Human Touch – Part One

friends hugPart One: Hold Me Close But Don’t Touch Me

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “cuddle phenomenon”. If you haven’t, let me give you a crash course, as it supports some recent theories and soul searching questions I have had about humans and our need for affection. Professional cuddling is now a thing – I kid you not. Here is a link to one of many sites where you can hire a strictly platonic snuggle companion: SnuggleBuddies

Basically, if you could use some human physical interaction, without the sexual pressure, you can hire a complete stranger to cuddle with – this is for real.

To be honest, this trend doesn’t surprise me at all, and I have some ideas as to why. But first, do you remember the Friends episode when Joey and Ross are caught napping on the couch together? Hilarious, right? It perfectly illustrates some of what I intend to communicate in the following thoughts.

freinds_nap

Traveling in other cultures, working with people, and personal life experiences have contributed to the swarming thoughts in my mind which can be summed up in the following questions:

Are we as a society too emotionally independent and socially awkward? 

Consider other cultures when compared to the US. Many Eastern and European cultures find it customary to greet one another with a strong embrace followed by a kiss on the cheek or lips. This form of affection is not just reserved for isolated intimate relationships. Even in the ancient Christian text (Rom. 16:16) there is a verse which says to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” It is no secret that over the years, our society has become more afraid of being touched and personal barriers seem to have increased. It isn’t so much that affectionate intimacy does not exist in our culture, but we have given everyone a personal bubble and any affection outside of a committed relationship is perceived as weird, awkward, or inappropriate. Ironically, the often used expression of “personal space” is a concept that is foreign to many non-Westerner’s. How did we become so closed off?

I live in a rural community where I see this independent need for personal space even greater than I visit more urban areas. Folks in our town would rather drive their personal cars than take a bus and may secretly judge you if you do choose to ride the bus. I once told someone I was taking the bus and they asked if everything was alright. No, I did not get a DUI. I had a car, but actually preferred taking a bus. Why is that weird? In larger cities, it is common to commute via public transit where personal space is not much of an option. In general, from my personal experience and observation, personal space still seems to be coveted more by Americans than other countries.

courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Several years ago, during one of my visits to Haiti, I noticed that men on their way to work would walk down the street holding hands. This is a part of the culture which is not only socially acceptable, but completely natural. Two friends, holding hands on their way to work. Women and children do this in our part of the world, but if men were to do this, we would automatically assume they are in a committed homosexual relationship. Of the many phobia’s and fears we have developed as a society, I think one we ought to talk about is our fear of getting too close.

holding hands

Humans need affection. Society, in some ways, seems to have perverted what this looks like. Perhaps we’ve allowed some things to taint our entire view of relationships and the pendulum has swung towards fear and isolation. Not all expressions of love and affection are sexual. We’ve created a culture of fear of getting too close and have turned our part of the world into individuals who fear rejection and being alone. I often wonder if we have forced individuals into a sexual stereotypes because they may not be exactly intended to be in a committed relationship with someone of the opposite sex, but still have basic human needs which include human affection. Celibacy used to be a thing, and now that is portrayed as wrong. When we have created such narrow boarders around expectations and created a compartment based upon our own personal comforts and I ideals, we force more compartments to be created. Simply because, not everyone thinks like you or I. So we have placed negative thoughts onto innocent  interactions and turned them into being “inappropriate”. Not all human affection is inappropriate or sexual, but we have done a good job at creating a great divide. It also seems we assume that everyone is made for someone, when I happen to know some completely content singles. The pressure of media suggests that everyone should have someone, and if not, there might be something wrong with you or you are “different”.

We make basic social interactions awkward. Why do we do that? We stereotype.We are afraid of letting others get too close and worry what people might think way too much. And it’s about time we stop doing this. I’m not promoting an agenda or using this time and space to divulge my personal views on a particular hot topic which is causing even more division in our communities today. I’m simply saying that perhaps we sometimes go too far in assuming something and calling it what it isn’t until it becomes just that.

Are we so worried about what people think that we make too much of an effort to try and portray something different?

I visited a friend’s church in Portland not too long ago. It was a pretty culturally relevant non-denominational community. The pastor was covered in tattoos and it appeared as though everyone could’ve easily been cast in Portlandia. The music and vibe were great. I appreciated that they had a wall of mugs to cultivate a sense of feeling at home and taking care of the environment. For being known as a rather “hip” church, the people didn’t seem too overly pretentious and appeared genuine. Overall, it was a positive experience.

At one point during the pastor’s message, however, there was something that I don’t think was intended, but potentially gave a wrong impression. The pastor read a passage about a guy named John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples leaning on Jesus’ chest during a conversation which took place at the famous Last Supper. At which point, the pastor paused and said something like, “it wasn’t like that”, as if to insinuate a homophobic disclaimer. I’m going out on a limb here, but what a beautiful image of a friend and follower of Jesus being so close in companionship that this scene of John leaning against him was completely wholesome and without any impure motives.

The pastor did not even need to imply or bring such negative attention to such a beautiful thing. If anything, he could have at least elaborated on the appropriateness of such a display of affection and how it is different than whatever it is he was trying so hard not to imply. He potentially made it worse be saying anything at all. I wonder if churches placed more energy into showing what real love could actually look like than fighting what they believe it’s not, if more folks would have a better appreciation for and openness to Jesus.

There is a depth and display of intimacy among humans historically and culturally which is not intended to be exclusively intimate or perverse. Perhaps we as a society have been driven so far in our fears and phobias that we have driven our society to stereotype, label and segregate into communities simply because we don’t feel comfortable with any form of affection that is not somehow sexual.

This entire concept strongly manifested in my soul a couple months ago when I unwillingly entered into one of the most painful and lonely journeys of my life. As life seems to happen, I wasn’t the only person struggling when a friend posted the following image on social media, and I totally identified with it.hug me

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about the challenges in our life than to just hug it out.

While I’ve had many friends and family members who have reached out to me in this season and wanting to talk, I remember thinking and feeling that I just needed to be held in my brokenness. Sometimes, I want to just stop talking about it and feel the warmth of another’s embrace. God surprises me sometimes. I can go seasons of what feels like dry desert doubt in my faith that there could be a God who actually cares about me specifically. Even when in those seasons I still try and “do my part” by praying and reaching out. And then there will be the right person at the right time who does the unexpected not having a clue, what I was needing, but they were used to fulfill that need.

I was at the mechanic shop about to drive my car off the lot, when I ran into a friend and former housemate. I see him randomly in the community a couple times a year, but we have not stayed in contact very well. When he asked how I was doing, I awkwardly shuffled my feet and eventually told him I was walking through a divorce while I looked down at the ground to fight back tears. He asked if he could pray for me, and I accepted. What happened next surprised me. I was expecting a 30 second blessing prayer that everything would “just” workout with very minimal contact. What I received was a full embrace at the mechanic shop which lasted well beyond the awkward threshold. It also happened to be one of the hottest record breaking days in the summer. Two grown men embracing, sweating, crying, and praying in front of a mechanic shop. I don’t even care right now what onlookers must have been thinking.

The next day I ran into a another friend of my parents who I have seen randomly throughout the years. I was at the local outdoor store. She is a cancer survivor, a lover of God and people and an absolute rock star. She doesn’t succumb to cultural expectations of personal space in public settings. I appreciate that about her.. She is also a “hugger”, which might make some people uncomfortable. I appreciate that about her too. I used to be more of a hugger. She always seems to run into me in a moment of need. I hope that I, too,  can be that person for others who struggle on their journey of life. With little information, she felt compelled to embrace me and pray for me.

In both instances, it was as if the same God who saw me in my distress,  whispered a clear directive into her and my other friend’s spirits to fulfill a long unmet need. When friends or family are going through difficult times, it can be easy to talk about it over and over. Professional therapists make decent money in listening, and there is healing in talking, but I have learned that there is also healing in the simplicity of human touch. My next post will be more specifically about how physical touch interacts with mental illness.

As I conclude part one of this topic of human’s need for affection, I invite you to join in the conversation me commenting below following my blog. This journey of discovering what it means to be human is painful and surprisingly beautiful. It requires strength, bravery and vulnerability. Please join in on the conversation and peace to your journey.

My Response to Elite Daily’s Post “If Your Partner Doesn’t Make You Feel These 11 Ways, It’s Not True Love”

courtesy of Idea go @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of Idea go @ freedigitalphotos.net

DISCLAIMER:

Friends, I am by no means a relationship expert. If I were, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today. I am also not perfect, and don’t know everything there is to know about love and relationships. I sincerely have a lot to learn.

I read an article earlier today, which was shared on social media by a friend, and it made me aggravated, to say the least, at our culture’s haphazard view of relationships and commitment. This philosophy of allowing our feelings to be our guide is ruining relationships and deceiving minds and hearts like crazy. Feelings and emotions can often be deceiving. You may disagree with much of what I say, and that is completely your right and freedom. You might be thinking, What does this guy know?, and you would be completely right in asking that question. As one broken person to another, however, I am compelled to expose what may sound like what you would want to hear and make us feel a little unsettled by the blatantly of deception. I am usually not so bold in my posts, so if you are easily offended. This one may not be for you.

Please read the article I am referring to before reading my response. If Your Partner Doesn’t Make You Feel

And here’s my response:

Dear Elite Daily and Paul Hudson,

I must respectfully disagree with much of what you wrote in your article, If Your Lover Doesn’t Make You Feel These 11 Ways, It Isn’t True Love”. I do  read many of your posts and agree with and am amused by many of them. Please don’t take this criticism in the wrong way, but if I were to blog a response to your article, I would Entitle It: “Several Reasons Why I Think Your Article is Utterly BS”. (No offense.)

There is much of what you wrote that, I believe, comes from a genuine place, and I am open minded enough to realize your intent was to help relationships, not to harm them. However, I believe your format and some of the points you make are too close to Hollywood’s fairy tale rendition and not that close to reality. We are each responsible for our own feelings.

It is true that the world is getting smaller and our options only increase every year. It may also be true that finding THE one isn’t easy. This idea about finding THE one tends to mess a lot of folks up when it comes to dating and personal relationships.

While it is true that there should be some feelings associated with love, when one person stops “feeling”, then what happens? Love is a choice, it is a verb. It’s not a fairy tale. When one person stops “feeling” the love, it becomes too easy for them to reject the other person, who may, in fact, feel like they are doing all the work in the relationship. Are you suggesting when the feeling fades during tough times, one should throw commitment to the wind?

I feel that some of your points give people permission to trust their feelings more than anything else, and that could, in turn, hurt their existing and future relationships. This is a dangerous line to encourage people to walk. It is this persuasion of thinking which, I believe, promotes confusion in a person and could be a catalyst for them pointing the finger, before dealing with their own issues. Relationships take work and sometimes the feelings aren’t always there, but they can be cultivated like a well taken care of garden.

The following are my responses to your points.:

  1. This person should make you happy.

If you are not a happy person, however, and are looking for that someone else to be your source of happiness, you are dooming both parties to fail. This list is a tall order. The notion the “you complete me” from Jerry McGuire is utter nonsense. No one person can complete you. Are we placing too high of expectations on someone else to be the source of our happiness? This would make it too easy to say, “I’m not happy and it’s all your fault!” What happened to personal accountability? If you weren’t a happy person before entering into a committed relationship, you won’t be any happier. If anything, you might end up dampening the other person’s emotions. We live n a society which fails to take responsibility for their own messy lives. We are all a mess. If you need to seek out a therapist, counselor, pastor, or do more yoga, by all means, do it. But, please, don’t throw people away because you assume they are the sole reason for your unhappiness without doing a self evaluation.

  1. This person should make you excited about life.

Yes, the person you are with should get you excited about life. But what happens when you are depressed in nature and refuse to engage in the activities that make your partner excited? It’s a two way street, people!

  1. This person should make you feel at peace with yourself.

Once again, this person is not God. If you weren’t at peace with yourself before committing, you’re not going to be at peace. Some believe there is a God-sized hole in each one of us and we keep searching for the wrong things to fill that hole. Whether you believe this, or not, this is all the more reason to try not idolizing your significant other, because you are setting them up for failure. Do what you need to do to be at peace with yourself, the feeling can be contagious. If you’ve had trauma, unresolved issues, or unmet needs before you committed to another person, you may, in fact, unintentionally sabotage your relationship on your own by projecting your troubles onto the other person. I don’t mean to offend, but, for the sake of your current or future relationships, learn to own your own stuff.

  1. This person should make you feel secure.

This is another two way street. We all have insecurities we need to deal with. While I agree, that the one you are with should not create a hostile environment where you feel insecure, you still need to look inside yourself first and find out where this insecurity comes from. Did you have this insecurity before you were in this relationship? Are you allowing yourself to be vulnerable and invite the person you are with to walk with you through those places of insecurity? Or do you, in fact, put up road blocks where there ought to be bridges in your relationship?

  1. This person should give you hope.

I mostly agree with this. However, if someone is a hopeless person and doesn’t do anything to inspire hope in the other, they can’t blame the other person for feeling hopeless. Seek counseling. Sort out what is making you feel hopeless, and this is not a time to push the other person away.

  1. This person should give you courage.

I think this might be mostly accurate. As before mentioned, however, your readers must understand that this is two sided. Before cutting ties impulsively, one should be willing to do what they can to fight to make the relationship work. If you had all of these feelings in the beginning of the relationship, but they are now gone, remember they are feelings. Scratch his back, run your fingers through her hair. Even if you don’t feel like it in the moment, sometimes you have to cultivate it. This whole idea of falling in love is utterly ridiculous. If you can fall into love, you can fall out of it. It takes work. It worked in the beginning because something about you wanted to make it work. Figure out how to go back to that place. Don’t always wait and expect to be the receiver of the words of affirmation and other acts of affection. It’s not a game of who goes first. You might even be tired of the feeling you are alone and doing all the work, but try and not be resentful and push through and do it anyway, even if you know it may not be reciprocated. But if it’s not, be courageous enough to voice your pain in a loving way. If your partner needs to vent, please don’t run away or blow up. This might make it more difficult for them to be more honest in the future. You could demolish their courage by being in constant fight or flight mode.

  1. This person should spark your curiosity.

Once again, this is not all one partner’s responsibility. Do what you need to do to spark the other’s curiosity. This might require listening to them to see what they might like, even if it’s not exactly what you are into. If she wants to start a hobby, be the first member of her fan club, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If he wants to make a fool of himself on the dance floor, don’t mock, but join in. If he wants to hangout with his friends, let him do it or ask to come along. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t play manipulative mind games. If you want someone who is going to peak your curiosity all the time, but you make little to no effort to do the same, you are hurting yourself.

  1. This person should make you feel comfortable in your own skin.

This person should make you feel comfortable in your own skin. You should be able to stand naked before your spouse and feel no shame. If you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin, evaluate your own feelings first before projecting them onto the other person. If you feel the problem is, in fact, them, learn how to communicate about these things instead of masking and playing the silent treatment. Be willing to talk your stuff out. If you need professional help, there is no shame in that either.

  1. This person should make you feel lucky.

Agreed. Both individuals should feel like they are the lucky ones. But we all need to be careful that our feelings don’t deceive us. The moment your winning lottery ticket gets a little rough around the edges, it’s no time to throw them away. You still won their heart, no matter the condition they are in today. Your relationship is not as dispensable as a lottery ticket, no matter how much the ticket is worth.

  1. This person should make you feel worried.

One hundred percent agree.

  1. This person should sometimes make you feel sad.

This point should’ve been at the very top of the list. I worry that some will read the first few headings of the points without reading the entire article. By only reading the first several points, you may have just given someone significant room to doubt their own relationship. I fear how many have already started packing their bags after only reading the first couple paragraphs.

I think I understand where you were trying to go with this article, and I agree with a lot of it. If I were to summarize my constructive criticism it would be this:

The points you make at the very end about no one person being perfect and flawless, needs to be at the very beginning of the article. Most people skim articles to tell them what they want to hear and ignore the rest. Many will skim this and begin tearing apart their relationship without sifting out what’s true for their actual relationship.

You should emphasize the value that we all know to be true, but often forget, that it takes two to make any good relationship work. While it shouldn’t always be work, it is a team effort.

Lastly, couples should be encouraged to seek out professional help for their own issues first to find some of the source of their personal unrest, before deciding it is the other person’s fault the relationship is struggling. People need to take responsibility for their own failures and recognize that while it takes two to make a good relationship work, they can share in the responsibility of it’s demise.

Giving [ourselves] Permission

hammock

Image courtesy of EA at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following list are things that I wrestle with on a daily basis. The list is by no means all-inclusive, but were the first words that weant from my heart, to my brain, and to my fingertips this morning. These are things I have difficulty giving myself permission to do on a regular basis. These things will help me to live more wholeheartedly. I’ve been walking on eggshells for a really long time and have forgotten how to do some of these things.  I also look forward to dreaming again and not allowing fear to be my guide.

So here it goes. (Deep breath). Today, I give myself permission:

To Dream

To Fail

To Grieve

To Be Still

To Make Mistakes

To Say “No”

To Scream

To Love and Be Loved

To Be Me (whatever that looks like)

To Acknowledge My Own Needs

To Ask for Help

To Receive Help

To Be Honest

To Breathe

This struggle of allowing ourselves to be human is real. This world is hard and tells us we’re not allowed to do many of these things. There are many unspoken rules in our society, which, I believe, crosses into all neighborhoods, whether folks have faith or not. Status quo threatens our very souls from living. These unspoken rules sound something like: You’re not allowed to be real, to feel, to be still, to be honest, to struggle. I’m on a journey which is shedding light on these negative entrapments and releasing freedom to my soul which has somehow gotten caught up in these lies.

I have long misunderstood humilty for not valuing myself. I’ve always struggled with the concept of loving others as ourselves, when I have such a low value of self. I find it easier to love and serve others while ignoring my own needs. I’m not promoting narcism , because that is a behavior I absolutely detest. What I am suggesting is the kind of self love that guards one’s own heart and nurtures the soul by giving permission to do things which cultivate fulfillment. By giving ourselves permission, we are free and empowered to help others do the same. It’s rather hypocrital telling someone they need to be still and breathe, if I don’t know how to implement this practice in my own life.

As I write, I’m reminded of these words from a Mumford and Sons song, Sigh No More:

“Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, It will set you free

Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, An alignment to cry, Of my heart to see,

The beauty of love as it was made to be”

Today I anticipate reciting one of these permissions to myself when confronted with any obstacle which may challenge me to cave and go back into hiding behind this facaude that everything is awesome. Everything can be awesome, when we allow ourselves to simply be. Even the struggle can be awesome if it produces a more humble or refined soul. Purpose has room to be reignited and flourish when a soul is refreshed. A soul is refreshed when it has permission to breathe.

What about you? What do you need to give yourself permission to do today? Would you join me on this journey of being honest withourselves and write your own list of things you struggle with daily and give yourself permission to do them?

We’re All In This Together

This is my first entry typing from this laptop.

courtesy of Stuart Miles @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of Stuart Miles @ freedigitalphotos.net

Vulnerability is asking for help. Sometimes it’s easier to give than to receive. To be the receiver of a gift can sometimes make one feel needy. Asking for help feels even more needy and requires a strong amount of vulnerability. This post is a first-hand account of how I am learning about being vulnerable and accepting a gift after I reached out for help.

Last week I broke down a small part of my wall which I traditionally like to hide behind as if to say “I don’t need help from anyone”. I had a need, and I asked with much trepidation. I would, traditionally, much rather help someone else, but don’t let this fool you as humility. I amagine it has more to do with shame. Shame that I am trying to painfully purge myself of. I am learning that it is not only okay to ask for help, but necessary. When we think we can’t ask, we have a false sense that we don’t need. Failing to ask, may not only rob another of the opportunity to give, but also rob myself of experiencing true community. Community and genuine humility abound when space is given for people to openly share their needs.

Lately I’ve been writing more to therapeutically unpack my heavy heart and clear spaces of chaos from my clustered mind. Writing has been like breathing some days as learning to breathe during such heartbreaking seasons is sometimes all one can do.The reality is I don’t own an operable computer to utilize as a personal tool to use for blogging and whatever else it is people in the 21st century use these nifty little devices for. That is, until today. Last week I posted a shout out on social media that I could really use an operable laptop and didn’t have money to afford it. This action was excruciating and I felt pathetic in the moment. The moment I clicked “post”, my mind filled with anxious thoughts, including, Why don’t I just save the money and by my own laptop like most responsible adults? Where’s your self pride and respect? I nearly deleted the post from my timeline entirely for fear of being too vulnerable and exposing my neediness. As I write this, I am so increasingly thankful that I didn’t delete that post.

It was up for minutes before I had a personal message from an old friend asking my address. He intended to send me a laptop, no questions asked. How much? I asked. Nothing, was his reply. Can I at least pay for shipping? He refused. Perhaps it wasn’t as much a laptop I needed in that moment than to be reminded that community is real and can still exist. To simply know that if I reached out my hand in the darkness, there would be another one reaching back I could hold on to.

Today was long to say the least. It began with a deep conversation over coffee with a good friend. This was followed by receiving a new pair of glasses, which I haven’t worn for years. Needless to say, my eyes have been adjusting all day to these new lenses. (Ooh! Another analogy for another blog on another day.) I had to cut work short for a two hour custody mediation, which was positive, but required emotion. Following which, our local Friends Food Bank distribution needed an extra hand, and I needed a healthy distraction, so I accepted the invitation. From there, I rushed to the nearest fast food chain to stuff my face before a board meeting I needed to attend. Sometimes going nonstop can be as therapeutic as being still. So long as it’s in healthy moderation and doesn’t promote burnout. I’ve been there, and am learning the balance.

Tonight I came home from this busy and emotionally exhausting day to a box on my doorstep. By the shape of the box, I knew what it contained. I almost began crying. But I help that for later, as I was too excited to open the box. Not only did it contain any old laptop, but it was like new, refurbished, and even smelled new! And most of all, it was sent in love, which made all the difference.

This extraordinary gift has taught me and reminded me of some powerful core truths. Sometimes we are in the position to give, and sometimes we need to allow ourselves to receive. We can’t always give and we can’t always receive. Sometimes we have things to offer and when the opportunity arrives, we can give whatever it is we have. Sometimes it isn’t even a material item, but it can be as simple as time or a smile. When that opportunity comes, there is a great feeling when you can provide whatever the need is. The same is true of asking, but many struggle with coming across so needy. I know I do. If I remember correctly, some of Jesus’ famous words were, “You have not because you ask not.” There is something powerful in this truth and I think we miss the value of humbling ourselves to not only pray in faith, but to invite others on our journey of faith and struggle.

I am also reminded of the power of community and how much we really do need each other. Even as I write, the following song came on the radio, which lyrics I will conclude with. To my friend who heard my need and responded, Thank you for responding with such extraordinary grace and reminding me of the values of community. Words can’t clearly communicate the extent of my gratitude.

If I could take this moment and pay this act of generosity forward, I would like to plug my friend’s project which he and his family is involved with which has even greater value and deserves far much more attention than a laptop. For this past year, my friend and his family are raising funds to dig a well for a community in Asia. You can find more information about this project here: https://www.mygfa.org/givewater/. If you sense the spirit of generosity stirring you and you have a few bucks to spare, please consider participating in the ongoing gift of giving. They only have a few hundred bucks remaining to reach their goals, and it is my hope that through this mention, we might be able to help them complete their goal.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving. Thank you for the invitation to give when you are in a place of need. We are all in this together.

together

courtesy of Ryan Pfiel

 We’re All In This Together

By Old Crow Medicine Show

Well my friends, I see your face so clearly/Little bit tired, little worn through the years/You sound nervous, you seem alone/I hardly recognize your voice on the telephone

In between I remember/Just before bound-up, broken-down/We drive out to the edge of the highway/Follow that lonesome dead-end roadside south

We’re all in this thing together/Walkin’ the line between faith and fear/This life don’t last forever/When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

Well my friend, let’s put this thing together/And walk the path with worn out feet of trial/’Cause if you wanted we can go home forever/Give up your jaded ways, spell your name to God

We’re all in this thing together/Walkin’ the line between faith and fear/This life don’t last forever/When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

All the hour there’s a picture in a mirror/Fancy shoes to grace our feet/All there is is a slow road to freedom/Heaven above and the devil beneath

We’re all in this thing together/Walkin’ the line between faith and fear/This life don’t last forever/When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

© JAY (KETCH) SECOR, WILLIAM (WILLIE) WATSON For non-commercial use only.

© DOWNTOWN MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC For non-commercial use only

 

A Lesson From Eric: My Almost Friend

Hey guys! This is a story about bullying I wrote on my old blog page a few years ago. It’s since been used in local classrooms to educate students about the effects of bullying. I’ve recently been asked to share it LIVE at a local story-telling gathering called “The Hearth” on October 9th at the Klamath County Library. I’ll try to post more info on my Facebook page and twitter as it approaches.

Due to the subject matter, perhaps you could share this with a young person you know who is preparing to go back to school in the coming weeks. This could help them to not just be a bystander of bullying.

skunk_jonathancopy

“I come from a people who gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Time has come to strengthen them by three additional ones, which we ought to adopt and commit ourselves to: thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a victim; and thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.”

                                                                                  — Yehuda Bauer, Israeli historian

There was a boy in my fifth grade class named Eric.

The school year had barely started and it didn’t take long to figure out who would be at the bottom of the pecking order. Although I had my share of being on the receiving end of bullying throughout my elementary years, nothing came remotely close to the type of bullying that was directed toward Eric.

He wore coke bottle glasses, old ratty clothes and messy hair before it was hip. He had no friends. He sat alone. He wandered the playground alone. The highlight of his day was when he would find a quarter on the ground so that he could play a video game at the local gas station after school.

The kids at school were cruel. They would constantly shove Eric out of the lunch line, making him go to the back. I saw some kids spit at him. Other times they would grab his glasses and throw them to the ground. One boy, named Brent, would hit Eric multiple times while a few other girls and boys laughed and encouraged the bullying. Most of us just stood there.

I seem to remember the teacher would keep an extra comb for him in her desk so that on the days his hair was really a mess, she would dismiss him to go to the bathroom and comb his hair. Even worse, he always smelled bad. It was the kind of stench that makes your eyes water. Some days were worse than others. One day, the teacher had the janitor take Eric out of class to be bathed. Once Eric was out of the room, the teacher apologized to the rest of the class for having to put up with his stench. With tears in her tired eyes, she rebuked anyone who laughed, explaining it wasn’t his fault. However, I remember times when she would give in to scorning him as well.

In the weeks that followed, I noticed how Eric’s mom treated him when she picked him up from school. I saw the bruises, the broken glasses. Eric was regularly late for school and then there were days he didn’t show up at all, even though everyone knew he wasn’t sick.

When he was home, he was neglected and abused. When he was at school he was bullied and harassed. There was no end to his mistreatment, humiliation, and torment. He was only 11 years old. So was I. What could I do?

In the spring, my best friend, Mark, had the idea to make an effort to befriend Eric. For nearly a week or so, our little group of four friends made it our mission to reach out to him. We invited him to sit with us, hangout with us on the playground, or just talk. But he rejected us. He was already so withdrawn and beaten down he didn’t trust anyone. He even said he believed our efforts to be friends with him were only to take advantage and humiliate him even more.

Where were we when he needed us before? The school year was nearly over. Why did we wait until now to reach out? Where were we when Brent would punch him in the stomach? Where were we when those girls shoved him out of the lunch line, making him go to the very back? Where were we the numerous times the sixth graders grabbed his glasses and threw them on the ground? And even worse, where was I? I was merely an innocent bystander. But the words “innocent” and “bystander” don’t go as well together as we would like.

The school year ended and I felt I had failed. Not at school, but at being a friend. I couldn’t wait until the following year where I could start the year befriending Eric. I even considered inviting him to my house during the summer, but I wrestled with the fact that mine and my friends’ efforts to befriend him earlier in the spring were rejected. Regardless, I decided the following year would be different.

Not long into the summer, my mom read a story in our local newspaper that piqued her interest. She asked me if I knew a boy named Eric who was my age. “Yeah, he was in my class…Why? What happened?” She read me the article about a family who was playing at a nearby lake and the boy named Eric had drowned. After bursting into tears, it took me quite a while before I could tell my mom everything about him and what our fifth grade year was like. I don’t know why I waited so long to tell her, and I’m not sure if I could bring myself to tell her everything I was feeling at the time. It was too much regret and remorse for an 11-year old to process. Even writing this and thinking of Eric makes my eyes fill with tears and my heart is in my throat.

Over the years I’ve thought to myself. “What if the last year of his life on this planet wasn’t so terrible?” “What if I had befriended him sooner?” “Why didn’t I intervene sooner?” “Why did this have to happen like this?” I even remember thinking the horrifying thought that maybe this was the best thing considering how awful his life must have been.

***

I recently attended a class reunion, which was organized by a good friend. It has been over twenty years since Eric’s tragic death. Even though I had moved to another school after my fifth grade year, my friend insisted I attended the reunion anyway. I agreed, with hesitance. It is a small school and a tough group who didn’t have much in common. Most of my remembrances were painful and uncomfortable. Some of the attendees had memories which carried on through high school, while some of us sat on the edge of our seats secretly considering an early exit strategy.

Until the reunion at a local pizzeria, I hadn’t talked to any of my friends or former classmates about Eric, but I couldn’t help but wonder after all of those years if anyone else carried the shame and regret that I had.

That evening, I sat across from a man who looked familiar but I couldn’t place him. He explained how he had a rough life and was recently released from prison. The more he talked, the more familiar he became, but I still couldn’t place him.

Everything was going about as awkwardly as any class reunion when I finally asked, “Does anyone remember the kid in our fifth grade class…Eric?” The table went quiet. Everyone’s eyes grew bigger and a few even welled up with tears. And then a group of thirty-something’s began to share stories of how horrible they felt after that year. Some shared how they wish they would have stepped in. Then the biggest bully of all spoke up. Sitting directly across the table from me was Brent, who, while fighting back tears shared how often he had thought about how mean he was to Eric.

In fifth grade, it was easy to separate the bully from the bystander. But twenty years later, I didn’t feel that different from the guy across the table from me. Sure, he was the bully. He had made criminal choices that caused him to live many of his adult years in and out of jail. But in this moment, as our eyes locked and we shared about an eleven-year-old boy who was tormented, bullied, and picked on followed by a horribly tragic death, it didn’t matter who was the bully and who was the bystander. We felt the same regret about the situation. We both bared the scars of having somehow been a part of inflicting pain and injustice on a boy with a disheveled life and broken heart. We both grieved the loss of a young life that was taken too soon.

We all have an Eric in our lives. Either in our community, schools or workplaces, beautiful people like Eric are everywhere. Life has dealt them a difficult hand. They are abused, bullied, and victimized. How we respond to the Eric’s in our lives may not only bring light and life to their world, but change ours as well. Even if we aren’t the perpetrator of evil, being a bystander doesn’t make us innocent.

Although we all share scars of bullying and regret, we still have a life of pursuing justice before us. Now that we know better, we can do better. Our tongues have been said to have the power of life and death. Let us consider how we treat one another and how we respond to the injustices of this world. We can be the perpetrator, the bystander or the hero. Sometimes being the hero of the story is simply being a friend to the friendless. If you have nothing else to offer, your friendship can change someone’s entire world. Together, we can face the bullies on life’s playground and be the change we want to see.

Getting Messy

courtesy of anankkml @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of anankkml @ freedigitalphotos.net

This is a quote I came across recently. It ties into what is currently being worked in my life and the lives of others around me. It seems to be a reoccurring theme lately. I’m learning that the mess of our lives won’t go away by ignoring it and at some point of our lives, we need to dive into the mess to find the treasure of wholehearted living.  I hope you find encouragement in reading this today.

“We can’t find our path without getting messy. Messy comes with the territory. We came in messy. We learn messy. We love messy. We leave messy. I never found my way to clarity without first befriending confusion, in all its chaotic forms. I never found a path that felt like home before falling into quicksand. I never established a new way of being without trying the wrong way of being on for size. I never found the light without stumbling around in the dark. I never tasted God before getting a little dirt in my mouth. In the heart of the chaos is the clay that shapes us home. Chaotic Magnificence!”

-Jeff Brown

Poverty of Hope

I’m attempting to convert some of my older favorite posts to wordpress. It also helps fill in the empty spaces between posts.  This was originally posted 1/20/2014 on jbhankins.blogspot.com and guest posted by Ken Wytsma on 1/24/2014

Guest Post by Jonathan Hankins

What does hope look like?

A paid power bill? A hug from a stranger? A free ride? An unsolicited smile? Hope is a powerful force. Sometimes a little hope is all you need to get through another day.

I have the privilege of working among members of our community who are facing extremely difficult circumstances. Although such difficulties can be associated with substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health, criminal activity, child abuse, neglect and related consequences; there is a single word which is a common thread throughout such circumstances: poverty. Before we jump to a political debate about welfare, entitlement, and enabling a life of poor decisions, I ask you to take a step back with me and consider what I mean by poverty. Although on many occasions, the word poverty can be related directly to economic status with reference to a demographic who has less than, I am referring to the poverty of hope.

Imagine you’re in a hurry to get to work and in the process of hustling up a flight of stairs you fall hard and incur a broken leg. Did you mean to miss that step? Blame it on the poor lighting, ice, or your own clumsiness, the reality is that you missed the step, resulting in a broken leg. Fortunately for you, there was someone to help you up and lend you their shoulder to cry on and walk with you as you hopped on one leg to the nearest bench. Thankfully, they had a mobile phone to call someone who could help.  After a series of visits to the doctor along with a team of nurses, orthopedic specialists, physical therapists, family and friends, you are able to heal, regain your strength, and learn to walk again.

Now imagine if any of those helpful folks and resources were not available. What if you fell while no one was looking and no matter how loud you yelled, no one paid any attention? What if someone walked by and said, “Bummer! Sucks to be you!” and carried on their way. What if you heard things like: “I would love to help you, but I don’t want you to take advantage of my generosity.” “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time.” “I can’t help you.” “Get up! Dust yourself off!” “You’re just looking for a hand-up.” Hopefully, this scenario will never happen to you.

But the harsh reality is that there are individuals in our community who, at no fault of their own, have fallen and broken their hope. Has your hope ever felt broken beyond repair? Consider the plight of Fantine in Les Miserables. Was prostitution the best life she could live? No. Was it a poor choice to give her daughter up to be cared for by a couple crooks masked as Inn keepers? Yes. Painful circumstances are certainly a result of poor decisions, but many poor decisions are the result of circumstances that are completely out of our control. Fantine’s hope was broken when the man she loved abandoned her with their child in an era where society failed to understand and provide the support necessary to inspire hope and healing to a single mother in distress.

The difference between a broken leg and a broken spirit is that with one you can see and easily navigate the emergency responses with the inclusion of doctors and medicine for tangible healing. A broken spirit resulting in hopelessness, depression, anger, mental illness, substance abuse, violence, homelessness or whatever face it looks like, is much more complicated, and yet more worthy of assistance, healing and attention. I’m not suggesting an unhealthy approach to enabling one’s need for entitlement or improper attention. Sometimes the best form of help is tough love. I get that, as long as love is the common denominator. Certainly there are those who rely on the crutches a little too long or perpetuate the damage by walking on their broken leg. However, as we continue to wrestle with the injustice of poverty of all kinds, I’d like to suggest that hope is the best response.

Years ago, I asked a young boy in juvenile hall what he dreamed about or hoped for in life. I have never forgotten this chilling moment. With dark eyes he stared right through me and said, “I have no dreams.”  Did he wrongfully choose to act violently towards another person? Yes. Did he ask for his two older brothers to be killed by gang activity? No. At an early age, life robbed him of his hope. This void of hope was more isolating than his incarceration. In some cases I’ve advocated for individuals who have been held back by an actual disability or a deficiency of hope and inspiration. On multiple occasions I have seen parents give up on parenting, paralyzed by the fear of inadequacy and hopelessness. I have also seen hope restored by listening, accompanying, and advocating. You’d be amazed how the words, “You’ve got this!” can transform a person’s outlook.

Why do people choose to live on the streets? I don’t know, but I can’t even begin to understand the amount of hopelessness and despair which may have brought them to that place. I do know that one doesn’t just wake up one day and decide, “I’m going to give up on living to the fullest”. One thing always leads to another. Why does one allow himself to lose everything for the sake of substance abuse? I have no idea, but I can’t imagine how difficult their life must have been that they would want to drown out their sorrows in such a way.

Perhaps these are the wrong questions. I don’t know why bad things happen or what causes people to do what they do. When people are afflicted by whatever it is that demonstrates a poverty of hope, where will I be? Will I be the one looking the other way, or looking in their eyes? Will I be the one pointing my finger, or the one wrapping my arm around them? Will I be the one sitting next to them or standing over them?

Collectively, we ought to silence the voice of the oppressor by giving ear to the voice of the oppressed. The oppressor is the one who has lead us to believe that caring for the stranger is a bad idea. The oppressor is the one who speaks fear into our ears when hope would inspire us to share our sandwich with the homeless man on the bench outside the office. The voice of the oppressor tells us to be silent and mind our own business when given the opportunity to advocate for someone who is in trouble. The voice of the oppressor convinces us that the poor are not our problem and that they should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, when hope sees they have no boots and longs to know their name and hear their story.

Hope does when nobody else is doing. Hope accompanies when everyone else is gone. Hope speaks up when everyone else is silent. While fear can paralyze a person, hope can get them out of the chair. Hope inspires dreams in place of nightmares. Hope helps, even when the recipient seems capable. Hope sees the barriers and assists in removing them. Hope advocates.  Hope gives without strings attached. Hope is a much needed shelter or warm meal. Hope empowers. Hope transforms the most tragic of situations. Hope shines bright in the darkness.

– See more at: http://kenwytsma.com/2014/01/24/poverty-of-hope/#sthash.0G6vnj2V.dpuf