raw nerves and all
I saw this New Yorker cartoon last night and it’s got me thinking. My God are we hard on ourselves! And I suppose I shouldn’t speak for everybody but you know what? On this one I think I can. I mean it’s in the New Yorker for christ’s sake, I think we can all agree, if it’s in the New Yorker, it’s universal!
In this cartoon, there is a gentleman on the subway who feels real good about his experience at a party he went to. Then a few stops later he wonders if someone misunderstood something he said. By the end of his journey, his train has gone all the way to crazy-town and he is convinced that he is the world’s biggest loser, that he made the biggest fool of himself at the party, and that no one would ever want to hang out with him ever again.
Or at least that’s where I think he went in his head. Because that is all too often where I end up too. Or some version of that. And all because why? Because I compare myself to some notion of perfection that I have determined based on what I think other people are looking for; some notion of perfection that is always changing depending on where I am or who I am with; some notion of perfection that is a constant moving target and as such unattainable and by the way absolutely ridiculous in the first place.
And when I do fail to add up to this chameleon standard of perfection, I deem myself a failure who is quite clearly wholly and completely unworthy. Which is like the exact opposite of what I believe in and what I am working all these days towards eradicating from the deepest corners of my consciousness. unworthiness that is. I am beginning to seriously wonder if that is even a possibility. Or maybe, as tricky as the thing I am trying to evade, this is just another example of some sort of perfection I will never meet.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” credited to Theodore Roosevelt who, in making sure I was right about that, I discovered also said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Wise man. So wise. Because here’s the thing—none of us have ever been here before. Not ever in this exact time in this exact space. and this human shit is hard enough as it is without placing the enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to live up to some ever moving and completely delusional definition of perfect.
Do we owe it to ourselves to be good people? I happen to think so. Do we owe it to each other to be kind? I happen to think so. Do we get to impose our ideas of how we do this onto each other? Or our ideas of how others need us or want us to do this onto ourselves? I don’t think that’s the path to contentment, in fact it seems like an express route to suffering.
I had a friend offer me some feedback this week. he offered it without asking if I was open to receiving it, which ok, I get it, we can’t control everything. Hell, we can’t control anything. And I read his words. Some of them actually felt nice but most of them hurt. and I went directly into defensiveness, and then I got mad at myself for doing so, and then I got mad at him, and then i cried, and then i yelled, and then I went to the dentist.
And I sat in this chair, mouth wide open, while a lovely older woman scraped my gums and tried to talk to me about holiday shopping. I grunted out some noises in agreement staring at the cork ceiling of the room feeling so very many things. And I was trying so hard, so hard to keep it together and hold it all back because if I let the things this friend said get to me, that would obviously make them true and make me the world’s worst person.
I was trying so hard, so hard to avoid the ever tempting path of rage and blame and outsourcing. How could he say those things, how could he think those things, how dare he impose his version of my best life onto me as I am working and struggling to even get to my version of my best life.
The woman with her hands in my mouth hit a nerve and I flinched in my chair and took a deep, the deepest I could muster, breath. “I’m sorry.” she says. “Oh gosh no,” I eek out hidden behind wet eyes. “It’s been a hard morning, that’s all. You’re just doing your job, raw nerves and all.” I heard myself say it. I heard the words leave my mouth. and as she continued to scrape and buff my teeth, those words kinda hung in front of my face and stopped me from the road I was on.
Hard morning. Just doing your job. Raw nerves and all.
Aren’t we all doing that? I wondered and I could feel my forehead work it’s way into that familiar frown I get on my face when I am trying so hard, so hard to figure something out. Aren’t we all just doing our jobs, as humans? And don’t we all have hard mornings? In truth, getting out of bed is quite often the hardest part of my day and I am, generally speaking, not a depressed person. Raw nerves and all. That’s it. That’s just it, I thought.
My anger dissipated, my hurt dissolved, my concern about being the worst person in the world washed away with the minty flavor of the concentrated toothpaste. I am not the worst person in the world. And he is not the worst person in the world. We are all just raw nerves walking around doing the best we can as humans who have never ever been here before. My sadness morphed into almost unbearable compassion. Compassion for myself, for my friend, and of course for my dental hygienist who was saying something about flossing on a more regular basis.
I can’t solve whatever this miscommunication is that’s happening between me and my friend, or maybe it’s time to call him former friend, though that feels weird as I will always, always love him. I can’t be what he wants me to be or live the way he wants me to live. And it feels like he doesn’t believe me when I say I love him. but I am not engaging in this fight, I am not doing what he wants me to do, I am not loving him the way he wants me to love him. But, let’s get real, I have just as much judgement running through me about how he should be loving me so…where’s the way out?
Up maybe? Whatever that means. Allowing, accepting, forgiving, surrendering, loving? Whatever those mean. Taking care of ourselves, so that we can take care of others? Being good people? Not being dicks? Whatever that means. And my guess is it means different things to different people. Like I don’t think my friend sat there and thought how can I be a dick to Eliza today. No, I know he is coming from love. I do know that. I just don’t want to defend my life to anyone anymore and for whatever reason that is what I feel like I would have to do with him. Maybe my fault, maybe not, maybe fault has nothing to do with it.
But that train, that train we all go on to crazy town, with these standards and shoulds and not enoughs and too muches and i’m too fat, and she’s too skinny, and he’s a douche, and she’s a whore, and they are superficial, and they are smarter than I am, and she is more talented, and he is too handsome to love me, and my shoes are not as nice as theirs, and oh my gosh did I say something wrong at that party and did they hear me and am I quite probably the world’s worst person?
Thief of joy. That guy had a good time at that party before he started thinking about how it or he should have been different. And that’s the thing. That is what I implore us all to stop doing, thinking it or we should be different. And look, I am not there yet. Clearly I think my friend should be different and he thinks I should be different and I don’t see an open road there. Or rather I see two open roads going in opposite directions. But what if, god what if we could just stop that. All of us.
Growth is good. Change is constant. But let’s lighten up and have fun. Let’s stop this comparison into despair game and start celebrating our differences, honoring our differences, accepting our differences, respecting our own individual rights to have different tastes, different styles, different ways of being without making each other wrong. Without making ourselves wrong. Please, can’t we? Can’t we all just take this heavy, heavy lid off the pressure cooker?
Pie in the sky perhaps but listen, it’s been a hard morning. and I am just doing my job, raw nerves and all.