The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the month “July, 2016”

Anchors Aweigh

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Gle

I was just out of school,  still mostly a boy,  when I joined the Navy.  There was a big war going on, and I was eager to serve my country and see the world.   In the early days, I had the exuberance of youth; the certainty of my invulnerability. I believed I would return home a hero, with interesting tales to tell for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t long before my fantasies collapsed and my mood (and most of the others’ around me) swung between a self-protective detachment and abject terror. These emotions often manifested at inappropriate moments.   One afternoon,  our ship was strafed by enemy planes.  I and my fellow gunners manned the positions,  immediately becoming primary targets for fire.  Two of my companions died right on the deck beside me, but I had no time to mourn, no time for fear.  I focused on my job.  My aim was true.  I brought down two aircraft, watching with indifference as their pilots and their crews were swallowed by the vast ocean, unbroken ocean.

During that battle and in the hours that followed, I felt nothing.   It was only much later that a thick fog of terror and panic rolled in,  enveloping and smothering me.

Weeks later, a bird fell from the sky, dead,  onto the deck and suddenly,  I felt awash in guilt for having taken the lives of those foreign flyers. They were not so different from me and my mates, all of us just doing our jobs.

Some nights after many days of relative calm, I’d wake up in a cold sweat.  The quiet felt like a bad omen.

Apropos of nothing, the hair would stand up on my neck.  My breath would grow short and my heart would beat, rat-tat-tat, like an artillery tattoo, in my chest.

But in action, I was distracted,  attentive,  too focused on what was happening in that very moment to worry about what might happen in the future, even the immediate future.

And so the months went,  a pendulum between action and tedium,  fear and fatalism.

Eventually,  it was my turn for leave.  We were heading for a friendly port, and once there, I would be flying home for a week or so to see my family and my girl.

I hung in my hammock,  wrapped like a cocoon so I wouldn’t fall out,  swinging to and fro in the rough seas.  When I first came to the ship,  I found this movement rather sickening, but eventually I grew used to it and felt it comforting, like being rocked to sleep in a cradle.   The sound of the other guys snoring and grunting gave me comfort, for we were brothers and took care of each other.  I was sleeping peacefully,  dreaming of home.

And then, suddenly I was wide awake, up to my face in quickly-rising salt water,  the smell of fuel thick in the air. The ship had been hit by a torpedo and we were sinking fast.  I could see others floating around me, already dead.   I had only a few moments of consciousness left before it was my turn to drown.  I said a quick prayer and then gave myself over to remembering the last time my girl and I kissed.  And then I was gone.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Equilibrium and the Bell Curve

First published March 23, 2014

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Mo

As a child, I never had much use for school. Perhaps I lacked the interest or the attention span. Or maybe I just wasn’t smart enough. Or maybe a little of each.   I dropped out of school before high school and felt like a big, important man because I worked and had spending money, while my friends still suffered in school.

When I was older, those same friends became more successful than I was because they had more resources, more knowledge, more information.   But I had my own small business and earned a good living – enough to support my family in a comfortable way. To be sure, I did some things that weren’t one hundred percent legal, in order to stay above water, but I was smart enough never to get caught.

I would never admit it to anyone – I couldn’t even acknowledge it to myself — but I was insecure about my lack of education.   Rather than consider myself less than those who had degrees, I mocked them – to myself and to others. I took the position that highly educated people had no idea about real life; that all their knowledge was theoretical. Their so-called facts had no relation to my world. The academics in government made policy based on statistics and theory. I, however, had real-life experience. My opinions were at least as valuable as their facts and theories; maybe more so. I had no use for them.

I resisted change. My position was that the old way was good enough. It wasn’t so much that changes in the world did not benefit me (they generally did not) but rather I did not have the ability, knowledge or flexibility to evolve with the times. I couldn’t keep up with technology. I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to read about or comprehend new concepts. I didn’t have the energy or focus to navigate cultural shifts. Society grows ever more complicated, and I preferred the comfortable familiarity of what I already knew. I simply wasn’t up to the challenge of constant change. I voted for people who thought as I did, even though they were as unqualified as I was to run the country.

The older I got, the more conservative I became in my thinking. I became bitter and angry that the world was moving forward without me, regardless of how much I kicked and screamed. By the time I died, I was so fed up with the world and how (I believed) it had changed for the worse, I wasn’t sorry to leave it behind.

Human culture is continuum of those who remain grounded in the past and those who are willing to leap off a cliff into the unknown. Sometimes a leap into unknown produces great advances forward. Sometimes, it brings disaster. Those who resist change function as an anchor. They assure that when those who jump off the cliffs leave a big stain,  someone is left to run things. On the other hand, if nobody is willing to take the leap, there is no progress; humankind would stagnate and die. Those at the extremes balance each other, keeping the equilibrium.

 

_____

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Fields of Dreams

Originally published on Mar 20, 2015

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Ju

When things got too bad to tolerate, my mother took my sister and me across the border. We didn’t have papers, so the only kind of work we could get was in the fields. I was ten, old enough to get a job picking fruit alongside my family. I wasn’t sure how much better it was than where we came from, but my mother believed it was, and so I eventually believed it, too.

To me, my mother always seemed like an old woman but she was only twenty-three years older than I was. When I was fifteen, she was thirty-eight but she looked sixty. The sun had dried and darkened her skin. Her body was bent and permanently contorted in pain from hard labor and injury. Her hair had already begun to turn gray. She seemed to be biding time until it was her time to die.

When I was 17, I met a girl. She also worked the farms as we did, doing seasonal work. We fell in love and wanted to marry.   My mother discouraged it. She wanted me to make something more of myself. With the burden of a wife and then, inevitably some children, I’d be caught in the same trap she was – no hope, no options with too much responsibility for the luxury of suicide.

Maybe it was a good thing that fell in love when I was young. Another few years and I  might have also felt as my mother did — that it was a hopeless situation and it was madness to bring children into the world. But I was young enough and naïve enough and passionate enough to throw caution to the wind.

My girl was smart, and she had the idea that we should move to the city where we might find better opportunities. Even though we could not work legally, we were willing to do anything. We were grateful for the kind of jobs that so many others felt were beneath them — cleaning houses, digging ditches, working in hot kitchens, caring for elderly or sick people when their own families could not.   Together we made just enough money to rent a tiny place over someone’s garage.

Life was hard, but we were always looking for new chances and ways to move up. We went to school in the evenings and learned to read. I was never very good but at least I was no longer illiterate, and that was a great source of pride for me.

Eventually we did have children, a boy and then a girl. They were born in our new country. They could not be forced to leave. Even if we could do nothing else for them, at least we gave them this. Even my mother had to admit this was a good thing.

They went to school and it wasn’t very long before they knew more than we did.   My boy was a good man but average in every way. My daughter, however, was special. She had a way of seeing the angles that nobody else could see.   You could show her a tiny corner of a page and she’d be able to figure out what the whole book was about.  She could tell upon meeting someone for the first time whether they were the kind to be trusted or if they were only being friendly to get from you whatever they could for themselves. She was a natural at navigating the often complex legal and educational systems. Even as a teen, she knew how to talk her way into or out of anything.

She was smart, that one! She finished school at the top of her class and went on to college, where she figured out how to apply for scholarships which mostly paid for her education.

She eventually became a successful lawyer.   My son did OK for himself. He had a good sales job and was able to support himself and his family. But oh, my girl! It was hard to hide my pride in her! I tried not to make my son feel less loved because he was not — I loved them both their same — but even he recognized how special she was. He knew she would always outshine him. He never minded. I never saw a hint of jealousy in him, and I loved him for not forcing me to choose.

My daughter was not only smart; she was a good girl, too. She never forgot the debt she owed both to my mother, and to us, her own parents. She took care of us as best she could, forsaking nice things she could have had for herself so we didn’t have to live in constant worry. This is a blessing at any time in life, but especially in old age.

My mother did not live to see her great-grandchildren but my wife and I were very happy, doting grandparents.

During my life, I often thought how lucky it was that I didn’t listen to my mother when she discouraged me from marrying so young. It was the right choice for me, and I never once had a single regret. When I died, I died content knowing I had added good to the world; left it better than when I came in. Because of that, I’d knew I’d earned my place in it.

 

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

Beautiful Birds in a Cage

 

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Schi

I was born into slavery ; I never knew any other life.  My mother was taken as a girl.  As I was the product of her body, so I was property as well.  My mother was concubine to the master and even though I was the offspring of that union,  I had no birthright.

We, and others like us, had to work because we were not wives.  We had no power, no rights, little privilege.   We were at the beckoning of the master’s mother, who ruled us like a queen.

Those who were concubines went to the master or his guests when summoned.  Otherwise, we worked in the house or in the court at jobs that best fit our skills and age.  The concubines did not work in the fields,  lest we become unattractive and our usefulness diminished.

When I was young, I sewed tiny precious beads onto beautiful fabrics, in elaborate, intricate designs using the finest golden thread.  These were later made into clothing for the family.  I did this until my fingers cramped and bled (I had to be careful not to stain the silk!) I did it until my eyes crossed and I was nearly blind. I did it until my neck and back ached even when I slept.

Still, my lot was better than the slaves who worked the fields and orchards. I thought myself lucky.  I was fed regularly. My living quarters were clean and dry and warm in the winter. If I became very ill, my symptoms were tended to by the doctor.  We were not beaten or whipped.

We were kept away from all men. Our bodies were not ours to give nor for any man but the master to take or share as he saw fit.  We belonged to him, to be used or lent at his (or his mother’s) whim.  I was never sent to the master because I was his own child but I was, from time to time,  offered to visiting dignitaries or officials.  These men were not gentle or kind,  but fortunately, as I was not particularly beautiful or adept in bed,  my charms were not in high demand.   Eventually, I was completely ignored for such things.

All I knew about life beyond the walls was what some of the others,  including my mother, told me. For many, the outside world seemed more difficult,  full of poverty, back-breaking work, and starvation.  Almost all were young virgins when they were captured so they did not long for lost husbands or lovers or children.  Many were captives of war, and were grateful for the peace and plenty of their new circumstances.  But some were captured away from their families.  These girls found adjustment most difficult. They would weep and cry when they first arrived but in time they forgot their old lives and settled into the new. I was lucky because I had nothing to miss,  and because my mother was there to teach and protect me.

I did not consider my life bad or unfortunate.

When the weather turned warm, I enjoyed being outside in the courtyard with the others, working, gossiping.  Not all the women were embroiderers.  Some minded the children.  Some played instruments and sang. Some were dancers.  Some were ladies’ maids to the women of status.  Some of the favorite concubines  had only to keep themselves attractive. This was very important as it was her access to the master that gave her power.  Each of us had access to different parts of the household, and so each had different information.  By sharing what we knew, we could put together a bigger story.

Oh, the plots and rumors and intrigue that were discussed!

Some of the older women, longtime favorite concubines and lesser wives, those with more power and influence than I could ever hope for, were quite adept at grand manipulations. A carefully planted rumor, a well-told lie, a damning truth, whispered genially and sincerely in the right ear, all served to help accrue more power and influence.  Over the years, there was more intrigue and machinations than I can recount. There were poisonings and betrayals, false friendships and lies, all in the service of power and rank.  But my own ambition was never so great as some of the others.

When I was young, I was useless at that game but I observed and listened closely, and slowly, I learned the way it was played.

My first manipulation began accidentally when I befriended the youngest child of one of the lesser wives.  The nanny who minded her was dull and sullen and was too lazy to play with her. I could see that the child was bored so later, alone, I fashioned a small doll for her from scraps of blue silk, with eyes of fresh water pearls and tiny lapis beads, and a smile of garnets. This was not done with any specific plan in mind.  The girl seemed lonely and I felt sorry for her, so I made her a small gift using what I had at hand.  She was, after all, my sister (although this was not common knowledge among the other women.)

I gave it to her the next time I saw her.  She was delighted. And her nanny was pleased that someone else made an effort to entertain the child, relieving her of the burden of having to pay attention.

Several days later, when we were again all outside together, the girl came over to where I sat to watch me work.  She seemed fascinated by the idea of making designs with beads and thread.  As I worked, she listened raptly as I told her stories about fantastic creatures and faraway places, completely of my imagination.  I felt a kinship for her and although she did not know who I was,  she sensed the attachment.

Seeing us together, it occurred to the nanny that I was perhaps entertaining the child too well. She suspected that her position might be in jeopardy.  She called the child to come away from me but she was reluctant to go. In that brief moment, I sensed opportunity. I whispered to the girl to come see me again soon.  I’d have more stories for her.

Her nanny, by then, had become wary and prevented her from visiting with me. But the girl kept her eye on me.  I would smile and wave.  I would tell funny stories to the other girls my age to make them laugh, so the child would see this and feel she was missing the fun.

And one day, not long after, I was summoned by the girl’s mother and informed that I would now be her nanny.

And so, my rank among the women of the household increased.

The girl loved me because I devoted myself to her.  And I loved her, because, even though there was a great difference in status,  I knew we were blood. We shared many of the same features, and I brushed her long black hair and styled it like my own.

When she was grown enough to no longer need a nanny, she kept me close by making me her ladies’ maid. And so my rank increased again, as I was now privy to more important information, received firsthand, which made it more valuable.  Information was currency.  I could trade it for favors.

Eventually it came time for her to marry.  Her husband lived afar. Although she wanted me to come with her, I was still property of the household and her father would not give me to her. Both he and I understood that if I went with her,  her husband would be my new master,  and if he took me as his concubine,  as was his right,  it would cause her deep pain.

She did not see the danger of this new situation as I did.  I consoled her,  assuring her it was for the best.

We bid our tearful farewells.  She was both a child and a sister to me.  She was the only person I ever missed.  I only saw her once again, many years later, when she returned for her father’s funeral.  It was a sweet reunion.

By then, I had spent many years as a ladies’ maid to increasingly important wives,  my circumstances improving and my status growing.

I was a slave , but as a life,  it was better than many who live free.

Humans are all and always slaves to someone or something.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooe

 

Perfection is Not So Perfect

Originally published March  17, 2015

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Lu

Most people believe that being fair of face is a blessing. For me it was no such thing.

I was such a beautiful child, even strangers could not resist stroking my hair or running a finger across my flawless cheek. They cooed and marveled over my perfection; called me a little angel. Even as I got older, all anyone spoke about in reference to me was my loveliness. No one ever inquired about my cleverness, my strengths, my feelings. It was as if I were a living alabaster sculpture without a soul, born solely for the appreciation of others.

I withdrew into myself as they observed me from the outside, and rarely revealed any of my own thoughts or feelings.  I fulfilled what I perceived to be my role in life – to be on display as a model of perfection.

In a life previous to that one, I had been quite plain. You might even say homely. I longed to be beautiful. I envied those who were able to wear fine clothes and look elegant.  I knew that some people pitied me and tsk-tsked at my sorry state.  I lamented my lack of suitors and opportunities. I remained single all my life.  I had a steady job which supported me in reasonable comfort.  I had  friends among people who accepted me as I was.

But, as much as I desired to be different,  I was far less lonely in that lifetime than I was in my most recent.

In my life as a beauty, I was utterly unhappy. If I could have articulated the thought, I might have said I wanted the world to simply take me as I was, flaws and all. But I was so accustomed to playing my part as a mere object, so used to concealing what was inside, so disinclined to grow or to think too deeply or independently, that I didn’t even know, myself, who I was. I never gave myself permission to explore beyond the edge of what was expected of me.

I was completely passive in all things. I let others make all plans and decisions for me, as if they were selling and buying and moving an inanimate object.

When I became sick in my 40s, it was the first time anyone looked past my façade and regarded me as a full human being. They saw my suffering and in it, finally recognized my humanity.   I did not last very long but strange to say, it was the happiest year of my life.

I understand better now that what you think you want is not always better than what you have.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

Haters Gonna Hate

Originally posted March 13, 2015

acid

Na

My last living thought was of revenge. Not for one who had killed me for I died of natural causes. Rather, I died of the slow poisonous desire for vengeance which had coursed through my veins for decades. This was my own doing. I could have let it go. I should have let it go. But instead I let it eat me up inside like acid.

He stole my life. His fame and success should have been mine. That is what I believed. He stole my ideas; he stole my relationships; he stole my chance at happiness. He alone derailed my life’s plan and I could not, would not, let it go.

He knew I hated him, but he paid me no mind. To him, I was a pathetic nobody. At worst, I was annoying, like a housefly, incapable of inflicting any real damage. He could have destroyed me as easily as a human hand can squash a bug, but he did not waste his effort. This, too, fueled my anger, for he did not even consider me a worthy opponent.

I wasted my entire life on hate. The taste of bile tainted every possibility of joy. And whose fault was that? Still, I refused to release it, even though all the damage was to me.

I know now I traveled the path I was destined to travel. If he had not taken from me what I believed to be mine,  I would have lost it another way. It was not meant for me to be a success this time.  This life was meant to teach me to conquer resentment and anger. It was for me to learn to be happy with what I had. It was meant for me to learn to move beyond disappointment and push through to joy. But I could not.

And so, I must do it again.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

Your Path

Originally published March 9, 2015

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Fi

Maybe you see or experience something when you’re young which seems insignificant at the time, but as you get older, you realize it has shaped the whole of your thinking. Perhaps,  as you move through life, a casual word stirs an epiphany.  A minor encounter sets something large in motion.

And there are relationships, circumstances, great successes and tragedies,  which feel at the time as if they are going to change everything but in the end have very little impact on your trajectory.  Looking back,  you can see that your your life would have turned out essentially the same, regardless of these things.

Your path is your path. You will become what you were meant to become. You will have the experiences you were meant to have.

What you take from them is your free choice.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

A Footprint; a Legacy

Originally published March 6, 2015

creative-head

Ga

When I was young, I was sure I would someday come to wide acclaim. I was certain my genius would be recognized by a great number of people. I imagined my work being discussed among the intelligentsia at cocktail parties in distant cities, long after I was dead.

I expected I would soon be able to earn a living through my own work and never have to trade my labor for a wage.   I wanted to be paid very generously, not because I needed to be rich, but as proof of how much others valued my talent.

I never doubted that this would eventually come to pass. My own self-worth was never in question.

For decades, I worked hard to make a name for myself. I honed my craft. I charmed and cajoled to get my work seen, produced, written about. Generally, I received excellent reviews. Sometimes, here and there, I made a big splash but it never turned into a tsunami.  I still had to work for others in order to support myself.

I watched others succeed in big ways. I cannot deny my resentment. Many rose to the top because of who they knew or because of family money or because of who they slept with. Fame requires a cleverness at selling oneself as a commodity; a willingness to do the bidding of those who can grant favors;  a strong inclination to push aside whoever and whatever stands in the way.

It was one thing to put myself out there, but I was unwilling, on principle, to whore myself. I believed my work deserved to stand on its own.

For decades, I felt myself to be on the cusp of being discovered, but eventually it became too much of an effort to chase elusive, ever-receding fame. This requires the unbridled optimism, energy and naiveté of youth.  There was already a second and third crop of hopefuls behind me. My window had closed.

I never stopped creating.  Until the end, I had a small group of admirers, many of whom were strangers to me, personally. I learned to be satisfied with this. My audiences grew smaller but I became more grateful for each and every one. Once in a while, I’d get a letter saying how much someone had enjoyed my work, or how it had influenced their own.

I suppose, in the end, that’s all an artist really wants. To leave a legacy. Our work is our contribution to greater human understanding.  We want our footprints to remain after we have moved on.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

 

original artwork:  Adrienne Gusoff

The Measure of a Man

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Ke

I was the youngest of four brothers. My father had been a great athlete in his youth and he expected all of us to travel the same path. From the time we were old enough to walk, we were encouraged to run and swim and climb and throw and fight and do all the things that strong, powerful, masculine men do.  There was no sympathy or indulgence of weakness of any kind.

We were raised to carry on his legend by becoming  the kind of men other men admired. As children,  we were expected to be braver, smarter, and more well liked than other boys. It was impressed upon us from the time we were very young we must never do anything to tarnish our family name or reputation. There must never be even a whiff of controversy or disagreeability about us. We were raised to be kind to those weaker than ourselves. We defended injustice when we saw it.  We were helpful to those in need.  We were generally peaceful but strong and able enough to win a fight should someone else throw the first punch. We were raised to be real men, good men, admirable men.

I never doubted that my father’s values were well-placed. His moral compass was infallible.  I understood his reasoning in everything.  I lived to make him proud of me. And he was proud of me.  I was handsome, popular, smart, a champion athlete. I didn’t have to be coerced to adopt his values.  I did not stay the course merely to please my father.  It was obvious to me that this was the right and proper way to be.  I felt fortunate to have his guidance knowing that others floundered with no beacon to light the way.

When I was about 13 or 14, an uncomfortable stirring began to nag at the back of my mind.  Other boys my age were thinking about girls.  In fact, that’s all they thought about.  I kept waiting for that same fascination to arise in me. I expected to wake up one morning and find myself as lust-driven as my classmates.  I worried that I did not share this irresistible biological urge.  I told myself I was just a late bloomer.  Or maybe my glands were afflicted in some way and not producing enough hormones.  Perhaps I needed to eat more masculine foods. (I began a diet heavy in red meat, certain that would solve the problem.)

Meanwhile, I kept a low profile. It was not in my nature to lie, so instead I was reticent and shy. I didn’t want anyone to examine me too closely, to ask too many questions. My athletic skills were valuable to the various teams I played on, but I rarely socialized with the boys outside of practice.

When I was 17, I started dating a girl in my class.  This was done for the sake of appearances; to stave off the inevitable questions.   I did not want to have to explain why I didn’t have a girlfriend.  The answer was too complex and I didn’t even understand it, myself.   The girl was also shy and from a religious family.   Our relationship was respectful and chaste, which was ideal as neither of us were interested in anything sexual, each for our own reasons.

When my friends started bragging about their conquests, I held my tongue. Even if I had been having sex, I still would not have shared my exploits. Such behavior was unseemly. They grudgingly admired me because I didn’t kiss and tell.

Eventually, I went off to university, far from home, away from the inquisitive eyes of anyone who had any preconceived notions about me, where I could start again with no preconceived notions about myself.

I had long harbored suspicions about myself, and they haunted me.  Such thoughts were terrifying and when my mind alighted upon them, I quickly changed the mental subject.   Eventually, however,  the feelings, the desires, the need,  were too big to deny.  They screamed and barked and howled.  They would not stop, would not be silenced.  They could no longer be ignored.

Here was my dilemma: if I could not face the truth about myself, I was a coward, and that I could not abide.  But if my suspicions were correct, my life was a ruin.

But the truth could no longer be denied, and so it was there that I discovered what I was.

This knowledge ripped my sense of self right out from under me. It went against everything I’d ever believed I was, everything I’d spent my life preparing to be.   I’d become that thing that brings shame on the family; that thing that can never be accepted; that thing that made a mockery of my father’s fine lessons in manhood.

I could not be my true self and remain part of my own family.  They would never accept me as now knew I was.  And now that I knew, I could not pretend to them to be otherwise. By deceit,  I already put myself apart from them,  even if they didn’t know.

And so, I was cast adrift with no moral anchor. What did it matter if I was brave and strong and true? I was still a mockery of a man.

But then, who could I be? I needed a new identity, a new way of being, a new skin.  I tried on many, but nothing felt comfortable. No matter who I tried to be, it all felt like a costume, a pretense, a role that wasn’t at all natural.  I had been taught to be a certain kind of man, and now all those lessons were moot.  What was left?  Who was I?  What was I?  I spent several wasted years adrift, searching but not finding the answers. I did things that, had they known, would have disgraced my family.  I was not always honest nor brave nor true.  Even crying filled me with shame.

I couldn’t be myself anymore and I couldn’t be anyone else, either.  I was nothing.  Nobody.  Nothing about me was true or real. There was no reason for me to exist.

And so, at 24, I hanged myself.  I did not leave a note. I did not reveal my secret. The act of suicide, itself, I knew, would be shameful enough.

The pain was ultimately intolerable but from this side I can appreciate the understanding that has followed from it. This loss of identity, the complete denial of ego, and the accompanying torment provided the most valuable lessons I have ever been shown in any lifetime.

There needs to be a balance between feeling the importance of the self and realizing how unimportant we really are.

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