This sweatshirt was the number one item on my Christmas list this year! So beautiful! I can almost smell the grass, hear the crack of the bat and feel Gerald Laird’s stubble underneath his catcher’s mask!
Also on my list was this fantastic Star Trek Transporter Room Bath Mat & Shower Curtain Set! Set phasers to STUNNING!
Then to round it out, I asked for a few books, some clothes, a mattress cover, and GU energy gels and Met-Rx bars to power my running habit. Hopefully, in a few weeks I can check some of these items off my list of wants. But there’s something I’d like even more…
You know I’ve been on this campaign for hope, right? Am I so naive to believe we can really change the world one person at a time? I do think the world is like that insurance commercial where each good deed leads to another. So what I really want is a kindness revolution for Christmas!
I talked a little in my last post about the dinner I went to last week at Candler School of Theology. Dr. Greg Ellison delivered a talk entitled “Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for Marginalized Populations.” And brother, was the dapper Mr. Ellison speaking my language!
He shared this William James quote with us:
“No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us, from which the cruelest bodily torture would be a relief.”
So who are the people who are “cut dead” – rendered invisible – in our society? Young black men? The poor? The disabled? The homeless? The elderly? The sick? The transgendered? The socially awkward? The abused? The hungry? The mentally ill? All of these. More than these.
Dr. Ellison discussed Social Psychologist, Kipling Williams‘ list of four fundamental human needs: 1) Belonging 2) Self Esteem 3) Control and 4) Meaningful Existence. Everyone needs these four things to be able to function in a healthy way in the world.
He went on to talk about the three threats to hope. The first is despair. Despair can lead to one of two outcomes, either disgust or depression. The second threat is apathy. Apathy can lead us to either lethargy, or what I have written in my notes as “present-bound inclusive.” Whether I wrote those words correctly, the gist of it was that apathy can lead to saying “What the hell? I don’t care what happens to me, so my actions, good or bad, have no meaningful consequences!” And the third factor that threatens hope is shame. Ellison says that guilt is the belief that I’ve DONE something wrong, but shame is the belief that I AM something wrong.
Towards the end of the lecture, we read a long quote from the work of Howard Thurman who was a writer, a thinker and a civil rights leader. For me the most powerful sentence was this one.
“It is better to be the complete victim of an anger unrestrained and a wrath which knows no bounds, to be torn asunder without mercy or battered to a pulp by angry violence, than to be passed over as if one were not.”
So my mission – my passion – is to let people know that they ARE, that they count, that they are not invisible, that they belong, and they have something to offer. How would our world change if “rage and impotent despair” were banished? How would society look with less despair, less apathy, and less shame? What would it be like to live in a world where everyone has a sense of belonging and a feeling that they are good enough to be accepted, that they have some control over their lives and well-being, and have opportunities that give their lives meaning? What if everyone had hope.
I have felt hopeless and worthless – like I didn’t matter – like there was no good reason to go on living. I’ve had a friend tell me they’re not sure they’re going to be able to provide Christmas for their family. I’ve seen what the feet of the homeless look like after weeks of endless walking. I’ve seen people looking forlorn at work and walked by without speaking. My good friends at church told me they sat in the pews there every Sunday for two years before anyone spoke to them. I never call my Aunt Jo and she’d love to hear from me. There are so many tiny, simple opportunities for change, opportunities to bring hope and joy and inclusion, that go past us every day.
So the best gift you could give me this Christmas is to find at least one invisible person to bring into the light. Reach out and let someone know they matter, that they are good enough, that there is a reason for them to be. Help them see that they ARE.
I know we can do it. We can set a revolution in motion with even the smallest actions. Not everyone can be a mighty warrior for justice like Nelson Mandela, but everyone can be a tiny spark that ignites a fantastic blaze that can change and refine the world! Let’s do this.
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Last year on November 7th, I was beginning a rapid spiral into depression and self-loathing. It was my birthday and I wanted to die. I had never felt sadder, lonelier or more worthless.
A month earlier I had struck up a conversation with a guy while sitting alone at the bar at The Vortex eating dinner. (This guy became known as Tater Tot Todd to my Sunday School boys.) When I got up to leave he said, “So? I’m never going to see you again?” I just smiled at him and left. But later, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so I went back the next week and gave my business card to the bartender and asked him to have the guy call me when he came back in. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and was about to give up. Then one Friday night, I was home in my pajamas cooking spaghetti and out of the blue he called, said the bartender had just given him my card and asked if I wanted to come have dinner. This was it! The man I’d been waiting for! I just knew it! It was like a fairy tale!
After changing clothes four times, I met him at The Vortex and we had dinner on the patio at Escorpion. He had a doctorate, no TV, and had traveled the world. He was fascinating AND liberal! But I felt like such a provincial bumpkin around him. We went back to his place, talked and then went out on his balcony, lay in a hysterical leopard spotted papasan chair and kissed. It was really nice. Then he held my hand, walked me home down Peachtree Street and asked me if he could see me again Saturday night. I was so excited I barely slept!
The next night we went to dinner at Papi’s and then he came over to my condo to watch the Georgia/Kentucky game. He said he was mildly allergic to cats, but he’d been at my place less than an hour when he went running out saying he was having an asthma attack. And then I didn’t hear from him again for a month. What had I done wrong? What was wrong with me? What a horrible, hideously ugly, worthless person I must be to run someone off like that. I was crushed.
I decided to better myself. I was going to get a passport and go back to school. I applied for information on the Educational Design program at Georgia State. That would make me more desireable! I would prove to the world that I wasn’t a bumpkin! In the meantime, I had struck up a Facebook friendship with a married man who shared my love of sports and old movies. I thought it was kind of weird when he invited me over to his house to watch a movie, but I said yes. He told me his wife didn’t mind if I came over. It was all very strange and scary. But I just wanted somebody to like me – to find me pleasing and acceptable. Risk be damned!
I decided my birthday was going to be a day-long self-transformation project. First I had an appointment to get that passport. But I got lost and missed my appointment. Next, I went to Little Five Points and bought some funky new clothes at Junkman’s Daughter to change my image. Then I went to Savage Pizza, got a pizza for one to go, came home, sat in the floor alone, stuck a candle in the pizza and had a birthday pity party while I watched it rain outside. I was miserable. I had no idea who I was anymore. I just knew I was hurting terribly and didn’t see any reason to keep on living. I had never been so unhappy.
And then a few small things happened that may have saved my life.
First, in response to some of my sad, glitter-tooting Vaguebook messages, my friend Bobby texted and persuaded me to get up, get out of the house and come to the Wednesday night dinner at church. I sighed, put on my new black Doc Marten’s with the little red flowers on them, a big sweatshirt and a ball cap and headed out. I was still miserable, but at least I wasn’t going to be alone, sitting at home pondering how to die. Still, I felt like such a shithead. I wanted to do something “bad,” so before I went to church, I went by CVS and bought a pack of Camels. Then I sat on the side steps of the church hidden by the bushes, smoked a couple of cigarettes and wondered if my heart would ever stop hurting.
Then I went on to the church basement dinner, pulled my cap brim down as far as I could to avoid eye contact with the world and at least tried to pretend to be sociable. But I just couldn’t quit thinking about how sad I was and how scared I was by how much I hurt and how frightened I was by the idea that I was actually going to this strange man’s house on Friday night. Sitting there in my fog, I decided I needed to talk to somebody about it before something terrible happened. I told my friend Mandy what had been going on and said I wasn’t sure if this guy and I were going to watch a movie, or if I was going to wind up made into Saturday’s chili. She gave me a virtual slap upside the head and said that this was not normal behavior. She made me promise to go home, unfriend him and cut off all communication with him. And she reassured me that I was loveable just as I was, that I didn’t need to change myself or put myself in danger to chase approval and affection. And she sent me home with a big hug to ponder my life.
So in the end, this is not a story of sudden enlightenment or salvation. I didn’t go home that night and suddenly burst into songs, dances and jazz hands of joy and self-acceptance. In fact, things got worse over the next nine months before they eventually started getting better. But for that day, a couple of people’s small, loving, caring actions helped keep me safe from myself, and kept my head above water for one more day. And that was huge.
So for me on my birthday tomorrow, simply speak a kind word to someone who might need reassurance, take someone lonely to lunch, hug someone who might be desperately craving human touch, call someone you haven’t talked with in a while who’d love to hear your voice, commit a beautiful, random act of kindness. You might be the one thing that keeps someone from drowning today. And nothing would make me happier. It would be the best gift you could give me this year.