Friday, March 25, 2011

A Soft Glimpse of Grace

There's a point everybody gets to, every once in a while, where they come to the conclusion that people suck.  Humanity itself doesn't seem worth fighting for.  From a ghastly childhood reinforced by a crappy boss later in life, to just some asshole driving like an idiot during rush hour, we've all gotten to the point where we look around and see only crap.  Crappy co-workers, crappy neighbors, crappy spouses, lousy and thoughtless crappy kids at the super market, defended in their crappy behavior by vociferously crappy parents. 

People deal with the surfeit of crap in different ways.  My best friend taps a manicured nail on the steering wheel whenever she drives on the highway.  It's a forceful tapping, the nail clacking away as if impatiently pushing a button on the elevator.  I asked her once what she was doing and she replied, "That's my blowup button.  I just blew the shit out of the car ahead of us."  Most people try and take a gentler approach to dealing with high tension mess: they read, watch TV, meditate, exercise, sit in the backyard with a beer and watch sunsets.  Some people take their stress and use it as a weapon against others, which only creates more crap. 

Stress from the witnessing and victimization of crappy behavior is a wiggly emotion.  You can feel it zinging along your nerve endings, causing them to vibrate and pull your mouth into a straight line.  The forehead creases, the teeth clench, everything goes from soft and liquidy to tight and uncomfortable.  The feeling has a touch of frantic about it.  We find ourselves casting around desperately for something to pop the bubble and let us take a breath, a breather from the overwhelming mountain of refuse surrounding us.

They're there if you look.  The breathers, the moments of kindness and clarity, soft glimpses of grace in the bass-o-matic blender of shit so many call "their life."  It's hard to pay attention to such sacred and amazingly common moments.  When you're an insecurity addict like myself, you have to train your eyes all over again.  Train them to see the good in life when they've been so attuned to only the bad.  A mother smiling as she plays with her child, an old man holding the door for his wife, a telethon for disaster victims reaching its quota, a newscaster losing his cool and defending an underdog's position.  These are all glimpses of the grace inherent in the human race.  We've all witnessed them and we're all capable of them.  I once told a friend that it was much harder being kind than it was being cruel.  Cruelty is easy; that's why people slide into it so readily.  Kindness is hard.  Kindness takes effort.  That's why it's so beautiful when you see it; somebody taking the time out of their own stress-filled lives to make somebody else's stress-filled life a little better.  Even for a moment, just a little better.  Those are the moments that stick in the brain, that warm the memory, that puzzle the concrete opinion that all humanity sucks.  Because it's not true.  A lot of our habits are ridiculous.  A lot of what we do as a race is abhorrent. But evolutionarily, we're a young species.  Maybe not much past the "terrible twos" stage of development.

There's hope, though; a slow trickle of what is no longer acceptable behavior.  A couple hundred years ago in this country, a fun Saturday outing was to go to a witch burning or hanging.  Now, we watch fake ones on TV.  Progress: nobody was actually harmed.  The abolishment of slavery, the creation of civil rights, the less and less common racism among the young; these are all great strides for the good.  There will always be the cruel in power trying to wrestle control back from the benevolent, but if you look at history, we've made enormous strides as a people.  Sure, there's a long way to go.  But look around your own little sphere and take a gander at everyday kindness.  It's contagious, man's humanity to man, just like his inhumanity.  Try to contract the softer, gentler strain and not the mean ass spiky one.  You'd be amazed how willing people are to be kind back.  It's a very catching phenomenon.  Drop it in the midst of people you see every day and see if it spreads, like ripples in a pond.  There will be rocks and outcroppings of crappy people who have no interest in it at first, maybe even ever.  But water wears down a stone in the end.  Take care of yourself and remember that, even in the midst of garbage, something beautiful can take root if one takes the time to cultivate it. 

Love, R

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