Image credit to KC Green and her long-running comic series Gunshow.
I haven’t been a good friend of late, or a good brother or son. At best, a mediocre husband, and I’m sorry for all that.
In the last week, separate conversations with two close friends forced me into two uncomfortable conclusions. The first is that I’m not checking on the welfare of those around me, and I’m not listening to understand when they confide in me; instead, I’m listening to reply so I can tell them of my woes and little the load on my shoulders. The second is that everyone’s life is on fire right now. Every single person who trusts me with their real problems is living in the midst of a fully engulfed Five Alarm catastrophe. Most see no safe egress, and the temps and smoke are only building.
I wanted to be special, I guess, that my trials and tribulations are worse than those around me, that my dilemmas are more complicated and unsolvable than yours, and I couldn’t wait to tell you about them. Given that I learned about these other house fires before I was even midway through my own tale, I contend that my friends feel the same way, even if they wouldn’t describe it as such.
It’s. All. On. Fire.
The past eighteen-ish months have been worthy of a Greek tragedy; for some, that’s been their temperature setting for five years. Rather than asserting that anyone’s (read my) misery is more deserving of billboards and GoFundMe pages, I’m trying to take a step back to focus on those around me. Volunteer work is the greatest thing I can do for my soul, but those external efforts haven’t had the same benefit in recent months. I’m there because I want to feel better, not because I’m primarily interested in service. My focus has been in the wrong place, and it shows in the lack of results.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or even most of them at any one time. I don’t like the idea of telling people how to live their lives or let them direct me on how to live mine. But for me, right now, in this time and place, in the middle of my own Five Alarm, Fully Engulfed Shitshow, I’m choosing to look out the windows. I don’t want to compare my fire to those ravaging my friends’ and neighbors’ lives, but I do want us all to recognize the circumstances for what they are. I’m striving to be kinder, more empathetic. Listen to hear, not to plan my response. Expect that everyone around me is fighting battles I don’t know about. Presume positive intent. Work on filling my cup so that I can once again genuinely serve others for THEIR benefit. Experience and express sincere gratitude for all the blessings of my life. Stop focusing on the unfulfilled wants. Seek commonality instead of division; find ways to put everyone I know in the “Us” column and limit “Them” to my problems. SPEND LESS TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND ALTERNATE REALITIES THEY PROMOTE. Read more. Write more. Bike more.
I sincerely hope that you’re not living my metaphor, but if you are, you’re clearly NOT alone. I bet a closer look around will reveal house fires all around you. I hope you get help if you need it, and talk to your trusted and objective someone. Consider a therapist or counselor. I don’t know how much longer God intends us to endure this reality, but I have to lower the temp and burn rate of our place, and I suspect you might need to do the same. Mrs. Reese recently stumbled upon The Highwomen, a female country music group named after The Highway Men, one of my favorite supergroups. Their music and lyrics are amazing, and we both love their song Crowded Table and the first verse of its chorus:
“I want a house with a crowded table, and a place by the fire for everyone.”
Fire belongs in the hearth, not on the walls and flooring. I pray the important aspects of all our lives soon improve. I wish for all of us to return to optimism, community, belonging, and acceptance. May God bless us all with whatever fire extinguisher our particular problems need.
Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other. Be safe out there.