Tag Archives: Bravery

Should I Be Afraid to Publish My Name?

Bloody pen

The words have to bleed. If you want to write about what it means to be human. (Image/Genius.com)

Most of you have no idea who I am (and don’t care).

Some of you know my name is Matt.

Fewer still know I’m Matt and I live in Ohio.

And a super-small group of you know my last name or actually know me in real life.

Does it Matter if it Doesn’t Bleed?

I don’t want to be critical of writers who entertain, inform or educate us. Those are great things.

Sometimes I keep it light, too. I’m immature and playful, so it’s often hard for me to leave that out of things I write.

But matters of the heart and mind are what I choose to spend most of my time exploring. I want to be a better person, and I’m sensitive to my flaws. I think it’s hard to be a human being, and it often gets harder in adulthood.

I think a lot of us frolic through childhood blissfully unaware, and then one inevitable day, that first tragic thing happens, rapes our innocence, and then we never get to be that version of ourselves ever again. Those moments take our breath away. They’re really hard. Some people freak out when life is really hard. They become addicts. They lose jobs. They have affairs. They commit suicide.

Awful things. Things I used to observe and think: What the hell is wrong with those people?

And the answer—in a macro-human sense—is: Nothing. They’re just people, and you can’t know how unmitigated fuckness feels until it’s stabbing your heart and mind mercilessly while you sob in the fetal position.

If you’re going to write about matters of the heart and mind, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for half-assing it. This is real life. When you strip away everything superficial about our lives (the jobs, houses, money, cars) the only things left are the people we love and our mental and emotional state of being when we wake up in the morning.

Mostly, we take this stuff for granted. Mostly, we feel just fine, with pockets of frustration and pockets of fun. Mostly, our relationships aren’t suffering, and people we love aren’t dying, and we’re not afraid of sickness or death ourselves.

No matter how many times a day we hear about some crazy-scary thing happening, or about some tragedy, or how many people around us get sick and die, we STILL just carry on in a That will never happen to me! sort-of way.

But bad things can and will happen. They test our character. They test our faith. They test our mettle.

And then we wallow and despair. Or we demonstrate courage. Or we climb our mountains with joyful hope. Often we do all of those things over a long period of time while we fight to find ourselves again.

THESE are the things that really matter to me. These are the things I want to write about.

I’m afraid of writing about those things, and then having my boss read them. I’m afraid of all the guys I work with, and imagining them laughing and snickering and calling me a pussy behind my back while they read about how I used to cry a lot after my wife left.

I’m afraid of my mom, or grandma, or aunts and uncles reading about how I lost my virginity or about doubting my faith sometimes or just all the bad words I use.

I’m afraid of my son reading it someday and being ashamed of his father. I’m afraid of other parents at his small Catholic school reading it and judging me. Even worse? I’m afraid of my son’s classmates reading it and punishing him socially for it.

Within the first few weeks of blogging, I stumbled on How To Be A TV Star by James Altucher and it completely changed the way I thought about first-person writing.

In the piece, he wrote about how he lied to get on television because he was afraid of flying after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His boss was asking him to fly to a business meeting, and he needed a way out, so he lied to investor and TV personality Jim Cramer about how much investment money he managed.

He wrote this, and I’ve been hero-worshipping him ever since:

“Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking,” he wrote. “I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.

“I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.”

After retelling his experience on Cramer’s show, he said this:

“Afterwards two things happened. My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.”

Something about it just slapped me across the face. Penetrated my soul.

THIS. This is how I want to write, I thought.

It’s Just About Time

Whether I wait until I publish my book, agree to let other publications use my first and last name, or finally break the seal here, the day I start publishing my full name draws nearer.

I met an editor at The Good Men Project who charitably praises my writing and has asked me to contribute regularly. I’ve agreed.

He has been kind enough to let me keep my last name off the work for a while.

My first post (repurposed content from this blog to start with) should run this week. It will be interesting to see what happens afterward.

In the meantime, there is only one way to write anything related to the mind, heart and soul, and have it matter: Honestly.

I hope I’m tough enough and brave enough to do so even after taking off that final mask and submitting to the judgment of internet commenters everywhere.

Even if those people can affect my professional future.

Or even if they used to change my diapers and tuck me into bed at night.

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Maybe If We Don’t, We Die

(Image by Fraida Gutovich.)

(Image by Fraida Gutovich.)

When your marriage fails and you’re in your thirties and you have a child, you freak out.

First, your wife just moved out and now everything you ever thought was true about your life isn’t.

Second, you freak about your child because now half the time he’s not going to be home and there’s nothing you can do to protect him except hope and pray, and your faith just took a hit because I feel like I’m dying.

You worry about your social life because all your friends are “couples” friends.

You worry about finances.

You worry about what your family and friends think of you.

She’s gone.

My little boy’s gone.

Now what?

You’re too busy freaking out to be lonely, but you’re lonely.

I don’t think it’s possible to spend a dozen years with someone, have them leave one day, and not feel totally alone afterward.

The kid’s bed is empty. Toys aren’t being played with. It’s eerie quiet. So quiet that it’s loud. So loud.

I’d been alive 34 years and it was the first time I had ever lived completely on my own, save for my last year of college when I was constantly surrounded by friends and seriously dating the girl who’d just said goodbye.

Everything was different now.

At first, the loneliness was psychological.

My friends included me in things all the time and people were reaching out so often that I didn’t find myself alone often. When my son was home, it was all about him. When he wasn’t, it was all about me.

I stayed busy because time goes faster that way, and I stayed connected because I was so desperate for it.

But it was unsustainable. And as I began to change on the inside, I moved less. And less. And less.

It was time to learn how to be still.

It was time to learn how to be okay alone.

But Maybe We Never Are

PsyBlog called it a “social epidemic that’s worse for our health than obesity, smoking or alcoholism.”

Loneliness. Social isolation. Based on research conducted over 34 years, researchers discovered that loneliness and isolation have a similar negative effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, or becoming an alcoholic.

We are wired to connect.

Chemically designed to thrive together, not apart.

But in the context of dating, it’s so much scarier now, right?

When you’re divorced with children and the rules of the game are so much different than they were back in high school or college?

It’s so hard for single parents to align schedules. Children must come first.

It’s so hard to meet people because we’re no longer involuntarily thrust into situations where “people like us” are, the way we were during our school years.

Now, we have to choose it.

Our work environments. Clubs. Groups. Hobbies. Volunteer organizations. Various social pursuits.

And it’s hard. Because it takes bravery and energy, something that’s now in shorter supply.

We have work, chores, children and other life responsibilities. I sometimes forget that I’m going to die someday, and that every day I didn’t choose adventure, or to live passionately, was a missed opportunity.

It’s hard to get divorced. Especially if you didn’t want to.

And it changes you on the inside. Rewires you into a different version of yourself. And now you don’t know if you can ever be married again. Don’t know if you can ever trust again. Don’t know if you can ever love again.

Everything’s so different now.

You tell yourself and everybody else that you’re okay alone. And maybe you are, especially if you’re staying connected to friends and family.

But there are still a lot of hours of life to fill.

Mornings and nights and weekends and holidays. Sometimes we want to walk the walk alone because we don’t need anyone! and I can do this by myself!

I’m like my six-year-old now, wanting to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m okay. That I don’t need more.

But once the bleeding stops. And the wounds turn to scars. And the pain turns to memories where you can’t recreate that feeling anymore (and that’s okay!), we have choices to make.

I don’t think we were meant to walk this world alone.

I don’t think it gets better than when we share time and space with people who matter.

And maybe if we want this life to be something more, we need to be open to trying again.

To walking.

Then running.

Then leaping.

Then flying.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

My uncle saw the yellow piece of paper stuck under the windshield and walked over to investigate.

A police ticket with a $175 fine.

One of the service vans he owns as part of his flooring store operation in a small Ohio town had expired tags.

The man makes plenty of money. $175 doesn’t mean much to him.

But the man is also principled. And the more he thought about the ticket, the more irritated he became.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he thought.

All of his friends and family told him not to. But he decided to fight the ticket.

His “guilt” was not in question. The van had expired tags that everyone at the company had simply forgot to renew.

But he was having trouble with the spirit of the law.

“If my van is sitting still in a parking lot with expired tags, is that somehow a public threat or nuisance?” he said. “Why not give residents a 24-48-hour warning period, where they can go pay the registration fees and get updated tags without the added penalty from the police department? What good does any of that do?”

I had never thought about this before. But he’s right. I’m all for making sure vehicle owners have an updated license and registration. But why tax people simply for being busy or forgetful? Why not give them a chance to do it right? An expiration date, where the fine is waived if they register in time?

What harm could that possibly cause?

My uncle argued with the judge in court. She got pissed, told him he was wasting the court’s time and piled on some community service hours in addition to his fine.

Six years ago, we were having a new garage built at our house after a large tree had fallen in a wind storm and destroyed our old garage.

We left town to visit family more than 500 miles away for the holidays. Because the contractors needed to back up trucks and equipment into my driveway while we were out of town, I parked my other car on the street in front of the house.

While we were gone, a snow storm hit.

There is a city ordinance requiring people to not park in the street when the snow plows are out. But because I was out of town, I, A. Didn’t know about the storm, and B. Couldn’t move the car even if I had known.

The city towed my car, and it cost a few hundred dollars to get it back.

That was bullshit.

The Things We Do

Why, I wonder, do we do all these things?

Who decided we’re all going to send our kids in herds to school and teach them the same things and tell them “Be yourself! Be a leader, not a follower!” but everything we do is encourage them to do the same things everyone else is doing.

When you’re a little kid, you don’t question why you’re doing anything. Your parents tell you and all your friends are doing it, so you just do it also.

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS!?!?

I want to know.

I want to know why we don’t give parents more choices. I want to know why we don’t let kids learn about whatever they want to learn about and help them master something. I want to know why we all seem to blindly agree and go along with this being “the way.”

Some less fortunate kids think all you do is get through junior high, hustle through high school, and try to live as long as possible in adulthood, dodging cops and bullets. Because it’s all they know.

Really fortunate kids like me were herded into school and encouraged to do well because we “HAD to go to college to get a good job!!!” and everyone else was doing it anyway, so even if you didn’t HAVE to, you just assumed that was the way.

We never questioned it. We just followed the crowd. The existing rulebook that said: 1. Go to school. 2. Go to college. 3. Get a job. 4. Get married. 5. Try to make as much money as possible. 6. Try to not die. 7. If you’re lucky, retire at 65 and have enough money to not live in poverty for as long as you can survive. 8. Die and pay estate taxes.

I sit in a cubicle every day.

It’s because I make just enough money where I feel like I can’t afford to quit. Why can’t I afford to quit?

Because I have to pay my mortgage. And for a car. And for cable TV and Internet access. And for my son’s tuition. And all these little things I’m convinced I “need.”

It’s a pretty good job and I’m grateful to have it. Very. I’ve been unemployed. It’s a real shit show. This is better.

But still I ask: Why? Why are we doing it this way?

We wear business-casual every day. Khakis and button-ups and polo shirts and dress shoes. And always arrive at the same time, even though the only thing I require to do my job is a computer with Internet access. I could do it from almost anywhere.

The company invests my salary and benefits package in me (which I appreciate!) and in return, I make them a lot more money than they pay me through strategic execution of my duties—many of which are measureable, and I take great pride in improving those numbers as much as I can.

But despite that value I—and all my co-workers provide—we still have to wear these clothes, and sit at these desks, and be here at this time, and leave at that time. We’ll all get almost-4 percent raises if we’re lucky that should end up almost offsetting the cost of rising healthcare.

I’m not bagging on my employer. They really are wonderful relative to “companies.”

But I am bagging on rules that no longer make sense to me.

Three hundred years ago, if you sailed on a boat too far in any direction, you would fall off the edge into a chasm of nothingness.

A hundred years ago, black people, women and people attracted to the same sex were commonly considered second-class citizens by assholes who look like me. Huge groups of marginalized immigrants experienced the same level of discrimination.

A hundred years ago, alcohol was illegal.

Fifty years ago, basically every single person smoked tobacco.

Twenty years ago, almost none of us had ever used the Internet.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was three years away from invention.

Today, marijuana is legal for medical use in 15 or so U.S. states, and legal for recreational use in two.

Momentous changes that we somewhat take for granted but required enormous courage and fortitude to affect for those passionate to the cause.

We don’t need to fly to Mars, but we could.

We don’t need to cure cancer, but we will.

We just need to be courageous enough to look at all the things happening around us and ask: “Why are we doing this? 

Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, there are excellent reasons why.

Other times? Small business owners are getting fined because someone they employ forgot to pay $50 for a sticker with a new number on it.

So my uncle is going to run for mayor and try to change the law.

So I’m going to make my own job where maybe someday I can hire people and make sure all of the “rules” at our company make sense to everyone who is helping grow it.

How can we do this better? How can I help?

Because there’s always another way.

Because there’s always a better way.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this.

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Too Many Spiders, Vol. 2

There always there. We just don't always see them. The things we're afraid of.

They’re always there. We just don’t always see them. The things we’re afraid of.

I am afraid.

I am afraid a lot. It’s because I scare easily.

Not over things I’d consider irrational.

Horror films don’t frighten me. I’m not scared of the dark. I’m not afraid of being home alone.

That’s me trying to convince you I’m brave sometimes.

But I’m afraid of many other things. Things I would thoughtlessly describe as rational, even though a wise person might tell us that all fears are irrational.

I’m afraid of people I love being hurt.

I’m afraid of rejection.

I’m afraid of failure.

I’m afraid of things I’m too afraid to tell you about.

Sometimes Brave

My almost-six-year-old son was running around the yard with me while I was mowing. I asked him to run to the garage and grab the push broom so I could sweep the sidewalk.

He ran back to me a minute later, empty-handed.

“Where’s the broom, cheese?” (I call him random names. A lot.)

“Dad, you have to come get it,” he said.

“Bud, it’s just leaning up against the wall. Please bring it.”

“But there’s a spider!”

“Why don’t you just use that big broom to take the spider to Chinatown?”

“It’s too scary,” he said.

We walked to the garage together.

“I don’t see any spiders.”

He pointed toward the gas cans, about five or six feet away from where the broom was leaning against a wall. There was a barely visible, super-small spider just waiting for my kindergartener to grab the broom, so he could then expand into a snarling, truck-sized arachnid and capture my son in his giant web with the rest of the neighborhood children and pets.

I walked over and grabbed the broom without being attacked.

Bravery!

Or was it just me being confident that everything would be okay?

When I was little, I was really afraid of spiders, too.

One time my dad put a large toy spider (that could move) on my face, and I cried.

I’m still kind of afraid of spiders. Not like jump-around-flailing arachnophobia, or anything. But a healthy fear of the occasional large spider I find in the house. I tend to use shoes and rolled-up newspapers, as opposed to a simple paper towel in my hand.

After all, as soon as I grab the spider, it would certainly chew right through the paper towel and crawl all over my hand doing scary spider things.

Sometimes Afraid

In September 2008, a large 85-foot wild cherry tree turned our backyard into a scene from the television show Ax Men. The tree’s root system had decayed and high winds from a severe storm blew it down. The impact destroyed our detached garage.

Our four-month-old son had been napping in our upstairs bedroom. Had the tree fallen toward our bedroom and not the garage… he might not have made it.

The realization of how close that came to happening made me cry.

I’m not even embarrassed about how scared I am of something happening to that boy.

But I am embarrassed about how scared I am of many other things.

Sometimes I’m scared to try new things.

Sometimes I’m scared of some of the things I think and feel.

Sometimes I’m scared to write things because of what you might think of me.

I subscribe to the theory that EVERYONE gets afraid. I think feigning fearlessness is a foolish endeavor. A wiser choice is to embrace the fear, face it head on, and overcome it. Easier said than done.

We get afraid in competitive situations.

We get afraid in our social and professional lives.

We get afraid in any situation in which we are forced out of our comfort zones.

So we sometimes play it safe. We maintain the status quo. Because it’s easy. Because maybe we won’t get hurt.

One of my favorite things I read this past year was this fantastic Forbes article by Margie Warrell where she encourages readers to take risks, drawing the following conclusions:

1. We over-estimate the probability of something going wrong.

2. We exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if it does go wrong.

3. We underestimate our ability to handle the consequences of risk.

4. We discount or deny the cost of inaction, and sticking with the status quo.

(Please read it. It’s infinitely more important than this post.)

You know, it’s funny.

If you asked me whether I’d rather be someone who always succeeds at everything I do, or someone who was courageous in any situation, I wouldn’t know how to answer it.

But—gun to my head?—I’m leaning toward courage.

You know what’s interesting about that?

I can control how courageous I am. I can choose courage. There’s nothing stopping any of us, ever, from choosing courage, regardless of outcome or circumstance.

Too Many Spiders

Traffic was typical for a Friday morning commute—busy—only it was moving briskly as opposed to the highway traffic jams we often incur.

The rolled-up sleeves on my button-up shirt allowed me to feel the tickle of movement on my left arm.

I looked down.

A brown spider—not gargantuan like the imagined one my son thought might attack him in the garage—but large enough to make someone who doesn’t love spiders (like me) very uncomfortable.

It was dangling from a single web strand attached to the arm I was using to pilot the Jeep.

If I had been standing in my backyard, or anywhere not involving dozens of closely packed vehicles traveling three-wide at 75 miles per hour, I would have quickly swatted it away and watched the hair on my arms stand up.

If I do anything like that, I’m going to cause a massive Interstate pile-up.

So, I held still. The spider just hung there, but was certainly going to crawl up to my arm soon enough. I was not pleased.

But I wanted to die and kill other people much less than I wanted a brown spider crawling on me.

My mind overpowered my instincts. I switched hands on the steering wheel and managed to reach the button that opens my driver’s side window.

Window open, dozens of speeding cars to my right, just behind me and in front of me, I slowly pulled my arm up hoping the rushing air would pull the spider outside.

I felt the spider fly off, but couldn’t tell whether it flew out the window.

I realized immediately what I had done. In a moment of fear, my entire body told me to do something.

But I didn’t.

I did something else. Something smarter. Something braver. Because, in that moment, it was the right thing.

Good for you, Matt.

Maybe that spider flew out.

Maybe it didn’t.

In a few hours, I’m going to get back in the Jeep and drive home.

Maybe I’ll have another run in with the eight-legged passenger.

Maybe I won’t.

If I do? I know I can handle it. No matter what’s going on around me.

I’m not afraid.

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How to Change the World

Be the change.

Be the change.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” – Nelson Mandela, facing the death penalty, 1964

I don’t know much about the life of Nelson Mandela.

It’s because I’m a self-centered American often guilty of not considering the suffering that goes on in other parts of the world.

I only knew him as the poster child for racial equality in South Africa and that he’d endured so much to see that dream realized. A champion for human rights; adored and respected globally.

Mandela died December 5, at age 95, to the sadness of admirers worldwide.

I wanted to get a better sense of the man whose life and death reverberated globally. So I read about him. I’m no historian. I’m going to miss major milestones in his life. But these are the highlights that jumped off the screen at me.

The Life of Nelson Mandela

  • Born 1918.
  • Lost his father at age 12.
  • Expelled from college for participating in a student protest.
  • Graduated college in 1943.
  • Married in 1944. Had four children—two boys, two girls. One of his daughters died in infancy.
  • Co-founded South Africa’s first black law firm in 1952.
  • Separated from his wife in 1955. Divorced in 1958.
  • Remarried in 1958. Fathered two more daughters.
  • He was arrested several times between 1955 and 1962. He received a five-year prison sentence for leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike.
  • In 1963, he stood trial with 10 others and faced the death penalty.
  • In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.
  • His mom died in 1968. His eldest son died the following year. He was unable to attend their funerals.
  • He had prostate surgery in 1985, after serving 21 years of his life sentence.
  • He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1988 and was hospitalized for three months.
  • Released from prison in 1990.
  • Helped spearhead talks to end white minority rule in 1991.
  • Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  • Inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994.
  • Divorced again in 1996.
  • Kept his word, and stepped down in 1999 after one term as president.
  • Lived the rest of his life championing freedom, education and equality for all.

The Legacy of a Hero

Mandela was just a man. He didn’t have superpowers. He had marital troubles just like the rest of us. Failed at marriage twice.

But what a life—from the outside looking in. Not one to envy. Just one to admire.

We don’t have to be political leaders to change the world. We don’t have to be messiahs. Or miracle workers.

You can just be you, living with a servant’s heart.

A soldier changes the world when she dies fighting to protect her country’s citizens.

A firefighter changes the world when he rescues a child from a burning building.

A teacher changes the world when she makes a breakthrough with a troubled student who goes on to do great things.

A volunteer changes the world when he serves the homeless, not with pity, but with compassion.

A writer changes the world when she pours her soul into the words, helping us heal.

An adoptive parent changes the world when he provides opportunity for children to maximize their human potential.

A spiritual leader changes the world when she helps us tap into life’s greatest mysteries, where peace and hope live.

A coach changes the world when he teaches young people the value of teamwork.

A mother changes the world when she brings a child into it.

A father changes the world when he serves his wife and family.

The lessons of Mandela’s life are that if you’re willing to accept that life won’t always be easy. And that there won’t always be shortcuts to success. And that we’re all human and prone to failure.

And that we must sometimes endure great pain and hardships along our journey.

That everyone is capable of changing the world for the better.

That we’re all capable of being part of the solution.

This isn’t about hippie circles and peace signs. This isn’t about being the most sensitive person in the world. This isn’t about peace rallies or candlelight vigils or political causes.

It’s just about using today to love and respect yourself. To love and respect others. To love and respect life.

Mandela spent the better part of 30 years in prison fighting extreme injustice and racism, health issues, emotional turmoil, and came out the other side a hero and symbol of hope.

Isn’t that proof enough that we can love our neighbors?

That we can stand up against the wrongs that plague our lives?

That we can be brave enough to say: I can change the world?

It won’t always be comfortable. It won’t always be safe.

It will never be easy.

But you absolutely can make a difference.

And you can start today.

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The Phantom Pain

Are these fears healthy and prudent? Or are they irrational and holding us back?

Are these fears healthy and prudent? Or are they irrational and holding us back?

It was a typical winter day in Ohio.

Around 9 a.m.

Co-workers were milling around, getting coffee and chatting.

I work in a large, shiny office building with hundreds of people. Our building sits along an Interstate a few miles outside the city.

Me and five others have desks nestled in a corner of the second-floor corporate offices. Huge windows line the walls, giving us a view of a busy two-lane road outside.

A typical winter day in Ohio generally consists of snow-covered grass and below-freezing temperatures. Moisture on the roads can freeze into an invisible layer of ice. Black ice, it’s called.

Driving the speed limit is encouraged in such conditions.

On this particular morning earlier this year, one driver didn’t get the memo.

He was driving a plain white contractor’s minivan. Recklessly. More than 80 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, the police said.

He lost control.

Through the large bullet-proof glass windows of our office, we all heard the sound of screeching tires, then a series of loud bangs as the van barrel-rolled across the road, taking out one of our company’s medium-sized trees, and slamming into six cars in our parking spaces nearest the road.

The driver was ejected and thrown headfirst through the windshield of a green BMW that had just gotten out of the body repair shop the day before. It was the last thing he ever did.

Now, those parking spaces are called “Death Row,” here. There is a mulch circle where the tree used to be.

Those spaces used to fill up pretty early in the morning. Now, many people are hesitant to park there.

As if the van crashing into them, and that man dying, makes it more likely that something bad will happen again, when—weather aside—the statistical probability of car accidents happening right there are the same every day.

It’s a Human Thing

We knee jerk. It’s what we do.

Terrorists fly planes into buildings. Then we’re terrified to fly.

I lived in Toledo, Ohio in September 2001. They evacuated the tallest building downtown that day. It’s only 33 stories. New York City alone has well over 100 buildings taller than that.

Remember your first trip to a movie theater after all of those people were shot and killed watching The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo.? Mine was a few days later. To see that very movie. There were extra policemen in theaters everywhere. I did think more about rogue gunmen that night than I normally would.

Similarly, not long after the D.C. sniper situation, some asshole with a rifle in Ohio was shooting drivers on their morning commutes just outside of Columbus. People everywhere were thinking about getting shot just driving their cars after that.

Whenever I walk into rooms in my house where I’ve seen the biggest spiders, I always catch myself looking in those same spots for them as if they’re most likely to show up there.

There are countless examples of this completely illogical, yet ever-present mental and emotional reflex many of us have to traumatic news or unpleasant situations.

Which brings me to…

My Next Relationship

I talk a pretty big game about wanting to meet someone. To eliminate the loneliness. To share moments. To connect on the kind of level that brings people together in meaningful ways.

But, like those people shaken when stepping on airplanes those first days, weeks and months following the Sept. 11 attacks; like those people nervous about walking into movie theaters after the Aurora shooting; and like everyone at my office hesitant to park in “Death Row,” I have an almost-involuntary aversion to letting myself get too close to another human being again.

I want to. In my head.

I believe inner peace and happiness lie there.

I believe satisfying physically intimate relationships lie there.

I believe a balanced life lies there.

But it does something funny to my chest. To my insides.

This idea of letting someone in again.

I’ve written about the feelings of rejection from my short-lived online dating experiment.

And other incidents have popped up where I realize just how fragile I am now.

I feel angry when people I care about are mistreated by their partners.

I feel concerned when people I care about have doubts about their relationships.

I feel sad when people don’t like me as much as I like them.

And it hurts when someone pushes me away. Whatever their reason may be.

More specifically, I feel all of these things more acutely than I ever have before.

The anger burns hotter. The concern, more pronounced. The sadness, heavier.

The pain? It scares me now in ways I’ve never experienced.

People who shouldn’t be able to hurt me can hurt me now. Little things that might seem silly and meaningless evoke feelings similar to when my wife expunged me from her life.

It’s like a layer of mental and emotional toughness has been stripped away, leaving me frail and weak. Vulnerable. Easy to damage.

Does this type of wound heal? Will scar tissue form? Is it possible to reacquire the armor I once possessed?

I don’t know.

Maybe time will heal this wound. Making me healthier.

But in the meantime, I have to ask myself some hard questions about what I’m willing to endure. What I’m capable of enduring.

Am I going to let a relative stranger in enough to hurt me the way my ex-wife did?

Am I going to ruin potentially good things by keeping people at a distance?

Am I being illogically reflexive? Irrational? Am I avoiding perfectly adequate parking spaces due to fears that don’t make sense?

At some point, I’m going to have to be honest with myself and others about these questions and answers.

Because I don’t want to live recklessly.

I don’t want to lose control.

I don’t want to end up a victim of self-destructive behavior.

Dead, but on display. Like that man on the BMW.

Unable to remind those looking on in horror to keep on living.

And to do so unafraid.

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Too Many Spiders

You looking at me, eight eyes? Have fun eating the bottom of my shoe.

You looking at me, eight eyes? Have fun eating the bottom of my shoe.

My five-year-old son has developed what I’d describe as an irrational fear of spiders.

He saw one in a bathroom at his grandmother’s a few weeks ago. And now, when he visits Grandma, he won’t use that bathroom without someone going in there with him.

Throughout the past four months of dealing with my wife leaving, I’ve developed what I’d describe as an irrational fear of many things:

  1. Dating – I’m afraid of doing the wrong thing. I’m afraid of hurting someone. I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid of prolonged loneliness—and prolonged celibacy—which, let’s be honest, sucks ass.
  2. Single parenting – I’m afraid of making choices that don’t represent the man I want my son to become. I’m afraid of not doing enough to give him the best chance academically, spiritually, in his athletic endeavors, in his social life.
  3. Financial health – I have less money than I did when I had a partner. Because life is more expensive now. I don’t like worrying about money. Good thing I didn’t just buy a new car. Oh, wait.
  4. Writing – What if this is wasted energy? What if no one reads it? What if they do and they hate it? What if I run out of things to say? What if people think I’m a fraud?

These are irrational fears.

These are my spiders.

I asked my son: “How big was that spider you saw in the bathroom?”

He showed me with his fingers. Maybe a centimeter. Like that lamesauce face cut I had a couple weeks ago.

“And how big are you?” I asked him.

He puffed his little chest out. “This big!” he said.

“So why are you scared of that little spider?”

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Practicing What You Preach

And that’s when it hit me.

Because I’m not going to be the kind of asshole dad that says: Do what I say, not what I do.

My spiders are no different than his. I’m big enough to handle them. Smart enough to handle them.

And I’ll respect myself a little more in the morning if I whine less.

Much of this blog is a massive manifesto of whining. That’s not something I’m proud of.

But my writing is honest. A reflection of how I’m feeling in a given moment.

This divorce thing is a roller coaster. Ups and downs.

And I’m kind of on an upswing. So I’m just going to go with it.

Because spiders are bullshit. At least the ones chilling on your wall. Or crawling on your floor. Or dropping down from your ceiling.

I’m an arachnid assassin. I haven’t met one yet whose shit I couldn’t ruin with a swift newspaper swat or shoe beating.

And my metaphorical spiders? They’re bullshit, too.

I can accept feeling sad. I can accept feeling angry. I can accept feeling lonely.

But I’m not going to accept feeling fear. It’s debilitating. And the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of happiness.

I’m not suggesting I won’t fear things. It’s always going to rear its ugly head.

But those are merely opportunities to display courage.

I’m not going to fear spiders. The real kind. Or the metaphorical kind.

Because my spider Kung Fu is strong.

I’m not afraid.

A special thanks to the author of the blog Too Many Spiders for the post-title inspiration and for being steady and brave as a writer, wife and mother.

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The Fear of Losing What We Love

courage

Three people who matter to me expressed fear about one of their human relationships in separate conversations this past week.

Friend #1 is worried about her troubled marriage. And she has gone so far as to say that if it doesn’t work out, she will never marry again. She doesn’t believe she would be able to trust another human being with her heart.

Friend #2 is in a three-month relationship with someone she met recently. He has swept her off her feet. She’s more in love with him than even she will admit. But now that her feelings are so strong, she’s asking herself: Does he care about me as much as I care about him? She’s in the relationship phase of overanalyzing situations without having all the facts and letting anxiety over the unknown ruin her day.

Friend #3 is gun shy about a new man in her life because she’s been burnt before.

“I loved a douchebag that fucked me over. I never saw it coming,” she said. “It’s the fear of letting the wall down. I don’t want to go through that pain again to which I am sure you can relate.”

And she’s right. I can.

I’ve never been more fearful of so many things as I am right now. It’s funny. I remember thinking how brave I’d be as an adult. We’re so cute and stupid when we’re young.

A Fall Down the Stairs

I was in front of my upstairs bathroom sink brushing my teeth yesterday. My five-year-old son was running around with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-branded Raphael sai taking out invisible bad guys who’d invaded our second floor.

“I’m going downstairs, dad!” he said.

A couple seconds later, I heard the horrific sound of 50 pounds of human tumbling down hardwood stairs.

I’d never moved that fast before. Within five seconds he was in my arms at the bottom of the stairs, not yet able to speak.

I sat him on a couch, looking him over and asking him where it hurt.

He had a couple subtle marks on his knees and shins. But otherwise? He appeared completely fine.

He had gone down head first. He wouldn’t tell me how it happened. And it doesn’t matter because I’m quite sure he’ll never try it again.

It’s a praise-Jesus miracle he didn’t lose some teeth, or worse.

I just hugged him, thanking God for his safety.

Here’s my point: I was six feet away from him. And I couldn’t stop something bad from happening to him. Something that could have been catastrophic had he bounced differently.

He is the thing I love the most in this world. I know all of you parents know exactly what I’m talking about.

But should being afraid of the bad things that might happen to him in his life frighten me, or others, away from bringing children into this world?

Wouldn’t that be the greater tragedy?

Allow Yourself to Love

For the purposes of this conversation, you have two choices:

  1. Deny yourself the best things about being alive because you’re afraid to lose them.
  2. Love anyway. Take the leap of faith, knowing you’re not always going to land safely on the other side, but that every time you do, you’ll experience unadulterated joy.

We cannot escape this particular truth about the human experience. No one gets out of it.

If you love something hard enough, you’re going to fear losing it.

We’re always going to be afraid of losing our children, our partners, our parents, our pets, our money, our jobs, our possessions, our homes or our friends.

Love anyway.

If you’re the kind of person afraid to lose a child, then you’re EXACTLY the kind of person we need raising them.

Love anyway.

Pet owners, are you really going to never have another dog or cat because you were broken up by the loss of a former pet? Don’t these other animals deserve your love too? Don’t they deserve the opportunity to love you back? I understand wanting to protect yourself. You have no idea how much so.

Love anyway.

Scorned lovers, don’t let your hearts be hardened. Because you can give a brand of love to a deserving soul that they may have never otherwise known. It’s terrifying. I know. Putting yourself out there again. But what are you going to do? Walk this world alone? Do you really want to be that selfish? If you won’t do it for you, do it for that other person out there who needs you.

Because somewhere, right now, there’s a person out there—a good, wonderful, deserving person—who needs you. And they might not even know it yet.

People like you. People like me.

The most beautiful things in this world are precious and rare.

Not everything in this life was built to last. Things will break.

You can either hide from life. Or embrace it. The good and the bad.

I’m afraid too.

Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. It just means you don’t let it stop you.

So, please, love anyway.

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