It’s Hard (Poem)

It’s hard to hear all the anger
It’s hard to live with the strife
It’s hard to learn that conflict and hatred
Are the backdrop for living this life

It’s hard to talk with each other
It’s so hard to listen and hear
It’s hard when the very thought of someone
Can paint your emotions with fear

It’s hard to trust in the process
It’s hard to remember God’s promise
It’s hard to believe that divine light shines
From people who show forth no oneness

It’s hard to let go of harsh words
It’s so hard to hold onto patience
And it’s tragic how hard it always becomes
To hold on to kind affirmations

Anyone who told us that life would be easy
Was a fool or a liar at best
But why is it we all, no matter how privileged
Feel like we’re being oppressed


Snapshots of My Depression #11: Not the Best Man

This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.

It’s been a while since I posted one of these “Snapshots.” I thought maybe it was time to dust off this series, and keep it going. This post is the story of how I got into regular therapy with my first long-term counselor. I’ve already written about how my depression got to the point of suicide, and I’ve already written about the amazing experience I had at First Hospital Wyoming Valley in the aftermath of that attempt. But that wasn’t when I started seeing a counselor regularly. Sure, I did see somebody for a month or two after my hospital stay, but it was actually about ten years later that I finally saw the need for ongoing therapy.

It started with a wedding, a wedding that was making me upset.

But it actually started at a different wedding, about a year earlier, a beautiful wedding on the Jersey shore. A college friend of mine was married that day, and so a lot of Muhlenberg grads were there. Among them were me, my wife Heather, and Pete and Jean, who were engaged to be married the following year. Pete was (and is) one of my closest friends, and Jean was (and is) one of Heather’s closest friends. All four of us met at Muhlenberg, and it was a remarkable and wonderful coincidence that we ended up in two couples like this. Being at this beach wedding just a few months before their own wedding, Pete and Jean certainly had their own nuptials in mind. Unfortunately, I had their wedding in mind as well. Particularly the makeup of their wedding party.

Ah, yes. The wedding party. My wife Heather was to be matron of honor. And I…was to be just an ordinary groomsman. Because another college friend, Eric, was to be the best man. Not me. Eric would walk down the aisle with Heather, not me. Eric would be next to Pete in the photos, not me. And it’s because it was Eric that I was upset. If it had been anyone else, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. Here’s the thing – Eric, Pete, and I were inseparable in college. We called ourselves the “triumvirate.” We argued and fought, but we were brothers. We were equals. There was something holy about the three of us, something special beyond any combination of two of us, a trust that couldn’t be broken. But now it felt to me that Pete had broken that trust. It didn’t matter to me what role Eric and I had in Pete’s wedding, so long as they were equivalent. But they weren’t. To me, best man was a higher level of honor than groomsman. And I was pissed.

I tried to be calm about it. It didn’t matter, right? It was just one of those things, right? I kept telling myself that in truth, Eric would be far better at all the best-man functions than I (which is true). I kept telling myself that this isn’t a statement about our relative worth. I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t feel this way. I tried to pretend I didn’t. I tried to play it off as a joke for a while. But as time went on, the jokes got less and less funny, and more and more awkward. By the day of the wedding on the shore, my passive-aggressive behavior had been going on for a few months. And the last straw happened that day. During the reception, with perhaps too much alcohol running through my veins, I said something that went way too far.

And Pete called me out on it. He took me outside, and told me I had to stop this. He told me how upset he was. He told me that he needed me to figure out how to get over this. I cried. I apologized. I told him that I didn’t know why I was so upset about this. I didn’t know why I was so angry. And I promised him that I would get some help.

And within a week, I called Council for Relationships, a counseling center in the Delaware Valley. My counseling relationship with Lucy began with trying to work out what my anger was all about. She helped me with that, and we kept meeting for about five years. Thanks to her, I was able to unearth all kinds of things from my past, and start the process of working through them.

I’m so grateful to Pete for forgiving me for my behavior, and also for having the courage and the compassion to call me out on this. That was the catalyst that started me on a journey of lifelong healing.

Scared of this election

Is it normal to feel frightened, actually scared, by all the campaign signs this election? Is it normal to feel frightened of going to work on election day, because my workplace is a polling place? Because I am scared. I’m scared of talking about whom I’m supporting, unless the other person brings it up first. I’m scared of how angry people are, how self-righteous, how indignant, how completely dismissive of people who are on the opposite side. It feels as though this has gone beyond, “I can’t ever vote for him/her. No matter how bad the other one is, as least it’s not him/her.” It feels like it’s gone to, “I cannot comprehend how a thinking person would ever vote for him/her. If you are planning to vote for him/her, then you are either stupid or evil. And I hate you.”

And that scares me. I’m so scared that this is what we’ve become. I find it very hard to be proud of America right now. Proud of what we once were, yes. Proud of the ideals we were created with, yes. Proud of what we can be one day, yes. But right now? Look at who we’ve become. We all complain about, “Are these the best candidates we could find?” The answer is yes. Yes they are, because we nominated them. We gave them the most votes. You certainly can’t claim that they were nominated by smoke-filled back rooms. (Well, maybe you could argue that on the Democratic side, but never on the GOP. The RNC and the Republican establishment wanted nothing to do with Trump. That was all votes, nothing more.)

We act as though this election is the one moment that will decide the fate of America. (“If he/she is elected, then America as we know it will be destroyed!”) Bullshit. This election will decide a lot of things about the next four years, yes. But our republic is too strong to be destroyed by any one person. Our checks and balances are too strong to allow that. We’ve had some bad presidents in the past. Harding. Buchanan. Jackson, perhaps, depending on whom you talk to. Did they destroy the republic? Of course not. America will survive, whoever takes the oath in January. And sometimes I think that the worst part is that we no longer have respect for the office of president. We no longer have respect for authority and for the will of the people, even when we ourselves disagree with the majority. But this has happened before. Abraham Lincoln was an incredibly unpopular and divisive candidate and president. Hell, seven states left the United States between his election and his inauguration. I find it hard to believe that that will happen in 2017. Yes, we’re having a cultural war, but I can’t believe it would turn into secession.

But I am scared of this cultural war, because I do find myself clearly on one side of it. I know what I believe, and I know what I stand for, and I find it so hard to relate to and communicate with those on the other side. It saddens me that there are such clear sides. It saddens me that there is such mistrust, not only of opinions and ideas, but of facts. I’m scared to show my support for a candidate, because I don’t want to endure the insults and name-calling, the anger and indignation, I’m scared will follow.

I don’t know. Is this normal? Do a lot of people feel this way? Will this feeling end on November 9?

Who are we becoming?

So, this shooting in Orlando has ticked off every box. I mean, sheesh. We’ve got people talking about Muslims and terrorism. We’ve got people talking about LGBTQ rights. We’ve got people talking about gun control. We’ve got people talking about racism. My Facebook feed has gone cuckoo bananas. Memes and sarcasm and emotional tirades and arguments. And oh, so much righteous indignation. And I hate it. I absolutely hate it, and I’m getting more and more upset.

I hate reading when someone calls someone else stupid for not agreeing with them about guns.

I hate reading when someone quotes Galatians to say that the victims brought this on themselves.

I hate reading about rallies where people cheer about violence or about preventing people from coming to our country because of their faith.

And I am really fearful for the soul of our nation right now. Who are we right now? Are we really a people so defined by anger? Are we really a people so broken and shattered that we see nothing but demons and scapegoats all around us? Is that who we are?

Is it telling that we’re in the midst of a presidential election in which each of the two viable candidates is disliked by something like 95% of the populace? And disliked is a rather tame word, frankly. It might be more accurate to say we’re in the midst of an election in which both candidates are routinely thought of as the anti-christ.

What happened to the “self-evident” truth that all men are created equal? Let’s parse that: “Men” was 18th century for “people.” “Created” means “made by a higher power,” which to most at that time would have meant God. “Equal” was not a reality when the declaration was written…slavery and women’s suffrage, etc…. but it was an ideal, an ideal that over the centuries America has slowly grown closer and closer to. And how about that nagging word: “all”?

I submit something crazy:

  • God made LGBTQ people.
  • God made Muslims.
  • God made conservatives.
  • God made liberals.
  • God made Hillary Clinton.
  • God made Donald Trump.
  • God made Omar Mateen.
  • God made each and every one of Mateen’s victims.
  • God made the members of the NRA.
  • God made the Democrats who held the filibuster.
  • God made each and every person breathing on this planet right now.

That doesn’t mean everyone is right. That doesn’t mean everyone should sit around and sing kumbayah. But it means that maybe, just maybe, if everybody was made in the image of God, then when we argue and disagree, we ought to do it as members of a huge family, not as mortal enemies. If we have to punish someone for a crime, then we ought to do it soberly and sadly, not with joyous shouts of revenge. It means that we ought to be humble with our opinions, not self-righteous. I think these are the highest ideals of our nation, and always have been. But I think right now we are viciously forgetting them.

I only wish I knew what I could do to help us remember.