Mourning Strangers

“So I just kept breathing, my friends. Waiting for the man to choose, saying this ain’t the day that it ends. There’s no white light, and I’m not through.” ~George Michael

Why do we mourn people we don’t know? Perhaps there’s something about celebrity that makes us feel closer, like we’re friends with people we’ve never met. I sometimes liken it to a cousin who lives far away. You know you’re cousins, that somewhere out there is someone who is related to you, and you might have an idea of them, but you don’t truly know them.

As one by one my favorite celebrities die I’m left wondering how much I really knew about any of them, and how reliable any of my information ever really was. Hell, I don’t even really know my own father. Why should I feel devastated by the death of George Michael?

It comes down to hope, in my opinion. These celebrities inspire a kind of hope in me that could never be matched by any sort of reality. Because they are larger than life they embody what my brain mistakenly construes as a better life, as a lofty ideal that is just as reachable as the theoretical American dream.

It’s the whole “grass is greener” mentality that, while I know it’s bogus, continues to give me dewy eyes like a schoolboy with his first crush. I don’t see it for what it is, instead watching it through rose coloured glasses.

I loved the idea of George Michael, the dynamic voice and larger than life personality that characterized both his music and what I knew of his personal life. I followed the articles and headlines about him, from his first solo album, through the gay rumors, and then the gay pronouncement, to the rest stop, to even tumbling from a car speeding down the motorway.

And through it all was the music, his chronicling of life as he saw it, a connection that kept me tethered, safely secure in the knowledge that, somewhere out there, he was alive, constructing something new, being my erstwhile touchstone.

So my ideas of him were who he became in my mind’s eye, a troubled soul with tender leanings, a lyrical wordsmith who didn’t mind laughing at himself. It was good enough to know that at some point he could release another album or another song, and it would be like one more reunion, but better than family because my preconceived notions of him couldn’t be proven incorrect in the face of personal contact. Because the odds always were that I would never meet him. And now I never will.

Odds were that he would have disappointed me in person, though. Most celebrities I’ve met weren’t very gracious, and seemed quite full of themselves. Maybe that’s a byproduct of celebrity, or perhaps it is just my viewpoint in the brief moments I’ve spent in their presence.

In that way, I feel like the death of George Michael will forever insulate me from that particular brand of disappointment. He can live on in my memory the way I have always seen him, and I can continue to enjoy his divine voice long after he’s departed this earth.

But don’t get me wrong. I still mourn, and I still don’t really know why. It’s easy to say that a kind of hope and childhood nostalgia died with him, and yet it seems like so much more than that, like he was the friend I always wanted to impress but who kept impressing me instead. Now all I’m left with is the shadows I tried so hard to clutch when he was alive, and now just sit idly, stock still, on the stone wall of my soul.


Orlando, But Not Only


Violence never solves anything. Not really. All it does is create a culture of hate and fear that can keep things under wraps for a time, but human nature will find a way to get around whatever violence is there to “protect.” Men and women who resort to violence against others with guns, with knives, and with weapons of mass destruction generally have a warped opinion of the world, and of human nature.

What honestly saddens me the most is that these people who take up arms against others have a history themselves. They grew up in families, just like you and me, and a good percentage of the time those families did a lot to instill values like the value of human lives, but somewhere along the way that message was lost. Somewhere along the line there was a disconnect, a parting of the ways, when they decided the world was going to hell in a hand basket, so why not join an early apocalypse?

These school shootings, these serial killers, these senseless murders, are they truly ramping up in recent times or are we just now finally equipped to broadcast them almost as soon as they happen? Are these shooters, these killers, these murderers the new form of reality TV stars? Do they yearn for the spotlight, even if it’s the negative end of that light? Or are they just so focused on their mission that they see red instead of black and white? It is every one of these, and then some, in my opinion, because each and every one is an individual. Each and every one has some private vendetta that he/she feels needs to be made public.

violence-is-the-problem-not-the-solution-quote-violence-quotes-gallery-930x1333I don’t even know where to begin anymore, where the rhetoric ends and the true solutions begin. In the aftermath of every single one of these horrific events we band together as a community, and we also fracture as individuals trying to come to grips with what we’ve just witnessed, or read about. We argue about gun control laws, about the senseless nature of these crimes, about racism, sexism, and any other -ism that just might possibly hold the key to whatever occurred. We are all numb, and yet incensed at the same time, confused that human kind can be so base, and so destructive to other human kind.

Is it time for prayers or action, time for the nature vs. nurture discussion once again, or time for us to throw in the towel and say the end is nigh? The Bible of course tells us that these events are precursors of the end times, that we should all be on our knees waiting for the rapture right about now. But is that practical? What does that serve? What do prayers serve for those who are dead, or dying, or maimed, because of these horrific events? At the same time, what does lashing out serve either?

I’ve read so many posts about how those responsible should be strung up, and the same amount of posts saying that we are simply breeding a cesspool of a generation that has no tolerance because they haven’t been taught to have tolerance. We #standwithorlando, and #fightfororlando, and give #prayersfororlando, just as we did for Columbine, just as we did for the 9/11 victims, and just as we’ve done countless times for these senseless acts of violence, these acts of violence that have never solved anything. How can they?

To solve anything we need discussion. We need conversation, real, honest to goodness conversation, a chance to hear from those who feel disenfranchised, to talk to them and figure things out. We need to give them an option before they feel it’s time to take action, because there’s no going back then. We have short memories, I know, because we’re on to the next thing so quickly, but remember that these people grew up too, that they had families who nurtured them, and who affected them from the outset.

But there are signs, little tics that tell us when things are not going well, that give us clues as to what might happen in the future if things go the way they’ve been going. We read about them all the time after the fact. We also read about those who felt it wasn’t their place to voice their suspicions. Because we live in a world where we don’t judge even though we do, when we notice nothing because our heads are stuck so far up our own asses, or stuck in the goings-on of celebrities.

Now is not the time for prayer. Now is the time to get our houses in order. Because a storm is coming, and it’s been coming for ages. We just haven’t noticed it until now. It’s being forced down our throats as time and again the victims become the oppressors, as our eyes are wrenched up from our own lives to see that the world is so much bigger than we are. But we need to see it before it gets to this point. We need to recognize the pain in their eyes, the anger like a crouching tiger waiting to spring.

We need to become the community we say we are, because as individuals with our individual agendas, we are losing touch. We are losing human beings. We are losing humanity.


Upon My Death


Upon my death I want the stars to fall from the sky. I want the moon to turn red, angry at the injustice of it all. I want tears to flow like wine, and grief to be so heavy, so widespread that everything stops for a heartbeat to contemplate how things can go on when I am gone. Or at the least I want just one person to tweet “@SamMcManus u wuz cool, bro #rip #gonetoosoon.”

Upon my death I want everyone to exhale, to let out the breath they’ve been holding for far too long. I want a celebration of all the positive energy I’ve put out into the world. So I guess I should start putting out positive energy into the world sometime soon. I want people to remember me for who I am, not for who I always hoped I would be. Because I’m not perfect, and I don’t want the responsibility, even if I’m already dead.

Upon my death I don’t want to hang around as a ghost. I don’t want to stand by and watch the people in my life go on without me. I don’t want to feel that heartache that comes with knowing they’re doing fine but I can never hold them again. I don’t want to scream into the nothingness that would be my existence and get no reaction. I don’t want to feel emotionally lost again.

Upon my death I want to feel content. If death steals my future from me I want to know that my past was worth the time I spent on it. I want to know that I’ve done all that I can to support my family in every way possible. I want to know that I left nothing out there that I didn’t do my best to tie up. I want to know that at least one thing is better for me having been in this world.

Upon my death I want to be reincarnated so I can live again, because I’m selfish, because I can’t fathom a true end. I can’t imagine an endless void, a blackness so complete that it drowns out everything else. But I also can’t envision a tunnel, or a bright light, or any kind of heaven or hell. I have a hard enough time trying to figure out what I think is going to happen next week.

Upon my death I want to make some kind of deal with god. Because I’m afraid to die.


Like Dido Said.

“I apologize that once again I’m not in love, but it’s not as if I mind that your heart ain’t exactly breaking. It’s just a thought, only a thought.” ~Dido

44a3d4997b1d7f43380fe3c99d338b13What is being in love? Is it the butterflies you get when you first meet “the one?” Is it the disconnect between heart and mind that raises one up while it shuts out the other? Is it the silences that stretch for an eternity without being uncomfortable? Or is it some amalgamation of all the above, with a little bit of libido thrown in?

Love is what we make of it. That’s what I think. You can convince yourself you’re in love if you strive desperately enough to make it real. You can give yourself heart and soul to another person and hope that it’s enough. You can wish for it, pray for it, BEG for it like kids beg for that perfect toy at Christmas and think you got just what you wanted. But you can’t make love blossom for anyone else. You can’t convince them of it when they’re not sold on what you’re selling.

Like Dido said, “It’s not as if I mind that your heart ain’t exactly breaking.” Too often people stay together because they convince themselves it’s love. They fight through their own reticence and force themselves into the glass slipper that hurts like hell every single time. They sacrifice because everyone knows that giving up something is the surest sign of love. They have all the outward trappings, but their hearts aren’t part of it; they’re separate and alone.

So I don’t mind that your heart isn’t exactly breaking. It doesn’t bother me that you’re not in love with me, because I’m not in love with you either. It was just some kind of infatuation born of proximity and a mutual love of Greek food. Or whatever. But it was never love, and the sooner we admit that the better off the both of us will be. We can be free to search for what we’ve been missing.

Because being in love isn’t manning up and doing the “right thing.” It isn’t the butterflies, but the caterpillars instead who are just so delighted when they wrap themselves in those cocoons that keep them safe until the transformation is finished. 53926-Crap-Im-In-LoveBecause love is that transformation. It’s in the way we shift and change for the better when we’re with that other person. It’s in the give and take that might not always be pleasant, but is always preferred, because we know what soothes our souls.

“If my life is for rent, and I don’t learn to buy, well I deserve nothing more than I get. ‘Cause nothing I have is truly mine.”

When we’re in love we have to dive in. We have to throw caution into the breeze and hope it returns to us unscathed. We have to engage others and let them engage us. We have to live with expectation and not let the world get us down. Because it will if we let it. It will chew up our bones and spit them out. It will break our hearts and then stomp all over them for good measure. But it’s worth it if in the end we aren’t saying “I don’t love you, and I never have,” if we aren’t only honest when it doesn’t even really matter anymore.

Make it yours. Don’t settle for someone who you don’t love just for the sake of being with somebody. You’ll save yourself a world of heartache in the end, and maybe them too.


A Sort of Baptism

I grew up with women, a whole gaggle of them if you asked me back then because it felt that way. From the moment I emerged from the womb I was surrounded by enough estrogen to choke a horse (imagine that), so I’m no stranger to emotion, to such honest emotion that I’ve been comfortable with it my whole life. As a child and a young man I had no problem expressing that emotion in the most authentic way, through tears. Body shaking, loud as midnight, salty tears streaming down my face, and it was cathartic. But now I’m empty.

Maybe I cried myself out back then. Perhaps I became such a strong person that things didn’t bother or sadden me that deeply anymore. Or maybe I’m just coming up with excuses, none of which are true. Some of the most devastating moments of my life have happened after I came of age, and I’m still a pretty emotional person. So why can’t I cry?

Like right now. I feel numb. Totally numb. That’s where it goes now, not to expressive tears but to internalizing and introspection. But you know what? The tears helped more. Just letting it out made me feel like I was starting anew, that the tears were a sort of baptism, and once I emerged from them I was a new man with renewed hopes and dreams. But this numbness, this absence of that outward sign, it makes me feel like I’m trapped inside myself, that I have absolutely no hope of getting out. That terrifies me.

And I know that it’s all about the value I place on things, that somehow in my mind I got it all twisted up, the idea that men don’t cry. But real men are emotional creatures too, and I don’t seem to subscribe to most those other tenets of the “mature man.” I laugh at all the stereotypes and the expectations, and yet here I am embodying one of the biggest ones, and I can’t seem to stop myself. I mean, it’s not like understanding how counterproductive it is will make my tear ducts open and bring on the waterworks. It takes more.

I remember when I got baptized I felt like a new man, like nothing else in this world would ever stop me from being me, from moving forward instead of backwards, like it was the beginning of real life. But real life is hard, and being dunked under water doesn’t protect me from that any more than crying tears will liberate me from these feelings deep inside of me. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream as loudly as I can. And maybe crying, and screaming, and thrashing wildly about will be my salvation, but I think that has to come from a change of thinking more than any outward show.

I just don’t know where to begin.


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