This morning as I was laying in bed thinking about things that are important to me, I dwelled on the important people I've known in my life. I thought about my friend Kathleen, who would do anything for me. I learned how to be a good friend from Kathleen. The thing is she died. And it wasn't some random accident that she was the victim, she pretty much drank herself to death over several years. I lived with her about a year before she passed, when I was going through my divorce. Her sister had cancer at the time and was likely not going to make it and I was glad to be there as her friend... I didn't realize that she was much more worse off than she expressed. It hurts me that she didn't let me know what I could do to help her. She was a woman of strength and I don't know if she was always out to prove something, but she definitely made things happen. She loved me as her friend. We never really went socializing together, I barely knew her husband, I never met many of her friends... but whenever we hung out (I also worked with her) it was always a very pure honesty, or so I thought. I guess she was scared to show me some pieces of herself and so I never knew that she was in need. Now she's dead.
The next part of my morning's thoughts drifted to the amount of old people in my life experiences. I go through long seasons of having relationships with elderly people, since I was very young. There were the ladies who played dominoes with my great great aunt nextdoor when I was a kid. My sister and I would shuffle the dominoes between hands and make their egg salad sandwiches and listen to them talk. I don't remember anything they said, but it was the beginning of a comfort level in not being scared of old people (although I was scared of my great great aunt's feet).
Later, I worked at a greasy spoon diner in rural East Texas as the line cook. There were several older people who would eat there or have a glass of tea before they would go back out to tend to the cows. There was a group in particular that would meet at 5:30 in the morning, every morning without fail and drink coffee til the sun came up and set out to feed the cows. On Mondays I would go hang out with them before school and drink coffee and shoot the shit with them.
Several years later (not that long ago now) I would have breakfast with the United Methodist Men at the church I attended in Richardson, TX. It was then that I really began to see what it was that I liked about old people... Their emotional honesty about who they are. They aren't lying about who they are, they're realistic about their shortcomings, and even have a sense of humor about it. They enjoy the company of a young person and they enjoy revisiting the times they had when they were my age and sharing funny stories about the stupid stuff they did... If I were to go by the impression of the oldtimers, it seems that the side we all try to cover up is the part that we like the most when we get older.
So I really tried to penetrate into the depth of this idea of what it is we want people to see and not see and I distilled it down to "shame". I've had a couple of therapists/ counselors/ head-shrinkers at different times and one was adamant about "toxic shame". I think we understand shame as we convict ourselves according to some level of standard as we approach the concepts of "Right" and "Wrong". It's a tough thing to grasp fully, because who wants to admit they are wrong, so we try to dodge it with "learning from our mistakes" and various types of mechanisms that help us cope with the pain of rejection from the instances of incongruency from expectation and reality.
I met an artist recently and I proposed the idea that there are "wrong art experiences". If you look at the Death of Sardanopalous and your reaction is "I like brussels sprouts with soy sauce", then you walking away from the painting with an experience that is wrong; it's completely inappropriate and irrelevant to the intent of the painting. The artist claimed that all experiences were "allowed" in the Modernist convention and we argued back and forth the merits of our cases until we both realized as seasoned carcasses of the rhetorical battlefield that it was beginning to take shape of sport rather than discussion, so we conceded that we should end the discussion. I walked away with a feeling of victory over the artist... yet our potential of collaboration was pretty much destroyed. (One thing I can't help but think, is that if all experiences are allowed, then how could she disagree with me?) In all of her transcendentalism, to not allow me the view point I was presenting? Doesn't her belief in all things include my experience? (If there are any transcendentalists out, there could you address this?)
A similar situation has been eating away at me. I was living in a certain condition that I felt shameful about and was uncomfortable about revealing to people I didn't know very well, and one day I "outed" myself with the information that I was homeless on my Facebook page. A friend of mine was very upset that I "lied" to her (in essence) and was very patronizing in letting me know that I shouldn't underestimate people's understanding my needs because she was someone who wanted to care about me and that I should trust people more.... blah, blah. Again, all I can think is that if you can understand the place of someone being in need, then why can't you understand the place of pride that makes one reticent to expose themselves in that way? I just met the woman and wasn't comfortable with putting myself under her microscope just yet. I eventually came to terms with my homelessness and released myself of the shame and decided that forever I wanted to make that part of my life, a part of my story. That meant releasing myself of the shame and letting people know that while I am this, I am also this... I'm not saying we should throw a party because I have a pimple on my ass, but if it's there and we're gonna get to know each other, IF you happen to see my ass, there might be a pimple on it...
and so we return to my friend Kathleen. I understand why she didn't want to tell me she needed help and sometimes I'm sad that she wouldn't let me wipe her nose when she was crying.