the conclusion I come to.

I want people to like me so I try to be funny even though everyone laughs at different things.

I want people to like me so I try to be nice even though sometimes on the inside I want to kick them in the shin and insult their mothers before kicking them in the other shin.

I want people to like me so I don’t write about controversial things here, and I justify it by saying that I want to be someone who connects, rather than divides. Who participates in healing more than the tearing open of scars.

There are about 13,000 comments on this blog. About 7,000 of those are from readers, and the vast majority of them contain something nice about me.

It’s funny, because in real life when you read internet comments, it’s usually just racists and mean people rehashing political talking points like: “republitards hate women and black people and poor people!!” or “barack HUSSEIN obama is from kenya and is not real president!!” or my personal favorite: “your a moran.”

One of my biggest fears about taking my writing to a bigger platform is that a bunch of those people are going to say dickhead-ish things to me and I’m going to want them to like me, but they won’t. Ever.

I’ll probably stay awake all night thinking about them even though a really smart writer says that would be a good thing.

Despite getting overwhelmingly positive feedback (and that’s generally true for my personal life as well), I am capable of putting 95 percent of my focus on the 5 percent of people acting like cocks.

Sure, I’m a little insecure. Sure, I worry about what people think of me. Sure, I just want to be liked.

But I’m not 12 anymore and seldom act like it when I’m sober.

I know that I’m going to die and so is everyone else. I know it. And it just. doesn’t. matter.

It doesn’t matter!

Maybe I should write and say exactly what I think and feel. Exactly. Instead of being polite.

And maybe if people don’t like it, they can lick my balls.

When Bill Cosby wasn’t too busy drugging and raping women, he was saying insightful things, like: “I don’t know the key to success. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody. And also sexual assault. That’s another key to failure.”

(Half of that quote may or may not have been made up.)

The idea itself is important. That trying to please everyone doesn’t get you very far in life. Millions of people either love or hate Michael Moore. And Rush Limbaugh. And Bill Mahr. And Rachel Maddow. And Glenn Beck. And Chris Matthews. And Ann Coulter. Depending on their beliefs.

These are wildly successful political commentators and anyone with a penchant for (American) politics is going to know each person’s political bent immediately. That’s how strong (and controversial) these people’s personalities and ideas are.

Maybe it’s better to be that way?

I don’t know.

I never thought a non-Christian was going to convert to Christianity because of a screaming man holding a bible on a street corner pointing at them and yelling that they were going to hell unless they believed and behaved just like him. Who wouldn’t want to be like THAT guy!?

I never thought blowing up innocent civilians in Iraqi cafes or in American office towers was an effective way to convert people to Islam. You mean I’m not allowed to have sex here, but in Heaven, I get to have a 73-way!?!?

I never thought that smart-mouthed liberals like Mahr and Maddow were particularly good champions of social change, just like I never thought the fear-mongering and pompous tactics of conservatives like Beck and Coulter were an effective way of promoting family values and patriotism. I can barely stand the ones I AGREE with. It’s maddening.

I read something this morning. I’m not prepared to discuss it. But reading it made me question everything about my approach to life and writing. This idea that I need to always be careful about what I’m saying because I want everyone to like me and end up being a big pussy any time something controversial warrants discussion.

Life consists of issues about which not everyone agrees.

Americans used to shoot and stab one another by the thousands in open fields because they couldn’t agree on whether it was okay to enslave other humans.

Maybe sometimes you need to take a stand.

The point of sharing an idea is to put it out into the world in hopes that it, if well-conceived, will start getting kicked around other people’s heads and conversations and perhaps promote change of some kind.

Some people mean well. Others do not.

I mean well.

When I say I want to be a good man. Kind. Patient. Loving. Wise. I don’t mean “good,” like: “Oh yeah! Matt was a cool guy! He really liked beer and tequila and always made me laugh when he air humped inanimate objects at parties!”

I want to actually be good.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether everyone likes me because A. I’m going to die, and B. We’re probably not going to meet anyway.

Maybe what is popular isn’t always right.

Maybe you really will fall for anything if you don’t stand for something.

And maybe now’s the time to figure out what that means.

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