I've never been in a fight, but I have been beaten. 7th Grade When I was in 7th grade, I was standing in the courtyard outside school in downtown Tampa with all the other kids waiting for school to open. My friends and I were bused in from the suburbs about 45 minutes into the inner city. The buses dropped us off early before the class started, so we all had to wait out there in a massive group. Hundreds of us. I was standing there holding my school bag with books in it. I had a duffel bag style thing, not a backpack. A couple of kids were running around, chasing each other. Just being silly. One of them, a local kid, weaved through the crowd and accidentally kicked my bag. He didn't see it and it hit his shin pretty hard. He stopped on a dime, turned to face me, and closed-fist punched me in the jaw. Then he took off running and laughing again with his friends. 6th Grade A year earlier, I was on the bus on the way home from school. 45 minute ride from Tampa back to the burbs. A tough kid, sort of a rocker kind of guy, was sitting next to me on the bus. I only kind of knew him. Same social circle, but we weren't friends. One of us sort of accidentally bumped the other with his elbow. And it was kind of a funny accident. Like the elbow to the ribs "haha that was a funny joke" thing that dorky dads do. The other retaliated with the same elbow move and laughed. It was funny. It went back and forth like that, harder and harder. Then instead of elbowing him, I raised my hand and sort of slapped his face. Kids would slap fight all the time. And I thought it would be funny. Because sometimes I'm an idiot. He stood up and punched me in the face. He pushed me into the aisle. I fell onto my back. He stood over me and started kicking me in the ribs. Over and over. Then his finishing move was, he stomped my face. I was bloody and bruised. I don't remember how the fight broke up, but I remember the bus got to my street and I got off with my friends. There was no fight. Just one guy beating up another guy. And when I got home I looked in the mirror to check out my bloody mouth. There was a crystal clear impression of the tread from his Vans sneakers across my cheekbone. You could even see the "Vans" lettering. Since then To this day, I've never punched someone in the face. Does that make me a pacifist? Or maybe a wimp. Is it unusual? It seems like every guy has been in a real fight at least once in their life. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I want to fight someone. Fighting certainly isn't smart or right. But I do look back and kind of wish I stood up for myself more. Though I don't know what good it would have done or what kind of person I would have become. I guess I turned out okay.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the hunger and suffering in this world of true abundance. We have, in this country, an obesity epidemic. In essence, people consume more calories than they burn off. I doubt anyone would argue, but if you don't believe me, spend a few minutes in any Wal Mart and count the bloated bellies. Meanwhile, others starve. The homeless, the poor, the forgotten millions in third-world countries. Clearly, there is enough food to go around. It's just that not everyone gets to have it. Our country is built on personal responsibility. You want food, work for it. And I wouldn't argue that. But there's also an apparent selfishness seeing a portly person strut by a homeless man literally starving to death in the street. Unfortunately, I don't have a solution for you. Wealth and abundance helps you set up your family for future success. Earning money is good for your kids' college funds. Driving a safe car is probably a good idea. Who could argue buying a comfortable house so your family won't have to worry about having heat in the winter? Still, there's setting yourself up for success and then there's excess. I'm not a religious person by any stretch, but I am reminded of this quote from the Bible: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." I've also been thumbing through the Bhagavad Gita lately and there are similar themes. "Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to selfless service... Those who seek to enjoy the fruits of their work are, in reality, unhappy." Something the Bhagavad Gita advises, which I find interesting, is to give only to the deserving. Basically, do not take more than you need, but do not give the excess away frivolously. Hold on to that excess until you find someone who needs and deserves it. I'm not saying I follow this advice (yet), but the idea is admirable. What to do next? Where do we go from here? How can we help the people who need and deserve it, while hopefully spreading the idea of selflessness?
In high school, I became enamored with Jack Kerouac's books and the idea of experiencing suffering as a beautiful part of life. He wrote about giving up his worldly possessions, sharing with others what little money he did make, living out of boxcars and drinking cheap blackberry wine when he could find it. I was a comfortable suburban kid. Nothing to be ashamed of. But I wanted to see what I was made of. Could I experience some minor suffering and see the joy in it? Life is hard. Suffering is part of life. But when you take a step back, there's beauty in all of it. That's the idea anyway. So I stopped sleeping in my bed. I'd roll out a thin blanket on the floor and sleep there every night. I was 17 or 18 at the time. I did this for months. And occasionally I fasted. For a day or two at a time. I was really good at it. I'd only drink water. No food. And a glass of juice once a day for energy. I started getting into tattoos. Nothing crazy. Nothing that would be seen in a job interview. But I've spent probably 12 hours total under the needle. That's the kind of pain you remember for a while. I learned a lot about myself. I learned my physical limits. And I did see beauty through the pain. I think there's a lot to say for testing oneself. Forcing yourself to find time to work out. Putting in extra effort at the office. Eating healthy, even when you want something else. Facing your fears. Test yourself (in a safe way) from time to time. It can really help bring things into focus. There's a cliche that goes something like "without evil, there would be no good". You could take it to mean that without pain, there would be no pleasure. But I think there's another way to look at it. There is always both. The only reason it's fair to say "life is suffering" is because life is truly everything. Life IS. Might as well live it.
Every day on the train ride to work, I look out the window as we pass through north Philadelphia. It's a rough part of town with neighborhoods in disrepair. And I notice that some of the sidewalks are nearly entirely covered in garbage. Not bags of garbage; individual pieces. Cigarette boxes, styrofoam coffee cups, fast food bags, etc. The problem isn't totally rampant though. It's just a few streets. There seems to be a tipping point where people on that street decide it's a lost cause and just stop trying. It almost looks like a virus that infects the neighborhood block by block. In some of the worst cases, the sidewalk littering seems to have spread into individual houses where garbage is now spilling out from the garage or from the windows. Hoarders perhaps. Where I live, the streets are clean. But it requires effort. My house is across the street from a suburban outdoor basketball court. Teenagers park their cars in front of my house and spend a couple hours with their friends playing ball then head out. And a number of them throw their empty Gatorade bottles and McDonald's bags in my yard or in the street. It's baffling, to tell you the truth. But we pick it up and throw it out. I don't want to just leave it there. It sucks. It really really sucks. But we clean it up and grumble about it, then get over it. What I can't imagine is simply leaving it there. Or even worse, contributing to it. This is our world. You are my neighbors. We're all in this together, people.
[caption id="attachment_1992" align="alignright" width="150"] Follow dreams[/caption]I see some of you are unsubscribing en masse. I know the tone has shifted pretty dramatically over here. I welcome your unsubscribes. I totally get it. But I also welcome you to challenge my thinking on any of this stuff. I'm still trying to figure it all out. Let me know where my thinking is off base. Or tell me I'm right. Or ignore me. It's all good. And follow your dreams.