Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Variety Post

These are invariably longer than usual.

Things here are winding down a bit. Vacations are literally in two days, I'll be going on adventures of the crazy (but clean) variety the week after, and then...who knows? Time goes more quickly with every passing day.

I went a little ballistic at the beginning of July. We had a very frustrating meeting, and I saw so many things that I had seen in October happening again, and I didn't want to have a part of it. Rather, I did, but I wanted to be somebody with a voice. So I went and I talked with the director, and it was very an extent. I was given the gift of knowing I'm not alone in my observation. This is wonderful beyond words. As a foreigner, I can't tell how much of my reaction is just me being financially well-off, white, and Estadounidense (i.e., from the United States). Some things appall me, like the noisiness and lack of respect in meetings (though you'll find that in teenagers across the board. They will look at you like you are from another planet if you get mad at them for punching each other even though you have said three times beforehand that there is absolutely none of that permitted). It's hard to cross so many boundaries and make accurate or useful observations and/or criticism. A lot of the time, I think that's cowed me into not saying anything and chalking it up to an internal battle of patience with myself and the new sphere in which I find myself. Maybe that's a final thing to do, but I've missed a step, and that's in actually daring to see how right or wrong I am in my observations. This time, it would seem I'm right. Of course, my observations fit for children of any lower class background, essentially, but being in a less affluent and developed country sure affords more obvious (and very often, more extreme) cases. It felt good to get angry and impassioned about it. My challenge, of course, is to keep that passion, do what I can to better things, and not lose hope of doing any good. It's easy to do that when there's no hope of finding people equipped to work with teenagers who would give up their lives as they know it to help problem kids. I'll do my best.

I have started writing reflections on Sunday readings again. It helps me tremendously. Thank you, Fr. Regis Armstrong, for giving me that tool. At this moment, I've been given the opportunity to look at myself through the readings and through my frustrations with others, and it's been a tough but awesome introspection. I still need to work on being motivated to change what I need to change, of course, because inertia and homeostasis are always the easier things to do. But whatever, I'm staying positive.

I rediscovered an online journal I kept in high school and sparsely updated in college. I fought internal change and challenge tooth and nail. Admitting that maybe I haven't gotten everything figured out for myself, really admitting it, and starting the work to become a better person, was something my pride hated, hated, hated doing. In fact, I know that this difficulty hasn't gone away. I think it's hanging around now. Yuck.

One of those journal entries read pretty much as follows: "The world is in need of some real, genuine, good men. Because I'm tired of hearing how much men suck." I've heard about a lot of men sucking in this world. Random passerby, exes, friends, fathers, name it. I've had the opportunity to hear people share their struggles recently, but it's by no means a new thing for me. My reaction was the same in the past, too. My immediate reaction is generally pain. To see the hurt hurts me in turn. If I let it, the hurt becomes overwhelming.
Perhaps to counter that, or perhaps because it's the right and natural next step, I feel anger. Rage, even. My heart accelerates an incredible amount, my temperature rises, and you might think that my hair actually became fire. I want something to be done. I want there to be accounting for what has happened. "Father, forgive them: they know not what they do," actually fuels my rage, because instead of their ignorance serving as a grounds for sympathy, empathy, or mercy, it makes me think that they are stupid or willfully ignorant. After all, I happen to know (or at least to some extent, maybe) that what they've done is wrong, inconsiderate, hurtful, etc. I can get stuck in this stage for an indefinite period of time. It's easy, and it's certainly easier than struggling with what comes next.
That said, the next stage is me wondering how much I really want to beat these folks to smithereens or somehow give a devastating blow to their ego. That kind of anger is parasitic. That kind of anger is hate. That kind of anger doesn't make me feel better, because it's not exactly just retribution, is it? My anger in part starts in a just fashion, because that is the reaction that injustice, hurt, and sin need to have. This discontent is enough to send me back to just being fuming, or denying it all until the issued gets brought up in conversation, which will then trigger Michael on Fire again.
I then realize that, more than some physical punishment, more than some nauseating voice in my head desires vengeance for a perceived wrong, I want the person to KNOW. I want them to understand, to see in some measure how their actions affected another person's life, what pain they have caused. That's more painful and possibly better than anything I could ever hope to afflict. "Better" meaning "edifying," not "more damaging". It's powerful. Knowledge is power, but it's also, on occasion, immobilizing if there's not hope of mercy.

I started thinking about this, actually, two Sundays ago, with the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's well and good for me to want to be like the good Samaritan and help somebody whom I hate or who hates me if I see them half-dead on the side of the road. How many times does that literally happen? Hopefully not too often. However, it happens all the time on another plane. It's mind-blowing to realize how much hurt there is in this world, to see how much we suffer at the hands of ourselves and other people. How often we are the ones dealing damage! I know that I have been a man who has left at least one girl in a position where she could complain about how I've hurt her. In any case, I figure responding mentally and spiritually with mercy to those who are hurting and who hurt us is a way to be neighbor to another. Those are always necessary. Sometimes physical response is also necessary. I desperately want mercy, so I guess I should start practicing it in any way that is available to me, even if it's in asking for the ability to be merciful, because sometimes it feels so beyond me.

So where does it lead me? Do I know if they'll ever know what they've done? Nope! Do I get justice for their actions? Well, was it ever mine to ask for, anyway? Even if it was, I'm supposedly drinking from a cup full of the blood that's more gracious than that of Abel every Sunday (...well, not really, they don't really offer that species of the Eucharist in Peru these days). Does it leave me in a better place? Yes. And them? can't hurt to have somebody opening themselves to them and hoping for them.

In the end, I still find that humanity, in some huge ways, is in a deplorable and miserable state. It can make my disposition less sunny than Lima in winter (this place is seriously set in a semi-permanent cast of gray misery). I still sometimes wrestle with hating men in particular. There's such a lack of good manhood in the world. However, I feel that being willing to accept where I am and go from there allows me to find a way to channel the anger in a threefold way: 1) look to myself to remove the beam in my eyes before going to remove the splinter in that of my brothers'; 2) fervor in following Jesus to the cross and praying for mercy for the persecutors; 3) passion in helping those who are becoming men become men of the right quality to the best of my ability.

...Though that third part requires that I go to sleep right about now. It's okay, it was about time for me to get off the soap box, in any case.


  1. Michael on Fire would be a great name for this thing when you leave Lima

  2. and this helps out when i'm feeling like the don in the dust:

    "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."- Teddy Roosevelt

    this website might amuse you: