A man is sitting across from me, shaken and fearful. He wants to ask me a question, but he is afraid of what my answer will be; he is worried there will be no magic in my words. I assure him I will give him the answer that was once given to me, and I am neither fearful nor shaken. I ask him why he came to me in the first place, and he responds, “Because I want what you have.” He knew he would have to ask and out came three simple, usual questions: “When is it going to start working? How is this life going to lead me where I want to go? Why am I not seeing the results?” His questions may not seem commonplace to you at first, but look closer. They are riddled with selfishness and self-centered fear; they are focused directly on his life and his problems. Leaving no room for anything but his selfish ends he finds himself stuck, unable to see the change that is occurring.
I am a selfish man. It is an elaborate selfishness, perhaps not noticeable to everyone, but it is there, and it is healthy. I want more attention, more acknowledgment, more assurance. I want you to feel better because of something I have done; I want to be the one who pulled you from the fire.
I don’t always feel this way, and in fact, it is rare these days that I act on such feelings. I have moments where I don’t feel like people notice me, moments when I want to shower in the warmth of compliments and admiration, but they are altogether few and far between and not nearly as impactful as they once were. Still, I work on my character defects, this one with a particular kind of ambition. I am careful though not to get carried away, not to feel shame and embarrassment; I must be careful or else my solution to selfishness becomes increased selfishness and begins a confounding web that nobody could make sense of. It is in this tempered work where I find new tools and new methods to alleviate my character flaws. This work allows me to become a better man, and it takes time.
For me, the “work” that I speak of consists of a few things: I must sit in reflection alone and with another person and continually seek out defects in my character. This is an in-depth and honest look at my motives, actions, and reactions to others. It has to be as revealing as possible, as we have a tendency to layer over our faults to keep from admitting them. Once I come to terms with a character defect, I then begin to search for the reason behind my negative behavior. For instance, if my character defect is an inflated ego I need to address situations where my ego is at its height. Are there certain situations where my ego rises? If my ego becomes inflated when I am on a date, I can easily trace this back to some insecurity. Now I have an inflated ego that is masking an insecurity within me.
I continue to connect the dots to find where these defects trace back to; it is always complex, and the issue is not corrected on the surface. If I find that my insecurity comes from not having much money and, therefore, feeling as though the date won’t be interested in me I have to trace this back; it is not the lack of money that I am insecure about, it is my lack of confidence in my value. It is my belief that I am not good enough for someone to be interested in, but I blame another’s lack of interest in my lack of money, etc. I transfer the responsibility to another person, keeping me free from blame. In reality, all of this comes from my belief that I have nothing to offer, and people will react accordingly.
The process takes patience but perhaps, more importantly, it takes courage and humility. You have to be willing to admit that you lack in areas of your life where you may have previously thought was a strength of yours. It becomes difficult because there are many characteristics of our Self that we cover with so many layers of excuses and lies they become unrecognizable to us. We believe the lie we have told ourselves for years, thus making it even more difficult to accept we are at fault. There are those who judge others harshly and regularly yet if you were to point this out to them they would have a genuine look of disbelief on their face. We convince ourselves so thoroughly that we are not at fault that the mere suggestion we have made a mistake infuriates us. Nothing is our fault, and everybody else is to blame, that is our motto!
The belief that all things external create our current situation is possibly the most damning view of all. Once we give responsibility over to anything external, we lose control over changing our position and later our outcome. We limit ourselves entirely and find comfort in the ability to blame our misfortune on someone or something else. The tragedy is that by failing to acknowledge our responsibility, we will never improve.
This sentiment is heard daily: your day was terrible because of the traffic, your job would improve if your boss were more understanding, you would exercise more if you lived in a more exercise-friendly city, you would eat healthier, but work doesn’t give you enough time, your relationship would be better if your partner were more patient, and on and on go the moans of self-pity and selfish men and women everywhere. We tend to have such a firm belief that somehow the world has conspired against us to keep us unhappy, alone, and exhausted; We prefer to sit still, assume we are the target of a dull life and continue complaining and moaning to the end. It is this belief system that needs to be thrown out and a new one built. To know your motives, your character, and be able to spot when you are wrong you must go through painful experiences and revelations. We grow as individuals by confronting, experiencing, and enduring difficulty in life. When we shy away from this challenge we stay put, effectively moving us backward.
When we examine the Self, we find what drives us to succeed, to want love, money, sex, isolation; we find our motives behind our actions. This discovery is of paramount importance; Once we recognize why we behave a certain way we can determine if we are acting that way for a good reason or with manipulative minds. Often we are confused when someone dislikes us or why a disagreement seems eternal and often it is because we cannot see our part. It is important that we don’t waste energy focused on other people and their responsibility; You do not have any authority over anyone else.
When we explain away years of confusion and cover-ups we begin to notice our real self, and we have a clearer blueprint of how it works best. We take responsibility for the things we can control, and we work to improve them. In my experience, most of this effort, when put into action, is shown in being of service to others. Perhaps not so surprisingly this is where many people find trouble because they cannot see how the act of helping others is improving their life. Even with the work laid out clearly most will return to the surface and work on fixing their appearance. Most will feel some satisfaction from tricking others into believing they are all put together on the inside, but this is another cover-up and another lie. It can yield no real satisfaction and results in episodes of anger, frustration, jealousy, and fear. When you work on the surface alone, you will get surface solutions, and they do not last.
Being of service does not necessarily mean volunteering. When we are of service we are patient with our partners, kind to our neighbors, and helpful to those around us. Being of service means putting your needs behind the needs of others, no matter who that person is. We are patient with others, not asking them to be patient with us. We attempt to understand others without asking to be recognized. We offer assistance without expecting anything in return. We do this because we can improve someone else’s day, and it is time we realize our needs are not of paramount importance. In this process, we can stop forcing life, and allow life to unfold the way it will.
“When will it start working, ” the man asked; For him to pose this question is an improvement by itself. After years of total selfish behavior, he is ambitious about correcting his flaws, just impatient. The reality is that this starts working within us before we can see it, but others see it. Others will begin asking if you are doing something different, perhaps you are on new medication, or you have been exercising. By putting your needs behind others, you slowly teach yourself humility and patience, two extremely appealing qualities. You begin to lose more and more of your insecurities; you find yourself becoming more confident because you know you are living a life worthwhile. You should be proud of this life, and others will be proud before you begin to notice the change.
Most people are turned off by this entire notion, again for selfish reasons. Some will exclaim that it is too devastating and harmful to look at our mistakes; some will say it is an exercise in self-loathing. I don’t know what people do in their minds, and I ought not to be concerned in the least. Some will not see the value in digging up these character defects, an admittance that they are satisfied with whatever they know themselves to be, a mask of sorts I suppose.
I often hear people dismiss this notion without realizing it because it means so little to them; For instance, a man is unhappy with his job and over dinner one evening he unloads all of his dissatisfaction with the world onto the table. He was pigeonholed from day one: father left him young, tore his knee up in college basketball, professors didn’t take him seriously, and he settled for a partner and a regular job. If you were to suggest that he was never forced to end up with an average life and that if he wanted, he could change his life, he would scoff and remark, “Look, I don’t wish to get into a whole existential whatever with you. I’m just stating the facts.” He is, and he isn’t; this life happened to him because he relinquished control and instead of overcoming painful moments in life he took the softer route. If he had an examined Self he wouldn’t need to work so hard to come to this conclusion, but since he doesn’t his argument remains in this short-sighted, “Don’t want to get into it” type of discussion that leads nowhere and solves nothing. It is a useless debate, just as he feels.
For me, to lead a fulfilling life, I must work to understand myself; What I find is that I do not learn much by trying to “figure it out” – rather, I come to know myself by being with others, by giving, not taking. I know that my insecurities, my selfishness, and my lack of confidence hurt me in countless ways throughout life. This is why I work on improving these areas, and it is also why I share my faults with you. There is no shame in admitting your shortcomings; The shame is for the confused and wounded who look you in the eye and tells you he’s not hurt, that he is fine. That is not strength; it is poisonous pride. Each one of us carries a hefty load of character defects and those who admit theirs unload some weight each time. The more work you put in, the lighter the load is – The road ahead is long; choose wisely and go lightly.
I took one last look into your bedroom, my eyes filled with life, and turned away. The weakness of human design effortlessly revealed by nature, dissolving structure and breath in a matter of moments. Dogs barked in the alley and neighbors rushed to the scene as smoke settled among us. I remained still, unmoved – shattered. My tears, black from smoke and ash, painted trails on my cheeks. It was as though I was waiting for something, for the whole of life to collapse as well. The morning stars distanced themselves, giving way to the sun, and I remained. I never once glanced towards the sun; heartbroken, I knew it was there. In a moment it had all vanished. In a moment it all remained.
The following months passed with dizzying speed, then years passed, and then it didn’t matter anymore. Leaves fell hard, and for some those leaves were rocks on their backs, but I felt nothing. I was such a sick man, such a selfish man; I hadn’t noticed any of this passing. My sickness and self-centeredness do not excuse my actions; I was well aware of myself, even if my self-deception and delusion were reaching new peaks. Instead of taking responsibility for my disappearance I blamed my actions on the nature of things. Instead of helping others heal I took advantage of their pity; for I was the one with blackened tears and a wounded spirit! I stole years from myself, years from others, and I did it all in the name of self-defense.
Slowly, I began to die. You had always asked about me, worried for me, even had dreams for me. But I knew nothing of dreams or gratitude. You had given me your heart and your words; I gave nothing in return. I left home, trying to keep balance amid the chaos, and distanced myself further from the sun. As the days grew colder, my eyes lost focus. Ice poured from my heart into awaiting hands, slowly forcing each one to retreat. And, forgetting more and more of myself, I retreated as well. A numbing pain was all that was left; and then –
The thick of winter had broken me. Surrender had been given to me and life restored to me. Like a blind man given sight, I have much to discover; I have made so many mistakes, so I have come to offer what I can.
You have left indelible marks on my life. In the past, I was not the type of man who could appreciate your effort and sacrifice; today I am. Your kindness overwhelms me now; I am left with immense gratitude for the moments of happiness which you gave to such a lonely heart. I am of service to those you understand; I see you in their faces and am reminded why I am there. You are one who has given me the strength to show up for others, and though I wish my character were the same back then, I can only hope that somewhere you are smiling.
My mind eases and lets go of the past; I let go of the horror and keep the beauty. I have let go of you and our past, choosing to keep you with me in the present moment, heart beating alongside my heart.
Today let us walk with hazard, setting our sights towards the sun as though we were walking straight into her. There is no parting and no sorrow; we were raised to see life as an unmerited gift, thus we leave this life with gratitude for being born, sentient and feeling. And in many ways this is only life as we know it that is ending; Perhaps this life is the caterpillar and ahead of us is a greater beauty. Perhaps once we make it to the sun we will find butterflies. We never look back, and as fear falls from us we see a glimpse of truth in this world and it is in one another.
Great moments in one’s life happen when one has given up desire, settled for whatever outcome may pass. If one hopes to inspire he does not try to inspire, he just is. And that was you; you were just you. And within this transformation, you became an inspiration, a teacher, and most importantly an example of how a good person ought to live their life.
When I think of you I think of waves: I do not know you on levels others do, and I am happy with it because I was fortunate to see the boldness of your heart when you spoke even the softest whisper to another. You are guided by an unyielding pursuit to help others and in this pursuit, you left behind trails for others to follow. Trails which beckoned us to be a student, a student like you.
Your sincerity resonates deeply in the hearts of us; I know this to be true. I have left many times feeling myself unstoppable – feeling as though a spirit has reached out and given me grace. You are one of the waves through which the fire can boldly show itself, can instill in us the most fragile foundation, a most connected moment.
Do not despair – it would be a mistake. To despair would suggest that there is unfinished business, and there is none for you. Your example is alive and well, and around the waves float specks of water and dust – all hoping one day to become the wave, to become more like you.
I know where to find your voice and so do others. And I will seek out this voice, as tears roll down my cheeks and onto my hands typing these words, I will seek to follow your example. You have set beauty on the horizon, enjoy the sunshine, sir.
Being rocked back and forth on the D train, I lay my head back and breathe. Images of fingers wet, soaked in water and blood, fingers snapping and slipping making inaudible sounds. This is my meditation; lands forged by rough hands and sweat. Cities built by no personality, no discernible political mind, just with these hands, bloodied and slipping but still creating the peaks that we humans can create.
A fear wraps around with the brunt of war but the footsteps of a ghost. Images belonging to someone else construct lanes into my psyche, forever changing into someone else that I will soon call myself. I am changing, this is how we change.
This blood and water slip from the hands of others through rocks. I awaken, and I am wet, chest flooded with someone else’s blood, eyes pouring with someone else’s tears, hands forced over rocks. These hands are now my hands; every reflection, every image which belonged to another, it now belongs to me.
I am responsible; these are my hands bleeding and slipping and trying to snap to make this happen now! I am the one kneeling before the chrome buildings, pouring my hands and my heart over the rocks, awash with the blood and water of myself and others. This is my land, and to my left and my right, this is your land. Break your hands over these rocks as I break my hands. There is no future to save them for; it is not our future that we build this for. Work so that their present may be stronger than ours. Be grateful that our present is as strong as it is. Be loud, work, bleed, and weep as you work. Let your work be truthful, be honest; this is how you will succeed. To sit silently is the only way to fail. I will not fail. My hands awash in water and blood, images of your tiny hands awash in love.
If I should be brought before you
And am asked to skim the trees
To recollect my fondest thoughts
Amid a wasteland of memories
I should dig deep the shallow trenches
I will seek out every eye
For my past bear’s strong resemblance
To the ones I stand before
And I will know a soft resistance
As I push off from the shore
I wonder how all of this will come to pass; How you and I will remember one another. I don’t sit with this for very long, for I know where my mind often leads me. I do not drift to positive places. Instead, my mind seems to embrace the negative and haunting spaces. But I must think of this, of you and I and our past. My past, as it were, is what I must think of.
You were gentle with me; virtually every memory tells me this was your way. You knew that anger would cause me running, and your job was to have me stay. And at times you were overbearing, you wanted for yourself my good health. You wished my mind would pause, and you could rest. You cared much and sometimes in the wrong way. But I forgive your co-dependence, your expectations, and your disappointment. I overlook these things because I, too, am full of error, and I am not here to blame.
I am here to recover the past, not for keeping but to learn. What was it about our relationship that you wanted to hold onto? What was it about me that you seemed so keen on keeping close? I have asked myself this question, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. At times, I was honest and pensive, but others I was a complete waste of effort. Who holds onto the daily garbage? One who is sick themselves I believe. I look back with compassion, not wishing to change you, and this is not meant to enlighten you. This I doubt the entirety of you will ever read.
I can remember when you embraced me, and my embrace was a lie. I remember when you embraced me, and I felt your heart pouring into my chest. I heard your heart pouring into my chest, its crimson waves exposing the emptiness in me. I felt you sometimes, and other times you left me frozen, or I left you frozen. We were just friends. We were lovers. We were enemies. All of it was real, though. You failed me and used me selfishly. You were so many people all at once; it’s no wonder I completely lost you at times.
But you are not unique … Christ, neither am I. I considered you less than you deserved and became the type of man I have always judged, hated. My selfishness knew no bounds and still, it was suffocated time and again. I had fallen so short of breath that our relationship had to change. All I could do was start over. I had no idea what this would mean but it was time to tear each other apart and continue, alone.
The beginning was beautiful. Leaves fell hard in those first few days, and for some those leaves are still rocks on their backs. But it was no longer excuse enough for me to hide behind. I loved them dearly, I truly did. I love them today differently because I am different and they are different. They are whole but hard to see. I send out eulogies because I was not always there when the moment surprised and seemed to ambush us. I am here now, I am here for the ones who wish to hear me.
I still seem to lose you at times, even though I feel we have been doing everything well. We outgrow each others usefulness, we no longer need one another. When you no longer need something it becomes a weight around your ankle unless you part ways while still feathers. In the beginning, it feels wrong; it angers me to part ways. But it is the best for both of us and the best way for the whole of us.
Sometimes I glance out the window and see your birds singing. Other times I turn my back to you, wishing you would at once turn away from me. I love you, I have forgotten you, and I hope to love you. Before the earth, before the lovers and the users and the apathetic bystanders, I hope I give you something you cannot hold but can use. I hope you see me and know that the past is real, but it is gone and only alive in your mind. This moment is real as well. I hope you see the power of this moment, and I hope you forget me and move on if that is what you must do.
You have nothing to say to me, and I nothing to say to you, for the most part. One day I will sit down and tell you what it all means, but today you must work on it yourself. It is your world that you must save from forever wilting. You do not live for me, I do not live for you, but we live for a purpose higher than both of us. I cannot define yours, and I know you cannot give me the relief I once sought. I appreciate you for who you are, and do not want you to change your colors to draw me closer. If I speak a foreign tongue to you and you wish to retreat, I do not blame you. Those who are meant to be in my life will be; others will become useful by becoming more like themselves.
I love you, I hope to love you, and I have forgotten and forgiven you. Do not fear whatever lay in front of us, it is meant to be there, and we no longer need to embellish who we are. This is the death of our relationship.
At times we will find ourselves discontent, irritable, and generally just blue. The feeling may seem to have come out of nowhere, leaving you confused and a little on edge. It can be scary, at times overwhelming, and downright lonely. During these moments we rely on our mind, asking ourselves questions and using our best tool to make sense of this dreary feeling. We often feel as though we have exhausted all possibilities. We think we have a done a thorough job and yet we still can’t seem to shake this feeling of apathy.
Unfortunately for us, for those that can relate, we are more often than not asking ourselves the wrong questions. And our questions aren’t just slightly misdirected – in these moments our thoughts are often epic; We begin to examine the meaning of life, the reality of our relationships, even questioning the very nature of ourselves. We struggle to relax and our once still minds turn into dime-store psychologists and philosophers. Our questions are vague, massive, and without answers.
It doesn’t always have to be this confusing and arduous, I promise you. In fact, I’ll do you one better and tell you, while it’s fresh on my mind, exactly how I get myself out of these blues.
Yesterday was a pretty damn good day for me. I had spent the evening at my sisters during what was predicted to be the storm of the century but turned out to be no more than a heavy snow. I spent a little time with my sister, got ready and went off to meet a friend for lunch. My afternoon could not have been better: great company, great food, afternoon tea and the winter scenery all made for an ideal afternoon. Around 7 pm I parted ways with my friends, got on the train and headed home.
As I got settled in for the evening, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling the after-effects one generally does after such a beautiful day. In fact, I found myself a little frustrated, confused, and incredibly bored. “Oh shit, this isn’t good, ” I thought to myself; Something must have been terribly wrong, something real was happening here. My mind began racing: Am I not doing enough, is this life fulfilling, am I doing everything wrong? All of these questions! Who the hell asks themselves these questions and expects even a whiff of an answer? Evidently, I do – but this is not as dangerous as it seems.
I got up from the couch and walked to the kitchen, looked up on my dry erase board and there it was in all its simplicity: “Relax and take it easy” – On this night, where thoughts began racing, and questions began building, my relief appeared before me in this simple phrase. I sat down and decided to make a list – What did I eat today? How much did I sleep last night and how did I sleep? Is there any simple reason that I may be annoyed? And here is what I came up with: As I mentioned before the food yesterday was great. What I failed to mention was that I had eaten only two bites of it. The tea was good, but it was preceded by 3 cups of coffee. I got a bit of sleep, but I slept on a couch after spending the day in a hospital and navigating my way through the snow filled streets. In my mind these experiences weren’t negative at all – I enjoyed spending time with my sister and I don’t really mind the snow. I had a great time at lunch – I don’t eat all that much anyway. What I was neglecting to notice was the physical and emotional effects I endure when I don’t take care of myself – I didn’t need answers only the gods could give me, I needed to eat something.
I got up this morning and went for a walk around the neighborhood. It is gorgeous out today, my mind is completely calm.
We have such a difficult time accepting the simple solutions. Maybe the sky really is falling but isn’t there a chance we just haven’t been sleeping well lately? Aren’t these simple questions at least worth a look? There are often underlying issues that we are dealing with in any number of ways – but they are exacerbated when we don’t take control over the little things. We tend to ask ourselves questions that aren’t meant for us to answer. Here’s a tip when your mind begins racing: You aren’t capable of outsmarting this world. Emotions rise and fall with the hope that they return somewhere in the middle. Our mood shifts a little throughout the day, but we can almost always trace it back to something simple, some minor annoyance or some missed opportunity.
In these moments, when you cannot seem to find an answer to your blues, make a list. Do you owe someone an apology? Have you been dismissive towards your partner? Are you happy with your workout regiment? Are you eating healthy? Are you eating enough or maybe too much? Have you started that book you got over the holidays? Are you keeping something to yourself? Are you telling the truth? Does your neighbor play their music too loud? Make a list of the things that you can change, go through it and make changes to the best of your ability.
Allow yourself to be unhappy for a time but bring yourself back before you want to. Get pissed off at your neighbor for being inconsiderate but take it out at the gym. You are allowed to feel like shit now and then – But do not start looking into the abyss for answers that are in your refrigerator.
More often than not I choose to view difficulties in life as an opportunity for growth. Throughout the struggle, I am in a state of anticipation, knowing that the fight cannot exist forever unless I resign myself to hopelessness, which is an option. It should be noted that hopelessness is only a part of our ‘negative faith’ and lies in our neurosis. Neurosis is, according to Carl Jung the avoidance of actual pain. So to believe that life is hopeless I would have to think that my negative thoughts are real and in this admittance, I would realize that I am avoiding actual struggle.
So, I know life is never hopeless and even in the darkest hour there burns an overabundance of hope. I can then at least admit that though I may not have confidence in my grip, there is hope within my reach and that in and of itself is hope. So I sit with my small bit of hope in anticipation for the moment when I will be overwhelmed with hopeful feelings and a new perspective marked by new and positive progress.
Every struggle in life has left a path in its wake back to something valuable in which it was banished. The road is there; the struggle has carved this path, and my job is to walk through the battle, look over my shoulder as I pass it by and anticipate the glow in the distance that is unknown but is always, absolutely always exciting and remarkable.
Perspective, positive thought, and the willingness to confront life; that is all I need to find my way out of the struggle.
I fight each day to be a meaningful person. I do not wish to take from anyone, only give the small amount within myself. The point of life is to be useful. The hope in death is that I’ve given all of myself to the world so that there is nothing left to miss.
This path is often a lonely one – the world is a lonely place until you are prepared for it. So I work each day, sometimes alone, to prepare myself for the day when I am strong enough to join the ones I admire here on earth.
I bet we are a small group of people – lonely in the valleys and lonely on the peaks. It is the only way I know how to live – be it dwelling in the valley to bear crops for the mountain or raining from the peaks to give life to the valley I will work to remain useful. Then I will rest easy.
I WAS YOUNG AND I WAS A LOVER
OF ALL THINGS OBSCURE AND UNFIT FOR THE WORLD
MY EYES LONGING AT ONCE TO CAPTURE
WHAT MAKES A MAN AND WHO TAKES THE PEARL
ONLY THREE-YEARS OF AGE YET I RECALL NATURE
IT BECKONED OUR EVERY MOVE THROUGHOUT THE LAND
HIS EYES FOCUSED ON HIS HANDS AND HIS HORSE
MINE FIXED ON THE ARM OF THIS MAN
WE FOUND A PLACE TO STOP AND THE HORSES THEY’D DRINK
THE POND FULL OF MUD, A CURIOUS SORT OF INK
I BEGGED HIS FORGIVENESS BUT ASKED ONCE AGAIN
FOR A GLIMPSE OF THE BEAST AND OF THE STORY WITHIN
PULL UP HIS SLEEVE TO SATISFY MY EYES
A GROWL AND UP MY EARS WOULD PERK LIKE A DOG I’S MYSTIFIED
FIRST A SHOCK, THEN A STARE, THEN A LAUGHTER SO LOUD
A MOMENT WITH NOTHING TO FEAR, A DISPOSITION SO AWFULLY PROUD
I REMEMBER THIS MAN FONDLY
DEATH CANNOT TAKE AWAY MUCH FROM ME
AND THE PANTHER TATTOOED ON HIS ARM
I TOOK FROM HIS SKIN AND PLACED IT ON ME
THE BEAST TODAY IS A JOYFUL SYMBOL
YET VISIONS OF THE PAST ARE NOT GRANTED TO ME
INSTEAD HE LEFT ME VISIONS OF THE FUTURE
A PATH TO SATISFY ANOTHER’S CURIOSITIES
NEVER IN MY OLD LIFE DID I IMAGINE
SUCH SIMPLE BEAUTY WAS UP MY SLEEVE
IT TOOK A YOUNG MAN JUST 3 YEARS OF AGE
MY PANTHER IS HIS WHENEVER I LEAVE
| RHETT BURCH
I think in many ways that even though the pages of our future are still blank, even though we are still confounded by the unending choices we make that will forever decide our future, even with all of this uncertainty, the pages of our future seem to be written in invisible ink. It’s as if the pages shudder and grow restless under the weight of this ink, wanting to open up to the final pages to show us we need not worry. But alas the pages seem blank to us and were it not for faith I too would shudder at the prospect of a future, any future. But it is with this faith that I say come forth with your future, any future you wish. I do not need to know the score; I accept that every ending is right in its way, and my future and yours will be in harmony with the universe.
— RHETT BURCH
“There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I don’t deserve to have the mother I do. I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way; Rather I find my mother to be such a rarity that it doesn’t seem fair to others that I ended up with her as my mother. Such is life I suppose, and instead of feeling guilt I am grateful to have this rarity in my life.
I have always been a lot like my mother, the first similarity being our birthday. I often speak of our most valuable qualities coming by way of painful experiences, and me being a nearly 12 pound baby I believe I made my value known from the beginning. This would be the first in a long line of painful moments that my mother endured to allow me to become the man I am today. I often speak about the tools I have in my life, the work that goes on behind the curtain, and today I am revealing the heart behind the curtain, my mother.
My mother has always been the one constant in my life regardless of absolutely any consequence or difficulty. Her presence has been known in the best of times and more importantly in the most challenging times. I am admired by some for my recovery, told of the strength I exhibit and the hope I have given to others and it is all very meaningful to me. But in many ways the admiration is misdirected and the people behind the curtain are forgotten – for the strength that you see in me was given to me by my mother whose strength, determination, and compassion outweigh mine exponentially.
My mother’s story is not for me to tell but I will say that as a child and as an adult I have always known what strength and courage look like. She has been able to carry the pain of mine when I have not been strong enough to shoulder it. She has been stoic in the darkest hours because somebody needed to be. I have cried to her, lashed out at her, been distant, apathetic towards her, and have at times been nothing but an ungrateful embarrassment of a son to her. Not once did she stop loving me – and somewhere, even at my sickest, I knew this.
There are often hyperbolic statements made when we speak of who we would be without a loved one but in my life I need no exaggeration; Without my mothers love and compassion I am not sure I would be here today. I would not have the strength to fight my own fight if I didn’t have her show me what real strength is. Many people may have left me in the hospitals alone, left me to cry alone, to hurt alone, and I wouldn’t really blame these people. But I was never left alone, and for that I am truly grateful.
My mother gave me the freedom to be my own person while remaining close in case my plans failed, which they almost always did. And in the past I often treated my own mother this way, as a sort of safety net in case my idea of living was wrong and I needed to be rescued. It took me 31 years to find a life where I don’t need a safety net and for each of those 31 years she was there for me, putting part of her life on hold for me, making sure I didn’t vanish.
The gift I receive today from her is being able to see what an amazing person she is not because she is my safety net but because she is such an intelligent and confident woman. She has New Orleans Blues running through her veins and can dance until the lights come on. I get to watch a smile come across her face when the entire family is together and somewhere in her mind I think she knows it is her doing that makes this all possible.
My gift to her, after so many years of taking, is being a reliable son who can shoulder pain for her the way she has done for me throughout my life. Part of my purpose is to let her know that her efforts were not made in vein, that she didn’t fight to save me for no good reason. She is still the heart that keeps me going, only this time the heart doesn’t hurt so much and the tears are born out of happiness and not worry or sadness. She has taught me how to be of service to others, how to put my needs behind others, and how to show love without always getting the same in return.
I will always need my mother, things like that never change. I will always think of ways to make her proud of me, to make her smile, and to make her know that her life of sacrifice is beyond what anyone has ever done for me. Since day one she has been a walking example of how to treat others well, how to show love and how to make others feel loved. For most of my life I wasn’t prepared to accept this example, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my ways the way she had sacrificed herself for others.
Today I think I understand the seed she planted in me since I was a child. If I am capable of being 10% of the person my mother is I will consider my life to be one that is well-lived and admirable. She has shown me that at the bottom of everything, at the twilight before the sun sets, the most important thing is to connect with other people. She has instilled in me a desire to understand others before judging them, a willingness to listen to the stories of others before telling my own. By placing her needs behind the needs of others she has become more valuable than the lot combined. Others may fall apart and it is her strength that will be there when they need rebuilding.
There is always one who is able to stand and face the fire, and no matter how much it burns they refuse to shy away. She is the one who has held back the flames while I put myself together, and I can only hope that today I can take some of the weight off her shoulders. My smile is bright today because she believed that somewhere within me was a light. My light has always been her reflection, and I am forever grateful she was able to recognize that as long as she was with me I would never lose the light within. I still have it and now I share it as she shared it with me. And as hard as I try I will never be able to convey with words, not even 1200 of them, the importance and value that my mother has.
So Mom, I hope I can continue to make you proud and show you the love that you have always shown to me. I owe my life to you, and for that I will make every effort to make it a life full of love and laughter. Thank you for never letting me go.
All My Love,
I have documented my mental illness well here on my blog – this little blog I started on an airplane while trying to distract myself from yet another crippling panic attack. I began writing because for most of my life I have felt alone and I needed to connect with people. Throughout my life, I have battled night terrors, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, depression, and intense loneliness – and for much of my life, I never told anyone.
I was warned when I began writing about myself; A potential employer may read this and back away from me, someone might judge me, I may be cast as an unstable person. But I saw something else – I thought that a potential victim of mental illness may read this and come closer, someone might judge me and see strength, someone may find that they are not alone. I felt that by hiding who I am, I was telling myself that there is something wrong with me, and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with me.
I have received many emails from readers telling me they were on the brink of suicide and somehow stumbled across my page and felt at that moment that they were not alone. I spoke with someone just this past evening who told me they often think of ending it all. I do not have any magic in my words; I am no healer of any kind. All I have done is be honest and open about who I am and what I struggle with. For whatever reason – ego, compassion, or both – I can share myself with you without hesitation, and I know this isn’t the case for most who suffer. So I stay here, knowing that there is always the possibility that someone is on the brink of ending it all, and they may stumble upon my page and realize they are not alone in this fight.
I am not asking anyone to disclose their personal lives, and I absolutely would never reveal shared conversations. I am pleading that you ask people how they are doing with sincerity, that you look to the people in your life and make a genuine inquiry into how they are doing. We live in an age where we have freedom of choice, yet an illness we are born with becomes a lifelong burden, accepted at an arm’s length. We are celebrated for our differences yet view those we do not understand as a threat. People with mental illness are not a threat to you and are in fact more likely to be victims. We punish what we do not understand, so I beg of you to educate yourself before you lash out at those struggling on the inside.
The shame that comes along with this burden should not be so strong; it doesn’t warrant such submission and feelings of inferiority. I can say without leniency that some of fascinating men and women I know suffer from mental illness, and their talents have nothing to do with their illness. The strongest people I have ever met are those who have seen the front lines of suffering and continue, each day, to ignore the stigma society places upon them. They raise beautiful children, build good careers, and lead wonderful lives. But there are those who do not feel safe, who have been bitten so badly by society that they withdraw into their homes and psychiatric wards.
I sat in such a psychiatric ward this past evening. Men sitting before me eyes full of self-doubt and confusion. They don’t feel like they belong anywhere in this world, they feel this world doesn’t want them. I see the struggle in their eyes; I see the want escape – society does not want to believe they are there, that these people exist. But I assure you they are there, behind the brick walls of our hospitals, prisons, and institutions. I don’t see danger behind their eyes; I see loneliness and sadness. But when I peer into their eyes, look deep into these pools of a glimmering hope that is slowly fading, what I see is beyond all politic and discrimination: I see human life. I see a person, a life that was born just as innocent as you.
Behind these hospital walls, resting on these maroon sofas, I see a memory. I see myself, two years ago, sitting as a patient in this very same room. I see the pain that I felt, the loneliness, the thought that I was beyond help, and I was beyond acceptance. I see a scared 29-year-old kid from Houston, TX wondering if he was destined for a life of exclusion. A kid who was so afraid of what other people would think of him that he lied about his innermost feelings. A kid that could have been saved long before had he opened his mouth, told somebody the truth.
Every week that I sit in this psychiatric ward, I see myself looking back at me, pleading for acceptance, love, and a moment to speak without fear of judgment. I see myself as a miracle, the tiny percentage who made it out to happiness. I see the extraordinary measures it took to get me here, the overwhelming love and understanding I had given to me, and I wonder why I am one of the very few who ever receive this love and understanding. I am left not knowing when the line will ever end – if the men and women suffering inside will ever be taken seriously or if the masses will continue to call them “crazy.” I glance into their eyes once again, see myself seated back on that maroon sofa, and walk out as the door closes and locks behind me.
I begin my descent 20 floors down, anxiously awaiting the fresh air outside. I hurry through the lobby and push through the glass doors onto First Avenue. I wonder if people see me and realize that I was one of those people, the ones they would so casually refer to as “crazy.” I wonder what it takes for people to see life, to see the innocence buried deep in the eyes of those who sit in desperation. I know there are those who wish to help and that there are sympathetic hearts all over this country. It doesn’t take a miracle to make someone feel they can speak freely about their problems. Imagine if you had a tumor but were too embarrassed to tell the doctor – if your chest was in so much pain but you were too scared to tell your spouse that you’d rather suffer in silence and wait for your heart to collapse. Nobody suffers for a paycheck – if you’d like proof that this is real you may ask me. I will tell you where I have been, I will satisfy your curiosity.
But I am here for the ones who feel nobody hurts they way they do. I am here for the ones who believe their life must end before it ever begins. I am here to tell you, the ones who I identify with, that life can absolutely be whatever you wish it to be. I am here to be of service to you, the one who struggles to sleep or struggles to awake for fear of what awaits you in the outside world. Today I am not bound by mental illness and my choice is a lifetime commitment to be of service to those who find me useful. My purpose in this world, the reason I believe my life continues, is to be of service, to place myself behind the needs of others and to give whatever I have to give to ease the pain of those who still suffer. I am here to lead by example, to tell you that I am not fearful of judgment or uneducated branding.
I am also here to tell you that I don’t do any of these things perfectly. I struggle mightily at times, but I work to improve and change my perspective, I anticipate the future instead of fear it. I do not care what label anyone wishes to place on me, for I know precisely who I am and what I am capable of. Today and for my life I am here for the still sick and suffering. I see in you what you do not yet see in yourself, and I beg of you to use me as inspiration. Everything in our life lies one step in front of us – this is your life, I am telling you it is possible. And that now, at this moment, there is a heart in Brooklyn beating for you.