Still Mercy

Fall Out Boy put out a song called “Sunshine Riptide” while I was finishing my undergrad work. I often refer back to it because my classmate Paula and I shared a mutual love for Fall Out Boy’s album, Mania. I do not surf although the song is about a riptide—a strong wave that potentially threatens its prey. The closest I ever came to surfing was the time I ventured to Pensacola, Florida. I was on the beach testing the limits of my balance when the water took me under. Although I was frightened, I found my way back up again, to the surface. Greg had agreed to follow me inside the water because I was worried about keeping my balance. After all, I’m a guy with Cerebral Palsy. My balance is better than it should be. My balance is 60% miracle and 40% exercise. However, I sometimes under-estimate my own ability. I do still have unplanned awkward moments. The water kept moving. Greg turned to me and said: “Hold my hand. Then, wait and listen.”

Greg helped me understand that there was an unspoken rhythm to the water. I just needed to listen with circumspect. We were both quiet at the water together.

See then, that you walk (circumspectly) not as fools, but wisely…redeeming time because the days are evil.

I was able to anticipate when the waves might be overbearing by timing when the current moved.

We had some riptides between us, moments when the water surprised us. People are occasionally like that beach. They threaten like riptides. They will try to test the resolve of our faith and patience even after intentions are clarified.

Patrick Stump sang: “The world tried to burn all the mercy out of me but you know I wouldn’t let it.”

Mercy is burned out of us often a hard test to take. If life is some game of power… I learn each day that people are often waiting to see how you’ll break character. They are waiting to see what it might take for you to abandon your signature…. the virtue that sanctifies you…sets you apart from all the others.

I have been listening to songs about mercy. On the list was: Kenneth Mitchell’s “Mercy Seat” and Tru 4 U’s “Mercy Way”. I even pulled out an old Pebbles song that won a Grammy Award in 1990.

Mercy gets harder to give when people are unwilling to acknowledge its appearance. But I guess I now realize that mercy isn’t this conditional thing that circumstances determine. Mercy must be an act we sow without the limits of rules. Rules say: If I get this, then I’ll do that. But some rules are meant to be broken. For the sake of character development, sometimes a person’s example has to break the script. When it comes to being good… it about fulfilling your promise to yourself.

The call to consistent behavior is not about a personal vendetta. It’s about choosing virtue each time. Like the body has muscles that need use… virtues need an exhaustive amount of practice to become embedded in the heart to stick around.

If you want goodness, it must be sown from a pure place regardless of what happens. It is a sacrifice to approach a person without being hard-heart-ed. We must sacrifice our own ego (willingly and often) to be kind to others. And until we learn to do this, personal deeds to righteous are just motions sown in the hope of a return.

With great power comes great responsibility… it’s not just a Spiderman quote. It’s literally the example Jesus set when he chose to give life to people that plotted his death.

The point in this all, is: If your sense of goodness only comes from what people have done for you, it is not a goodness that can save, protect, or keep your spirit.

I didn’t always see mercy this way and the result was a resentful mind and heart. But I’m glad I finally see that mercy is not a gift that I legislate based on how well my life goes. Mercy is supposed to be sown whether I reap the grace and love I want or not. I have to redeem the limits of time while I have breath knowing that my faults are no bigger or greater than others, knowing that I can never be holy enough. But trusting that my faith is still worth something greater… if I choose onto it consistently.

Introverted Bridges

Sometimes my bed is not homely. I have attempted dressing it up with Mainstays trademarked hand-picked reversible spreads, Dillard’s brand Cremieux plaids, and even an old thrift store Mickey Mouse that I got when I liked shopping in stores that played classic bands like Chicago, Bobby Darin, and Junior Walker. But my bed is never as comfortable as it looks. It ceases to feel like home even after a friend bought me the greatest mattress pad ever invented. For this reason, there are many unplanned nights curled up on the couch with a Kindle Paperwhite in my left hand while CNN’s Don Lemon intonates news on a TV to my right.

 I know what you’re thinking.  But most evenings, that auditory concoction beats going to my own bedroom. Why? Perhaps I had more in common with my introverted Sagittarian uncle (who roomed here with me years ago) than I could accept. My uncle had a best friend that he seemed at home with and before he died they were planning a reconnection I believed he would have appreciated had he lived to see it.   

Home or homeliness is not a linear experience when you live as introverted and curious as I do. How is this for a paradox?

Fact number one: I loathe the majority of Taylor Swift’s songs.

Fact number two:  I admire the versatility of a song like “Style”.

“Style” takes a bluesy guitar riff and a driving bass line, and paints in me a longing I can actually feel. In that space, I immediately overlook her thin voice and her faux “reputation” and actually imagine something pure.

I feel a sense of home, even though Tay-Tay is someone that I do not ooze gratitude for.  When Swift waxes poetic about James Dean daydreams, I drift in retrospect to when I finally used my library card to borrow Rebel without a Cause. I remember thinking: I totally buy that the character James Dean played was some opaque reflection of his real life. What a tragic end for such a convincing actor! And then I picture simultaneously road-tripping in the Oregonian Mountains with a friend or lover with the windows down. In the vision, I am laughing ridiculously as the wind blows my black, curly, semi-matted hair over my face.

The thing about being an introvert is: For many of us there is no guidebook on what “feels like home” I have observed myself and other introverts like me only to conclude that we all sort of inhabit many homes like the anxious connoisseurs of well-stocked Starbucks. We, introverts are often are inspired by the paradoxes of life. We have patterns but those patterns ebb and flow like the rush of the Hoover Dam or the drip of the tap in a bathroom sink. That’s a fact that I, a Creole, black, and disabled adult accept without reservation.   Paradox is any opinion or circumstance that goes against determined facts, and yet is itself true.

Sunday, I told myself that I did not need to go to church. But ironically, I could not decline attendance even though I firmly believed that the quantity of church services attended does not truly represent the quality of one’s relationship with God. And I planned to sleep on the couch while the TV lulled me into dreamland because work was a mere four hours away.

Home, as a word lingered there on my mind again. I felt more at home sleeping than fellowshipping with any pastor. I had been wrestling with a paradox as introverts do often. And the church service somehow inspired the courage to address some grievances openly with the person that had requested my presence there. When I entered the church that has a ceiling very much like a tree trunk, I was rewarded with a sermon about forgiveness.  I found myself singing when I felt compelled. I felt myself praying when the clergy extended the invitation. And although the sermon was a bit more emotional and verbose than I expected, it was a fact that I desired what it taught me.

When the pastor reminded us how Jesus responded to persecution, I mentally revisited the countless times I continually forgive threatening, manipulative people. As a disabled person, I have grown especially sensitive to the anger of people that are pre-disposed to selfishness. And that selfishness has led to many levels of acceptance that I have had to reluctantly call “paradoxes”. The Apostle Paul vehemently was anti-Christian before his conversation to Christianity, and yet he wrote the letters that would bolster the power and longevity of the seven founding Christian churches.  His letter to the Romans was high point during that forgiveness sermon.

Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not repay evil with evil.  Be devoted to each other in love.” (Romans 12:10, 17 New International Version) That is a paradox of Christian faith when noticing the chorus of insults hurled at people who struggle to deliver the truth to liars.  As I listened I thanked God for bring me to hear these words. And then I began a silent prayer for God to move over some spiritual situation that was threatening to take away what little strength I possessed.

And then with supreme clarity I understood that forgiveness as an act is a perpetual choice, a verb of a decision in which results are almost never immediate.  “Forgive” is not a rule-based requirement. We can choose to forgive a person and reap the Christian benefit of being happy-hearted. Or we can behave as though there is a straight line to deliverance and hide behind a cloud of smoke and mirrors.

For someone as dense as I am, I needed that forced confirmation that I was still okay. I needed the pastor to remind me that examples matter, intentions matter and efforts matter.

The biggest paradox of my life is that while I have never been perfect and have wronged many. I do believe in my heart and soul, that spiritual perfection is possible even if you’re as contrary to common sense as I am.

I have great respect for rules now. Rules can protect us. And while I forgive the in-congruence of the counsel I do weather I must trust that my continued introverted, pickiness, has a purpose that I am still discovering. And I am able to forgive myself now. I am no long ashamed of being different. I believe for all my ambiguity, there must be a spiritual purpose. The Christ I serve did not want to think on things that were not honorable, kind, well-intentioned, and from a deeply pure place. So if I can forgive myself for feeling shame about how unique I always was. Surely, I can forgive any set of people when it becomes painfully obvious that they (like Jesus said) “know not what they are doing”.

Self Respect, Paul, Silas, and Kids

As I looked on in the tight hall of the Beech Grove Baptist Church, I believed my lips as I stated these sentences: “Be careful what you listen to. If you’re constantly hearing that stuff, eventually you might do it, too. Be careful. You might imitate what you hear.

Because I had been selected in prior years to teach Sunday school at another church, my aunt asked me to teach a group of children at Beech Grove for Vacation Bible School. It was a Thursday. We were in our fourth night of a five night process. As I looked at the disgust on their faces, I encouraged myself. We had discussed “What music inspires you?”

I gave each student a sheet of printer paper and a pencil. I told them to write down what genre of music they enjoyed. Then, they were to write a song they liked and a short two sentence summary of why they liked that song.

When I collected the papers back and continued conversation, I realized that all but two students had written a rap song down. The tracks I saw scribbled down on each page were either artists I had not heard of, or rappers who cursed openly in many of their compositions.

They are young. And when you are in middle-school (or any school for that matter) you need to fit in. There was one exception, Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. The person who written it down seemed embarrassed because Lil Nas X had just recently said he was gay. Even that inspired song stirred a debate among us because it was not exactly appropriate for children. Nas’s reference to “sports bras and boobies” is anything but light and angelic. We had been talking all week about stories in the bible that were supposed to encourage these kids to respect and love themselves and one another.

 I was sure they were influenced by their friends. And I wondered with all our talk about “letting our light shine”, did we know what light was?  So I asked them: You all do know that you’re inside a church, right?

Could you try writing down some gospel songs instead? They balked at my suggestion.  It was not an odd question, but I guess no kid wants to look weak in a room full of intimidating personalities. I thought about how many times kids and adults settle for fitting in versus actually respecting themselves and asking deeper questions. Dark energy seemed to pull us apart and stuff us (teachers and students) in corners.

There is an invisible bridge between what we read, hear, and speak. And facts and experience reflect that when we don’t stop and analyze what we are influenced by, we miss the larger goal of respecting ourselves.

I had cancelled important dialogues with a therapist and my best friend to accomplish three goals. I wanted to educate people, tell stories and serve Jesus.

 I surrendered my own selfish plans for a larger goal. I think the group of juniors understood me.  While I am not over the moon for teaching, I am always stoked about learning from other people. I see VBS, the summer school version of “revival”, as another chance to grow my own personal experience by observing others.  So I was distressed when I realized that these kids were not thinking about how their inspirations could lead them away from “light-shining”.

Working with youth, teens, and the larger young adult population is wonderful because I am re-capturing missed chances I passed up in my young adulthood.

I guess as I taught them, I realized that we cannot give away what we don’t do for ourselves.

When you are a worker that never stops to say you are tired, people who exist only to use what you give, will let you work yourself into the ground.  I guess I believed that the kids might have one good gospel song they remembered part of the words to. But maybe I was mistaken. Maybe, the image of the black male rapper is so candy-coated. Maybe it is so enticing and so forced upon young people that we cannot help but see it.

After the tension settled and the kids vented their frustration about the opening exercise, I made some suggestions and began teaching them about Paul and Silas.

Paul and Silas were men who praised God even after being beaten and imprisoned. The students seem shocked when I told them that Paul and Silas lived in a time when acknowledging Jesus meant death and torture. I tried to encourage them that faith is a large part of being a “light.”

I guess educating these children has been its own therapy. Of course, I’ve had to block out many things to see it like that. I’ve had to ignore pockets of selfishness from depressed young adults. I’ve had to ignore triggers from angry siblings. I have had to hold my tongue because I believe that the children are more important than my angry spoiled family members.

God can let you have your own Paul and Silas moment. But I think God is smart enough to know that humans are stubborn enough to choose people and things that deny them self-respect.

If we want our lights to shine, we’ve got to ask questions earlier. I guess I’m thankful that when I was 9, I knew that respecting me meant learning kindness. I wanted to be kind even though I knew early that Cerebral Palsy made me different. I guess I know that letting your light shine is also knowing when people and things are about to punch your “inner light” out.

Why I Left Facebook

While attending what my elders called “voc-tech “in the mid 2000s, Facebook was just getting started. I was invested in this crazy idea called “Office Systems Technology”, believing some monogrammed slip of paper would seal my humble employment as a file clerk. I went into the small bookstore. It was due west, left of the stairs leading to the second floor of Louisiana Technical College.  I met “Timothy”, a standard run-of the-mill WASP, with black hair.

 If I squinted enough, he appeared almost Greco-Roman. Timothy, medium-height loomed proudly over a too short banister where the computer and cash machine were. Immediately, I worried that any questions I possessed might pull him out of the zombie-stare he levied at his Dell Notebook computer. He seemed infuriated or at least troubled given the deep lines in what I could make of his expression. I prolonged my concerns as long as I could. After abandoning the notion I anxiously omitted something, I gathered what I could confidently find and ambled to the place where he stood, bracing for what might be a hastily peppered conversation. 

 We’d get into this odd chat about some network that supposedly connected students that were in colleges across the country. Then, my school issued vouchers for textbooks. While he processed my order, he’d turn his computer screen tell me that his college was already connected with Facebook. I’d learn later that my institution was too small and too lesser-known to become “friends” with him or his school.

I did eventually gain the opportunity to join Facebook sometime around 2007. Then, the idea of friendship over the web was re-invented and exciting. Not long after, I met an aspiring singer and musician affiliated with my local community. Before that time, Facebook friends were family members, former teachers, school acquaintances and regrettably, romantic crushes. When Facebook popularized the concept of a WALL, the place where users could stick almost any social detritus imaginable, we all became fountains of reaction.

 When users were cross with their exes, the “WALL” was the perfect Pink Floyd trope. We all loved using our walls to make personal statements. We’d have elaborate conversations (comment trails with blue thumb iconography symbolizing user support) with each other paying no mind that Facebook stood to profit from our tattered, torn, happy feelings and flops. When we “liked” something, it was extremely important on our “WALL”. When we hated something, our WALL was our greatest sponge of a post-it-note. Every experience became “another brick in the wall”. And because we were addicted to logging on we did not truly care what Facebook did with our stuff. Posting things to the wall became as ubiquitous as brushing our teeth. We’d tell our friends about every television program, party favor, and erupting tantrum. “The Wall” was Facebook’s first water cooler for people with too many words to contain in their brains. From my perspective, Facebook did effectively replace the AOL chat rooms of my high school youth. I just got flooded with positive energy in my pleasure center as I clicked to see things I typed, instantly appear on the internet.  

After the popularity of the wall, Facebook began marketing “the feed”. “The feed” was a turbo version of the “WALL” concept that allowed users to see their “friends” buzz-worthy accomplishments in real-time. With this information, Facebook hoped “feeds” would encourage us to travel “our friend ecosystem” to spy on what other users we obsessed over were doing.

The concept, much like the WALL, was a more modified effort to drive users to continue logging on. As a more immersive cousin than the “WALL”, clicks and words were driven by user interest rather than user posts. The old Facebook had once relied on the amount of posts per hour or per day. If a user wanted friends, (users chain-linked to nearest and dearest users), posting on the ‘brick wall” or hoisting up some encouraging or disparaging words, drove traffic. Now came this “feed” and with it an arsenal of intricate, laborious, confusing, lists added over time. Facebook believed that giving us the power to prioritize who and what we saw was the perfect carrot to get us to stay with them.

 More time went by; I began noticing that the feed made Facebook a less than inviting place. I thought posting would allow those I chose to see my posts when I wanted them to notice. Facebook’s network did not think I should have that choice. Over many months and years, I noticed the gulf between the times I shared material versus the time users tried to care.

I started to think that maybe the content I posted was not worthy enough. I began linking my profile with a blog I started. The linked relationship, over several months did not change my traffic numbers in the slightest. I tried posting more positive information. I shared interesting musicians and their songs consistently over the course of even more months. I linked my profile to colleagues and mentors that I respected. I shared news articles and published books that I thought were impactful to millions of people. And those millions relied on Facebook as a cross-platform “people aquarium” is it was.  By now, King Gaming profited well from these people aquariums: fully interactive webs of users across the world teaming up to solve puzzles, play cards, answer trivia, and win rewards. We could get the illusion of teamwork, with King’s Candy Crush to interact with other users.  We’d never have to see them. We’d just know they were somewhere in another part of the world conspiring with us to beat our scores, unlock assignments, and scale those contraptions called leader-boards.

I used to look forward to playing Farmville with my mother. At one point I had every Candy Crush iteration there was. When I finished enough college, I got better at conquering the levels. Words with Friends became tied to Facebook and also Hangin’ with Friends, a word game similar to it.  Small software startups with funky game ideas flocked to Facebook’s user pool to build market-share with people aquariums.

 The games became too numerous for me to catalog and play. So Facebook took the pain of that way. That blue and white F was a one-stop shop for the fraidy-cat user who struggled to remember which password combination fit what game. For a while, this practice eased my confusion.  Over time I eventually stopped caring who played with me. After much thought, I understood that I resented Facebook’s ability to inflame my mood. As a writer and bookish man, I began to wonder if Facebook could connect me with other authors. For two years, I monitored my account to see if I’d get some publishing connections. That fantasy never went any place.

Increasingly, Facebook became a place for baby-boomers to connect with their colleagues, the site where millennials shared memes and live consultations, and the apex of societal scandal and election hacking. I also maintained an Instagram account for a number of years.  Instagram began in 2010 and in 2012 Facebook bought it. My reason for maintaining Instagram has everything to do with how its users respond to my content. Although Facebook has adversely affected the reliability of Instagram and debatably alienated the people who founded it, it remains a viable aquarium for artists, visionaries, and spokespeople. The major difference that sets Instagram’s model above Facebook is the special way photographs are handled. It’s a bit easier to share photographs and videos with IG’s people. While there are similar issues with privacy, policy and policing the same issues that impact Facebook, Instagram seems to be more of a welcoming destination for youth that are trying to digest information in bite-size pieces. While IG is just as addictive, screenshots seem less threatening when placed on a roulette-wheel of drag and spin.

I may sound hypocritical when I say I can manage Instagram’s outbursts better than I could tolerate Facebook’s “problem”. I get to feel just a bit more engaged with an Instagram account. This is not because I have changed what I share. It is just because the pool of users is younger. When I do spot users older than I on Instagram, running away is not the first thing in mind.  Perhaps users seem more apt to respond with a readable, writeable version of coherent thought. Conversations on Instagram seem to have the container needed to actually go someplace.  Maybe I just like pictures more. But I have not missed my Facebook.com account quite as much as I thought I might.

I also discovered that if family members want to reach me, Facebook is not the place I would choose to send them.  The smart-phone is a capable contact medium. The post office still sends letters. But we will not stalk one another on Facebook.com. Upon realizing Facebook was often subject of mounting privacy concerns, lawsuits, and petitions, I was done holding on to it. On Instagram, users seem just a tad more laidback, peaceful, and assured. So for now, I’m sticking it out.  I left Facebook because the spirit of Facebook left me years before I cancelled.

Join me on Instagram at the handle: @cautioustonez

 Thanks for reading. 

Group Problems

I never first believed that a married person goes through loneliness. But then Oprah Winfrey gave the world, What I Know For Sure, and my suspicions were validated. She wrote:

“I have witnessed far too many couples who stayed married when they shouldn’t have because their intention was just that—to be married, rather than to be fulfilled.” (Winfrey, 112)

I have never been married. But I’ve come remarkably close to engagement. My longest relationship with that person was almost 3 years. That journey gave me the first real eye into the concept of “being tethered to a person you love without the needed fulfillment” to keep the relationship going. I had not noticed it before, but I had become a “groupie loner”

I was fulfilled more when I was away from my relationship. I was in college then and I poured myself into group things: awards banquets, photography shoots, poetry slams, and anything that included a group that I could attend. This is classic groupie loner stuff.

The group loner invests in the idea of a relationship more than the relationship itself. In the display case, the relationship looks great. Both people appear to be together. But one smothers the flame and passion of the other.

Either the man controls the confidence and independence of his lady, or the lady is more dominant and the man feels voiceless.

Note: If you’re in a GLBTQIA relationship, you may experience groupie loner syndrome with more complications because sexuality and gender roles are often more fluid and not limited to the boring binary complex of straight couple-dom.

In a relationship with “group problems”, the only teamwork is within crisis mode. Both partners work together in a major problem. Maybe, a car is broken. Maybe, there is a legal issue. They both instantly become each other’s EMT.

These are the needy times.

But each person still functions best when he or she gets to be in a group. The group of friends, couples, co-workers, students, and acquaintances make being together bearable. Both people are not fulfilled enough and angry resides deep inside. If you ask them how they both are… they’ll both answer: “just fine”. They might even give you the fake smile thingy.

Make no mistake…

They are joined together in trauma because being alone without the people they choose… sucks.

I’ve seen it. People are married, lonely in their souls, still together and unhappy. That deep yearning is true connection.

True Connection defined is: experience mutually shared collectively and joyful with one person or a group, in which the experience is no polluted by the distractions of devices, alcohol, or drugs.

I’ve seen too many social gatherings in married life rely on drugs and alcohol. And I’ve noted how spouses are so committed to the idea of marriage that they truly believe that forcing themselves through the relationship is better than acknowledging a disconnect between them that every person around can see.

“Involvement” is a standard cure for the anger and loneliness.

You’ll hear: I’m involved with the parent’s fund-raiser at my kid’s day-care center. I’m working on the board of my church’s auxiliary club. I’m involved in the community action team in the local neighborhood.

Slowly, that “involvement” replaces the soul connection the marriage should serve. When the jobs in those cloud activities are complete, more “involvement” must replace.

Men and women become inadequate and unfulfilled spouses because obligations like “parenthood” and “career” often crowd out spiritual pain. Surely, a husband and wife are happy parents. But marriage needs intimacy, communication, romance, and teamwork. And while kids are priority, there must be time for “connection”.

The lonely groupie may believe that parenthood is the sacrificial activity to keep a marriage or relationship viable. Remember the notion of staying together for the kids. Please don’t discount the idea that children are adversely affected by parent choices to do or not do.

The lonely married person knows how to mirror happiness on social media, in public settings, and among other married people.

But internally, involvement covers their real issues.

Toni Braxton sang: “If you can’t be with the one you really truly love, do the two-step with the one you’re with“.

Married lonely people do the two-step of apathy with whatever they have. And the game becomes a grand game of masking.

And the cloud doesn’t have to be groups; the cloud can also be binge-watching Netflix or some weird food addiction. These activities are stimulation until they are over. And there’s a gilded cage aspect to the married lonely ideal.

It’s like the married lonely person must be covered in affectionate people, places, and things without a single moment of dissent because (insert people’s names) must cater to me.

In truly connected marriages, I’ve observed that communication is always in a loving tone. They also rarely “invite” other people to their soft spots. If both partners face a communication problem, they aren’t ashamed to go privately and deal with it —-away from the public. I’ve also noticed a different level of respect in these couples; men and women seem less likely to shame their partners about anything.

It’s okay to date. It’s okay to be alone if you’re still learning to take care of yourself.

Do not marry or date with the idea that the other person will get rid of your loneliness. It rarely happens.

I had to be broken to find wholeness. And I can say with confidence that I’d never go back to a relationship that didn’t fulfill me completely.

The Fourth

                                           

     When I decided to leave home, I realized I might seem weird. I walked to the front door hearing my aunts murmur familiar statements about shallow televisions shows, clandestine community exchanges, and forgettable flimsy fantasies. The real possibility that I’d feel suffocated was ample enough that I didn’t think twice about retiring outside to start the two minute walk to the corner of our street. This was a street I knew well given the awkward morning I was ignorant enough to wear thermal underwear to the bus-stop. I was in high school and no one had bothered to tell me that “Pajama Day” meant an actual store-bought pajama set. And I had showed up in my long-johns at the stop sign not realizing that school was over for me the moment I wandered into the administrative building.

      I’d make it all of five feet before the assistant principal called my grandmother. It’s scary how an embarrassing memory from 20 years ago lodges itself into your consciousness even as you’re waiting for your best friend to drive his car to where you are.

Just before I caught sight of my friend Greg’s white sedan, I was nearly drenched in sweat. 

I had thought to wear my grey and black American flag tee-shirt. It was my own awkward way of showing patriotism. As a black man, A Black American flag seemed a fitting tribute to the countless African-American men that have given their lives for some shard of American glory. 

  The shirt I had gotten long ago was a grayish white hue just light enough to accept the humid Louisiana air, enough to deflect a sun that felt like the hottest cup of Folgers coffee against my skin. 

I got into the car quickly. When I flopped down on his black interior seat at home in what felt like corduroy, I was at the corner of acceptance and ambivalence. I accepted that Greg was the bridge that brought me over to myself. I also acknowledged that I was ambivalent toward spending any time with my stuffy family, at least not today.

When Greg made a right onto the highway, he needed confirmation about whether he had made the right decision. He glanced over for but a moment and said: “I take it you’re happy to see me, friend?” Immediately, my face hardened and my heart palpitated. I sat silent for a moment and then to no one in particular I responded: What do you think?

That was Greg’s style, seeking to patronize me about what we both knew about my circumstance that day. Yes, time with Greg was better than the monotonous bland circus that my family wanted. On the phone earlier, he had asked about walking together at the only fancy shopping mall in our city. 

I know what you think. You’re thinking we go there because we’re made of money. Or perhaps you believe we visit because we can’t get a date. No. We go there because we struggle staying motivated to exercise, out of mutual habit often dialoguing about the trauma in both our lives.

Sometimes we vent about all the introverted idiosyncrasies in our personalities. We were prepared for anything because we’d weather it together. During the ride, Greg asked me to go over the list of suspects that were at my house. I call them “suspects” because most of them are suspect to give me some judgemental observation about how my life decisions have not paid off. Either I’m morally bankrupt because I’m living in a family home, or something about someone else’s life “happened” and we are all supposed to care about it. 

When we arrive at the mall. I continue speaking about how I feel invisibility’s threat. Everyone seemed to have someone to communicate with. My aunts, (there were two) had my grandmother to exchange with. My cousins had their “friends”.

Then, there was me. I called my pen pal in Kansas to muse about his Fourth plans just to prevent suffering from the awkwardly stale bits of conversation I knew were forthcoming. As Greg and I talked and walked, we traded life moments. He spoke of his father, his room-mate, his room-mate’s father. He spoke about songs he shazam-ed and some new place he wanted to dine at.

I talked about my career plans and how thankful I was to simply have a meaningful conversation. When the mall closed and our people watching concluded, we rode to Barnes and Noble. The Barnes and Noble had coffee and internet. Those were two of our favorite things. He used his friend’s computer to download some 50’s and 60’s classics to a pill shaped MP3 player. I grabbed him coffee while buying a sale book for five dollars.

When the bookstore closed, we rode and rode. I was able to spaz out listening to our only alternative rock station on his awesome stereo speakers. He opined that we should go to Target. I happily obliged. It was great to feel independent in a country where some disabled people are regrettably dependent.

It was great to not worry about the last stupid thing some drunk relative said. It was great to be two sober people enjoying one another’s company. When I finally came back home, I could sleep knowing that I took better emotional care of myself.

Surely, I can’t rely on my friend to always free me from social prison. But at least my jokes landed. At least Greg listened and I heard. At least we choose our own normality.

Desperation

Many of the past blog entries I’ve posted were about identity. Rightly so, I am an adult man with Cerebral Palsy who has before recent times folded my own wishes into other people’s galaxies. I am overtly aware that the tones of my narratives have been desperate. So without anymore preface, I’ll peel the cynicism back and state the facts–at least what I can claim from my perch atop the tree of life.

When I was the old me, my calling card was recklessness. It was the lovely kind of recklessness. I was the octopus, placing all my appendages outwardly to capture connection. If I’m using this analogy right and octopi live in the water, I drank all the water-freshwater. And I, overwhelmed with feelers, struggled against the water.

I lived in the water. The water was killing me spiritually. And I was too blind to see the total picture. I took my feelers and only experienced a kind of half-life, radioactivity.

Being radioactive made me susceptible to desperation. I’d settle for awkward laughter at jokes that weren’t funny. I’d settle for drunken groups, Rue-21 skinnies way too tight over my rump. I’d settle for conversation where I shared a novella’s worth of content. I’d look desperately at my receiver waiting for the acknowledgement that the novella could sell. But I’d find toxic “oh yeahs” and weird pauses instead.

When we drink the water of “half-life”, acceptance is missing. When Cerebral Palsy lurks in the shadow of true acceptance, excuses are made. The polluters of the water are good at telling the narrative that’s most comfortable. There are polluters that wish for me to be the same octopus.

But I had to adapt to the salt. They said:

“I should thrive in the same water. I SHOULD put my feelers back in the same tank and simply accept that my disability resigns me to desperation.”

I should be desperate for the same trauma that I fought to rid myself of .

When you’re an over-achieving control freak, it’s easy to prey on the desperate person that is recovering from the murk of alien waters.

The “NEW” me craves space: space to make hard choices, space to find my own bliss, space to just be quiet, space to sink to the bottom.

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that might have a person of low estate feel reckless. If we, sufferers of Cerebral Palsy are not intentional, we will be insecure and defensive.

We will be like the old octopus, apt to live in the freshwater of insecurity. Yes. Octopi live in saltwater. As intelligent survivors, they must not dwell in the fresh hell of everyone else’s midsummer. Maybe, this is why they have eight brains.

My new mission is: to thrive in the regenerative clarity of salt.

No! Not sodium. Sodium deprives. A little salt restores. The human body cannot live without salt. When salt loses the agent that accounts for its saltiness, it’s usually because it was stored improperly, exposed to something that encouraged its instability.

The NEW me can’t thrive in a climate that isn’t dry. I am the SALT, not the SODIUM.

When I was all sodium, it was my style to vacillate. To helpless cling to the first stimulating force that walked into my path. That pattern left my vacuous and spent always searching for the next entity to glob onto.

I was… myself PALSY, paralyzing my own voice with the voices of others.

It was easy to believe I knew intimacy because I became like putty, accepting halfhearted overtures of selfishness as the balm to my loneliness. But I’m not demanding attention.

I’m patient enough to be pursued, to breathe on my own without oxygen. I’m aware enough to look past ignorant pleas for my naivety to return. You are free to get out of my field of vision if you’re desperate enough to not consider the ocean of my possibility.

It never occurs to the truly desperate that this octopus is JOYFUL, sinking to the bottom. I’m planning to find my own way when the dust settles. The earth can shake. The stars can fall out of balance. The house can burn.

I am a fixed constellation no longer teetering into the zone of sacrifice. The walls of Jericho will fall and I’ll march around by myself—for myself. I’m thankful for the grace that comes when chaos threatens. There is a new safety in my disability, a new thread sewing together the holes in my spaceship’s hull.

I am not desperate, not without a reservation. I’ve learned to cope with the threat. I never claimed perfection. I claimed TRANSFORMATION.

Father’s Day

Continue to cover me that I might go in peace. Continue to keep my lifted that I might go in spirit. Keep my name on your mind when you go to God next time. I need you to cover me” James Moss, 2006

I woke up grieving as I prepared coffee Sunday morning. I held court on the couch for several minutes feeling trapped. And then it hit me like a speeding 18-wheeler delivering goods to Wal-Mart. I miss my grandfather. I lost him in 2009. Then, time stopped indefinitely and subsequently blended together. I think I was living with my mother when God called him to the beyond. I had told him about some horrible event that occurred and he told me: Just watch yourself. I remember him saying: “I’ve been waiting for you. ”

He had been waiting to see me that last evening in 2009. Now, every father’s day since then… my grandfather seems to have never really left.

I had a church service to attend. And I was terribly stuck in grief. Usually, I’d get up and march straight to the shower after my alarm goes off. But I waited for the coffee to make. I powered the TV on and stared into it as though some sort of cryptic message would interrupt MSNBC’s AM Joy. Maybe Jonathan Capehart would tell me to get off the couch and go rattle some chains.

If you ask me about my father I can remember him. He’s alive. He’s easy to find. But it’s my grandfather who I’d choose if given the choice. My grandfather shared with me a love of reading. He read his Bible, his newspaper, and loved books. I think somewhere in his room he owned a law book as well. My grandfather introduced me to Sunday School commentaries because he found that I liked the expanded versions of scripture lessons. My grandfather would always make sure I went to the library. He never complained about picking me up or dropping me off.

When I felt angry about something and didn’t feel connected, I could always depend on my grandfather to share current events with me. We used to talk for hours about corporate mergers, old money versus new money, and politics. High school was hard for me but my grandfather never let me give up on myself. He was determined to help get me to summer school when my grades were crappy. He resisted shaming me when everyone else around me was saying I was just another disabled boy with no future.

And he seemed to love me in the subtlest of ways. He made it okay for me to be a nerd. I think if he were sitting next to me, he’d ask me why I haven’t registered for graduate school. He’d ask why I haven’t moved out of the town I’m living in. He’d ask me why I had pointless arguments with so many stubborn, obstinate relatives. He’d say to me lovingly: Did you think you’d be able to change their hearts with your rebel yell? Don’t you understand that analyzing them only makes them resent you more?

He’d laugh at me with that whistling sound I used to hear. I wouldn’t miss the low murmur of his television when he’d watch every newscast and C-SPAN broadcast ever on a seemingly endless loop.

He’d pat me on the back and say: Why didn’t you save your energy? Have you not learned from my example?

How do I end this entry? I’m afraid to do so. My grandfather flows through me like water. He suffuses to my memory like evenings in front of my aunt’s old floor model television. I was happy blinding myself watching Vanna White turn all those letters. Papa flows through me like a ride in a Cadillac Deville or Lasalle. I felt alive watching the green numbers on the digital speedometer increase and decrease.

It will have been a decade in August 2019. I really cannot say how I’ve remained reasonably kind through the stress of these years. I’m asking God to forgive me in advance because grandpa cannot pull us together anymore, like only he had.

He always told me to be humble. And it’s a fight trying to follow his advice. The selfishness and strife I see around me has reached epic levels. We yell and scream and protest and clown. I sometimes have to remind myself that what I see isn’t fiction.

I still miss my grandpa. I don’t think I’ll ever truly forget him. He never made it to my two college graduations. But I believe that he must be watching over me. He’s got to be… because I don’t always have the strength. God must have my Papa assigned to look over us.

I have to hope he’s proud of what God allowed me to be. I have to hope that there is more giving I must do. I have to hope that Grandfather George is an angel somewhere keeping me alive. Thank you God for the years I had with a wonderful man that was my mentor. He will always be a part of my heart.

To me… a father isn’t the one who gives you food and shelter. Any person can give you that. A father is the one man who helps you build eternal eternal capital: patience, humility, forgiveness, tolerance, a good name.

My grandfather gave me eternal gifts… gifts of true Christian life. And maybe that’s why after almost 10 years I haven’t rushed to forget his memory.

Rowdy and Bawdy

Someone asked me today if I plan to attend “Pride”. The answer is an inconclusive “No.” If human beings learn by association and experience, I have many different reasons why my association and experience with a Pride celebration in Louisiana might never happen again this year. I live in Baton Rouge. I’ve visited Lafayette. I’ve poked around Bourbon and St Ann. Yes, I’ve gone to New Orleans to “see” the spectacle. But I’ve never had a moment during Pride that made me scream: “This… now this is where it’s at.”

The last time I actually enjoyed anything remotely related to Gay Pride, I was drunk and lonely. Being drunk and lonely is something I can experience right in my own living quarters. The rowdy and bawdy cast of characters that I’ve observed at Pride celebrations only made me feel self-conscious. I’ve gone to support friends, associates, and others.

And each time… these few report that they enjoyed it.

I guess I cannot get this image of “rowdy and bawdy” out of my head. That’s how it feels when I think of “PRIDE” as a party. I can make up my own party. I don’t desire that wave of nervousness I get when same drag performer doesn’t notice me in the audience. I don’t need any aloofness and numbing when seeking to ingratiate myself with an endless loop of Barbie and Ken types that won’t give me even greet me.

I have too many tally marks in my mental notes when it comes how often I was left mid-dialogue sitting alone. No one is going to ask me why I’m actually there. No one will care about who I came with. I can only think of two Pride occasions when I actually had a conversation that lasted more than five minutes.

Why get that Jack and Coke or that Bud Light if the purpose of “Pride” is marketed as the grand slam connecting experience that just falls flat? The artistry of Pride celebration has never actually been a beacon of “connection” or “presence” for me.

I support GLBTQIA rights even though the order of the letters change. I didn’t know that some people believe that the “L” not coming before the G was perceived as hurtful when observing the relevant power of the MeToo movement.

I am a supporter of healthy same-sex and same-gender relationships, because I see each member of (said community) as a person that I have to get to know before I get stuck in judgment.

But there is only so much sex and sexuality I can discuss before I start losing brain cells. Sex, Sexuality and Gender Identity are totems of study for GLBTQIA immersion. And I’ve actually gotten bored hearing the same kinds of stories from the same kinds of people.

When you have a healthy amount of pride in something, you should feel connected to it. You should feel included in the conversation about it. You should feel like your opinion about that something matters enough.

I’m glad that people can support their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered loved ones. I value that people are sharing that love with each other. I guess I feel less connected to the atmosphere that “PRIDE” advertises because there are still so many things about it that have let me down. Sure, support a friend or family member. But if it’s you… and you’ve never felt welcomed and you were always suffocated and thought of as invisible why fake your way through a party that seems so neurotically bombastic and so casually rancorous?

I guess I’m still not totally convinced that gay youth have all the proper supports they would need to develop into powerful, passionate, loving gay adults. I guess I’m rendered speechless when I look at how the gay community is struggling to address the one sided messaging that gay people come in only “white and white-ish” colors and identities. I guess I’m still wondering what happens to the men and women who don’t frequent the drag joints, strip clubs, and speakeasies—and know they are gay.

What happens to them? Who are their idols, mentors, and contemporaries? And what has truly changed since the tragedy of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. Have Americans properly addressed how the concept of “gay pride” is really satirical for some given that Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen are two sides of a media landscape that still markets the gay community as a “club of others”, rather than a complex and fractured group of people. I’ve noticed how the black community and the gay community are common in their style of shared community. I gawk at how the same points of entry are not always the best point of entry for newer generations. How many pieces of fried chicken does one have to eat before the black cards are issued? How many drag performances does a gay man attend before he’s one of the “members”?

I know those are cliche’ examples. But can anyone see how predictable these cultural norms get after years of watching the same revolving doors?

I have much more to understand about gay pride. I have much to still know about African American pride. I have more to uncover about “PRIDE” in general. I can’t go around celebrating something all willy-nilly if there’s all this allegory hidden deep within that keeps giving me nightmares. I think too much. But wouldn’t you rather a person that asks relevant questions, than a simple brat that just did everything everyone else did with any true purpose?

I’m proud that I’m lucky enough to support my gay friends and still ask tons of piercing, authentic, sobering questions.

I’m proud of that. And I’ll choose that until I’m satisfied. Because some people connect to communities to forget, to go offline, to fantasize a life outside of their own. I connect to gain access, to build relationship, to discover some unknown terrain.

How Many Times?

I recently downloaded Kalesha Brown’s “How Many Times (Remix) from Amazon’s digital music store. I’ve listened twice in the middle of de-gunking my grandmother’s car. Brown sings:

“How many times am I supposed to cry thinking about what’s happening to me?”

When we think about the passion we invest in a connecting relationship we end up asking, how many times?

I’ve been asked many times why I don’t have a life partner yet. I’m consistently questioned, almost harassed by people who know me.

Why haven’t I committed to a lover yet? Why am I not engaged? Why am I holding off on dating? Why do I only have friends or simple intimate pleasures?

The answer is found among the lyrics in “How Many Times”.

The song paints a palette of lingering desperation. Listening to her plea, I remember the collected, desperate attempts I’ve made to connect with people. And I grieve.

I never truly allowed myself to see bad, toxic patterns. I was so invested in helping them feel needed, wanted, and happy. I never understood how their lack of care damaged my spirit. It’s similar to that “New Rules” song by Dua Lipa.

I’ve had to learn not to let people in. When you’re extroverted and kind, no person is a stranger. Every one is a person you can let in. Surely, they all will devote as much effort to you as you give away.

I’ve given time to men and women who are so self-absorbed with their own stories, their own positions, that they fall short in truly grasping how much I’ve supported them.

I’ve supported family members with money I didn’t have. I’ve purchased gifts with funds I could’ve invested in myself. I’ve fueled cars that don’t come visit me when I’m in distress. I’ve poured coffee for jerks who paid me lip-service only to insult and malign my compassion. I’ve been the cheerleader and therapist to grief-stricken idiots who act as though my efforts are less important than their own ego. I’m still kind and still there. And rarely is a sense of gratefulness reciprocated after the person finished getting my assistance. And I still help PEOPLE because it’s a vocation. It’s a character thing. I don’t know how to be truly manipulative. It’s not in me to be that.

My question is: How many times?

How many times do I get hurt before I take care of myself?

There’s a concept called “relational trust” that I learned about when I started reading the “Boundaries” series by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

They basically state that “relational trust” is a social trust in which a person can be relied on to “handle with care” an emotional or psycho-social tender point while in relationship.

The person with great “relational trust” is able to demonstrative a supportive empathy when their friends or family members share a painfully, trauma experience, and need feedback or encouragement.

I learned that we cannot expect a person that doesn’t have relational trust to not shame a person struggling with trauma. When you get the message that your traumatic feelings are silly, basic, or weird… the person you’re vulnerable to is not in a good enough place.

So when Brown sings about “giving others every piece” only to experience loss and isolation, she is sharing from a place of immense suffering.

How many times will we process the pain of abandonment over again?

Some of us never find the source of the pain. We invest our money in shiny new appliances, fancy new cars, a high-stakes job, a higher education commitment. We believe that achievement can shield us from a loss that only heals when the sufferer decides to confront the heart and soul.

As a disabled adult, compassion is something that I easily give away. Spiritually, I am often committed to helping those in distress. That call is central to why my work in library and information science is still rewarding after nearly two years.

Through my work in the Humanities, I slowly shifted my thinking from “how many times” to “fewer times If ever”.

I learned that human beings will tell whatever story suits their best narrative. They will cheat the kindest person out of valuable time if they feel threatened enough. They will manufacture a story where the facts should be. This will happen as often as is necessary because human don’t always face their deepest fears with the right medicine.

So, it’s pointless to believe that you can love a person into facing hard truths. You cannot. How many times will it take for a woman to understand she’s probably not dating the right man?

The answer is: As many times as it takes for her to learn to place a higher value on herself.

How many times does it take for a gay man to stop choosing a man who looks aesthetically pleasing but has the wrong values? The answer is: It might take a lifetime. How long is the person suffering willing to wait for that man to grow? Who really knows?

How long would it take a disabled man to admit he needs therapy? Maybe never. We cannot depend on emotional vulnerability and the giving of our whole self… to change stubborn people. Some people are literally too self-absorbed to care about how much you’ve given them.

Apostle Paul wrote that love is patient, kind and unselfish. But if we’re honest, we have to be selfish some of the time. We can reverse the desperation and pleading of “How Many Times” and re-frame the question with consistent effort.

We can say that until a toxic friend sees my value… I’ll limit what I share. We can say to ourselves: I’ll be more introverted and less extroverted if that means I can sleep peacefully at night.

We can hope that the person we love matures. We can support them in more calculated ways even if that means calling them a little less than we used to.

We can change desperation into development. Against my will, my English degree helped me learn to be an analyst. And I consistently hunger for meaning. The heart and soul has to be broken before it matures. When people share their lives with me, they reveal experiences. I empathize.

Through that empathy, I’ve evaluated my worth and changed where I invest my energy. Sometimes I am still haunted by the shadow of my old happy, idiotic self. The self that let people tell me that I never had a choice in where my life went.

I was the joyful idiot that loved hanging off status-driven people. Now, the goal is real connection, authentic sharing, grateful people, and understanding gray areas.

I don’t ask myself how many times… I ask myself where is the real story? What are they really saying with their actions, motives, and feelings? When I do this, I am forced to face my human limits. And only there do I emerge… determined to see spirit and heart over surfaces and emptiness.

Some say that I’ve changed because I ask more questions. But if I had a nickel for how many times I’ve been shamed for my personal changes, I could put a down-payment on my own home.

How many times have I doubted my worth ? I don’t have a countable number. But the one thing I’m sure of: I listen well and often. And I’m constantly powering through old triggers. And I’m done worrying about how many times I say “No.”

I’m done hurting myself for praise. How many times will I analyze patterns? As much I feel obliged to…

I question my own patterns… so it’s unreasonable to think yours are off-limits. Humans hunger to be understood, accepted, and included. I’m recovering from how many times I didn’t acknowledge that hunger in my own soul. I am done believing “everything but the truth. ”

Note: Bold lyric in first paragraph refers to “How Many Times” , a music track by Kalesha Brown. The track is available at all music retailers.