Let’s go back to that mental picture of a busy day in the middle of Times Square, New York City. Can you see it?
Imagine the weather is neither too warm nor too cool, but perfect in either direction. Envision a blue sky. It’s a perfect day in New York City. People are walking around, up and down the streets. Imagine the different faces that pass us.
Some are in business attire. Some people are in casual clothes. Some are in jeans and t-shirts, shorts, or basic clothes, walking, being, doing and moving through the City.
Imagine us as a spectator to all of this. We can see everyone. We notice the tourists and the native New Yorkers. We notice the different expressions, the curious, the happy, the concerned, the serious and the determined. Look around.
There are different faces. Different backgrounds. Different cultures and different people. In fact, there is an entire world in this view, made up of all different cultures and we are part of this too. We are part of the color and the seasoning that makes up the flavor of our world.
See, in my version of this scene, I can imagine the sounds of the City. I can imagine the smell from the food carts. I can almost smell the cart with toasted almonds and coconuts. I can smell the hot dog cart and I can imagine the pretzels and knishes. I can see myself here with a can of soda in one hand, some napkins and any of all the above in the other hand.
I have seen this before. I have sat here, right in the middle of Times Square. I looked around. I looked at all the people who passed by me. Each and every person had their own story. Each and every person had their own version of happiness.
It’s amazing to me. I am simply one thing in a sea of billions. I am one person. I am one version of life among so many. I am a person in this world who has often taken himself way too seriously. I am a person who thought too much but also thought too little.
I offer this as a personal description which comes with an intention to dissolve the plague from our thinking and effectively free us from the burden of self.
I use my love for our City as a perfect analogy for culture freedom. I suppose my love affair started when I was a young man; however, my love and understanding took time.
This took time for me to learn the language so that I could interpret and explain my fascination. Whether my location was Times Square or someplace else in the City, the one thing I always admired were the different people bursting at the seams to be free and be who they are.
I used to believe in the rigidness of manhood. I believed in my rigid views and my rigid thoughts, which were taught to me. Yet, I can recall witnessing people who were unafraid to be who they are, or as they are. And me, all I had was my contempt because I wasn’t nearly as brave.
There was a time when my thought machine was encumbered by a trained bias. I was burdened by my own hate. I was limited by arrogance and ignorance. I say this now, but at the time, I didn’t even know it.
My arrogance was a false pretense or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my arrogance was an attempt at confidence.
But confidence (or self-confidence) is full trust. There’s no fear here. There’s no need to bluff or act. There’s no need to pretend or deflect or have an answer in defense of a question. There’s no reason for a person to protect themselves. But ignorance limits us and so does arrogance.
My hatred was taught but, deep down, I didn’t hate anybody except for myself. My resentments and my discomfort in my own skin was enough to churn the hate tanks in my head. And the war was on. The war was against you, me and everyone else in between. This is what kept me from being free; but more, this is what kept me from being at peace. Instead, I was a soldier in a war that didn’t exist.
My views of race and racism were taught to me. Again, this is not for everyone. My explanation is not an apology. Instead, I use my story as an example.
I was on both sides of hate because I have seen both sides, up close and personal. Yet, I stand here before you in full disclosure. I admit to the nature of my history and the exactness of my wrongs. I admit that the conduits in my mind and the patterns of my thinking that were congested by the emotional cholesterol that clogs the arteries and hardens the heart.
See, I know what hate looks like. I know about anger. I’ve seen it before and I’ll probably see this again. In fact, hate was taught to me in both ways. I was urged that hate and anger were wrong; yet, I was caught in a pattern of personal disgust. I was challenged by my envy.
I say it again, the arteries of my heart were hardened by the plaque of misinformation, arrogance, rage, self-contempt and hatred. Therefore, I admit to this. I openly expose the truth of my history; therefore, I also expose my lessons of the truth.
There was a time when I was in a humble place. I was about to go into a place where I was new. Moreover, I was humbled, afraid and vulnerable. I was living at a facility in a small town in upstate New York. None of this made sense to me. Talking about my feelings with strangers, really?
Were they serious?
This was unlike anything that I would do: to dare or be vulnerable. No way, I would never do this. At least not sober (or without a way to minimize my truth).
I received word that I was about to be moved. I was just settling in, I was finally about to open up but the plans changed and once more, the fears set in.
The day before my departure, I was invited to a room of a man who I knew little about. He was a street bum. He was a wino, a hobo, a man who slept in a boxcar and drank from bottles in brown paper bags. He was a person who knew poverty on a first name basis. But to me, he was a stranger. Better yet, I’m sure that to me, this man was someone who I would have judged or avoided.
He never had a brand new pair of blue jeans. . .
Could you imagine that? Never in his life. Yet, this man whom I knew little about, this person, this human being, was about to show me a kindness and a sign of generosity which to this day, I have never seen matched or been able to duplicate.
He heard that I was about to go to a different facility. I suppose he knew that I didn’t want to go. I was young and wild and wanted to run. I wanted to go back to a life that ends lives, not feeds them. I was still hazy and my mind was scattered.
This man offered me his brand new pair of jeans.
Can you believe that?
He gave them to me. He told me that he never had a pair of new jeans.
Never in his life.
He said that it felt so good to have them that he never put them on. He never took the tags off. He wanted to keep them this way, in perfect condition. He told me how they felt in his hands and what it felt like to touch brand new denim. He told me the jeans smelled the way he always imagined a brand new pair of jeans would smell.
Then this man handed his jeans to me.
He said, “I want you to take them, son.”
I was so wrapped up in my own head. I was wrapped up in misguided beliefs that I could hardly believe what was happening.
He said, “I want you to go wherever it is they tell you to go.”
“Do whatever they tell you to do.”
He told me, “Don’t look back.”
He said, “That life won’t miss you, son.”
“You don’t need to go back to it.”
He knew about “That life.”
He had seen it. He saw the hate. He saw the streets. He saw violence. He saw a life of homelessness. He saw apple orchards and knew what it meant to pick fruit. He did this to buy his wine and sleep out in the street.
I remember this man could hardly speak when he came in; yet, he was cleaned up, sober and alive and giving me the one brand new thing that he received since his time in treatment.
“I never had a brand new pair of jeans before.”
This is what he said while handing me the pants.
“You take them.”
Please understand that I was given more than jeans. He was giving me a feeling. He wanted to give me something to encourage me to choose life.
By the way, this was a man who at one point, all I would notice was the color of his skin. All I would hear was the southern twang in his accent. At one point, I saw race, not humanity.
This was a person who I was trained to believe was different from me. The training was right, he was different.
He was different because he was heroic. He wasn’t afraid. He was different because he was a teacher. He was a mentor, lifesaving as ever, and both brotherly and fatherly to me.
He wasn’t different because of the color of his skin. He was different because this man was unafraid of the boundaries between us. Rather than submit to them, he dared them by showing me a sign of unmatchable kindness which I had never seen before.
I go back to the idea of the thought machine. I refer to the gears and the windings that turn. I refer to the mechanics of our life and the need for moving parts to be lubricated and free. Otherwise, as a machine, we are clunky at best.
But more, I refer to the arteries of the heart and how they can be clogged by hate and resentment.
I can understand that this might not apply to everyone. I can understand that this might not translate to everyone; however, my reason for this page is not without intention.
This was me. This was my version. The blockages and congestion in the emotional arteries of my heart were clogged by the plaque of resentment and anger. My intention here is to show that our blockages and the traps that keep us stuck are a direct result of the sludge that keep our internal windings from spinning free.
I advise that this page is personal to me. However, I urge you to relate. Not compare. I urge you to see within yourself.
What is it that clogs gears in your thought machine?
What holds you back or brings your thoughts back to an unhelpful setting?
Better yet, what would be helpful to set this free?
In my case, one of the most problematic entries of my thinking was based on hate, frustration, shame, envy and fear that somehow, I would never add up.
I am not a person who apologizes for myself. At least not anymore. I don’t need to. I am not a person who preaches by any means. No, I would rather speak face to face and be at ground level.
I’d prefer to keep myself honest and keep my ego from knocking me down.
Besides, I’d rather be free than held captive by the unhelpful thoughts in my mind.
I’ll end this page here. I’ll understand if you choose to go elsewhere afterwards.
But me, I’ll still be here.
Besides, I have more to say.
Tomorrow . . .