Have you ever had one of those days where you see yourself reflected in everything? Not in a narcissistic way, but more in a way you can understand, relate to, because of who you are now, or who you once were. Like you see pieces of your Sometimes Self in other drivers, your Past Self in passengers waiting to board a plane, Current Self in patrons in a bar, little whispers of yourself all around you. Sometimes the reflections bring back fond memories of beautiful moments, other times you cringe at the thoughts that cross your mind, slightly horrified of the person you used to be. The worst is when the reflection resembles a realization of yourself today, and it’s one you’re not that thrilled to be seeing. Like walking into one of those fun houses where all of the images the mirrors throw back at you are distorted and weird and not that fun at all, but that person you see is definitely you, because no one else is around (unless you’re in a budget horror movie…then someone else is definitely around).
I kicked off 2017 with one of those not-so-fun fun house Reflections.
After a rather uneventful New Year’s Evening, I joined the Dinndorfs at Shamrock, a local gay establishment with some excellent dining opportunities. The food is delicious and the drinks will get you blackout drunk before you know it. It’s the kind of place you come for brunch and stay for dinner, the kind of place that basically stapled my 20s together. When the Dinndorfs voyaged home like responsible parents to take care of their children, I decided to stick around and ride the New Year’s wave, see where the day took me.
As a woman, there’s a certain freedom that comes with conversing with strangers in a predominately male gay bar, the kind that’s void of all sexual tension, expectation, desire or need. It’s a freedom I’ve regularly immersed myself in since I discovered it existed, a dynamic I respect and cherish. I chatted with a gentleman who had been married to a woman for 35 years. He looked 40 but admitted he was in his 60s. Gay looked real good on him. I met a fun couple who owned a funky little shop near my house. I talked extensively to another man with an aunt on Nantucket, which inspired me to reach out to my friends on Nantucket (because who doesn’t have friends who live on Nantucket?) Here’s to you, Tim and Santi! Then my long-lost friend Scott waltzed into the bar, resulting in (a few too many) celebratory drinks (shots?). Twenty-seventeen was feeling pretty good.
I don’t know exactly when it all went wrong. I don’t know if my brain started processing information differently, or my ears began picking up things they had previously just left on the ground, but as the day progressed, I became hyper-aware of the negative language used to label other people, to describe current situations, to predict life in 2017. My new year. Your new year. Our new year.
And I strongly felt the need to slow everybody’s roll.
As in, I literally put both my hands up in the stop position, and said whoa, whoa, whoa, pushing my hands forward with every whoa. Sort of like how I dance.
Okay. I get it. I do. I have so, so many of the same thoughts and feelings and convictions as you do. But what you put out into this world is a direct reflection of who you are. Words matter. What you say matters. How you behave matters. And if you think of yourself as a good person and wish others to see you as a good person, you actually have to be a good person. It sounds simple and it shouldn’t have to be something that is said, yet, in those afternoon hours at the Shamrock, I slowly began to hear people all around me talking passionately about what they believe in, how love is love and how much better they are because they accept all people, yet in the very next sentence, hate and judgement for everyone with a different viewpoint tumbled effortlessly out of their mouths.
In my personal pump-me-up anthem (okay, I have three), the late, great Michael Jackson wisely notes, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change, you gotta get it right while you got the time, cause when you close your heart, then you close your mind,” followed by a bunch of fist-pumping, car-dancing, yell-singing (at least that’s what I follow it with). Declaring your awesomeness while simultaneously putting down everyone who doesn’t think like you, doesn’t see the world like you do, can’t be the best way to make the world a better place; your world maybe, but not the world.
I learned a valuable lesson from one of my new friends, who I unfortunately don’t think would consider our friendship mutual. We were having a semi-decent conversation (I am always a bit disappointed when “more money” is declared the biggest goal for any year, especially when you seem to have enough money to waste away all day at the Sham, and especially when the reason you want more money is to buy more things) when his words turned a bit harsh, super negative and blanket statementy, and just a giant bit judgmental about the election aftermath. I found myself suprisingly offended by his language, protective of the very real but absent targets of his speech, those not able to speak up for themselves.
So I asked him if he:
He looked at me like I was crazy, “Um, No. I don’t have to. They are all horrible people, who are full of absolute hate.”
This is where I whoa, whoa whoa’ed my hands. Because, as everyone in a family knows (I mean, those yo’ mama jokes are only funny when it ain’t yo’ mama they’re talking about), I can talk shit about my family, but excuse me, what’s that you just said?
I know he wasn’t specifically talking about my family, but at the same time, that’s exactly what he was doing. When you lump millions of people together, judge them based on one collective action without knowing anything about them, you also strip an entire group of people of their individuality, of their unique traits that make them human, of their potential to be anything else. And that’s not cool.
Not all people who voted Republican are horrible and full of hate; not all people who voted Democrat are angels full of love. We just see the world in a different way. We have different priorities, different #1’s on our lists of what needs to get done today / in the world ever. Just because my priority #1 is your priority #4, doesn’t automatically make you the devil who wants to eat my soul.
And so many of us fall somewhere in-between. We just go about our lives without those priority lists and can’t quite figure out what’s really going on out there, can’t quite grasp why everyone can’t just live their lives by extending the same level of decency we’ve been granted, aka, the Golden Rule (that’s the category I used to fall into. I didn’t fall too far out of it).
And as I listened to this boy/kid/man/whatever you call someone who has a freakishly higher ratio of opinions than life experience lived, tell me that he was particularly affected by this election as a gay Arabic man, I all of a sudden felt like I was transported to the other side (wherever that is). I listened to him in awe, someone technically from my own “side” who didn’t know a thing about me, and didn’t feel like he had to, to throw, “Well, you’re just a straight white woman,” in my face as an insult. And I listened to him tell me how I didn’t know anything. How I had no idea what it was like.
Man. Is this what I sounded like to people on the other side? Is this really the message we are sending? He didn’t know me, yet he felt perfectly qualified to tell me exactly who I was. Would it be better if I were a gay white woman? No? A gay black woman? A black straight Arabic man with two dads? Please, tell me, exactly which combination gives me the ability to have empathy? Is it gay, 23 year-old Arabic man, born in Madison, WI, admittedly privileged and lucky, who has personally never suffered any discrimination, hate crimes, or financial setbacks?
Belittling someone else’s plight while magnifying your own is never a good look. You don’t get to do that. No matter how much you feel slighted, you don’t get to do that. That makes you no better than them, and makes “us” a hell of lot worse.
And I saw. I saw how we could be seen, how they could easily see us on a pedestal talking about how the world should be, yet emulating something entirely different. Like a morbidly obese life coach preaching how everyone else should be on a diet while he continues to eat deep-fried pizza and ice cream for every meal.
And yes, one could argue that the Shamrock is a safe place to talk like that, a place you go where everybody knows your name, basically the gay version of Cheers. But these echo chambers are sort of the problem. If we all just keep hiding out in dark holes, talking about how the world has let us down, how will the world ever hear us? How can we fix what’s broken out there, from all the way in here?
I’m totally for marching to the beat of a different drum, but sometimes that drum just becomes pounding without rhythm, noise without harmony. If you just keep beating on it without checking in on the world around you, it’s easy to lose sight of the message you started marching for in the first place. Sometimes, if you really want to make beautiful music, you gotta join the band (or at least find a mandolin), or else risk sounding like a pretentious asshole who has no idea how terrible he is at the drums.
We are born and none of us have a choice in the matter. You are not better or worse because you are a certain combination of adjectives. You don’t deserve more or less because you are a certain combination of adjectives. The world doesn’t owe one tiny baby more than any other tiny baby. You are just you. Like I am just me. Using adjectives people are born into (straight, white, gay, black, Muslim, Mexican, woman) as insults instead of words to describe their place in this world, isn’t the path I plan on taking to make this world a better place. My FunHouse experience was necessary. And MJ was right; no message could have been any clearer.
We need to stop treating each other like the monster before the real monster eats us all.
(Now go to the nearest image reflector, turn up Man in the Mirror and loud as it goes, and yell-sing to yourself until you mean it.)