Sunday, October 13, 2013

Life Doesn't Have to be a Grudge-fest

So, I've been thinking a lot about conspiracy theories.  About why it is that people, especially less informed, less critically thinking folks, so readily embrace the absurd.  It's easy to write these folks off as "just stupid" or "devastatingly gullible," but I think there's something more to it.

I think it's about control.

I'm not talking about the control the purveyors of these wild notions exert over the believers.  No, I'm talking about the perceived control holding such crazy convictions can give a person.  Control over their environment, over their world.

The world is scary.  It's scary, and sometimes really bad stuff happens.  Scarier?  Having to shake our heads and say "I don't know why bad stuff happens."  That's a crappy, helpless feeling.  But if you can point at the evil government, the black helicopters, the alien lizard-people, the terrorist Arabs, or the black Kenyan/Muslim/Fascist/Communist in the White House?

Well, it makes you feel like you're not being beset by awful, invisible forces.  You can "identify" the culprits, and that enables to you rail against them.  And, false as it is, that does bring about a sense of control, of power over the things that happen.

Doesn't mean it's not crazy.  Usually.  And there's the problem--see it?  We do live in a world where there are shadowy organizations that act in ways we might not be okay with.  We do have a government swayed by corporate influence.

Heck, if you've ever spent time in the West Desert of Utah, you even know we do have black helicopters.

Add that little bit of real to a desperate need to feel ABLE to effect change, and you have the perfect storm of paranoia.


Speaking of things rattling around in my poor head, I ran across an obituary the other day while searching for folks from my high school.  Father of two boys I knew growing up in Utah.  One of the boys, Ricky, was my age.  The other boy, Dee, was about five years older.  My sister's age, actually.  And these kids?

When someone says "junk yard kids," I think of them.  Mean, hard, aggressive, dogged in their pursuit.  Dee tall and blond, Rick short and black haired, both with a spray of freckles across their snub noses, both with dark, narrow eyes, and both with large, square teeth.  Their last name wasn't "Lipnicki," but it may as well have been.  When I think of Scut Farkus, I see a weak, green-toothed imitation of Ricky and Dee.

Anyway, I read the obituary because I really didn't know anything about Dee and Ricky's family.  I knew where they lived (all the better to avoid run-ins, of course), knew where they went to school, knew they liked trucks and beer in their later years, but that was about it.

It turns out their dad owned a business.  Some sort of home repair/service-type thing (not looking to get too specific here).  And after he retired?  The business passed on to his sons.  Yes, THOSE sons.

And my first thought?

"I should warn my family not to call them for repairs."


Seriously, I haven't seen these guys in over 30 years, and that's my first thought?  After I forgave Shelley the skeezy cheerleader (hey, I did, I forgave her the bullying and the meanness, and then found out that, as an adult, she's even worse)?  If I could give Shelley a second chance, surely I could find it in my heart to give Ricky and Dee another shot.


At first, I was feeling pretty bad about that initial, knee-jerk reaction.  See, I have this "rule" of sorts--if I can't remember why we tangled, or even IF we tangled, than it must not be important enough to hold a grudge.  But then I remembered--I DO know why we tangled--Rick and Dee were mean bullies who terrorized me.  So I don't feel GUILT, per se, but I still do feel regret.  I mean, I sure don't want to be judged for what I was or how I acted when I was a child.

Do you?


Speaking of that, I have a story.  A really sad one about a woman who moved away from her hometown many years ago--back in the late fifties.  She always wanted to go back. She dreamed of it, she made little plans in her head, but ultimately, she never dared.  She never dared, even though her brother and his wife still lived there, even though there were still people there who thought of her as their friend.

She didn't go back because she'd made mistakes when she was younger.  She'd been a "party" girl who drank on occasion, smoked cigarettes, and committed the unforgivable sin of getting pregnant out of wedlock.  The child was given up for adoption, but certain of her classmates never, ever forgot.

And they never stopped downing her for it.

Fifty-six years later, an old flame who'd sort of been in touch over the decades (think Christmas cards and the like, mostly from his recently passed wife) began calling.  And they began talking.  It turned serious pretty quickly, a lot of "love you" and "miss you."  And she reveled in it--after being alone for 34 years (since her own marriage had ended), someone wanted her.  Someone was interested in her.  Someone she knew, someone she had once, perhaps, loved.

And then he started talking about coming out to visit.  And worse, about her selling her house and moving back to their hometown.

Understand, this would have been a saving stroke for her--she was floundering, financially, and had no adult companionship other than her grown daughters, who have lives of their own.  They loved all the same things--gambling weekends, morning breakfasts at the local cafe, a little golf here and there, game shows, and old M*A*S*H reruns.  He was financially stable, had a good income, and could have staved off her otherwise-inevitable bankruptcy.  It was, without a doubt, a match made in heaven.

And she panicked.  By the time he flew out, she'd completely talked herself out of it.  She was silent, sullen, withdrawn, and uncooperative.  She made him stay at her daughter's apartment, refusing to do more than come over for dinners, and that because her daughters forced the issue.

And he?  Was heartbroken.  He tried to be helpful around the apartment, but he spent a lot of time crying.  And when he left?

She took to calling him "that bastard" and "that asshole."  Within days, she'd done a complete 180, had him painted a monster.  Pinned the entire debacle on him when, in fact, she was just angry because she'd felt trapped.

Why, you're wondering?

Well, because of her old classmate, Clare McKay, actually.  See, Clare was the son of her long-dead father's business partner.  And Clare had always hated her.  Never given her an ounce of compassion, an inch of leeway.  Almost 60 years, and Clare was still known to dog her.  When her old flame began talking about flying out to see her, Clare laughed and laughed, warned him not to, reminded him what a "whore" she was.  What a slag.

And she knew.  She knew Clare, and people like him, hadn't forgotten one single mistake she'd made.  After almost six decades, they were still eager to gossip about her, condemn her for actions committed when she was still a child.  There was, to quote my atheist-hating neighbor, NO forgiveness.

Life in a small town can be hell.

And so this poor woman decided, consciously or no, to scuttle her own blossoming relationship with a man who had clearly been holding a torch for her all those years rather than risk the scorn of Clare McKay.

The woman?  My mother.  And, while I'm angry at her for the pain she caused this man, for the way she let him believe something was going to come of it, for the way she demonized him after the fact, I totally understand WHY she did it.  Maybe she even hoped that she would find the courage to go through with it.  Certainly, she lacked the courage to level with him while there was still time for him to get a refund on his airline ticket.  No matter how you slice it, it's tragic for everyone involved.

Except Clare, of course.  Clare got to laugh and laugh, got to engage in at least 30 different kinds of "I told you so" venom when that poor, heartsick man flew back home alone.


Walking through Wegmans the other night when, over the sound system, came The Thompson Twins with "Hold Me Now."  Wow, talk about a total first-husband song.  With all the angst and sorrow you can possibly cram into four minutes and forty-five seconds:

Gotta say, though--looking back?  It really was that sad.


Also in Wegmans?  A man, bagging groceries.  Dressed in basic grocery-bagger clothing--Wegmans Izod-type shirt, Docker-style pants.  And I looked at him--really stared.  It was rude, really, but he looked SO familiar, and yet I couldn't come up with it until we were leaving.

He looked exactly like my orthopedic surgeon.  EXACTLY.  Yet I couldn't come up with it because the setting was so wrong.  In a swanky doctor's office with the mahogany hardwood floors and the crisp white jacket, my doctor looks imposing.  He looks solid and calm and competent.  Put that very same face and build in grocery-bagger attire and have him popping boxes of taco shells and packages of ahi tuna in a reusable bag, and he looks very different.  He looks tired.  He looks defeated.  He looks chunky and sorrowful. Not because he looks any different, but because of the baggage *I* carry with me.  I see a man in his 50s bagging groceries, I immediately see tired and defeated.

I need to rethink my preconceptions.


One last thing--the next time some "less thoughtful than perhaps they should be" person tells you that the left and right area all the same, that the shutdown is BOTH parties' fault, show them this.  And tell them to put down the danged Kool-Aid:

Don't get bogged down in the procedural language--look at the practical point here.  The House has barred democrats from calling for a vote to pass a budget and re-open the government.  In fact, they've barred their own republican representatives from introducing any motions to end the shut down.  They've passed a resolution that allows ONLY the Speaker of the House or his designee to introduce such legislation.

So the next idiot who tells you that it's the democrats holding us hostage?  You'll know they're wrong.  This could have been ended days ago--a week ago, easy, except that the right took steps to make SURE it can't be ended.

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