The culture of tolerating gun violence

Something has been happening at work recently that is, shall we say, very upsetting to many people.

A person I work with (same department, same shift) threatened another coworker. They had gotten into a fight. The person who is the subject of this post then threatened to retrieve his gun from his car.

This incident happened three weeks ago. We have an HR department, but their only response was to slightly alter Gun Guy’s schedule so that his shift didn’t overlap with the other person’s. In the time since then, Gun Guy was caught stealing a piece of equipment belonging to another person in our department. Although the theft was caught on a workplace security camera, he categorically denied any involvement, and once again, nothing was done.

some comic relief before things get REAL real

Perhaps this is finally the time to talk about my job. I’m a security officer at an art museum, as are all the people involved in this story so far.

I’ve always been bothered by the pro-gun rhetoric within my department. As security officers, we do not carry firearms, unlike many security officers working at other places. Our museum has a policy against firearms and I’m glad that our department is no exception to that rule. Long before I started working here, the security officers did carry firearms. If it is ever decided that we’ll begin carrying again, I will quit.

Back to the story: Gun Guy was a no-call no-show for one of his shifts recently. Finally, we thought, this could be the event that leads to him being let go. I came into work the next day so full of relief that this guy would be gone for good. Security had even disabled his employee badge so he wouldn’t be able to get back into the museum.

He showed up for work that day. He was promptly escorted downstairs to the HR office. My boss and my immediate supervisor were with him. I don’t know what happened in the course of this meeting, but my boss went to it with the intention of firing him.

They came back upstairs not long afterward. Gun Guy left the building. Everyone assumed this was it for him. He was done. I don’t normally root for team Fire That Employee, but I was very much in that camp this time.

Except he wasn’t let go. HR blocked the move. Gun Guy only left because he decided to take a PTO day to “cool off.” He would be back as scheduled the next day.

I don’t know what more has to happen before we start taking gun violence seriously. This includes threats. We’re always told to look for the warning signs. What are they, then, if this doesn’t qualify?

I want to be able to enjoy or at least be content with being at work. It can be difficult even with just the normal everyday conflicts that arise in any workplace. I thought I was reaching a point where I almost felt at peace with my job. Things were looking up, and it’s because I tried working on the way I saw things and interpreted them. I was trying to make an “inner change” because the outward change I was hoping for wasn’t happening.

My stance on guns, “gun rights,” and gun culture at large is one that I doubt will change at any time in the future. I base my views on collected evidence and my personal sense of right vs. wrong. In terms of collected evidence, I will point to some resources with information that I consider to be highly disturbing.

Police Family Violence Fact Sheet

Statistic on Guns in the Home & Safe Storage

Gun Violence in America

A few years ago, I was attacked on the street by a man who then stole my phone. I had just left a friend’s art show at around 9 p.m. and I was walking to my car which was parked up the block. It was so close that it never occurred to me to be concerned for my safety. I’m lucky that the man did not have a gun, given that I learned afterward he was most likely on drugs. The perpetrator was later apprehended in a drug house after a string of similar reported incidents. The day the cops came to my house to have me identify him in a photo lineup was the same day I interviewed for the job I currently have. That’s the last time I was told anything relating to my “case,” as it were.

The attack involved him putting his hand over my face and beating my head against the brick wall of a building. It lasted only a few seconds–he did this three times until he was able to grab my phone out of my hand. I had been on the phone with my mom at the time it happened.

I’m very lucky to have escaped with only the most minor of injuries, totally invisible to everyone but myself. Honestly, my nose hurt worse than my head did. Since it was the back of my head that made contact with the bricks, and I was rocking a pretty fly ponytail at the time, I figure it helped soften the impact.

Not everyone responds to these situations in the same way. I was angry at first, but the anger subsided pretty quickly and was replaced by fear. I was terrified of walking alone at night. This had a considerable impact on my participation in the kind of normal activities people in their mid-twenties typically participate in. I remember a couple of weeks after the incident, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party, which was fine at first, but the planned events for the night involved driving around the city to multiple different locations for food and drinks and dessert. At one point in the night I was going to have to drive to yet another place, this one being pretty popular for ice cream and drinks. It was a weekend night on a strip that is usually pretty crowded at night. I was unable to find any place to park that wasn’t multiple blocks from the location. After driving around and around, hoping that a spot would become available, I gave up and drove home. I texted my friend that I was sorry, but I couldn’t find a nearby parking spot and I wasn’t comfortable walking alone. She was less than pleased. For a number of reasons, we are no longer friends, but the coldness of her response during a time that I could have used some amount of understanding hurt me pretty badly, especially given that I had made the effort to attend all the other events she had planned that evening despite my reservations.

By this point, only weeks after the incident, I felt almost no anger toward the person who attacked me. I couldn’t work up the energy to hate someone who I didn’t even know and who didn’t know me either. It was a random attack and I just happened to be a convenient target. After all was said and done, the only thing I really hated about it was how it made me scared to do normal things.

At the time, I was working at a different art museum on the campus of a Top-20 university. I was a pretty low-level employee at the museum, which meant that I didn’t have access to the closer parking lots reserved for students with parking passes or higher-level employees with their parking passes. The closest parking available was on the street, blocks away from the museum. Walking to my car at night after work was something I just had to deal with. My heart would start racing every time and I dreamt of getting a different job even though I loved that job.

Do you want to know what was more hurtful than the attack and more hurtful than my friend’s lack of understanding? Because the most hurtful thing, without a doubt, was something that first occurred months after the attack. A friend of my parents’, someone I’ve known my entire life and who is one of their closest friends, told me in an accusing, victim-blaming way: “I bet you wish you’d had a gun, huh?”

No, I don’t wish. I didn’t wish then and I certainly don’t wish now. If you’re the type of person who thinks a mugging is sufficient cause to shoot someone, you can stop reading right here, because I promise it won’t get any better for you. 

Not only do I not wish I’d been able to shoot the guy–far from it–I do not wish any harm on him whatsoever. I don’t even know if I think he should be in jail. He needs, or needed, a lot more help than any prison could provide. Whether he deserves to be in prison is another question I’m unqualified to answer. It does not make me happy thinking that he might be in prison right now. Why would that make me happy? Besides, these days I hardly ever think of what happened, and I’m only thinking about it now because what I’m actually pissed about is this fawning, taint-licking attitude toward guns and gun culture that I feel immersed in and unable to escape from due to the nature of my job and the people it puts me in close contact with. 

The comment my parents’ friend made was only the first of many similar comments I was supposed to just sit there and take. None of these people were speaking from their own experience as victims of violent attacks. It’s easy for them to project their insecurities onto me, because they all live safely away from the city and in very well-to-do communities.

Here’s my wish: that the person who mugged me is living his best life. I harbor no ill feelings toward him. Part of me is glad that I never learned his name because it would cause me a lot of pain if I ever searched for him online and found out he was still in trouble in some way. I hope that none of the incidents he involved himself in were any worse than my own. If you get to the point in your life where you’re attacking people and stealing stuff for drug money, I automatically assume you’re doing it out of desperation. Drugs make people do crazy things. I hope he’s clean now and I hope he has a support system. The alternative is too depressing to think about.

Here’s my other wish: that we stop acting like guns are a solution to any problem, real or perceived. I was watching a movie a few months ago, and I guess because it was of Indian origin and production, they go about their ratings/warnings system in a different way than in the U.S. Throughout the film, the main character is shown smoking cigarettes. Any time this occurred, a warning appeared on the bottom of the screen that read “Tobacco/Smoking Kills.” This was the first time I’d experienced in-movie warnings, and while it did “take me out of the movie” so to speak, it got me thinking: I would cut off my pinkie finger right here and right now (to satisfy their bloodlust) if the American film industry was forced to do this, but with guns. I would love to see the glorification of gun violence in film come to an end. No director would want their movie to have warnings contained within their film, so it would force their hand in respect to the message they’re attempting to send about gun violence. Any movie that has a script that condescends to its audience in such a way to make them believe that the use of a gun was a good thing rather than a bad thing would be slapped with an in-movie warning.

Here’s my other other wish: that my coworker gets fired sooner rather than later, and hopefully not “too late.”

Suck on that, NRA.

P.S. The film I watched was Crossing Bridges, directed by Sange Dorjee Thongdok and starring Phuntsu Khrime. Available for free on Amazon Prime.

The Song of Bernadette

Beginning this past summer, my boyfriend and I have spent many nights together watching movies, most of which are new to us while some are old favorites. We go a bit wild whenever the Criterion Collection movies are discounted by 50% at Barnes & Noble. Half-Price Books has also been a great source–up until recently I’ve only ever browsed for books there, but I’ve found some incredible movies there in these past few months. My favorite find so far has been The Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn. I cannot recommend it highly enough. After I first saw it, I believe I said: “This movie makes all of my other favorite movies look like trash.” I’m exaggerating a tad when I say that, but watch the movie if you haven’t and try to tell me it isn’t of a higher order than most movies.

Another movie I found at HPB was The Song of Bernadette starring Jennifer Jones. It has been sitting in our “to watch” pile for too long. Two nights ago we finally put it on. With our opposite schedules, it can be difficult to carve out the time for a movie over two hours long so we tend to save those for our shared days off.

The story of Bernadette Soubirous first entered my consciousness when I was about 8 years old and attending Catholic school. We would attend mass three days each week in the morning before classes began. Each mass would be “run” by students of a different class ranging from grades 1 through 8. We had two classes per grade, so every class of every grade would alternate throughout the year doing the readings during mass, bringing the offertory gifts, and singing in the choir. I was assigned to give a reading on the life of Bernadette Soubirous for what I assume was during the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Being the especially tightly-wound kid that I was, I practiced the reading for days on end until I had it memorized. I didn’t want to have to look down at the paper while I was reading it during mass. I thank my Mom for helping me practice. I have a memory of lying in bed at night, reciting the words from memory while my Mom stood by checking it against a copy of the reading.

Watching The Song of Bernadette caused many of these old memories to come back to me for the first time in a very long time. Most of the movie fell in line with what I remember about her story–the initial visitation, Bernadette’s successive pilgrimages to the grotto, the discovery of a fresh spring when Bernadette dug into the ground using her hands, the request to build a chapel on the holy ground, the revelation that the vision was of the “Immaculate Conception” (a term Bernadette was said to be unfamiliar with)–it was all to be found in the movie along with a vivid portrayal of Bernadette’s family and their struggles with poverty and Bernadette’s own fragile health.

From what I understand, the movie (and the book it’s based on) have embellished certain events for dramatic effect. The “antagonists” in the movie, represented by the prosecutor Dutour (played by Vincent Price) and his cronies, display not simply mere skepticism toward Bernadette’s story, but rather they condemn her outright and aim threats at her that include imprisonment of her and her family.

Hints at a never-to-be romantic relationship between Bernadette and a neighbor boy are included despite having no basis in reality (though they were indeed friends).

The figure in the movie who I found to be of great interest was that of Sister Marie-Therese Vauzou, who in the film is highly suspicious of Bernadette’s visions and whose condemnation of her rivals even that of the prosecutor’s. The film gives Sister Vauzou an incredibly powerful scene toward its end in which she laments her own treatment of Bernadette, recognizing that her skepticism arose from feelings of jealousy (among others). Vauzou, played by Gladys Cooper, is an unforgettable presence throughout the movie. The scene that finds her in church, begging for God’s forgiveness, is particularly moving. Many liberties were taken in this portrayal of her, because in reality she never got beyond her initial skepticism and even opposed Bernadette’s canonization (investigations for which were postponed until after the death of Sister Vauzou).

Despite some of these incongruities, the film is much more than a simple religious propaganda piece. I think it raises a lot of questions about our willingness to believe in certain things and what it is that holds us back from claiming certain beliefs for our own. Do you ever find yourself stuck in this line of thinking? “I don’t believe it, so I won’t believe it.” That sounds simplistic, but it makes me wonder what I’m cutting myself off from in life.

I had an experience once–one that gave me an overwhelming feeling of peace and security–and I knew in my heart that this feeling was coming from God, but because I was a committed non-believer at the time, I was unwilling to accept God as the source of this feeling. Maybe someday I’ll elaborate on the particulars of the experience (and don’t worry! no visions were involved), but today is not that day.

I’ll end this post with three recommendations:
The Song of Bernadette, directed by Henry King and starring Jennifer Jones
The Nun’s Story, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn
Mariette in Ecstasy, a short novel by Ron Hansen

Cynicism and judgment, pt. 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post. In this one, I hope to reflect on some of my past missteps. Read or skim the previous post for context if you choose.

A sense of superiority can manifest itself in many ways:

I’m too good for that job. I’m too good for that position. I’m too good for that program. I’m too good for that school.

I’m too good for that wage. I’m too proud to accept your help. I think too highly of myself to accept or entertain your advice.

I’m above your criticism of me. I can’t and won’t accept constructive criticism from a person who I consider to be beneath me.

I’m smarter than my parents. I’m smarter than my teachers. They can’t teach me anything. I don’t respect them, and I can’t learn from someone I don’t respect.

I want to address and refute these feelings, or variations of them, as they began to develop within the environment of school. If you’re currently a young person enrolled in school, please read this so you can avoid making some of the mistakes I made.

I love my teachers. I remember every single one I’ve ever had, for better or for worse. I am still being taught by them to this day. Even the “bad” ones–but believe me, they weren’t that bad.

The further I advanced in school, the more baggage I carried with me; the more judgments I inflicted on my teachers and professors. As soon as I began to struggle in a class, I always blamed the instructor, rather than myself. I look back and I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself.

I leveled unwarranted criticism at classmates, especially in group critiques. I didn’t care how it made them feel. My own work was certainly not good enough to warrant such confidence. I was too full of myself. It was easier to criticize others than it was to work on and improve upon my own weaknesses.

My instructors fared no better. Of course, I always had teachers I loved so much and who could do no wrong in my eyes. Then there were others. I can’t even easily categorize them–the ones I didn’t like and therefore did not give my respect to. They were all very different, but my response in each situation was usually to act out by doing everything I wasn’t supposed to do while in their class. I would read or draw openly in front of them, basically daring them to make me stop. I put very little effort into my coursework for those classes. This behavior typifies my high school experience. If I liked my teacher, I excelled in their subject. If I disliked them, I didn’t try at all.

Did I think I was punishing them? Probably. It’s not easy trying to teach a smart-ass kid who has written you off completely. They may have felt hurt, insulted, disrespected–you name it. They were grown adults though, and most did an excellent job tempering their responses to difficult situations.

College began in a similar way, but it got better, or at least my attitude improved slightly. This time, I used my dislike for certain professors as fuel for doing well in their classes. I think some of the best marks I received were in classes taught by people I personally detested. All I had learned at this point was how not to torpedo my grades out of spite. I did very well in the classes taught by professors I liked, so there was really no difference in my performance anymore, and I graduated with a fairly high GPA.

If I hadn’t at least made a partial turnaround between high school and college, I wouldn’t have fared very well in the workforce. Just like anyone else, I struggle to work with people who have difficult personalities. I have coworkers who I care for deeply even though they might drive me crazy from time to time. I have other coworkers who I do my best to avoid. I don’t like to initiate conflicts at work–it makes it even more difficult to keep going back day after day. And I need to have a job.

Jobs can be disappointing. I think of school as an opportunity to learn how to function in a workplace. If you don’t learn healthy coping skills, you might end up job-hopping more than you want to. I don’t know of any job that is free of bad bosses or [insert negative adjective of your choice] coworkers. If you hear of one, hit me up!

But I don’t want to stay on the “jobs” subject…that can be saved for yet another post.

I want to talk about school, and how if that’s where you are in life, please remember how lucky you are. Please remember that you’ve made a choice that you didn’t have to make, and you’re paying to be there–with your time and possibly your money. This is not where I’m going to tell you that you are therefore entitled to your criticisms of that school and its teachers; rather, if you’re currently in school and behaving as I did, remember that you’re wasting your time and money until you decide to commit yourself totally in pursuit of your education. You also might be making your professors’ lives hell. Is it worth it? They’ll get over your crappy attitude–there’s always going to be a new kid with an even crappier attitude to deal with. They aren’t going to get hung up on you.

But you will be hung up on them. And your crappy attitude, if left unfixed, will infect everything you do. You might graduate, you might not. You’ll take that crappy attitude into the workplace, like I did, and it’s only going to get worse from there. You’ll be saying to yourself, “I’m too good for this place, I need to get out of here. This isn’t my passion. I deserve something better.”

And maybe you’ll find something better, or at least something different from your last crappy job. But the cycle will keep repeating. Even if you find your dream job, I guarantee there’s going to be aspects of it that will make you look back on all those low-paying part-time jobs you juggled for years and desperately wanted to get out of–and you’ll be longing for those days of less stress and fewer responsibilities and a job you didn’t have to take home with you.

Make a decision now to live in this moment and appreciate it for what it has the potential to teach you. This is a reminder to myself.

About cynicism and hasty judgment, pt. 1

I read a very brief, but nice article the other day–I think in WaPo online, but I’ll have to track it down again before I’m finished writing.

Here it is: The magic that happens when adults see other people’s kids as three-dimensional humans by Braden Bell

I hope you get a chance to read it. It’s lovely and encouraging to read his words–not simply for the advice they offer, but that this person has shared a difficult, daily struggle that is completely worth the effort for the revolutionary effects it can have in the lives of others.

We all have specific and ongoing experiences as children that shape who we are. Sometimes they seem so insignificant that we don’t, even as adults, consciously see them as parts of ourselves that we still carry around with us.

I was raised to always do my best, especially in academics. As the first-born child and only daughter among four children, I appreciate now more than ever the “high standard” my parents set for me to meet. My Mom would often stress the importance of my studies and how fortunate I was that I had a clear road ahead of me to go to college. When a parent is able to instill in their child a sense of feeling fortunate without laying on a guilt-trip in the process, that is the type of parent to be reckoned with. That is the definition of my Mom. She was not able to go to college herself. Only the boys in her (very large) family had that option–if they chose. Her enthusiasm for the very idea that I could (and would) go to college was infectious. I never, ever questioned that I would attend college and graduate. Even while in college and meeting with some obstacles along the way, I never once considered not graduating. I owed it to her and I owed it to myself. My Mom supported and encouraged me in all the ways a child should hope to be supported and encouraged. She certainly put in an obscene amount of time helping me study throughout the years. She was determined and so was I.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share some fond memories from childhood involving my Dad. I remember him reading to me in the evenings and before bedtime. I had certain books I liked best, so we would read and re-read all of my favorites. He had an endless amount of patience for indulging my every whim. I don’t know how many times he had to sit through Fantasia and though he liked to nod off part-way through, he was still there, in the living room, participating by being present. I hear so much today about young(er) parents, dads in particular, who shut themselves off from their family in order to play video games all night or binge-watch shows on Netflix. There are a lot of ways in which parents screw up, but speaking in terms of “screw-ups” that aren’t heinous crimes, video game addiction that results in isolating oneself from one’s spouse and children is surely one of the most pathetic, in my mind. What I want to communicate is that my Dad was the opposite of that, as a parent. He was always present and involved.

My Dad also stressed the importance of academics and excelling in sports. Here is where the linked article above comes into play. My Dad had the habit of drawing comparisons between his children and other people’s. I can’t speak for anything my brothers might have experienced, so I’ll focus solely on my own. I remember from an early age, my Dad saying things to me regularly like: “I bet you’re the smartest kid in your class.” Part of this was very affirming, part of it was very sad. I felt like I was in constant competition with my peers in school. Sometimes I would tell him that Blaise or David was much better and quicker than I was at the timed multiplication tests that stressed me out so much. I was fast too, and I would never miss an answer, but I wasn’t quite as fast as those two. And it was all about how quickly you could complete the tests, which as I said were timed.

My brothers and I had a neighbor kid we liked to hang out with. He was a little on the eccentric side. Only much later after talking with my Mom did I realize that the reason my Dad made denigrating remarks about him (not in front of the boy, but to me and my brothers) was because he acted in a way that seemed “gay.” My Dad didn’t know my classmates well enough to comment on them other than to remind me that I was smarter than them. When it came to our neighbor kids and the kids who played on YMCA sports teams with us, my Dad would often make critical remarks about certain ones–maybe they were the kids who were a bit weird, maybe shy or effeminate, maybe they acted out too much–whatever it was, I always knew his opinions of them.

As an only daughter, it is very powerful to have a Dad who thinks you’re smart, capable, and hard-working, and who reminds you of those things on a frequent basis. But unfortunately these reassurances had to come at the expense of people who were my peers and many who I considered my friends.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was wrong. That, at least, happened before the onset of adulthood. What I wasn’t cured of was my sense of superiority over other people.

To this day, I laugh at work e-mails sent by my supervisors that are riddled with basic errors. There is a horrible part of me that still thinks that anyone in that position doesn’t deserve to have a job if they can’t write a simple e-mail. Just the other day, I took a screenshot of an e-mail I received from one of my superiors and sent it to my boyfriend with the message: “Jason is having a stroke.”

So yeah, I love to make fun of people who can’t write e-mails. And generally speaking, I’ve cut down on my criticisms by a significant degree. I usually justify the teasing I still engage in by only targeting people “above” me in the hierarchy at work, and never telling anyone but my boyfriend. Honestly, I don’t even feel bad about it.

I have plenty of other types of criticism I do regret engaging in. I want to talk about that in my next post. This one is getting a little long.

I just want to bang on the drum all day

Embarrassing factoid about this blog: what got me started writing was a recent job interview in which my performance was something less than stellar. I blundered my way through nearly every answer. It didn’t do much good for my self-esteem. I was beating myself up about it for days afterward.

I opened the “Memo” app on my phone and began typing. All of my horrible thoughts and frustrations spewed forth in what became memo after memo (thanks to the word limit on each). I don’t know what I intended to do with all the garbage I wrote that day, but after sitting with it for a while I decided to start a blog. I’d had time to cool off, but writing about it all brought a lot of other thoughts to the surface that I needed some kind of outlet for. I still haven’t told anyone in my life about what I’m doing here. So far I’m enjoying the idea of writing for no one. I received a few e-mails notifying me that a handful of people have liked one of my posts, but for now this blog still retains that anonymous quality that makes me feel like I can say whatever I want without worrying about alienating people I know personally.

For instance, I think about God a lot, but I don’t feel comfortable inflicting my views on my friends or family.

Perhaps someday when I’ve built up some confidence, I’ll share this with people I know. The secrecy has allowed me to be more open than I probably would’ve been otherwise. I feel like it was good for me to begin that way. In real life, I have one major social media account that I use to connect with my friends and my family, and I don’t like for it to center around my problems. In that world, no one knows that I failed to get a job that I thought I wanted, or that my car hasn’t been running for a week now, or that I’m having problems at work. I don’t like focusing on stuff that might make people feel bad because I’m demanding that they feel bad for me.

Because I still feel lucky. I have a full-time job with benefits. I love my boyfriend and he loves me. I don’t make a lot of money, but I get by. The nature of my job allows me time to pursue many of my interests. To briefly digress, those things include but are not limited to: books, movies, art, crafting, music, Russia, Russia, Russia. Russian literature and Soviet-era films give me life right now. I’ve started trying to teach myself Russian. One reason I began looking for a new job was because my hours here are terrible and the only Russian language classes I’ve found in the area happen at night when I’m working. There was a class I was hoping I could get into that started in January; unfortunately my work schedule would not allow for that. I began using my desire to learn Russian in a structured environment as motivation for applying to new jobs. And I got an interview.

And I blew it! But it’s okay. A strange thing happened afterward: I received a very polite e-mail informing me that I did not get the job. That’s not the strange part–it was very much expected. A few days later, they e-mailed me asking if I would be willing to come in and help them complete a big job. I went in, and it was fine, and I’m supposed to go in again tomorrow. Now I’m on their payroll as a part-time employee. The thing is, I have no desire for a part-time job. I did the “juggling multiple part-time jobs” thing for a while, but gave it up soon after getting a full-time job. It simply was not worth it to me anymore. I was intrigued by this new opportunity though–it seemed to me like a risk-free paid trial at a job I thought I wanted, but didn’t get. Kind of like a look at what could’ve been. And it was only just fine. I do realize that my current struggle to find transportation to both of these jobs is having a slight impact on my potential enjoyment of the new one, but it seemed worth the trouble to find out what I had missed out on. I liked the work well enough. It’s not exactly personally enriching, but the day went by very quickly and it’s the kind of job where you work with your hands using a variety of materials not unlike those found in an art studio. My background and my degree is in studio art, so this was appealing.

But aside from the better hours and the tasks that are suited to my skill set, I didn’t exactly make a love connection with the new job. I also didn’t get a single break, so…YEAH.

I am going to try to enjoy the freedom I have at my current full-time job while I still have it. Maybe I’ll get into specifics in the future, like what it is that I actually do, but for now I am trying to retain this veneer of anonymity. For this post, it doesn’t matter what it is that I do. For future posts, it might be necessary to talk about it in depth in order for any of this to make sense. All I will say right now is that my job is just about the furthest thing from a passion project as I could possibly get.

On a scale of things I like to things I don’t like, my job ($) looks like this:

Things I like……Things I don’t care about….$…Things I actively hate

The dollar sign represents that I’m only in it to get paid.

Hitler isn’t in hell, but I am.

The title of this blog post is not supposed to be provocative. It’s something that came up in counseling while talking about self-forgiveness. Thinking about those words from time to time since then has been helpful to me because they’ve been keeping in check my tendency toward self-flagellation. I have a bad part of my brain that thinks I deserve all the worst things in the world and that in the afterlife I only deserve the harshest judgment from God. I don’t even know how to accurately or objectively assess my own moral standing, if that makes sense. I don’t know whether I’m a good person or a bad person. I guess I think I’m a pretty bad person. I’m a bad person because I think bad thoughts. Even when I was questioning the existence of God, I was sure that my thoughts were going to send me to Hell. And I didn’t even believe in it, really.

The thing is though, that when I articulate these thoughts about myself to my counselor, I begin to see what’s wrong with them.

I often categorize myself as “not a superstitious person”. People who don’t believe in God may scoff at that, because belief in anything that isn’t tangible is sometimes relegated to the realm of superstition. I do believe my faith suffers when I approach it from a superstitious angle. Let me try to illustrate what that looks like, in my experience:

I think a particularly abhorrent thought, therefore I will go to Hell.

I consume media that has no redeeming qualities and is morally bankrupt, therefore I will go to Hell.

My actions are not a reflection of my thoughts, therefore I am a hypocrite and I am going to Hell.

Basically I have created a way in which even my good actions will send me to Hell because I’m not being true to my bad thoughts. I think of any good actions as a way to make amends for my bad thoughts, but even that isn’t enough to escape Hell because God knows what my thoughts actually are.

I’m trying to accept that this is B.S., but it’s like I have to rewire my brain for that to happen.

I’ve gone on long enough about this, so let’s get back to Hitler.

My counselor asked me if Hitler was in Hell. I think he knew what I would say before I even responded, probably before the question was even a thought in his head. You don’t counsel someone for months without getting a sense that you’re talking to the kind of person who thinks there’s a good chance Hitler might not be in Hell. I am one of those people and maybe I’m very obvious about that, despite never having talked about it before because frankly the topic is done to death.

Why wouldn’t Hitler be in Hell? So many reasons, each of which is as improbable as the next, but it’s what I believe, so let’s get typing:

  • None of us can truly know what goes on inside another person, even the people closest to us.
  • None of us can know if, or to what extent, another person has sought forgiveness for their sins.
  • We pray for the release of all souls in purgatory in order that they may go to Heaven. If Hitler was able to escape eternal suffering in the afterlife, there’s a chance he could be in Heaven right now. I don’t know, I’m just typing insane things. Bear with me.
  • No matter how evil and destructive a person is on earth, it is not up to me to make a judgment that is reserved for God alone to make (this ties in to why capital punishment is also wrong, again, for so many reasons, but having the hubris to act like God is surely a great sin).

I can make every excuse in the book for why Hitler might not be in Hell. But I can’t make the same excuses for myself. Why? Well, I’ve had a pretty nice life. I was brought up well. I have great parents. They did a good job instilling a sense of right vs. wrong in their children, and I credit my Mom with adding empathy into the whole equation. Without empathy, the entire effort would’ve been pointless.

At this point, anything I do that is evil or destructive is entirely my own fault. That is why I think even the littlest things could send me to Hell.

At the end of that counseling session, as I was walking out the door, I said, “Hitler isn’t in Hell, but I am.” And it made me laugh. So now I like to say it in my head, all the time, and especially when I need to add some perspective to my bouts of self-judgment.

My counselor told me that he questions the existence of Hell because of what that says about the God who would create Hell. I do agree with that. I can’t say that I believe in Hell either, because to me it only surfaces as a concept when I’m approaching my faith in the most superstitious manner possible. My thoughts about Hell are indicative of the worst parts of my faith that I would like to challenge and hopefully dispose of. A person should not believe in Hell. A person of faith should believe in God. I only believe in Hell when I want to punish myself.

Self-forgiveness is the theme of this post.

Lessons from counseling

I’ve been seeing a counselor since July. I find it very helpful though I still have times when I’m not as talkative as I’d like to be. Of course, when I get home after a session like that, I can think of a dozen things I wish I had said. I’m probably not the most verbose patient even on a normal day, so when I’m having the type of day where I struggle with talking, I worry that I come across as brain dead. It’s possible that waking up earlier would help, to give myself time to do more than “get ready.” My appointments are at noon so I usually wake up at 11:00 a.m. and leave at 11:45. I reach peak talkativeness at around midnight when my shift at work ends. If my counseling sessions happened at 12:15 at night, I’d probably overstay my welcome every time.

I’ve been to counseling in the past at various times. The first time was during my parents’ separation so I must have been about 13 years old. It’s possible I’m not remembering that correctly, but I remember why we were there. I remember one session that included my brothers and I think another that included the whole family. I don’t recall if we went multiple times or not.

I do remember not knowing what to say. I needed and still need a lot of prompting. It’s hard for me to effortlessly carry on a conversation. I had doubts about returning to counseling this time around for that exact reason, but I think it’s going just fine.

About a month ago, my counselor was asking me questions about my family and what our relationship is like. I can’t recall how the subject came up. I didn’t re-enter counseling due to any kind of family issue, so it’s not a subject I tend to talk about very much unless it’s just casual stuff. Sometimes I talk about my brothers and my parents and what they’re up to, but again, just casual stuff.

I think my counselor was trying to get a handle on what my relationship was like with my parents. We somehow got on the subject of my Dad. I told him that I have a good relationship with my Dad, though it was not always that way, particularly after my parents separated. I told him about some of the guilt I still have about the way I treated my Dad back then, for example, when I would refuse to visit him at his new place. I had also screamed and yelled at him in anger more than once and acted in a way that was almost certainly hurtful to him. I’m sure it was hurtful because I intended for it to be hurtful because I wanted to punish him. My counselor asked me if I had ever told my Dad how I felt today about these things that happened back then. I started laughing at the thought of how terribly awkward and uncomfortable that would be. I said maybe I would, eventually. I have this image in my head of a situation that happens years from now in which my Dad is on his deathbed and I give him a handwritten letter explaining how I feel.

It’s good to write this out, because I can see immediately how ridiculous that is. It’s ridiculous to first of all carry around this assumption that my Dad will live for (x) amount of time and that we will all definitely have a clear idea of when the end is near and we’ll be able to prepare for it. That is a fantasy. It’s ridiculous to think that I have information that he might want to hear and I’m withholding it out of embarrassment, or fear, or something I can’t put a name to. There are a lot of ridiculous things about the whole scenario, but those two aspects of it strike me as being the most shameful.

It also might be ridiculous to assume that any of it would have any great meaning for him. I don’t actually know that it would. It might just be an assumption borne out of watching too many movies.

One good thing about Now vs. Then is that Nowadays I tell my Dad I love him a lot more often. Before we hang up the phone I make sure to tell him “I love you.” We hug more often than we used to. My brothers have told me that they don’t do this, and that’s fine. I think at some point I just decided that I was going to try treating my Dad the same way I treat my Mom when it comes to affection. With my Mom, it has always been easy to say “I love you” and to give hugs. So at least I had something to start with.