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...over-educated and under-experienced, or so they say...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dark and Light

Sometime between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five my dad started saying something like, "What do I need to do to get you off The Good Ship Lollipop? When are you going to learn that people aren't inherently good?" And I'm pretty sure there were a couple instances between twenty-six and thirty-five where I told a story or two that evoked a "Well, I can see you still like to ride The Good Ship every once in a while." By that time I usually just laughed at him because I was well aware of my stupid naivete in those moments, but when I was younger those questions used to make me angry at him.

In my innocence I wanted to believe nothing more than all people were good, they just messed up and made bad choices here and there. Most likely I wanted to believe this because that's how I saw myself and, at that age, it's very difficult to see the world outside of your own perspective. I think it took me getting severely beat down by life and the people that comprise the various aspects of it before I realized his words held some veracity. But to this day, I still struggle with the concept of "bad people." Maybe it's the artist in me, or maybe it's that I believe in things like redemption and true forgiveness and second chances, but I seem to walk through this life convincing myself there is a light in all people, it's just that someone needs to fan the flames a bit so that light can grow to something more than a flicker.

Because I hold this view, I leave myself open to great disappointment and discouragement when I happen to run across people that not only lack a flicker but seem to take great pleasure in the darker shades of life. I had one of those devastatingly discouraging moments today.

On a last minute whim, I drove home for my lunch break, just to take care of a few things. As I sat here and paid a couple bills, Windmill Dick stepped outside, like he often does, to smoke a cigarette while talking on the phone. Of course, with my windows open, I could hear every word he was saying. As much as I would love to make you laugh about his conversation, I can't because I actually sat here stunned and sick and wishing I hadn't heard a word of it.

Apparently Windmill Dick has a son who had a birthday this past weekend. Mr. Dick was at the birthday party with the rest of the friends and family and the kid got angry with one of his cousins. So, in his anger, he went into the house, went to his room, picked up a baseball bat, walked back outside and cracked his cousin so hard in the back of the head the cousin fell to the ground, knocked out and bleeding. After that, his son went back into the house and back to his room where he shut the door and started playing with his toys. As if that's not disturbing enough, Windmill Dick laughed as he told the story saying, "Yeah, man, it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen! And everyone started screaming and my ex was crying and screaming at me because she wanted me to do something about it, but what was I going to do about it? I didn't give a shit. The kid pissed him off! Man, it was awesome! It was a completely premeditated action and when everyone was screaming and crying he just stayed calm, cool, and collected. He didn't give a shit about the other people. I taught the kid well."

Instantly my heart sank and my head started reeling in all different kinds of directions ranging from past conversations with stupid egotistical academics that argue evil doesn't exist to time I spent as a teacher where a kid pulled out a pair of scissors from his pocket, stabbed another student in the hand, and got away with it because he was "ADHD." I drove back to the office with a subtle sense of horror lingering in the back of my mind, along with the sound of my dad's voice saying, "When are you going to learn that people aren't good?" And my usual need to rise up and speak on behalf of all I perceive to be good and right was completely disabled because... what can be said to the person who takes pride in his child's premeditated act of violence? What can be said to the man who thinks good parenting is bringing forth a child with a taste for blood? What can be said to the person who has no respect for life? What can be said to someone who would spit on me in an attempt to douse my light because he prefers darkness? And damn it... I hate it when I hit a block wall with nothing but a soft fleshy fist that is easily broken. I hate it when I have moments where I think, "This person is a lost cause, a waste of time, a danger to society and the lives around him, including you and your own beautiful little light of a child, so keep your distance and don't bother."

It's obvious that this ran through my mind the rest of the afternoon and evening. It has taken me all this time to collect my erratic thoughts long enough to make something of it. When I think of him, my mind's eye sees nothing but darkness -- not a single spark of light and no hope of one. And the same people that would call me an angel would call him a demon. And the more charismatic lot that call themselves Christian would blame the work of "The Evil One" and do their best to exorcise the demons from him. And the bleeding heart liberals would say it isn't his fault because he was abused as a child. And the champions of postmodernism, cozy in the safe surroundings of the university, would call me close minded and say that this is his truth and there is no such thing as evil. And the clinical psychiatrists would give him Anti-Social Disorder and prescribe a few pills and send him to group therapy. And the court systems would let him off the hook because he's a victim of society. And I sit here knowing that he is a proud human that thrives off of his own destructive behavior and the destructive behavior of others.

"When are you going to learn that people aren't good?" ...lingers and lingers in the corners of my mind. And this is the reason I entered into the Martial Arts, but even as we learn to break necks and destroy life we are taught that life is precious and that becomes more and more obvious as we learn how easy it is to snuff it out. It takes more effort to make something grow and become fruitful and prosperous than it does to destroy it, and so we must do what we can to protect and preserve it. And why is it that anyone would want to do anything other than make life grow into something beautiful?

And as I ask that I hear the Principal I worked for saying, "Pandora, as you enter into graduate school and move forward with your life, I want you to remember that people like you are the backbone of society. We need you, so don't lose hope and don't lose heart." And I hear my friends at the mortgage company smiling at one of my more naive moments saying, "This is why we love you, Pandora. You're down here in the mud with the rest of us, and yet somehow you're still lingering high above where we can't see what you're looking at." And I hear the voice of my daughter saying, "I love you, Mom. You're my hero. And someday I want to be an astronomer so I can name a constellation after you." And I hear the voices of many whose lights are flickering, and many more whose lights have turned into warming fires, and more still that shine like beacons through the fog and yes... we are the backbones of society. And yes, not all people are good, but not all people are bad. So, like a million points of light, I guess it's our job to shine for those who are looking for it and for those who are just like us -- occasionally lost in the darkness, breaking a fist or two on the block walls we blindly run into.

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