A few years ago, around the time I was born, the racist bigot hippie comic artist Robert Crumb drew a cartoon with a big-footed man walking. Keep on Truckin’, the comic said. Even racist bigot hippie comic artists strike upon a good idea once in awhile.
Sometimes, through no fault of your own, stuff seems to pile up and a bad day turns into a bad week, then a bad month… Suddenly, you think, 2016 is altogether bad. I get that. I’m not naturally a positive person, and I tend to see connections where there are none.
Let me take a brief sentence to say, I’m having a fairly good week. I just came off a physically exhausting six days at work, and I’m fine. I’m thinking of friends today.
A few weeks ago, the musician Prince died. Before that, it was David Bowie. Doris Roberts. Merle Haggard. Garry Shandling. Nancy Reagan Abe Vigoda Patty Duke Glen Frey George Martin. Alan Rickman. Dan Haggerty. That’s right. Severus Snape and Grizzly Adams both died this year. And it’s not even June. I saw a lot of Facebook posts declaring that the music and entertainment in heaven was a lot better, but we’re sadder down here on earth. Also, folks were saying, after the Rolling Stones/McCartney/Who/Roger Waters concert announcement, that we were being optimistic. The Rolling Stone guitarist, Chief of the Undead-but-still-Living Keith Richards, is getting a lot of facetime while people look on in shock, wondering how he’s still alive after all years of abuse to that skinny frame of his.
But that’s neither here nor there. I want to be an encourager, and I’m not sure how good I am at it. I remember being appalled during the funeral of of my nieces, by the number of people who “comforted” my brother- and sister-in-law with such trite stuff as “Well, it must have been in God’s will,” or “They’re in a happier place now.” It’s my opinion that people get Stupid when confronted with hardship. Stupid comes on like a disease. They want to say something nice, and the Stupid just spews out of their mouth, like a sneeze-propelled-virus. Sometimes there are no words.
We have social protocols and stock phrases for nice stuff: weddings, and anniversaries; birthdays. Congratulations! you say. And you give the one you love the gift of a toaster. It lasts a lifetime. If you can’t afford a toaster, you can always buy them a gift card for Bed Bath and Beyond, or Red Lobster. But you don’t buy monogrammed hand towels for the grieving. And (except for the possible exception of mafia funerals) you don’t say Congratulations!
The best I’ve found I can do is listen. I’m not good at it. I tend to open my mouth. In my struggle to sympathize, I often open my yap when a friend is grieving and say, for example, “I know where you’re exactly coming from… when my Datsun died, I was very sad for weeks .” And then the person you were supposed to be LISTENING TO looks at you like you’ve just eaten a baby puppy, and its tail is sadly wagging out of your mouth. Feigning listening is hard too. Don’t even try. People can feel, amidst all the mm-hmm’s, that you’re really playing online solitaire and listening with half an ear.
So, this one is for the people who are hurting, and I’ve ignored them. And for the folks who need an ear, and I’m too wrapped up in my own thing.
2016 isn’t too bad, right? I mean 1988… That year suuuuuuuuucked…
The summer of 1988, I moved back home between my Freshman and Sophomore years. I had every intention of practicing the piano all summer. I needed a job, so I got one at Gold Beach Plywood, pulling veneer off the dry belt. I stank at my job, which lasted from 11PM until 7 AM. I got dumped by two girls (well not dumped, but friendzoned… “you’re just like a brother to me!”) that spring, and my confidence was shot. I recieved two huge slivers in my stomach, each a couple inches long, while pulling wood from that confounded belt. I felt like a robot. My dad fell out of the rafters of my uncle’s barn and into the back of a jeep. When he stopped drinking, to heal up, he had to go through detox, where he was fighting off snakes with his slipper in the Roseburg hospital. I was told by one lousy psychologist that I was the adult child of an alcoholic, and he sent me on my merry way with no help other than a name for my condition. I stopped going to classes. A minister/counselor told me that all my problems would be solved if I read the Bible and prayed more. I began to resent God, and had no where to turn for help. I began praying and fasting, so severe was my condition that I had a breakdown. I thought I heard god telling me to “walk to Los Angeles, only during the night, and minister to the homeless on your way.” So I started the 300 mile walk , with nothing but a coat and clothes on my back. If it weren’t for the kindness of a friend, I’d have kept going, but at 4AM I reconsidered the plan, and decided to ask him if what-I-thought-was-God’s-plan was a good idea.
I’m not comparing with your troubles. I’m just saying– that was 28 years ago! It’s 2016. And here I am. I didn’t walk to LA. The slivers are mostly healed over, but I still have the scars. Sometimes we always have the scars. But hell, I outlived Gold Beach Plywood. I’m married to a wonderful lady, and have two quite interesting sons. Even my sad memories are nostalgic 20 years later.
I guess what I’m saying is things keep on going. And sometimes they get better. You have to swallow the nasty medicine with… what was it Julie Andrews said? A spoonful of spiders?
Treat yourself nicely. Go to a spa. Throw water balloons at someone you like. Sleep. And then sleep some more. Then wake up and throw another water balloon, this time at someone who annoys you. And smile. You have a beautiful smile, you know. Most of all, and I think you know what I’m trying to say, I love you all, and wish you the best. And if you need to talk, I’m there.