I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Tag Archives: Responsibility
September 8, 2013Posted by on
I’ve learned a few things this weekend. Learned may be the wrong word. Maybe Just continued evolving. For good or bad.
First up, I went to see The Butler last night. It was an unexpected, last minute decision to go to see a movie I didn’t have that much interest in seeing, which isn’t that unusual. I’m turned off by almost everything that is playing in movie theaters these days. But with one kid away at college and the other itching to spend the evening with friends, the opportunity for dinner out matched with a last minute call from friends to see the movie meant that instead of making pizza and writing I found myself in a movie theater.
The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines, who grows up the son of a sharecropper in Georgia before running away and eventually becoming a butler at the White House, where he works for almost 30 years, a period spanning Eisenhower to Reagan and every President in between. The story is based on the real life story of Eugene Allen.
A bit of a segue here. Here’s a fact-checking article about the movie. Eugene Allen served from Truman to Reagan. In the movie, Cecil joins the White House in the late ’50’s, when Eisenhower was President. Here was the odd thing, when Cecil arrives for his first day of work at the White House Robin Williams is the actor playing the President — and he looks amazingly like Harry Truman and not Dwight D. Eisenhower. In reading the article, it turns out that many of the elements that make up the arc of the movie aren’t actually true. Which is disappointing.
But back to what I learned. My entire adult life I have spent fascinated by certain things, the civil rights movement being one. I have never flinched from the reality of the movement and the hate with which many Americans responded to the dignity of MLK, the Freedom Riders, and others involved in the movement. The movie replays some of that as Cecil struggles with his role as a black butler in the White House and his fictionalized son who is very involved as a Freedom Rider and briefly a member of the Black Panther Party. I found myself no longer able to watch the scenes of assaults on the civil rights protesters. The water cannons, the beatings, the firebombings, the police dogs, etc. I simply could not watch these scenes, both real news reel and fictionalized for purposes of the movie, that represent such a dark, hateful period of our life. There was a point at which I wanted to walk out of the theater because I simply did not want to watch any more of it.
I’m done being fascinated with the dark chapters in our history, the evil that lurks in our past, the examples of horrors we inflict on ourselves and on each other. I will not hide from it, but I no longer need to dwell there either. It’s all part of replacing hate with love, don’t you think?
What about you? Do you turn away from the ugliness of the human race? Or do you wallow it because it is, in fact, a part of who we are?
Thinking about the above led me further down a path. I started thinking about this pocket I find myself in. Dissatisfaction with a lot of aspects of my life. Some would say that I’m in a mid-life crisis. I think it’s different than that. I’m not getting the expensive sports car. I’m not going after a newer, younger model of wife/girlfriend. I’m not quitting my job to buy a sailboat and sail the seven seas. I think it goes deeper than that. (Although none of those things I just described I would object to.)
I am in the process of identifying the things that matter to me. Plotting a course to an end place where I can surround myself with those things and people and places. Part of that is also eliminating elements of my life that cause more harm than good.
Here’s an example. For a dozen years, I coached my kids in their sports. Baseball and soccer. Last year was the first year that I had no coaching obligations. I tried being a soccer referee. This year I’m not even doing that. Instead, I’m hoping to do only this — to go watch my younger son’s games and then leave those games behind. Anybody who has gone through youth sports knows that there is simply far too much drama and trauma involved. It is a life I have lived for the past dozen years and I am ready to leave it behind.
This is not a complaint about that time. It was well spent. I loved watching my kids play their sports. I loved the opportunity to be their coach and help not just them, but other kids, learn how to play, to compete, to love the game. I will always look back at the time I spent coaching my kids as one of the best “moments” of my life. I wouldn’t replace it for the world.
But, it also turned me into something I never was before. I got too caught up in the bad aspects of youth sports. Yelling at referees. Arguing with other coaches. Taking things far more seriously than needed. It’s a game and there were times when I let emotions lead to unfortunate actions on my part.
And, I’m done with that. I’m leaving it behind.
There are other examples, but it comes down to this. My oldest son will turn nineteen in January, he’s off for his freshman year of college. My youngest is two years behind him. I’m beginning to close the door on a chapter of my life that has spanned almost twenty years. That of being a parent. Of being responsible for so many things in so many ways.
In some odd way, my reaction to The Butler is also a part of this. I’m beginning to move on from some of the many things that have been a part of me for most of my adult life. I’m beginning to look for something else to fill my soul. It’s something other than politics and hate, war and trauma, fighting battles both large and small. It’s this other thing. About finding peace and letting go of responsibility. About finding beauty and love. Enjoying little things and letting go of the things that don’t matter. As I’ve said before, it’s about finding the place where I can be me. Just me.
What about you? Are you in a mid-life crisis? Are you constantly evolving? Or do things stay the same and you’re good with that?
I learned two things from walking this week.
Walking affects different body parts than running. This should be clear, but I’m shocked nonetheless. When I ran, most of my pain and discomfort was in my calves, knees and feet. Now that I’m walking (7.5 mile walk yesterday, 9.5 mile walk today), particularly with the longer walks, I’m experiencing the pain and discomfort in completely different areas. My feet don’t hurt, it doesn’t bother my calves, and my knees are OK so far. No, where walking bothers me is in my hamstrings, my hips, and the ol’ gluteus maximus. Very odd.
There is actually one area where walking bothers my feet. When I ran, I would hear stories about runners who run longer distances experiencing horrendous blisters on their toes and feet. With my longest runs only hitting half-marathon length, I never, ever had blisters on my feet. Now, walking has provided me with four blisters on my right foot. And they are blood blisters. Right now, I’m looking at an ugly one on the tip of the second toe wondering how the hell did it get there and thinking I’m going to need to tape it up as I head out the door in the next couple of minutes for another long walk. And also wondering where the next blister will show up.
The other thing I learned was really more of a refresher. I’ve been in a much better mood over the last week or two. And I haven’t understood why, but I know that I’ve just been in that happy space a little more. Even if nothing has really changed in the fundamental dynamics of my life.
I realized why that was while out on my walk today. I’m exercising again. Regularly and consistently. Every day. There is definitely something to be said for the mental health value of regular exercise. Or maybe it’s just the endorphins monkeying with my brain chemistry.
May 6, 2013Posted by on
I like to think that I’ve lived a life of responsibility. Even dating back to the rebellious teen years, I was a responsible kid. I followed my parents rules because compliance seemed the better approach compared to the strife that occurred for the rulebreakers. Yes, there were a few exceptions along the way. The great and massive collapse of obedience that led to me getting kicked out of the parental home when I was 22. And another thing here and there.
But if any word describes my behavior over the thirty year course of my life as an adult, I think it’s responsible. Always moving forward, thinking about what’s to come. Trying to plan and take care of things that need to get done. I take pride in the fact that once I moved out I never had to ask my parents for help. Real help any way. There have been some moments where I thought I might need it, but I found alternatives and I’ve been on my own, responsible for me and able to fulfill that responsibility for a long time.
That responsibility though isn’t the problem. It’s all of the others that have piled on. The responsibility of family and children, of owning a home, of work, of planning and preparing for others. It feels endless and relentless these days and has for a long time.
This week will mark the 8th anniversary of my current position at work. I’m the General Counsel for an elected official who oversees a state agency with over 300 employees. I’ll spare the details, but because of my position, there isn’t a matter that I’m not involved in. Every division, every component of the agency’s operations comes through my office at some point. It’s a job I thought I might aspire to at some point in my life, but it fell into my lap one day when my boss, the prior General Counsel, told me she was quitting, that she had recommended me to be her replacement, and that I better take the job should it be offered to me.
That first day I felt like a kid wearing his dad’s suit. I still feel like that frequently, alarmed that people seek out my opinion and involvement in critical matters. (“Wait, don’t you realize? I’m no better than you. No smarter than you. Why would you ask me?”) But, it’s endless at times. There are days where the cycle of responsibility just seems so … endless and relentless. What do you think about this? How should we do that? What does this law mean? Couldn’t it be read this way instead of that? Hey, we have a problem with this employee? Write this piece of legislation? Sit in on this meeting. Do this. Do that. Constant, never-ending responsibility. (By the way, people at work who read this – don’t worry, I’m still here to help. It’s actually the odd paradox about this. I enjoy helping people and I get to do that frequently in my job. So, keep stopping by.)
And, then, I go home. I’m responsible for 90% of the income for my family. I have done everything I can think of to raise my two boys responsibly and well. It doesn’t seem to be working out so well at the moment. I’ll spare you the details. But I have felt for years, in the confines of my family relationship that there are things I have taken responsibility for, or things the responsibility for which has been forced upon me, an overwhelming sense that I have had to be the responsible one. Solely responsible for so many things that are supposed to be team efforts
The point of this post is to talk about responsibility and my 30-year dance with it. And to say enough. I don’t want to wear my dad’s suit anymore. I want to spend my day in t-shirts and shorts. I no longer want to be responsible for the well-being and happiness of others. I want to be happy myself. I no longer want the drain and strain of all of this. I simply want to be.
In various forums, it has been suggested that I like to argue. I’m sure that my kids think I like to yell, since I’m so good at it. I’m willing to bet that people I work with believe I enjoy confrontation, that I thrive on conflict and “winning.” All of them would be wrong. The reasons I have to argue and yell, and face down confrontation and conflict is BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE AREN’T TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES. What I prefer is a world in which people act and think responsibly. That people work towards solutions rather than pointing at somebody else to solve the puzzle. What I prefer is a world where communication is the key.
Back in 2012, Barack Obama was featured in a magazine profile. During the course of the piece, he talks about the relentlessness of having to make decisions. That, as President, he has to make so many decisions. That no matter how big or small, the need to make decisions is draining all on its own. As a consequence, to make sure he had the energy for the big decisions, he had done everything he could to eliminate the small decisions. He eliminated all suits from his closet except for black and dark blue. He had the same meal for breakfast and followed the same routine every morning.
Now, I realize I’m not anything close to the President and that the decisions I have to make don’t come close to those he makes, but that little discussion about the energy-sucking effect of decisions struck a chord with me. It relates to the relentless nature of responsibility. And I want less of it. Actually, I want none of it. That’s the battle I’m facing these days.
One might argue it’s nothing more than a midlife crisis for me. One of those things we all go through at some point. When the perceived dissatisfaction with the now is replaced by the mythical dream of what could be. I don’t think it is though. I’m worn out. I’m tired. There are battles I’ve been fighting for years I no longer want to fight. They aren’t battles I chose. They are battles forced upon me. Yes, I didn’t have to have kids. I chose to have them. Yes, I didn’t need to accept the position I have now. I chose to do so. But, the battles I’m talking about aren’t inherent in those choices. They are the battles that need to be fought because other people aren’t taking responsibility. Other people are looking elsewhere for somebody, anybody to take care of things so they don’t have to.
I have this dream. In six years, I will be 55. My youngest son will be 22 and hopefully done with his undergraduate program. My responsibility to and for my kids will be at an end. I will be able to retire and spend the rest of my life living the life I want to live. One where the only thing I’m responsible for is myself. Where the only choices I will need to make each day are whether to sit on the beach in the morning or afternoon. Whether to write or read. Whether I should make French bread or pita. My home will be something as small, as minimal, as possible. I won’t need to be responsible for mowing a lawn, or repairing a garage door. Yes, there will still be things that will need fixing, things I will be responsible for. But, responsibility will no longer be what fills my days, weeks, and months. Freedom will.