Understanding Women

talking with your woman“Women are like tricks by sleight of hand
Which, to admire, we should not understand.” ~William Congreve

I’ll never understand women, and I guess it’s supposed to be that way, what with God giving them a complexity that most men lack. Sure, women say men are tough to “get,” but when was the last time a man gave you more than surface? From birth men are taught to ignore their feelings and power through life. The few who don’t take this approach are seen as odd and get judged by others, by both other men and women, as weak. Those who skew towards the artistic or the representative are seen as more female than male.

Which is the really strange thing because most women fit along a wide spectrum when it comes to how they live their life, and as to the comforts they enjoy. Women aren’t seen as odd when they stray towards the artistic, or when they focus on the depth in life instead of merely dipping their feet in the shallow end. They can be emotional without being harshly judged by other women, and yet when they feel the need to be physically strong it is seen as a positive and they are congratulated for it. Being “feminine” has never been more of an oxymoron.

Don’t get me wrong, either. Women are individuals. I’m not lumping them all together by any means, but not a single woman I’ve ever met was not incredibly complex, and not a single woman I’ve everĀ  met do I completely understand. Maybe when you completely understand a woman she disappears like Rumpelstiltskin when you guess his name. They do have this magical quality about them, I like to think.

I’ve lived with women for the vast majority of my life. I’ve dealt with their mood swings, with their protective nature, with their ambition, with their constant love, and with their need to be understood. But no matter how long I’ve lived amongst them, I’ll never be one. And maybe that’s the larger issue. In order to truly understand a woman, her motivations, and her emotions, you have to BE A WOMAN.

And even then it’s no gimme.

Sam

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The Indelible Journey of Life

Life isn’t a competition where we either win or lose. It is instead a race against ourselves, past, present, and possibly future, all at the same time, in a scenario that means we always tie and no one goes home completely satisfied. But yeah. That’s life.

From the moment we’re born we have this need to prove ourselves to ourselves, to others, and to the ideal. It is our gift and our curse because while we strive to be our full selves we also fight to be acknowledged by others who are also fighting to be their full selves. We can’t all realize that potential so either we get jealous or they do, creating an animosity born of failure and stunted emotional growth. It will eat us alive if we let it.

Then we have children and they are at the same time extensions of us and completely new creations with their own sense of self, of their place in this world, and of what they’re willing to do to cement that place once they’ve found it. They need us for guidance but they also need to be given space, a room of their own in which to grow and transform into the people they wish to be in time. Because time is the great revealer, whether or not we actually want to be revealed.

And we age out of those young stallions ready to roam, to explore, and to reevaluate. We grow into the mature versions of ourselves that we always thought we could avoid. Until we could no longer avoid them because they are now us, in our blood as surely as a virus, infecting us from the inside out. After all, that’s life. We live, we dream our dreams, we rage against the dying of the light. But it dies anyway, while our backs were turned and we thought we were safe from it.

Then, at the very end, we finally see that life is merely a collection of memories, some good, some bad, and some indifferent, a brief journey that leaves imprints on everything and everyone we touch. It was never about us anyway, but simply about the effects of our actions on others and on our environment. And when we finally realize this it’s too late to inform others of its magnitude. We just close our eyes and breathe it in, like so much medicine, and it cleanses us from within.

Yeah. That’s life.

Sam

The Space Between

11-wharariki-beach-the-space-between-b“But this time, Jesus, how can I be sure I would not lose my follow through between the altar and the door?” ~Casting Crowns

There is a space between spirituality and religion. It is the space that I inhabit.

Ask most peopleĀ  and they can tell you where they stand on religion. There are 4 options really…

  1. The Highly Religious. These are the folks who go to church every week like clockwork. They are the “names” in the church, the ones who always help out with services, with seeking offering, with outreach. When people think of prominent church members these people always come up in the discussion. They believe so strongly in their own religion that they think people who aren’t in it are going to hell.
  2. The Lukewarm Religious. These people do not believe in going to church in order to commune with God. Sometimes they go for whatever reason, probably for mostly social reasons. They are often mentioned during prayer group and prayer circles because either they used to be highly religious or they’ve been pegged as possibly getting there if they just get more prayer oin their behalf.
  3. The Non-Religious. On Easter these proud few aren’t even in a church, anywhere. In fact, for them Easter is simply about a bunny, if that, and that’s okay with them. Usually the folks who fit here are the ones who have been disillusioned by church and by church folk. They disagree with the teachings of religion so they don’t follow them at all. They may be highly spiritual but it’s their own definition they subscribe to, and it’s their own rules they follow.
  4. The Proudly Atheist. Have you ever noticed that you generally know when there are atheists around? That’s because for the most part they like to advertize, which is just fine. They’re proud of their belief in things other than God. They have no place for traditional religion because it all revolves around God, and that’s not their bent.

Then there’s spirituality, the belief in a higher power, that the soul is more important than the body and needs to be nourished just as the body needs to be nourished. The options for someone who is spiritual are legion. Being spiritual can mean…

  • Aspiring to a deeper understanding of the universe and our place in it
  • Challenging accepted norms about who we are as individuals
  • Focusing on a higher power who can help us grow and change
  • Communing with that higher power as we see fit
  • Nourishing the soul through meditating in some way, shape, or form

Being spiritual is a state of mind while being religious is a state of belief. Religion revolves around a central meeting place for people who share those same beliefs, be it a physical or mental place. Spirituality focuses instead on the individual, and not the group, on redefining as we go along, just us and the higher power, whatever or whoever that happens to be. Keep in mind these are all my opinions. You could be both highly religious and highly spiritual, but I think it would have to be extremely difficult to be both. I think most people do fall in the space between the two.

And I’m comfortable being there. It means I don’t define myself by any church’s rules, but I do commune with God and strive to be better than I am, to understand my soul and my final destination in an ever-changing world that has many more questions than it has answers.

Sam

That Monumental Shift

Sleep? What’s that?

I read somewhere that we spend our lives before we become parents running away from trouble, and our entire lives after becoming parents running towards that same trouble. For example, when I heard a scream back in the day I would move away from it, with the thought that whoever’s causing the screams might decide I’m a better source of torture. If there’s a messy situation with a spider crawling on the bathroom wall, well, that’s what parents are for. “Mooooom!” I’d say, and it would be taken care of while I was cowering in my bedroom.

Now I’m the one taking care of the problems, and I’ve learned to run to the source of those screams instead of away from it. It’s funny, but when I first became a father, my first inclination just switched. Like flipping a wall switch, actually. And all the parents I knew told me “several things will happen the moment you become a parent.” Here’s a comprehensive list:

  1. “You will learn to awaken at odd hours and sleep when you can. And be able to operate off of whatever sleep you (don’t) get.
  2. “You will suddenly become a safer driver.”
  3. “Your current fears will become secondary to your kids’ fears.”
  4. “Your language will conform to PG standards.”
  5. “You will call your mother, and she will laugh at you, telling you that it’s YOUR TURN now.” Continue reading “That Monumental Shift”

I Used to Live Here

Walking the streets of this city on a Saturday, mid-morning, when there is hardly anyone about, it stirs my soul. And I hardly ever just walk anymore, with no particular destination in mind, just to wander aimlessly down one street, and then the next. It’s refreshing, even when the scenes are not.

This city is dying, bit by bit, piece by piece, and the decay is accelerating faster by the day. I can see it in the crumbling facades, and I can feel it in the worn down people going from one grim door to the next. I can smell it in the scent of rotting food that has attracted rats like moths to a flame.

This could be anywhere, from the detritus in Detroit, to the west side of Los Angeles, to the ghettos of Atlanta, to North Philadelphia. And it could be any time, from long ago to the here and now. But I am seeing it now, on these walks, sharing these streets with people heading somewhere, or heading nowhere. They speak Spanish in sections, and they look at me like a woman checks out a bauble at a garage sale. Homeless men sit in doorways and on grates, trying to warm their aching bones. Trying to survive.

I pass close to them, close enough to feel the waves of caged animosity, to breathe in the fumes of pain and loss, and to capture them in the lens of my mind’s eye. They size me up, this large black man walking their streets, and they sense that I belong, or they’re wary of me, with this camera hanging around my neck. With this guilt hanging on my soul.

You see, I used to live here, in the broken down city, and I called it home. It could have been anywhere because everywhere is the same, and it could have been anyone, but it was me. And maybe that homeless man knows that I am pretending to have moved on, even years later, that I am still a troubled man who needs that connection with his roots, even for just an hour on a Saturday mid-morning on the streets of a city that does sleep, but fitfully.

And it will be a dog’s age until I return, until I once more walk where I used to walk, in those faded footsteps, but it will be the same. It will still call my name between now and forever, in this special place in my heart that aches with familiarity and with loss. For what I cannot live with but also cannot live without. For the city that breathed life into me even while it was dying, and being reborn from its ashes.

Sam

Whereupon I Reveal Some Things

Since when did I become such an emotional person? Since when do sappy romantic comedies make me bawl my eyes out? Since when does something like stubbing my toe elicit such a string of obscenities? I used to be so even keel until not too long ago when I developed a — gasp — actual personality. Don’t get me wrong. I had a personality before, but it was a borrowed one, suited to whomever I happened to be around. Therefore, no real emotions, no real connection with reality. But now, watch out world.

So, here are some things I’ve found out about myself recently, since I stopped being the “yes man” for everyone:

1) I enjoy classical music. No. Really. I do. It wasn’t just something I was pretending so that girls would think I was a “layered” soul.

2) I don’t only have nightmares when I dream. Outlining my “nightmares” was always a good way to get sympathy from others, but I now realize I just don’t have as many nightmares as I seemed to recall around others.

3) I really am a romantic at heart. You know that warm feeling you get when you know people are meant to be together, or because someone said something really sweet to the person they love? I get that feeling when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks realize they were on the other side of the screen in “You’re Got Mail,” or when Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller decide to just go for it in “Along Came Polly,” or that classic “You had me at hello” scene from Jerry Maguire. Please pass the tissues.

4) I don’t have as much patience as I thought I had. Seriously, that one’s the hardest one to swallow. I used to pride myself on this above all other things. I’m the most patient person in the world. Nothing gets to me. But, go figure, everything gets to me. I seem to be an emotional wreck most of the time, and my patience is constantly tried and re-tried. It’s pretty depressing to realize this for the first time.

5) I am incredibly competitive. Yeah, I know. I won’t even let my four year-old win at Connect 4. If you came up to me and told me that you would give me $500,000 to throw a game, I honestly don’t know what my response would be. I live for winning, and I try not to play games that I’m not good at. Eek, I know that’s not a great character trait, but I would be kick ass on a game show.

These and other revelations have shown me just how much I need to try and understand my emotions, and perhaps writing them out like this is cathartic. Regardless, I keep adding to the list every day, a sign that at least I’m starting to understand myself more. I think it also helps me maintain momentum in getting rid of that “yes man” for good. While he was fun for others to be around, he was someone I dreaded being. So, for good or for bad, it’s time to drive my own car.

Sam