Sunday, February 10, 2008

Random Stories With A Common Thread

Recent quiet times and meditations have yielded a lot of retrospective comparison and learning from some strange and unpleasant memories. Lately, whenever I sit down and quiet my mind... in meeting, outdoors while I am hiking/cross-country skiing, commuting to work... I keep casting the line out and when I reel it back in, there is my past, prior modes of thinking and how things have changed over the years and I examine the evolution that has taken place, the cause and effect. I am dissecting and further understanding the discoveries which have given rise to different ways of thinking, new understandings and further questions on top of those. It is a lot to juggle but this all has it's purpose.

A month ago I started going to the gym again. The human body is fascinating and it amazes me how quickly it can change and adapt to it's current use. I miss physical activity and striving for better health. I also suspect I will not need this supplement to my daily routine when I eventually have my own land to work, wood to harvest for winter heat, a garden to tend, and vast hiking trail networks around the wide open spaces surrounding the place I can call home. For now it seems to be my lot to look inward and keep building up the inside while honing the outside. It feels like a preparation for what is to come.

Back in my late teens, I started a rigid fitness regimen which might have been comparable to the training routine of a special ops marine. Throughout most of my later school years I was one of the awkward fat kids who got picked on for my weight and social ineptness. On top of being closeted back then, these were two attributes which amplified each other.

When I committed to becoming lean and mean, I became TOO lean and VERY mean. I began to stare through people instead of looking at them. Everyone was regarded on the basis of how threatening they were or weren't. While attending kick boxing classes, the bullies' voices were still ringing loudly and painfully in my head, so I would visualize their faces on the punching bag. One time I kicked it hard enough to take it off the chain, breaking the attachment ring and sending it halfway across the room. I am not bragging. I am ashamed and I am telling you that I was wrong. I always thought that I understood the trite bumper sticker quote that I see so often,"You are what you hate,"...suddenly it doesn't seem trite at all.

Since then I have run into some of the bullies who used to pick on me. Some could not look me in the eye. Most of them are not doing well; either in poor health or an unfavorable living situation. The ones who are truly happy are the ones who have changed their ways. The grapevine has lent the back story to some of their lives. Most of the stories were sad and littered with family problems and abuse. Bigger people hurt them, they hurt me, I hurt back and the war keeps going until someone walks away from it and forgives past trespasses. I forgive them. I now understand why some soldiers who come home from a war keep on experiencing it and fighting phantom opponents long after the battles are over. The fighting leaves them hollowed out, lacking hope and the will to reach for something better, desperately trying to reconnect with who they used to be. There are some who would tell me that I can't possibly know what it is like to be in the thick of battle, dealing with landmines, bullets, and all manner of threats. Regardless, I feel there are some apt comparisons and likenesses, especially on an emotional and spiritual level. How many of us have built our persona on a fighting mentality, only to find that it poisons our minds and leaves us more vulnerable? I never understood Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs until I saw how it played my own life and the lives of others. You can't move on to the next level until the basics are fulfilled. Struggling in survival mode is not conducive to higher human functioning.

One time, while I was out walking, there was a group of three men whom one could call stereotypical rednecks, along with the virulent homophobia. They had been drinking. I was cornered and threatened with bodily harm. In the scuffle, I sent two of them to the hospital with broken bones. No police showed up and no lawsuits were filed, I suspect they were not eager to bring more attention to the fact that a "*expletive* queer" who also happened to be smaller than them was able to get the upper hand and repel them with such prejudice. Conventional wisdom says that I was right to defend myself, but I know that I was wrong because I did not even attempt to talk them down or take them on a peaceable, intellectual level. Knowing what I do now, I think this would have been possible if not probable. I took away emotional injuries from that experience which I think were worse than the physical ones they sustained. If I met any of these men again today, I would ask for forgiveness. This is what happens to a person when they begin to base their identity on a characteristic which breeds violence, fear, and an aversion to open communication. It still hurts and it still reminds me of what I never want to happen again.

The gym routine continued at a suicide pace and in my early twenties I became so thin that my health began to deteriorate and this spawned rumors of AIDS. It was time for a change. I ended up breaking down on many levels, but I rebuilt myself. Now I have come full circle. In my late twenties I am enjoying feeling strong and able again. I like to stretch, relax, and focus on a physical goal in the knowledge that I am lessening my chances of ill health, decreasing the chance that I will some day need major forms of life-saving intervention from the health care industry. At the same time I hope never to be thin enough that people think I am less than healthy. Again I am able to see those around me, with my past reminding me of what was, an intimidating yet enriching future ahead and I walk now with my eyes open, seeing the people around me again for the first time.


Sazji said...

Beautifully told. I had problems with a few very persistant bullies in junior high school. Years later a friend who is still in our home town and is now a cop filled me in on some of them...most in bad situations still, one attempted suicide. I also ran into someone, a friend for a while, who was even farther down the pecking order than I was, and was sad to see that he had become bitter and angry at the world. Even if I'd been truly aware of what my arch-bully was going through at home (brutal beatings by a completely whacked-out father it turned out), I'm not sure what I could have done. That's maybe the saddest thing of all.

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