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!