My friend Brian is both a Buddhist and a Bro. He seems like your typical, straight-acting, CIS, sports-obssessed, white boy until you get to know him. He bought me Infinite Jest as a present the day I stepped down running The Annoyance Theatre NY. He taught me how to ride a 150cc scooter and achieve Zen in the art of it. And when I got deservedly pissed off about something the other day, he told me, “It doesn’t matter if you’re right.”
I often want an apology from the world. I can’t fathom when people behave irrationally or rudely or in ways that go against my sense of justice. This doesn’t mean I hate when people make mistakes; on the contrary, owning up to wrongs is something I value above all and am working on myself.
But, when the world fucks me over, I want retribution. I want to duke it out. And a part of me wants to see it burn.
It comes back, like it always does with me, to Mama, as I’ve written extensively about in this story. I threw a temper-tantrum in sixth grade when I didn’t get the lead role of Peer Gynt in the play Peer Gynt at my middle-school. After I saw the cast list, I sulked to the library and refused to leave and go to class. After the principal summoned my mom to take care of the situation, how did she react? She told me it was unfair, and that I deserved the role, that I was infinitely talented and the show wouldn’t be the same without me. So it was with similar set-backs my entire life. Something would go wrong, I’d complain with my biased summary of the situation, and be pronounced a victim by her.
My sense of martyrdom went to my head to the point where I thought I was the second coming of Jesus Christ in eighth grade. I went an entire month not laughing at any jokes because I thought Jesus wouldn’t do so. Finally, someone told this joke one day on the playground:
The Lord Our Father summons his one and only son Jesus Christ to heaven to discuss his impending death. The Lord Our Father says, “My Son, you have served me and humanity well, but now you must face your final sacrifice for their sins.”
“I’m ready to serve as thou whilst,” Jesus replied.
The Lord Our Father says, “Very well, my son, then you may have a choice of how your human form perishes from this Earth. Your first option is to be hung from the crucifix to die by slow strangulation of the lungs.
“What is the second option, Father?” Jesus asked.
“You may be stung to death by killer bees,” The Lord Our Father said.
“Thank you, Father,” Jesus replied. “I have made my decision.”
And that is why, to this day, we Catholics make the sign of the cross to honor our Savior’s choice of death. As opposed to going, “AH, GOD! Oh my…fuck!…get them off me! They’re everywhere! NOT THE BEEEEES!”
It’s probably a funnier joke told in person when you’re an eighth grade boy, or if demonstrated with video playback from the Nicholas Cage version of The Wicker Man, but I burst from the gut and couldn’t stop laughing. “I guess I’m not Jesus,” I thought, “if I laughed at that joke.” So I gave up the Martyr syndrome and went back to just being an emotionally fragile basket-case. (It’s worth nothing that my friend Jeremy believes that when I laughed at that joke, I was probably closer to actual Jesus than ever).
Fast forward to being a grown-up, I feel torn between wanting to fight back, defend my honor and self-respect, not be just another push-over, and stand up for myself when I feel wronged. And when that doesn’t pan out, then the petulant child in me wants to see it all go up in flames. I want everyone else to watch me suffer because the world didn’t get back my way. Look at the matryr! I sometimes, in my darkest moments, fantasize about hitting rock bottom, getting so low that I completely fall apart…whatever it takes to get people to see me and console me like my Mom did.
That is obviously a very unhealthy line of thinking, but it’s a true pattern in me. The antidote, as Brian says, is just letting it all go. Reflecting on what happened for a time and then moving on. You can be angry about it. You can even mourn the loss. But then say fuck it. And get back to what brings you joy and purpose. At the end of the day, the person you need to satisfy, to continue as a functioning human being, is your own sense of self.
Brian pointed out President Obama as an example. Look at what that man has had to endure. How many high roads he has taken when our government has sunk so low and his legacy is being trashed by a monster of a man. Obama’s a role model example of not needing to win the argument to own his truth and self-accept. He did the best he could, and now he gets to walk away and let America appreciate what it will from his work. The past is not his problem anymore; he can just dedicate himself toward building the future of the Democratic party.
I’ve trained with a yoga teacher named Peter Sterios on three occasions at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. He more or less said one time, “I meet lots of grown-up children, but very few actual adults who can accept pain. Yoga should cause you a bit of pain. Growing yourself should be painful. Life and Yoga won’t always work out the way you think it will, but it’s the process that real adults focus on, as opposed to the product of things going the way you want.”
So, it doesn’t matter if you win the argument, or get the lead role, or lose it all despite your best efforts. As another wise healer named Kurt Hill in Chicago once told me, “Life isn’t about how much you can take on, it’s about how much you can let go.”