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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

People Change: This is a Fact

The politician decides to run for office. He hasn't given any speeches recently and yet, ten years ago, something he said was caught on camera and posted to some social media site. Something said, off-the-cuff, and yet, his opponent's dirt diggers will make him pay dearly for it. The politician had forgotten about it and would be embarrassed about the statement, had he found it first. 

A gentleman marries a woman. She hates kids. He has a career that he deeply loves. They have children. She makes him take care of their every need and forces him to leave his career for one that makes more money. He's smart and capable and does well in his new career. Their marriage changes. They fall deeply in love. She learns to love her children. They are happy.

Yet, some of their friends from years back remember them from their days at the beginning of their marriage. The friends bring them up in casual conversation, telling stories of the woman who didn't love kids, worrying about the husband, being forced to change careers, and even mocking them behind their backs.

These stories are simply an example of how humanity assumes that people never change. If they get to know a person and then move on, the way they saw that person during those moments they spent with them is stuck in their minds in perpetuity. The human mind sees this as fair. After all, your assessment was very fair when you had contact with the individuals.

But people change. And they can change very quickly.

My wife and I have been married for nearly twelve-and-a-half years. We began marriage as a very happy couple. We fought a lot. We believed in God. We were deeply religious. We didn't believe in birth control. We believed that sex inside of government-sanctioned marriage was the only allowable sex. We thought that we could never have friends of the opposite sex, in any and all capacities, while married to each other.  We wanted to home school our children. The list goes on.

As the years went by, we began to change. From the outside looking it, our life looked like a series of irrational spontaneity. One week, we would be home schooling. Then, the next, all of our kids were enrolled in the local school and we left the church we were nominally attending, asking to be removed from the membership rolls.

One day, we would be driving a few old beater cars, then the next weekend, we would have two later model cars, gleaming in the burning sun, in our driveway.

The reality was that Kristine and I would, every so often, get so tired of our complacent existence, that we would stay up for 72 hours, discussing our life and considering change - then acting on it.  What seemed rash to those on the outside was actually a very carefully constructed choreograph of life on the inside. Sure, we had to experience various things within that dance in order to continue making wise decisions, but we were willing to take that risk.

I grew up with an old friend. He was three times my age and still looks to be that way. Life has hit him hard. As a young lad, I was a very interesting character. I was funny and rash.  I was the always getting into trouble and those who knew me got used to rolling their eyes and dismissing me by saying, "That's just Joe."

This was funny at the time and I learned to enjoy it. But, as life moved on, I married and had six wonderful children. I bought a house, started a new career, loved my wife, tolerated my kids, and watched as my bride went through college to start her own career. 

I had matured.

And yet, this old gentleman would come to my house, hear a few things about my life, and say, "That's just Joe." I found it to be humiliating. Dismissive of my capabilities to make good decisions. Hell, I wanted to be recognized as an adult, but was still treated like the child I used to be and act like. I had arrived in my own life, but this gentleman refused to recognize it. Worse, he was only the tip of the iceberg.

This affected me greatly and finally, Kristine had had enough. She confronted the old guy and told him that I was a different person now. He was shocked. And his shock surprised me, until I realized that humans who don't have ample interactions with other human beings, tend to see those people as who they used to be - forever. This wasn't this guy's fault.

People change. Some change very slowly. Others change quickly. Some, of course, not at all, but they grow wrinkles, so they've still changed. Before you spread the old news about them, get to know their new selves.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Highway in the Distance

On April 28, 2012, I wrote about the mournful wail of the train horn.
I remember those nights when I was young.  I would be laying in my bed, thinking of whatever I was thinking of, feeling the soft summer breeze come through the window of my bedroom, lightly flapping the curtains.  Then, without fail, off in the distance, I would hear that mournful wail.  It would start low and last a long time.  Then, it would increase in volume and pitch.  As the train came nearer to our house, the loud sounds of metal on metal would fill the neighborhood, the horn would let out one last distant wail and then break free of it's yonder bonds as the train crossed the bridge over my front street.  The sound of the horn would wash over the whole house, shaking it to it's crumbling foundation.  Then, the pitch would lower and continue on into the distance, leaving only the clackety-clack of the wheels to lull me to sleep.
While I still remember that sound fondly and love the fact that I now live just three blocks from a frequented train track, there is another sound that hearkens my thoughts back to me resting in my bunk bed at night, lost in thought, dreaming about the beautiful Jolene who I was meant to marry, but didn't.

A mile from our front door, Interstate 35W wound it's way through the industrial areas of Northeast Minneapolis, snaking around the East and West Banks of the University of Minnesota. Thousands of cars, per day, would travel that stretch of highway. But I mostly remember the high pitched sound of the 18-wheeler.

For anyone who has been following Incongruous Circumspection since it began in February, 2012, you know I had a tough childhood, filled with abuse. But, having a mother with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, we also had many exciting adventures. The happy times were punctuated by being miserable. And the worst part was, you never knew when those punctuations were going to happen. Stress would build and then stay at a marginally high level until the bad happened, then it would reduce and begin the cycle all over again.

The sound of the truck tires would take my mind and carry me with them. I would imagine that I was traveling with the truck, off to some mysterious and exciting land somewhere. Anywhere but where I was. 

That sound follows me everywhere. I hear it when I'm camping, when I'm in a hotel, when I'm riding the ski lift at Lutsen Mountains in Lutsen, MN, about to slide down the Alpine Slide. And when I don't hear it, I see the world as quiet and peaceful.

Wherever I am at that moment, I rest.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fighting the Doctrine of Worthlessness

Let's toss out the Bible. I've lost a bunch of you. That's okay, I know you'll keep reading in order to strengthen your beliefs, so I'll just hope that my words "won't come back void." Yep...two can play at this game.

You've heard it said, "A little leaven leavens (or leaveneth for you KJV types keeping score) the whole lump." This phrase comes from the Apostle Paul, encouraging the new Christian church to dump those that were naughty. Kick them out. Excommunicate them, if you will. The idea was that the naughty member would, in time, permeate the rest of the church, making them all naughty.

As the centuries passed, theologians and preachers have used that phrase to preach "The Gospel," claiming that one sin makes everyone naughty. If you have one naughty thought (like: I think 32 miles per hour is okay in a 30 miles per hour zone (or whatever that translates to in kilometers per...what's the metric equivalent to an hour?..), no matter how limited in wickedness, you're damned.

Thus, many a child grows up, seeing themselves as worthless...hopeless...even dirty. Even when they are "saved," these individuals are constantly reminded of their utter inability to be good. They must rely on someone outside of themselves to keep them on the straight and narrow. One untoward thought. One look in the direction of beauty. Anything that might be construed as sin by centuries, nay, millennia of evolved religious-based morality, will incur the wrath of God. Some believe even hell fire, no matter if they were "saved" or not.

Let's turn it around with this simple concept: Instead of a little bit of naughty makes a whole naughty person, wiping out their goodness, why can't we just admit that a whole lot of goodness forgives a little bit of naughty. Let's face it: Most of humanity is good, minding their own business, doing whatever they can to help those they are responsible for and even those they aren't.

Finally, let's face this truth: A man or woman in isolation, that man being the entire makeup of a society, can never commit a crime, can never sin, and is never naughty. Unless, of course, you superimpose on that society, a sort of god-like person, watching your every movement, just waiting to punish you for the smallest of infractions, which nobody would ever come up with something so asinine...oh wait...