My 15 year old son received this group text tonight. I’m tempted to have a poster made, and mail it anonymously to the youth leader who sent it:
I’m learning something about myself, that shouldn’t have taken me nearly four decades to learn:
I don’t actually hate people.
In fact, I love people. I find them fascinating subjects of study. I find their stories interesting, and their quirks amusing. But for much of my life, I have been beating myself up over the fact that much of the time, I find other people incredibly annoying in inexplicable ways.
For example, I don’t ever find my students annoying during class, or even between classes. I don’t find my children annoying on long car trips or at the park, or during dinner. I fully expect to be 100% emotionally and intellectually available to 30+ kids every hour, for 7 hours a day. I fully plan and expect to engage with my 11 year old while I’m making dinner. Those types of interactions don’t bother me a bit.
Well, let’s say that I’m in my classroom and all of my students are doing group work and you come into my room and see me walking around, not exactly in the middle of actively “teaching” at the moment and you want to talk about the thing you’re planning for next weekend. Or I’m making dinner and you drop by and expect to fulfill your VT assignment by inviting yourself to help me peel potatoes. After all, I’m not really busy, right? And in fact, you’re helping me be less busy?
Sometimes I fantasize about moving to a third-world country where I don’t know the language and nobody knows me, and living in a small hut with no outside communication. Ever.
This puzzled me. How can I like you so sincerely, and yet wish you out of existence so often?
Until I realized that I don’t actually find you annoying. I find the fact that you’ve interrupted my train of thought annoying. Maddening. And then I feel guilty about being annoyed, and I try really hard to swim back up to a social level of consciousness, and I engage with you in my kitchen or classroom, and then you leave and I’m exhausted and feeling more annoyed and more guilty and the next time you call or drop in unexpected, I’ll probably pretend I’m not here, simply to avoid that same cycle.
I’ll probably even move my desk into the corner where nobody can see if I’m in my room, and I’ll eat lunch in the dark, and put my earbuds in, even though I’m not listening to music, just in case someone pounds on my door for 15 minutes straight and then turns out to be someone with a legitimate reason for needing access, and they get a key and lets themselves in, so I need an excuse for not answering.
Not because I resent the fact of your existence in any way. I don’t actually care if you chew loudly, snort when you breathe, or walk on your heels. You could probably drop a jar full of marbles on a tile floor and I wouldn’t notice–as long as you don’t expect me to respond to any of those things.The problem is, the vast majority of people expect a response–an acknowledgement of their existence. Fair enough. It’s been said that feeling invisible is one of the worst experiences for mental and emotional health. That most people crave acknowledgement. Expect friendly engagement.
And if that’s what I have planned, I’m up for that–totally.
But if it’s not? If I was planning to physically buy groceries, or wash my dishes, or spend my lunch-hour thinking through a lesson plan or a problem, and you “pop in” and expect me to even recognize your face, let alone the syllables coming from your mouth as English?
You’re probably going to annoy me.
More than you can possibly know.
I think I’ve figured out why I get along so well with strangers (and other people who know how to conduct 20 second phone calls and, say, borrow a textbook without doing anything else except borrow the textbook) and yet experience so much inner conflict over other, more important relationships.
You see, I can smile and say hello to every person I meet in the grocery store, but on the same day duck six different aisles because a friend or acquaintance is down every stinking one of them. It’s not that I don’t like those people. I’m just doing something else right now, and I don’t want to be interrupted. That little old lady who needs help reading the ingredient label? Not annoying. A friend? Duck. The young mother who needs someone to watch the cart while she cleans up vomit? Not annoying. A family member who wants to make comments about the number of milk jugs in my cart? Duck.
Because that other thing I had planned? It wasn’t the groceries. That’s just an alibi. Something to keep this ridiculous bundle of nerves and muscle cells, these hands and feet, otherwise occupied. What I was really doing was inside my head.
I used to think that something was wrong with me, when I looked at the caller ID, and would ignore calls from people I really do love, or would take the long way around at a social function in order to avoid truly delightful acquaintances.
But I think it’s about emotional and intellectual engagement. I don’t have to authentically engage with the half-blind woman or the young mother. I’m just a serviceable body, mindlessly performing a function. On the other hand, someone I care about? You are going to drain every bit of energy out of me if you walk up to me right now and demand interaction. Because I care too much to be a robot with you, ever. If I’m going to talk to you, I’m driven to make it meaningful, which there isn’t time for in a grocery aisle. And I’m not necessarily prepared to plunge into a meaningful conversation every time you are. As a matter of fact, most of the time I’m not. You may think I’m just cooking dinner, or filling my shopping cart, or washing my white board.
But actually, I’m not even in the room.
Unless you force me back into it–compel me back into the confines of mortality to satisfy your ever-present need for being seen and heard and acknowledged at every moment.
And try as I might, I can’t help but resent you for doing that.
Is this wrong?
Is this a symptom of selfishness at the most fundamental level? This craving I have to escape the room?
I think I used to believe I was selfish.
I used to believe that I had to be fully present, all the time, for every person. Totally forthright and transparent, and acknowledge your existence, every time.
But I’m starting to question that. I’m starting to wonder just how available to everyone I really need to be. Maybe some of us really are introverts. Maybe some of us just aren’t built for the kind of social interaction Western society values.
Actually, I’ve always known that.
But I’m starting to think it’s not something to be ashamed of, or to fight against, or apologize for.
Or try to change.
Maybe some people don’t live inside their own heads enough or ever. Maybe they have no self-awareness and constantly need to leech energy from other people in order to feel alive themselves.
And maybe that’s totally normal and fine for them, and they shouldn’t feel ashamed of that, or fight against it or apologize for it.
But maybe I don’t have to allow myself to be leeched.
Maybe if you ask me a question I don’t want to answer, or don’t want to answer right now, I don’t have to worry about your feelings if I prefer to raise an eyebrow but otherwise ignore your inquiry. Maybe I don’t have to allow you to sit at my bar and peel my potatoes. Maybe I can tell you that now is not a good time. Maybe I don’t have to explain to you why I do or do not do certain things that you think I should or should not do. Maybe I shouldn’t believe that the happiness and well-being of every person I interact with is contingent on my interaction or lack of interaction with them.
Maybe I should just live my life and trust that you’ll live yours and if you still like me the way I truly am, we’ll still be friends, and if not, well… I’m sure you’ll find symbiosis in another ecosystem.
Maybe if I did that more often, I wouldn’t get to the point where I want to move to Zimbabwe.
I had an interesting discussion with a young science teacher this week. His assertions intrigue me:
1. All suffering and injustice in the history of the world not directly attributable to natural processes (hurricanes, scorpion bites, etc.) has been and always will be a direct result of religion. Science, on the other hand, has never caused suffering or injustice and is the only hope of the future.
I asked if he’d ever heard of the medical experiments performed by the Nazis, or Hiroshima.
He said those weren’t a result of science, but of corrupt men and politics using scientific principles for their own gain.
Oh. So kind of like religious principles have been used by corrupt men and politicians for their own gain?
He couldn’t explain why my comparison was ridiculous, except to assert that I can’t possibly be making any sense because I’m religious, and all religious people are without exception grossly ignorant. (Also, that it’s “unfortunate our community is infested with so many” [religious people]. Only he didn’t use such polite terminology. “Disgusting pigs”, “reprobates”, and “psychopaths” came up a few times.)
Which brings us to his second assertion:
2. Reasonable human beings should only believe things we can actually see evidence for with our own eyes.
To which I would respond: Duh.
Of course we should only rely on the evidence of things we can see–no matter what the discipline.
If science tells me that eating and exercising in a specified way will result in certain health benefits and I desire those benefits, I’m absolutely going to examine these claims in light of what I already know. If the claims seem logical and unlikely to harm myself or other people, I’m going to try those specifics out. If the promised benefits materialize, then I’ve got evidence that these principles are true in my own life. I no longer believe them to be true; I know this particular regimen works for me.
If it doesn’t, I suspend judgement, knowing that it might work for someone else, and that I have no way of proving that it won’t. I’m not going to advocate for those principles, but I will be perfectly happy to hear how they worked for someone else. I’m certainly not going to attack that someone else for engaging in a process of inquiry into the validity of those principles. There are millions of scientific theories I don’t have enough lifetimes to study; my only recourse is to suspend judgement, and to watch with interest when someone else makes a discovery regarding them.
Some sources and theories I find more credible than others because I see the fruits of them all around me–advances in technology, medicine, space exploration, etc. But no, I don’t accept anyone’s theories as fact, no matter who they are, just because they have a lot of letters behind their name, or have published in mass quantities. That would be irresponsible. There are some authorities I have found more reliable than others and I’m more willing to test their theories out, but should any one of them prove fallible, my “faith” in the usefulness of scientific inquiry will not be shaken.
I see no difference between this process and the acquisition of religious faith/belief/knowledge. If a religious leader or text or tradition tells me that behaving in a specified way will result in certain benefits and I desire those benefits, I’m going to examine those claims in light of what I already know, and if the claims seem logical and will not bring harm to me or others, I’m willing to try those specifics out. I do not engage in any religious practice or belief that I have not proven to myself. Every aspect of my faith, I have tried and proven.
And no, I don’t expect anyone else to accept the results of my experimentation as the basis for their own actions. Everyone has to discover truth for themselves through a series of (sometimes grueling, extended) experiments.
How is the evidence gained from this type of experimentation valid only when dealing with science?
In fact, how is science any different from religion? Aren’t we all just testing out theories, keeping the ones that work and discarding the ones that don’t? It doesn’t make any difference to me if a professor or a priest tries to tell me tobacco will damage my lungs or that gratitude will heal my heart–I think I’m intelligent enough to test out those assertions, or to act on them in “faith” based on what I already know about human nature and the world around me and past experiments in which I’ve engaged, and for which I’ve collected evidence.
And I see that evidence all around me–evidence that religious principles of all sorts bear positive fruit in the lives of the people who choose to experiment with them. I see Catholics and Jews and Mormons and Lutherans and Muslims who are raising responsible, educated, compassionate, and honest children, and making the world a better place in which to live.
I see the evidence with my own eyes.
You expect me to ignore that evidence and believe you instead?
How arrogant of you to ignore the accomplishments of every man, woman, and child of faith who has built this community with blood sweat and tears, and to dismiss them all as ignorant.
People are flawed. Religious people, and non-religious people both. Corrupt men and women will always cite authority–religious, political or scientific, to accomplish their own agendas. That speaks to the corrupt nature of man, not of science or religion.
What I find most puzzling is why we had this conversation in the first place.
I have never once come into your classroom and challenged the way you live your private life. In fact, I am not threatened at all by your experimentation–no matter what form it takes. You can smoke pot or shoe leather, or marry your own brother or go on a diet of plums for sixteen weeks. You can even show me pictures of your wedding or mention in passing that you ran out of shoe leather and had to start using vinyl, and it won’t make me think you are trying to force me to join you. Nothing you say about your experiment will offend me. I’ll probably ask questions because I find the diversity of the human experience fascinating. It won’t threaten my peace of mind. Quite frankly, if you don’t bring it up, I’ll never think to ask about such things. I have a full, vibrant life of my own to live.
What is it you find so threatening about my beliefs that compelled you to spend so many years of your life researching and authenticating sufficient primary sources that you now feel you have a solid basis from which to attack those beliefs?
Or did you not do that?
Did you, instead, dismiss the living, breathing evidence produced daily in the lives of good people all around you, and in violation of your own stated ethics, present as “evidence” things you’ve only read about, and cannot possibly experience first hand, unless you have access to a time machine?
Great news: Doctor thinks he got it all, lymph nodes are clear, and I don’t have to do chemo, or like, die or anything.
Although… it’s disconcerting to realize how many things I was secretly hoping I might get out of doing, had it come to that. When you think hard about what your own death might mean, it’s amazing how many positives you can come up with. So many diets not to go on, so many miles not to run, so many distasteful work assignments, lawns, weeds… seriously. The list goes on… literally… As in, it’s still in force; I still have to do those things.
I’ll get over the disappointment. Probably.
More great news: the feeling is beginning to return in my arm and, er, chest. Great, because I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my life feeling like I’m hauling around someone else’s flesh; it’s somewhat creepy. Temporarily not great because, well, now I can feel it healing, and that’s not actually that great of a sensation.
Yet more great news: I can now taunt my oh-so-normally-smug seventeen-year-old that I got over cancer faster than he got over a broken foot.
He doesn’t think that’s funny. In fact, he accuses me of not playing fair, having fake cancer, and/or taking the easy, just-amputate-the-problem-route. Which isn’t really accurate–they were excisions, not amputations.
He had to get a new cast today, and found out his bones hadn’t healed at all since New Year’s Eve, so he’s playing sore loser. Even though I didn’t rub it in.
The doctor was not at all fooled by the duct tape holding together the cast; said seventeen-year-old got another lecture about what, precisely, “no weight bearing”, means. He’s annoyed enough with the new cast that he might start believing what the good doc says, but it’s hard to predict these things.
He is, after all, seventeen.
Whenever I have looked directly at this thing, I have been totally calm. Cancer. Surgery. Radioactive Iodine. ‘S all good.
But when concentrating on something else, sometimes I have been temporarily seized by an internal tornado of butterflies–or more often, the sensation of ice-water pouring through my veins. My subconscious isn’t listening, apparently, and when my conscious mind stops supervising, the natural man creeps out. I nearly had a panic attack three times this week, just out of the blue, and had to examine why I was having this physical reaction to something I’d pushed aside, mentally.
Makes me think I should have gone into psychology. It’s a fascinating thing. I’ve had some crazy, crazy thoughts.
But at any rate, yesterday’s surgery went well, I’m told. Although, it was a bit disconcerting when I first checked in, and the second question the receptionist asked was whether or not I have a living will. Followed by “Here, we’re going to give you four shots of radioactive dye, and we’re going to use this Geiger counter during surgery to track where it goes, so we know what to take out.”
I went under shortly before 11am and woke up at 2:30, although I pretended to be out for a while longer: general anesthesia felt lovely. Although, I did keep seeing strange things, like one of my first period students walking around in scrubs, impersonating a doctor. So maybe I wasn’t pretending after all? Had similar hallucinations all the way home.
I was made to solemnly swear not to drive a motor vehicle or shower for 48 hours post-op, so I stayed home today, though I think I would have been fine. I can’t really talk, but I still have my teacher evil-eye down pretty solid. As it is, I just cranked out a lot of paperwork that’s been piling up around here, so it wasn’t a total waste.
I’ve got three sites I haven’t been brave enough to pull bandages off yet, but the publicly visible one–above my right wrist, has a bandage only about 4 inches long, so it’s significantly smaller than the first doc recommended. Within the next week or so, I should hear back if we got clean margins and clear lymph nodes, and if so, we’ll be done with it. Meanwhile I kind of wish I had Geiger counter of my own. There’s got to be something fun a person can do while radioactive. Yes?
I debated, but finally wrote to my daughter in Mexico and explained my upcoming surgery. She, a girl after my own heart, replied with the following:
“Other options to explain your scar, Mom (feasible in Mexico City):
- You were hanging on to the bus from outside and while passing through the forest got stabbed by a tree branch.
- You forgot your house keys and had to climb over the guard wall but slipped because it was raining
- Better option:You tripped and fell on one of the 409837410984751098475109847510984572039485723 pieces of naked rebar sticking out in all parts of Mexico City.
- You were walking down the street and a drain cover gave way and you fell in….and got stabbed by rebar
- Or what about this: You got bit by an angry pregnant Akita. Oh wait that´s what happened to me….. But that isn´t actually going to leave a scar because it didn’t really break the skin… that much… But I did get a nerve pinched and I couldn’t bend my fingers for a couple of days. That was a month ago.”
Ha! This is the child who can make jokes about the effects of being bitten by neuro-toxin-spewing scorpions in the night, and tending three deathly ill companions and still isn’t sure she wants to come home.
I knew I taught her well, when she ended the email with this:
“The worst part about you having cancer is that the elder who has been in my zone MY ENTIRE MISSION who always thought that the “my grandpa cut his finger off, my dad shot himself with a nailgun, my brother smashed his foot,” all that kind of stuff was super funny….. Went home last week. Which is unfortunate because every district meeting and zone conference we always swapped stories and then laughed at all of the dumb things that happen to people.”
Yeah… she’s going to be fine.