Whoa, two serious posts in a row -- I hope you're ready for this jelly. If you want to slink on over to E!Online or GuysGettingHitInTheNuts.org, now's your chance.
Two things came up recently that told me things about myself I might rather not have known, yet pointed me in a good direction, in a way.
The first thing was something I kind of brought about myself, to the extent that it "happened" at all. You know how sometimes you get bored and you don't have anything better to do than surf the Internet, and you actually don't want to look at porn because maybe you've already looked at a lot of porn, or maybe you're at work, or maybe it's Lent and you feel like looking at porn will make the baby Jesus cry? No? Just me? OK, but anyway, you know how you get bored and you start Googling your name just to see what kinds of places it ends up, then you start Googling your parents' names? Then you start Googling your current friends' names? Then you start Googling names of your friends from college, then high school, then eventually you're Googling people you haven't seen in 15 or 20 years, just to see where they ended up? You know that?
Well, I ended up doing that the other day, and I was Googling people I knew in fricking junior high. A lot of my friends back then were people with fairly common names, so Googling them didn't prove particularly edifying, but then I Googled the name of the person who I considered my nemesis from those three miserable years -- Ryan, the leader of the Cool Kids pack, the one whose jokes everyone laughed at like clockwork, the one who for whatever reason pretty much got to pick out who was cool and who wasn't. And for those three years, I Wasn't. I could go through the litany of less-than-pleasant memories from junior high and the reasons why that period of my life saddled me with self-esteem issues that I've only recently begun to get on top of, but I won't bore you any more than this post is probably already going to. Anyway, the point is, junior high sucked, and Ryan was always the major symbol of that, the person I put at the root of all the bad stuff that happened.
So anyway, in Googling Ryan's name I was hoping to see, I don't know what -- that he had flunked out of college and ended up working at a mall kiosk selling iPod accessories, that he had been implicated in the Enron collapse, that he had been a staffer for Rick Santorum and was now desperately looking for work, who knows. But after a fairly minimal amount of time, I found him: He has one of those semi-blogs where people put up pictures of their kids, and he and his wife apparently just had twin boys. Who were pretty cute. And the four of them looked like a perfectly happy, normal family -- Ryan looked like the kind of person who'd be taking his kids to McDonald's and, later, to Little League games, cheering them on without being overbearing or getting into fistfights with the umpire.
The kind of person, in other words, that it would be hard to be mad at. So I had to ask myself: Could I really still be mad at him? And to answer that, I had to ask: What was it he did that I was so angry about to begin with? I tried to remember back to my junior high years, now 17-19 years in the rearview mirror, and I could only remember two or three specific incidents of Ryan doing or saying something really bad to me. I'm certain there were more, but they couldn't have been that bad if I didn't remember them. I could remember a number of instances where other people had taken advantage of my general pre-teen dorkiness to make me look or feel insignificant, but obviously that couldn't all be channeled into a single person, Ryan or anyone else.
I'd spent a long, long time holding Ryan up as the symbol of everything that was unpleasant in my life, and now I'd come to the belated realization that he'd probably never done anything close to bad enough to deserve that. I don't think what I did was anything particularly out-of-the-ordinary; everybody needs to have a villain. Everybody needs to have a devil to have somebody for the angels to fight against. But if you blindly pile too much blame onto that one person, you end up getting distracted from who the real villain is -- which, in my case, was me. The old saying is that "nobody can make you feel worthless without your permission," and I realized I'd been giving permission for the past however many years.
So that was the first thing. The second was a little more serious.
My late-bloomer status meant that I didn't have a real girlfriend until my senior year of high school. I won't directly identify her here, but suffice to say she's the only person in the world with the dubious distinction of appearing on my "Dump Spots" Platial map twice. The first time was just a straight-up out-of-the-blue blindside; the second time I should've seen coming, but I was too naive to keep from diving right back in head-first. But anyway, after two dumpings, I was pissed. Maybe not so much pissed as embarrassed, but I made sure that the last words that passed between us for several years were mean and petty, I said plenty of things to other people that were just as bad if not worse, and I held that grudge for a good long while. Not nearly as long as the one I held against Ryan, but certainly longer than I needed to, and for reasons that weren't much better -- basically to make her a symbol of whatever I was pissed off or frustrated about at any given moment, for whatever way I was being screwed over by a girl or a class or a boss. Again heaping more blame and bile upon someone than they ever deserved.
Eventually I forgot about it, more or less. I stopped harboring it, and I could even be civil and friendly around her in public. But I never apologized for any of the hateful things I said or did much reflecting on it, period. I just forgot.
The thing that brought it to mind again was her mom being diagnosed with lung cancer two months ago. In only two months she went from healthy to having lung cancer to having cancer metastasizing in her liver, bones, and brain to being in hospice to passing away. She died Friday night and I went to her funeral Monday morning.
I tried to imagine what my life would be like in this girl's shoes -- watching my mom waste away to nothing in the span of only two months -- and I could barely do it. The only thing I was sure of was that she'd gone through something horrible that no family in the world deserved. Even though whatever'd happened between us had happened a long time ago, I still couldn't help but feel that much worse about the things I'd done and said all those years ago in light of what she was going through now -- not only feel that much worse about it, but also realize just how pointless it was. I'm not proud of the fact that it took her mom dying a shocking death to make me finally own up to just how much time and energy I'd spent being angry or resentful over the years, but it finally did happen.
Those two realizations coming almost one right after the other made me realize just how much of my life I'd spent being angry about things -- not just those two people in particular but much more general things, from things as major as politics and societal injustice down to silly things like sports and shitty drivers. Which is not to say that every kind of anger is bad or useless, but some of it is over important things and some of it isn't, and you've got to be able to stop yourself sometimes and get some clarity as to which is which. When I sort of rediscovered God five years ago and started going back to church, I made a promise to myself (and to God) that I'd start doing that, but the past few weeks made me realize that I'd kind of lost track of that promise.
I try to pray regularly these days, and when I do I spend a lot of time praying about stuff related to peace in the world, and one of the things I've been praying for lately is that people everywhere -- particularly in Iraq and the Middle East, but really everywhere -- will stop and think before committing an act of violence will accomplish anything of value. That's all, just to stop and think. But maybe it goes even deeper than that -- what if we could stop long before ideas of violence even enter the equation and ask ourselves whether what we're getting angry about (or think we're getting angry about) is really important. Just as 99 percent of the time our violent acts don't end up solving anything, I'd be willing to bet that 99 percent of our anger isn't about anything useful or meaningful either.
Obviously it's silly for someone to say they're just going to stop being angry about anything ever more, and I'm certainly not going to, nor would I expect anyone else to. Like I said, some anger serves a useful purpose, or can at least motivate us to do useful things. But a whole lot of it doesn't, and I think the world at large would be much better off if we could all spend a little more effort separating one from the other. I know my life would be. And I probably have some apologies ahead of me over the next few months, but better that than continuing to carry the same baggage around with me. It's time to start traveling light(er) from now on.