New around here? Welcome to Reflections, my weekly love letter and missive to all the comrades at The Way of the River. Put your feet up, grab some warm beverage, and have a read!
Sometimes we take on what it not ours. At least, I do.
In my case, what I take on are my perceived, imagined, or assumed judgments of other people. I start to believe that my friends aren’t really my friends, that they don’t respect or really like me. Or that I’m unlovable, and people only hang around me out of pity. Or perhaps they only hang around because I am useful to them in some way.
The thing is, my perception or assumption of what strangers think or believe is not my business. Unless they make it my business by creating some kind of asshattery or saying something awful. Which happens. “Maybe if you walked the whole way to the corner, you wouldn’t be so goddam fat,” a woman yelled at me. To be fair, I was crossing in the middle of the street in stopped traffic, and she was startled. Nevertheless, what did that have to do with my fatness. Nothing. Not a thing.
As soon as she made her position clear, then it became my business. As James Baldwin said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” And getting all up in my face about being fat is one way of denying my full humanity in its worth, dignity, and being just one variation of human shapes and sizes. And getting all up in my face about being fat was certainly rooted in oppression. Bah.
So she made it my business. I told her that it sounded like she was having a really bad day and I hoped it improved, after which I turned my back and walked the rest of the way across the street.
There are other instances of fatmisia (Fatmisia is like “fat phobia,” but not implying any kind of mental illness; straight-up hating fat. It’s certainly also related to being terrified of becoming fat, but not a diagnosable phobia.) I could tell you all kinds of stories that some of you have heard before. The six year-old boy in the elevator with his mom and younger sibling in the stroller: “You are SO FAT.” Or the fellow college students just behind me in line: “Beached whales like that don’t deserve to live.” And the endless conversations with people who are worried about me (see Running from Death and the Mystery of Health on my blog) and my dying young. I may indeed die younger than many of my peers, but as the hymn says, “Tell them I said yes to life.” I say yes to life, love, and hope as much as I can.
The point is that strangers’ opinions are not my business until they make them my business. My friends and family’s opinions, same. But speculation, wondering, rehearsing, feeling as though I always need the other shoe of rejection to drop—that is none of my business.
What do I mean, none of my business?
I mean that people think all kinds of things all the time. I think terrible things, not just about myself, but about other people. All the time, things flash through my mind, you know, just fleeting, awful thoughts or even my favorite sin, gossip.
When something is said aloud, or acted upon, or legislated, then it might be my business.
But there’s my business, your/their business, and the business only the Divine can take care of, if anyone can. I want to keep my side of the street tidy. (Something about me needs to be tidy!) And tidiness, in this context, means paying attention to what is mine to control, consequences that are mine to experience and notice and learn from, reparations I may need to make. Those ARE my business.
So when I’m worried about my friends and whether or not I’m lovable, I screw up my courage, and ask someone, usually my lovely wife, who points out that the data is demonstrably NOT in favor of the hypothesis that I am unlovable and cannot have real friends. Friends have thrown us a wedding. A friend, upon hearing I was in deep depression, worked his social worker powers, and found me a therapist I saw for nine years. A friend who drove 4 hours one way for the second time in a week, just to visit me in the hospital. The lovers who have shared their time, thoughts, interior landscapes, and bodies with me. Friendly acquaintances. And dear, dear friends. Our relationships make their opinions more my business, but it’s on me to check in to find out what they are.
And some things, some bigger things—politics, legislation, national and international affairs—those things I cannot control, but I can participate in. I can learn how to call the offices of officials I have helped elect. Hell, I can vote at all. If the run-offs in Georgia teach us anything, it’s that every vote counts (and that Black women keep pulling our collective asses out of the fire, thank you Stacy Abrams), even if we see that vote as damage control, more than anything else.
And finally, there are the things that I cannot control or handle at all. Things around which I have been clenching my hands into fists until the points of the sharp, evil thing I want to be different have cut into my skin and I am bleeding and yet refusing to let go.
These things are the things I put on the altar of Surrender. I do a “trust fall” with the Divine, and I just try to believe that the Universe has more in it that may be dreamt in my philosophy. I pray. I imagine climbing onto the lap of the Goddess, staining her robe with my blood and knowing She doesn’t mind. And I try to lay the pointy thing—my ability to eradicate racist violence (or racism altogether, shall we?) all in one blow; for people to stop hating on me just because I’m a different shape, size, and physical condition than they are; for other people’s judgmental thoughts at all, my desire to punish the people who vandalized my hometown congregation’s building. These things I lay in the lap of the Goddess, I feel Her radiance, Her healing touch, and I can return to the rest of my life, having thanked Her for taking care of what I cannot.
I have a post-it next to my computer monitor. It’s a quotation from a Dragontree planner (I didn’t find the planner helpful, though many of you might, now I think on it…) and it says, “Forgive yourself / for everything / every day.”
Whoa. What?! Yes. Forgive yourself for everything every day. It doesn’t mean forget. It doesn’t mean don’t make amends. It doesn’t mean to abandon working on your shit, feeling consequences or taking responsibility.
It means don’t carry what Emerson called the “absurdities” of the day from one morning to the next. Can you do that? I’m trying to. Let’s do it together.
Love you always—
PS – I have spots available in my “Spirit Groups,” or as I originally called them, my spiritual deepening groups. Think you’d like an inexpensive way to experience spiritual companionship? Think being with other, like-hearted folks might be good for you. Just a place to lay your burdens down? Email me by replying to this note, and we’ll make a time to talk. Otherwise, go to this page and schedule your free half-hour chat: https://thewayoftheriver.com/schedule-appointments. I’d love to hear from you!