Tag Archives: Doubt

How to Kiss Atop Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

(Image/africaninsightsafaris.com)

I was certain Santa Claus was real.

That’s why I argued with my friend Bill about it in second grade even though he had four older siblings who had exposed the whole racket by actually showing him where their parents hid the presents.

Whatever, bitch! I thought in much nicer little-kid language. If my parents say it’s true, and I get presents that say “From Santa,” and I believe it, then it’s obviously true!

True story: When I was 4, the seeds of doubt were planted RE: Santa’s existence when I received a note from St. Nick thanking me for the milk and cookies as well as the carrots I’d set out for the reindeer, in which Rudolph’s name was spelled “Rudolf.” Dad didn’t have Google in 1983, and maybe wouldn’t have double-checked the spelling anyway.

Because I was a little smarty back then before all the marijuana and alcohol contamination in high school and college, it didn’t take me long on Christmas morning to notice the discrepancy on Santa’s note versus my little paperback copy of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which I’d probably leafed through a half-million times that week.

Maybe I thought the book was wrong. Maybe I thought Santa was a bad speller. Maybe I was in denial because all the Star Wars toys were magically filling up my new snap-shut Darth Vader action figure carrying case like a Yuletide miracle.

I was still certain Santa Claus was real. And that my friend Bill and all his siblings were dumb and wrong. Kris Kringle and his magic sleigh probably just skipped them for being naughty Santa-deniers who thrived on the destruction of childhood dreams.

We just couldn’t agree because he was a stubborn little thing in second grade.

“Dude. You’re not getting it. I KNOW Santa’s real. Here’s how: 1. I get presents from him. 2. He eats the cookies. 3. He leaves me signed notes. 4. He magically finds me Christmas morning, no matter which of my divorced parents I am with, or what state I’m in. 5. My parents told me and they’re never wrong and they never lie!” I rationally explained to him.

There was only one way to settle it: Asking Bill’s mom, because she’s an awesome lady who also is never wrong and never lies.

“Mrs. O! Bill is saying there’s no Santa Claus and he’s clearly wrong! Please correct him and then spank him or something!”

Bill retorted with some blah-blibbity-blah crap and reminded her of a previous admission that she and his father did, in fact, buy all the “Santa” gifts for him and his siblings. He thought that was his ace in the hole.

Not so fast, sucka!

His mother, ever steady and wise, calmly explained to him how the supernatural capabilities of St. Nick allowed him to deliver Christmas presents to me and children throughout the world while also having agreements with certain parents in certain families to take care of gift giving themselves.

He was speechless.

That’s right! Total ownage!

His mother settled it, proving that my totally smart and awesome friend was, in this rare instance, a stupid, low-information moron.

It feels good to be right and know everything, doesn’t it?

The Thinking Problem

I pride myself on being thoughtful. I don’t mean “thoughtful,” the adjective, where I’m always anticipating others’ needs and tending to them, which would be nice. I just mean I think a lot. Many would tell you I overthink things, and I’d say they’re correct.

If I have to choose between being an imbecile or being someone who thinks a lot, my gut instinct is to be as I am. Always thinking. Always imagining. Always asking questions.

I’m a far cry from being the intellectual I’d like to be. But I’m also not dribbling milk down my chin and eating generic Apple Jacks cereal on my smelly, stained couch high on meth and watching A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila in sweatpants and holey socks.

Even though I’m reasonably smart, read non-fiction, and went to college and stuff, and there’s an actual guy somewhere doing the meth-smoking, stained-couch thing while I type this; if he grew up not believing in Santa, I could throw all my evidence and reasoning at him, and still lose an argument to the meth head by virtue of me being wrong.

There’s a healthy amount of skepticism needed to not get hoodwinked by scam artists. To not be suckered by people trying to manipulate us. To make good, informed decisions in every facet of our lives.

Anyone who has changed their mind about anything, ever, knows we’re capable of believing things which aren’t true, no matter how intelligent we are.

While this applies to life’s most controversial subjects like theology, political science and Adele, this “thinking problem” also hampers us in every other area of life.

Here’s another true story: I won’t date anyone seriously I perceive to be a bad long-term match. Live too far away? Practice a different faith? Have an opposing political ideology? Root for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Have a bunch of different hobbies, tastes and interests?

I write her name on the People I Can’t Marry, Thus Shouldn’t Date list.

Point of clarification: This only applies to me being a father to a young child, or to the me from several years ago who aspired to have children with whoever I married. In today’s terms, it mostly applies to divorced single parents interested in long-term relationships. This is less of an issue for non-parents or those planning on never having children.

I’ve had several women tell me they think it’s a bullshit philosophy. Each time they said so I got the sense they thought I was saying they weren’t good enough, and since Must Be This Tall To Ride is the ironic and metaphorical theme of my entire life, I can appreciate how bad that feels, even though it wasn’t true.

It’s not because I don’t think they’re good enough.

It’s because I’m REALLY sensitive about divorce, since my parents did it, and then I did it, and it was fun zero of those times.

There are probably a million instances of better people than me making it work, but I can’t figure out what it looks like when my atheist girlfriend answers my son’s questions about God, or when my Jewish fiancée’s daughter asks me why Catholics pray to Jesus, or when my vegan wife bans taco night and I stop speaking to her for the rest of my life while steadfastly maintaining semi-regular taco consumption.

Critical thinking, analysis and healthy skepticism are important to good decision making.

But, excessive doubt? Particularly self-doubt?

It paralyzes us, preventing us from living fully, and leads to procrastination, feelings of permanent limbo, loneliness, depression and social anxiety, according to researchers with much better evidence than I had about Santa.

I believe I’m smart, and maybe I am, but because I believe I’m smart, I trust my judgment EVEN WHEN IT’S WRONG. Like the Santa thing.

And it works the other way, too. There’s a chance that—because I’m fairly smart and capable and devilishly charming—I could succeed in all of these life pursuits I avoid out of fear of failure, ranging from writing and business opportunities to my dating and family life.

Everything in life is either true or false. Right or wrong. Or somewhere in the middle and constantly changing relative to whatever conditions apply to that particular subject or thing.

I hate to admit it, but I make mistakes. I’m wrong, sometimes. I make errors in judgment, or I blatantly believe something that eventually proves false.

My entire life is about being the best version of myself I can be moving forward. I mess up in several areas. There’s no reason to believe my assumptions and decisions and doubts aren’t among them.

Say it with me:

I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I get things wrong.

Maybe things I believe about myself aren’t true. Maybe things I believe about life aren’t true. Maybe I actually can do that. Maybe I am strong enough. Maybe I am good enough.

Sometimes I doubt things. And because I trust that I’m smart, I let doubt paralyze me.

But what if I doubted my doubt? What if I challenged my own assumptions and beliefs?

“OMG! I can’t do this!…

“Wait a minute. Sometimes I’m wrong! Maybe I should doubt this self-doubt.

“Hey, self-doubt! I’m totally doubting you right now!”

And then you bring down the house singing outside your car or shower for the first time. And then you start a new business and your life gets better. And then you experience inner peace. And then you stand on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. And then you publish that book. And then you kiss the girl.

And then you realize you’re not an imposter. That you really can do it.

And then you change the world.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Crooked Soul Trying to Stay Up Straight

(Image/nature.com)

(Image/nature.com)

I’d like to tell you I’m a man of deep, unshakable faith. I’d like to tell you I know the real, actual truth about the universe and meaning of life so I could share the secret with you.

That’s a big deal when you’re a Christian. Certainty. Certainty wearing a “Hello, my name is Faith” sticker.

Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.

Understand something about me: I only saw good, kind, decent versions of Christians growing up—loving and charitable people who I only witnessed doing good things, and never doing bad things. I think that’s why I always felt ashamed when I was younger for wanting to make out with the cute girl in the church pew in front of me, or for questioning whether I’m literally supposed to believe that God once lost His temper and intentionally flooded the entire world killing every man, woman, child, animal, and plant which wasn’t on a giant wooden boat built by Noah and his family large enough to house two of every type of animal on Earth, followed by Noah’s family incestuously repopulating the world.

I nonetheless had mountains of evidence that Christians were good people. And since I knew a bunch of them, and had no reason to doubt them, I grew up believing all of the finer points of Catholic Christianity.

And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. I was just a kid. A pretty good and nice one too.

There wasn’t any ambiguity in our rules:

Any orgasm outside of marriage?

Going to Hell.

A hit off a joint or one too many drinks at a party?

You’re gonna burn.

Profane language?

Holy shit! An eternity of torturous fiery terror and torment!

That’s a lot to handle when you’re a 16-year-old boy, and your life revolves around girls, friends, sports, and daydreaming about going off to college, in that order, where you assume you magically become an adult and figure out what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, and maybe stop getting erections for no apparent reason.

Maybe Muslims and Atheists experience it differently. I hope for their sake that they do.

‘You Have an Obligation to Write About Your Faith’

People tell me that, sometimes. I always disagree with them, and then try to explain why.

I usually write about divorce, marriage and sustainable relationships, and I’ve earned some credibility with a group of people who think maybe I have a bunch of it figured out.

Here’s the thing: I can spit out a nice little playbook for how a man can make his wife feel loved, safe, secure and desired, and not want to divorce him as much as most women want to divorce their shitty husbands. I can. I’ve had THOUSANDS of wives, and even some husbands, write me to say so.

That doesn’t make what I believe true.

It just makes me confident.

Certain?

The only path to a good, forever-kind-of marriage is vigilantly practicing love—the verb—every day. It requires a healthy understanding of human psychology—how husbands’ and wives’ minds and bodies operate differently, and having the tools necessary to keep things from breaking.

For years and years, everyone was smoking. Even doctors. A bunch of people were dying from cancer and heart disease and we couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we did. And now we know smoking invites sickness and death faster than not smoking does.

There are three kinds of people now.

  1. The kind who do not smoke because they want to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love.
  2. The kind who smoke because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who smoke, know it’s bad and want to quit, but struggle with the addiction or habit for a variety of reasons.

On the subject of marriage and relationships, we are—as people—nowhere near as enlightened and educated as we are about the health ramifications of smoking cigarettes. Every day, people are accidentally and carelessly ruining relationships, damaging children, and tearing families apart.

There are three kinds of people who are married or in committed relationships, and unlike with smoking, the largest group has NO IDEA that what they’re doing (metaphorically smoking circa 1960) will invite sickness and death into their relationships.

  1. The kind who get it and do things the right—and frankly, only—way. Actively choosing to love their spouse and family every day, applying information they’ve learned about what makes their partner feel good to their daily lives. Proactively nurturing their marriages.
  2. The kind who abuse and lie and cheat and neglect because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who sometimes fall short, understand that they can do and be more, want to, but struggle in their hearts and minds for a variety of reasons.

Let’s call it doubt. Maybe a person doubts that monogamy can really work. Maybe a person doubts they can trust their partner to not abandon them. Maybe a person GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN LIFE AND STILL DOESN’T FEEL HAPPY.

That last thing happens to decent, intelligent people all the time. They were certain this was what would finally make them happy, but then it didn’t, and now they want more.

There must be more to life than this.

Life in the Margins

I don’t write about God and/or Jesus because I think it’s an ineffective way to communicate with strangers. People don’t like being judged or preached to.

It automatically divides and makes people feel unwelcome. Not only that, it’s a bullshit thing to do.

And the answer to this question is why I think so: When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”?

Even once? Ever?

I mean, yeah. I’m Catholic. Kind of a rogue, miscreant one. I believe many things unique to Catholicism. I’m a regular churchgoer.

But I also have a bunch of stuff I’m not sure about. I used to feel guilty about that but now I don’t.

I don’t murder, because that makes sense. I don’t rape, because that makes sense. Can I really be damned for eternity for using birth control during married sex because money’s a little tight right now?

I’m tired of people acting like they know. No one knows. Zero people.

We know precisely dick.

We’ve had the world’s most-intelligent and thoughtful people trying to get to the root of what’s true about life and the universe since before the words “science” or “philosophy” were ever uttered. And no subatomic-particle physicist, pastor, atheist, teacher, scholar, prophet, rabbi, tribal chief or jungle medicine man has solved it.

Their argument and evidence would be convincing if they had. Like when the doctors proved to us that smoking caused cancer, and we believed them and made new choices.

We all want to feel certain.

I want to feel certain. I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. And I don’t know how to believe in nothing, Lebowski. I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?

But I’m NOT certain.

I don’t know.

Not for sure. Is what I feel faith and belief? Or is it just 36 years of habit reinforced by like-minded people within an unchanging faith community?

If no one ever told me the truth about Santa and someone kept sneaking “From Santa” gifts under the Christmas tree every year, might I still believe in him?

If Carl Sagan was my father and nothing bad ever happened to me for believing everything he taught me, would I look at the world completely differently?

If I didn’t have a father, money, education, enough food, or experienced love from family or friends, might I be willing to join a violent group of religious militants intent on spreading mayhem and murdering innocent people who believed a different God story than me?

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

When you strip away all the bullshit, we’re all just a bunch of people who behave the way we do because of our beliefs and habits.

That’s why we usually believe whatever our parents taught us, so long as no negative consequences came from doing so. When it felt bad, we did something different than them.

I don’t know anything. I never have. I just believe things which make sense to me.

I don’t know that what I write about in terms of love and marriage actually works. I just believe it strongly because I’ve read, discussed, and thought a lot about it and it made sense to me.

Maybe some really good guy out there has been married twice and did everything right both times, but in both marriages, his wife took advantage of him financially and slept with his best friend. Maybe now that guy can’t believe what I believe anymore.

I’m done pretending I know what it’s like to be another person.

Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.

Something is true, and I don’t know what it is. But I like trying to figure it out.

The only thing I really know is what it’s like being me.

A flawed, broken, uneven human being who can feel joyful and grateful one day, and a little bit sad and empty the next.

A guy who does all kinds of things my faith community warns me could send me straight to Hell.

That might be total bullshit. Or 100-percent true.

I won’t know until I’m dead. That’s when we will all learn the truth OR when the lights go out and our consciousness insta-shuts off, and the book of our life ends, maybe mid-sentence and unresolved.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you I don’t believe in God.

Do I doubt some of the details of thousands-year-old religious texts which include mountains of symbolism and metaphor? Sure!

But do I doubt God’s existence, goodness, or power? How could I? Why would I want to?

Some people don’t like God and religion. But it’s not because of God and religion. It’s because some religious people do heinous, horrible things in the name of their faith, thereby making every sane person on earth despise them and reject their beliefs.

That makes sense to me.

If the only Christians you ever knew screamed “God hates fags!” at your gay friend or family member, or staged protests at the funeral of your neighbor killed in military combat, or bombed women’s health clinics because they’re somehow convinced God’s preferred solution to ending abortion is murdering people with guns and explosives, would you like them or want to practice the same faith?

Isn’t that what many Muslims deal with now? Judgment and squinty-eyed suspicion based on the actions of a few?

Life has clearly demonstrated that one size does not fit all.

I think everyone feels the emptiness sometimes. Every faith. Every walk of life.

Things just feel off, sometimes. We can’t figure out why because when we write it all down on paper, our lives are exactly what we think we want.

I HAVE EVERYTHING I WANT AND STILL DON’T FEEL HAPPY.

I love my wife and I want to be married, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing for her. I don’t always feel like not putting my penis in others I’m attracted to. My marriage didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, so what’s the point?

There will always be that third group. The group too damaged to love themselves or others. Who just want to watch the world burn.

Then there’s the rest of us. With all our doubts. All our ignorance. All our guilt. All our shame.

Crooked souls trying to stay up straight.

The longer we live, the more bad things we experience. We collect more scars. We lose more innocence.

It’s so easy to embrace the cynicism now. To abandon hope while the politicians scream, and the fanatics shoot, and greedy abuse, and our friends fail us, and our marriages burn while we cry.

But here we are. Still trying.

We pray and we hope. We try to be good, for the sake of being good. We do things that are difficult or inconvenient because it’s what’s right.

People keep waiting for a blinding light. For God to speak thunderously from a mountaintop or burning bush. To feel certain again. Like when we were kids and less afraid of everything.

God doesn’t yell. We’d all know if that were true.

He whispers. Whispers are hard to hear.

I think when people have everything they ever wanted and still don’t feel happy, or genuinely love their spouse and family and want to be married, but still feel empty?

I think that might be a whisper.

I think that’s when we’re supposed to cede control. For God to fill the gaps. I think God likes working in the margins.

I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe. That I have some answer you don’t. I don’t know. And I think most, if not all, people who say they know are mistaken or lying.

I will always try to ask the right questions, though.

When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith? Is it possible that could make the pain and fear go away?

I’ll always say what I believe and why and let others form opinions about it. To decide for themselves whether the nagging emptiness we don’t usually talk about might be a whisper. A nudge to wake up inside.

Maybe there’s no love without hate.

Maybe there’s no hot without cold.

Maybe there’s no light without darkness.

What do I believe? That the shadow proves the sunshine.

 

(Thanks to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman for writing this beautiful song, and inspiring this post.)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Life Erodes Faith

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

(Image courtesy of chadhyams.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of chadhyams.wordpress.com)

A convicted child rapist’s face was being shown on TV.

He was 19, and convicted of molesting a 3-year-old girl (which is heinous and disgusting in every imaginable way).

The Orange County, California judge hearing the case reduced the convicted rapist’s sentence to 10 years, even though law mandates a minimum 25-year sentence for child rape convictions.

I was sitting in the living room with my mom who was visiting. She joined the chorus of people absolutely infuriated by this judge’s actions.

“Doesn’t this upset you?” she asked. “What if that was your son?”

“Assuming it’s true, it’s troubling. Yeah. I don’t know enough to make a determination one way or the other.”

“He was convicted of rape, Matt,” she said.

“Sometimes an 18-year-old has consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend and gets convicted of rape.”

“This is a child, Matt.”

“All I’m saying is I don’t always believe everything I see on TV. In my experience, there are always two sides to every story,” I said.

“This judge was way out of line,” she said.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “But for the sake of argument, can you conceive of a situation in which an adult could be accused of molesting a child without actually molesting a child?”

My mother often works as a substitute school teacher.

“Yes, actually. I can.”

I didn’t know as much about that particular case as I do now. I think that kid did sodomize a 3-year-old family member, and it’s immeasurably horrible and disgusting. And I don’t think judges should be able to arbitrarily create new legal sentences out of thin air.

But when I first heard it, I didn’t jump to conclusions. I’m glad I didn’t. People always jump to conclusions and roughly half of them are wrong.

That’s a life skill I’ve only learned in my thirties. I used to be like many others and rush to judgment and be wrong half the time.

Everything Feels Wrong Sometimes

I was going off.

Really getting on a roll.

Mom was the only person there to listen. I was probably annoying her the way she sometimes annoy one another.

Our education system is in crisis. Our health care system is thievery.

Our entire way of life was pissing me off, and I felt the need to unload on mom about it.

We’re born and then we get herded into the school system where we are taught what they want to teach us (Don’t learn what YOU want and are interested in! WE know better!) so that we can “get a good job someday.”

Why do we need a job?

It’s because we have to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat, and transportation to and from our jobs, of course!

I get the sense sometimes that they—“they” being people super high up the decision-making food chain in magical Fuck-Everybody-Land—just want people to go get jobs and follow their rules, so we keep buying things.

They want us to buy all their stuff. And then more stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff.

We can’t be happy without all this stuff!!!

That’s why we need our jobs! For the stuff!

That’s why you have to play by the rules! So you can be happy and buy stuff!

I don’t like how we all got brainwashed into believing we HAD to do it this way. But with almost everyone buying in, it’s so hard to escape the machine.

You can’t quit your job! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t pull your kid out of school! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t spend your time doing what you want to do! Follow the rules! Spend your whole life working for someone! That’s THE WAY.

I’m in a phase, I guess.

My mom is a very religious woman. She probably didn’t like me using the word “bullshit” so much during my little rant, but I didn’t care.

“I get it, Matt. I do. But that doesn’t exist on Earth,” she said. “What you want? What your heart wants? You’re describing Heaven. And the entire point of our time here in this life is about getting there. Nothing else matters.”

It wasn’t an unwise thing for her to say. You have no idea how much I want her to be right. I hope she is.

But you know what I muttered to myself?

Well, fuck. What if there is no heaven?

It’s because I don’t always believe everything I hear on TV.

We All Want to be the Catcher in the Rye

I just finished the book last night. J.D. Salinger’s classic ended up in a place I hadn’t seen coming.

I had no idea how the book got its name, but it all made sense in the end.

Holden Caulfield is a troubled 16-year-old feeling disenchanted about growing up in a world where it often feels like EVERYONE is chasing things that don’t matter.

He’s nostalgic for the age of innocence and he wants to be the guy saving all the children from running blindly through the field and falling off the cliff into adulthood when the world turns harsher, colder and uglier. Sometimes, people fall off the cliff before they’re adults because older, messed-up adults like the 19-year-old molester in California steal their innocence.

Holden can’t stand it.

I can’t either.

You feel it when the big kids tell you there’s no Santa Claus and you realize how foolish you must have seemed to believe such a tall tale.

You feel it when you find out an old neighbor man used to diddle up people you love when they were little kids, telling them: “Shhhh. Now don’t you tell anyone.”

You feel it when you get older and realize all the adults are just as messed up as you. When you realize all these people you grew up loving and admiring all have dysfunctional marriages because everyone is having sex with people they’re not supposed to or drinking too much or gambling away their life savings.

You feel it when masked men cut off people’s heads.

You feel it when police officers gun down unarmed citizens who are running away from them.

You feel it when you get divorced and you’re just like: Damn. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was so good when we were little and we just played.

We didn’t know what was really going on and some people think ignorance is bad, but maybe it’s better. Because if we’re not pursuing happiness, what are we pursuing?

You get so tired sometimes because there isn’t just one problem to tackle. There are unlimited problems.

And sometimes we’re not very good multitaskers.

We have more people writing hate onto walls than we have people to clean it off. It’s because we all get so tired and there’s never enough time.

“If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.” – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit crazy.

Maybe it’s because of genetics.

Maybe it’s because God really is there feeding me the strength and grace and hope I chase constantly.

I don’t know. But I hope. I always hope.

Sometimes we’re knocked down. Other times, we fall.

But we have grit. And we get back up.

I don’t stay down long. You can’t kill me.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way to look at everything.

In my experience, there are always two sides to every story.

Always new ways to reframe things. Always new, better questions to ask.

For one, short moment, Holden was able to feel peace.

He felt happy.

He looked around and saw more than phoniness.

His little sister rode the carousel in the park.

Round and round and round.

And that was it. Nothing else happened.

There was nothing bad.

Nothing that might stand out to us as particularly good.

It was a moment of just “being.”

Without judgment.

A moment full of innocence and nostalgia.

He was so happy.

He probably wanted that carousel to keep spinning and spinning and spinning forever because then maybe he’d always be happy.

The carousel can’t keep spinning forever, though.

We have to wake up tomorrow and pay another surprise bill or fix something that was working fine yesterday or deal with some new family crisis.

Because things always change and life always happens and we have no control except how we choose to respond to it.

It feels good to be angry about it sometimes. To point out all the phonies and their bullshit.

But maybe a better use of our time is looking forward to that next carousel ride.

That next moment of happiness.

And hold onto it for as long as we can.

And be grateful it happened.

And then look forward to next time.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: