In January I did a 3 week cleanse which involved giving up sugar, gluten, caffeine, dairy, and alcohol. Since I’ve been sober 1046 days the alcohol part wasn’t much of a change. The rest was more difficult. Still, I made it through the 21 days and lost 10 pounds. A few weeks later I started working with a personal trainer at Primal Conditioning. I have been working out with her twice a week since then.
It has got me thinking about the word “strength.” It’s a word that can be used in so many different contexts. I am working out with weights because I want my muscles to get stronger. This will increase my metabolism, and hopefully prevent injuries at work transferring people. I’ve made slow steady progress; it would be faster if my diet was better.
The reason my diet sucks is because I don’t know how to cook. I mean, I can read, which means I can read a recipe and sort of follow the directions, but there is more to cooking than that. I have a hard time understanding a lot of the directions, since they aren’t really written in the extreme concrete way my mind needs. For example, how small are the pieces when they say “diced?” What does “season to taste” mean? How can you know how much seasoning you will like until you taste it, and how can you taste it before you’ve finished cooking it? Which setting on my electric stove is “low heat” and which one is “medium heat?” Most people who have tried to teach me to cook are good enough at it that they can just eye ball and estimate things, and have a hard time when I ask for everything to be exactly measured. Or they say “use a package” of something and when I go to the store there are three different sized packages.
Cooking is a dumb thing to be afraid of in the grand scheme of things, but when I think about it, the greater percentage of fears are irrational; if only because they involve thinking you know what the future will bring when you don’t. Knowing that you’re being irrational doesn’t tend to stop you from being afraid. Doing something anyway when you’re afraid to do it is another kind of strength. It’s kind of funny when I think about it, some of the fears I have faced, and I’m still avoiding the whole cooking thing. If I want to fulfill my goal of being healthier though, it’s the next thing to face.
Strength is also standing up for what you believe when it’s not the popular opinion. 50 presumably gay people were killed in Orlando a few weeks ago. I say presumably because being in a gay club doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gay. Stereotyping people is the whole problem. There are some people who are in my gay circle of online friends who turned around and made a bunch of angry stereotypical comments about Muslims after the shooting. When I pointed out that they were engaging in the same kind of behavior we as gay people have been asking the straight world not to engage in for years, people were annoyed with me and pointed out ways in which it was “different.” Here is what I think: Strength does not lie in getting revenge. Or even getting justice, which is just the more socially acceptable word. It doesn’t lie in shooting all of the people who have been defined as “the bad guys” or building some ridiculous wall around the country to keep them from getting in.
I saw Sweet Honey in the Rock perform a few weeks after 9/11, and they had written a song in response to it about peace. To introduce the song, Ysaye Barnwell, one of the strongest women I have ever met, said to the audience: “What if we had responded to that with love?” I was sitting there thinking that it was one of the most brilliant things I’d ever heard, and the woman next to me snorted and said: “How can you respond with love to people who are willing to die to show you how much they hate you?” I didn’t say anything to her, but I was thinking: “How can you not?” It’s the people who are that angry, which really means they are that scared, who need our love and compassion the most. Whether their reasons for hating us are reality-based or not (and I think a lot more of it is reality-based than the George W. Bushes and the Donald Trumps would lead us to believe), it’s still they way they feel. Think about that that lady said: “People who are willing to die to how you how much they hate you.” What cure is there for that but love and compassion?
Strength is embracing, forgiving, and loving the person who is showing you that they hate you, whether you choose to define them as your enemy or not, and it takes just as much strength if you are the person who is that angry, and underneath that, that scared, and if someone responds to you with love, to accept that love. Being a child of the 80’s I grew up with Dr. Seuss’s “Bread and Butter Battle” question always in the back of my mind: Who will drop the bomb first? Even though everyone knows that we’d all end up incinerated no matter who started it? All the powers that be have been measuring our country’s strength by who has the most money, the most power, the tallest buildings, the most weapons…basically the biggest dick, if we are being honest. What none of them seem to realize is that power and strength are actually opposites.
Earlier today in my writing group I wrote about some things from the past about which I still have a lot of old feelings of shame and doubt and anger. I steeled myself for people’s responses. I didn’t think they would come out and say I was an idiot for doing those things, or writing about them. Or that I was a bad person. But I was afraid I would see it in their eyes. I was shocked when I was told that I was brave, wise, and strong, and that my compassion for my family came through in my writing. Holy shit. It got me thinking about how ingrained early childhood messages are and how damned hard it is to get them out of your head, and to stop expecting to hear them from other people. If I haven’t completely mastered that after years of therapy, how can I expect a suicide bomber who has been indoctrinated from infancy (and probably has no access to therapy) to do it? That person isn’t going to respond to me with love unless I provide an example. If I demonstrate my strength by laying down my sword and shield and showing that person my heart, offering them love and compassion, maybe he or she will learn.
I might not ever be able to do more than one push-up, but I can, without minimizing the suffering of the victims and their right to their own healing process, tell the Omar Mateens of the world: I see your pain and fear. I love you. I forgive you.