Will this post to the right blog?
I cried like some sort of grandmother.
I opened the email, and I cried and cried and cried.
This was not like any other cry I’d ever had. This was a sobbing, heaving cry that I couldn’t get under control. I couldn’t see, I was crying so hard. And I’ve been going through a phase lately where I cry a lot! But not like this. This was something different. I know that to be true, because of what started it.
An Uber gift card.
I’ve never used Uber. It seems too trendy and expensive to me. My cousin drives for Lyft, and I come from a community with a lot of cab drivers, and I overheard one of them complaining that he was constantly losing business to Uber. My heart went out to him. To me, Uber is the ride-sharing equivalent of gentrification, so I really have had no interest in it, nor need for it, until now. Having totaled my car, I’ve been getting around by city bus, and here in Orange County, California, it’s pretty limited, especially later in the day. Not like Chicago, or I imagine New York. So my life has become pretty limited. But somebody sent me a $50 Uber gift card and I just couldn’t handle it – I’m even tearing up about it as I write about it now. Why’s that?
Because I hate myself, but he doesn’t hate me. And he barely even knows me.
The bane of my whole existence, more so than my poor health, lack of steady employment, or mostly single parent upbringing has been my low self-esteem, and I see signs of it in places I didn’t even know it existed. Recently I blind carbon copied Nina Rubin on a job lead she emailed to me, after hearing I’d have to leave California soon if I can’t find full-time employment. She noticed right away that instead of tooting my own horn, like most people do when trying to get a job, I did the opposite. I tore myself down, letting this person who barely knew me know everything that was wrong with me as a worker, and why I hadn’t been able to successfully change careers after two years of trying. I did it out of fear that if I oversold myself and couldn’t handle the job, I’d be found out as the loser I am. Nina was shocked, advising me never ever to do that again. And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
Nina wasn’t so much shocked that I didn’t realize it though, she was shocked that I thought so little of myself, when during the time I was her client, a coworker who barely knew me gave me her kidney. Prior to that, I’d shared with Nina in-sessions that I won a trip to Washington DC for writing an essay when I was in high school, had been published numerous times, had friends across the country, and a family who loved me dearly. Most recently I’d won a $3000 scholarship to attend paralegal school, which was why she gave me the job lead in the first place, because she believed in me, that I could do the job, and likely would do it well. Why then, didn’t I believe that?
There are many reasons, which therapists have sussed out as coming from my difficult childhood. I’ll spare you all the details, because they’re just background to why that Uber gift card made me cry. The point is that no amount of praise, no achievement, no number of friends has ever seemed to convince me that I’m a worthwhile human beings. I see myself only through all of the awards I didn’t win, all the goals I didn’t accomplish, and the piddling number of significant others, rather than friend, that I’ve had. I’m a lonely person with an unbelievable amount of long-term friends. I had a credit on a TV show with my very first job in television, yet give myself no credit. And most of all, I see myself as a failure, despite having succeeded at more things than many people have ever tried. And yet in spite of all that, somebody I barely knew heard that I didn’t have a car, and without my asking, bought me a $50 gift card to use Uber so I could get around. He’s not related to me. He doesn’t owe me anything. Thus far all I’ve ever done for him was show up for meetings of a filmmaking group he organized, and helped the other people in the group with their first attempts at making films. And for that, he moved me because he naturally sensed what nobody else could convince me, that I’m a good person BECAUSE I AM. I just didn’t realize it until now.
It made me think of the movie (because I’m a film geek) About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002), where (spoiler alert!) the Jack Nicholson character weeps at the end, having realized that he really does matter to somebody after all. What my friend Stacy (a professional therapist) and others have been trying to convince me of for years is that I don’t need to prove how worthwhile I am to others because they know it, and wouldn’t help or spend time with me if they didn’t. The “some” of us, as Tavis Smiley likes to put it, is not “the sum” of us, and while I may have spent my life judging myself by my faults, others have not. My friends and loved ones know I have flaws, and the vast majority of them don’t care. I am a good person, or as my father put it, I am “a good boy. He just sells himself short.”
In the past, I rationalized the kindness others showed me as a sense of obligation, because of whatever connection I had to them, or basic human kindness, or pity, or worst of all, because they wanted something from me. It never occurred to me that they were helping me because they just liked me, that I am, as Nina put it, “an amazing person,” and thus worthy of their time and effort. In other words, people aren’t helping or spending time with me because they feel they have to or because I bugged them into doing so. They’re doing it because they want to, to the point that even in a limited number of interactions, they can tell I’m a good guy.
I wept because that Uber gift card might have finally brought me to the point of realizing it for myself. I know I won’t change overnight – old habits die hard – but I now recognize what’s good about me because other people do too, and have shown it. I didn’t achieve all of those things because I’m lucky. I’ve struggled in life because I have challenges that most other people don’t have. And most importantly, I’ve overcome those challenges because I am “an amazing person,” and am where I am in life because until now, I just haven’t realized or accepted it.
But no more. It’s time to turn the page, move on, and ride that Uber. The kidney transplant gave me 15-20 more years of life that I didn’t have before. I have nothing to lose, and no more reasons not to do that which I’ve always been capable of doing. I am a good person. And if I live my life knowing that, the past will not matter. Car or no, I will always be able to get where I need to go.
And if for some reason I can’t, there will always be people ready, willing and able to help me get there. Because I’m worth it, and regardless of whether I tell them, they’ll know it!
Muslims don’t eat pork.
It’s a basic rule of Islam that’s so ingrained into every Muslim from birth, I learned it before learning that we don’t believe that Jesus (PBUH) is the son of God. I learned it so well, that when I went to McDonald’s as a child, before they switched to vegetable shortening, I saw them changing the grease, and we didn’t go to McDonald’s for years afterward until they switched. I eschewed Hostess Twinkies, glazed doughnuts, and other foods other kids defiantly ate in front of me, because I knew the rules, and refused to break them. I still do that today, even though I’m more Agnostic than Muslim. But of all the pork products I successfully saved from my Muslim mouth, the one that failed me was so-called it “Salisbury” Steak.
Salisbury Steak, I just learned, is a pork product, and I’ve eaten it for years. Last night I bought a TV dinner, read the ingredients after taking one bite, and learned of my mistake. I stopped eating the steak immediately, threw it out, went out and got fast food, and asked God to forgive me. I was okay with that, because I knew God absolves us for honest mistakes. Muslims learn that too – God judges you more by your intentions than your flaws. Had I continued to eat the steak, I’d be punished. Had I been starving and had no other option, He would’ve let it go. I know the rules, and I followed them, so I’m good.
Here’s the thing, though: not 24 hours before, my former life coach Nina Rubin sent me a job lead from a friend of hers. I quickly got on the computer, emailed my resume as requested, and wrote a long and rambling email that emphasized all of the things I couldn’t do rather than my good traits. I figured I should be honest, and luckily, I BCC’d Nina, who advised me that I should’ve been positive. She noted that my email sounded really negative and suggested some changes, even giving me a sample of the kind of cover letter I should send in the future.
And I have been mentally beating myself senseless about it ever since.
As I ate the dinner that replaced the sinful Salisbury, something occurred to me: I believe that God – a being I’ve never seen or heard from – would forgive me for breaking one of His commandments, but I absolutely refused to let myself off the hook for blowing that job opportunity. Did I need the job more than eternal salvation? If I truly believe, probably not. And yet nothing could convince me that I wasn’t the worst, stupidest person in the world because Mr. Award-winning writer had written an honest, but negative email, thus likely costing myself a job when I needed it most. And that’s something worth pondering, I think.
See the thing is, while it’s true that a Muslim would say my eternal soul meant more than any job, and that maybe it was all for the best, and part of God’s plan for me, at the end of the day, I have to live in the here and now. And while I did make a huge mistake from a practical standpoint, of all of the sins I committed in this little story, I have begun to realize that the biggest was likely not forgiving myself for making the mistake. While it is true that I’m assuming that it’s God letting me off the hook for the Salisbury Steak, not me, I’m the person who made the mistake, just as I’m the person who has to live my life. If God is going to let me off the hook in the hereafter, thus escaping punishment, why am I punishing myself in the here and now? Isn’t not getting the job punishment enough?
Here’s what I learned from that Salisbury Steak: when we make mistakes, it’s important to forgive ourselves and move on. Just as the steak box taught me never to eat Salisbury Steak again, Nina’s feedback on my email taught me what I did wrong there, too. Having learned the lesson, the experience is over. No more Salisbury Steak, and no more negative emails. End of discussion. Move on. The sooner I learn this, the better off I’ll be. Spiritually and mentally.
I guess eating that “steak” wasn’t so bad after all. 😉
My old life coach Nina Rubin hit me up online after the new year. It’s been a while since we’ve really talked, so she said, “I’m curious how you’re feeling about work, dating, and the political landscape,” because she cares about my well-being, and remembered that I am known for having very specific opinions on politics and pop culture, and it feels like the two have merged in recent days. Since I have some decent job prospects, and the girl I was seeing reached out to let me know she was going to try to be more available (she’s the assistant dean of a California State University, in the midst of getting her PhD), I guess you’re stuck with what I think about the political landscape. And what do I think?
I think that our country is in danger, real danger. Not from politics, or terrorism or a draconian leader, but from our disconnection from one another. And to me, in a world where human beings genuinely need other people, we cannot continue this way. Like it or not.
Here’s the thing: I believe that if America comes asunder completely, it will be because we cannot get along with people who don’t agree with us, and don’t think that we that we have to. Terrorism or Russia or anybody else can’t beat us like we can beat ourselves in my opinion, and that won’t change unless we change our thinking about people we don’t like. For me, this post is not about politics, because at the end of the day, politics is just the study of how we choose to govern the country, and because we in the United States live in a representative democracy, that means how we choose to treat the people that live in it.
This past election cycle, I saw people “unfriend” (as though that’s a real thing) old friends on Facebook because of who they voted for. On both sides. I saw people say absolutely vulgar and hateful gutter things to people online that they’d never met and didn’t even actually know. On both sides. And I saw many people complain about how miserably lonely they were, and how they felt isolated, despondent, and that nobody understood or cared about them. On both sides. While I’ve felt low myself over the past year, it’s not because I felt alone, thanks to social media. So I find it ironic that in a time where I’ve had the ability to reconnect with people I went to grammar school with on the other side of the country, we seem to have large groups of people spending thousands of dollars on dating sites to learn to connect with other people, while living in terror of people they don’t even know. And I’m terrified that this is a breeding ground for people with a fanatical ideology to convince those despondent people that the way to make their seemingly meaningless lives worthwhile is to sacrifice themselves to hurt those people they hate or they feel have otherwise rejected them. And in my opinion, that has got to stop.
Here’s reality: by actual fact, human beings are social animals. No matter how many dogs or cats you hoard, you came from a woman, and I believe that without people of both genders actively in your life, regardless of what your particular gender orientation is, you will be miserable. I realize that people are tough – oftentimes, family members will drive you up the wall more than anybody else you encounter. What I’ve found though, is that nothing will make you feel better than connecting with somebody you didn’t believe you could connect with, and nothings enriches you more as a human being than when you do.
My first girlfriend and I had almost nothing in common. She came from poverty; growing up I came from wealth. My family raised me to believe that her religion was the enemy, and while I’ve been a geek my whole life, she was a popular cheerleader, known for being the prettiest girl in her family. We had two completely different races. While I will admit that our relationship ultimately did not work out, I grew more as a person as a result of trying to make it work than in any other experience I’d had before or have had since. Though most people refuse to believe this, I learned that there may be no universal “good,” “right,” and “wrong,” but that there’s mainly what works and what doesn’t, which differs from person to person. In spite of all that difference and grey area, somehow, some way, people still need each other, and for me the easiest way to discover what works is to measure one’s own beliefs against those who believe otherwise. If you’re open to it, you’ll either confirm what you believe more, or learn a new way of thinking that will give you answers and options that you didn’t even realize existed.
Every human beings deserves respect, in my opinion, even those you despise. Please do not confuse respect and admiration. Those people you ignore, belittle, and who escape your notice are the same people that can one day turn around and rob you for it, bomb your country, or take it over outright. Despite your not respecting their opinions, their mere existence alone will make them matter to you eventually, I have found. Again, because people need people, people eventually affect each other, no matter how hard you try to hide from them. The family member you hate may be a part of you, and your hatred of them may eat you alive inside. The person you ignore may affect somebody you care about, pulling you into their orbit. The welfare queen that you reject may give birth to the person who kills your relative. And the terrorist who bombs a country you never heard of may affect your country’s economy with his or or her craziness. Again, I believe that if you arm yourself with knowledge of those different from you by respecting their ideas and trying to understand them regardless of whether you agree, you can shield yourself from harm somewhat, and perhaps enhance your reality. Bury your head in the sand, and you may not even see the danger of changing circumstances until it’s too late.
At the end of the day, I believe that there is no good reason to be a jerk. “I don’t like this” and “this stinks” are two very different things. While we live in a country where confidence is king, I believe that you can be confident without putting down somebody else. The world, as I see it, is not a zero sum game, and I think that turning it into one will drive you further and further away from the rest of society, and leave you unprepared for what I see as the inevitability of having to deal with it. We inoculate people from illness by injecting part of the disease into the body, so that it can learn to protect itself. The more we avoid the opportunity to do this, the weaker we become, in my opinion.
All that said, I also believe we need to leave people alone. Not by neglecting them, but letting them be them. In my opinion, the most you can do is protect yourself and your loved ones from harm – you cannot change other people unless they want to change. If you can learn to understand them however, I believe you can make it – we all can. By learning to respect and live with other people, as they are, I believe that we can do and survive anything together. I think trying to cherry pick only the parts of life and people we like is not only harmful, but impossible. We are all human, we all have traits that people like and those they don’t. If we can learn to accept that, regardless of who we’re dealing with, I believe we genuinely have a shot at making this thing work. I think it is literally the only shot we’ve got.