When I was in LA a few weeks ago, I met up with a close friend from college who is now a devout Falun Gong practitioner. In between sharing anecdotes of our lives and marveling at how much we’ve both changed since we first met during a study abroad program in Spain, we talked about our belief systems, which prompted him to ask me what exactly do I believe in.
It’s not an uncommon question for me to receive, as someone who went to Catholic school for 12 years, majored in Religious Studies, and frequently wears crosses (I’m actually getting a cross tattooed on one of my knuckles this week).
Truth be told, I don’t believe in any form of organized religion or doctrine, and I’m not one who needs something to believe in; I don’t need a higher authority to give reason and meaning to the events that transpire in life.
Over the years, however, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my interactions with others, and the legacy that I’d like to one day leave behind. While I don’t believe I’ll leave this world known as the “friendliest” or “kindest” person, I’d like to think that I’ve shared some level of warmth with everyone I’ve crossed paths with.
I once read somewhere that to live a happy life you should give gifts to people everyday, and not necessarily gifts of the physical variety. These gifts could include the exchange of smiles, greetings, some small form of acknowledgment that you and this other person have shared a slice, a moment of life together, and it was good. Warmth isn’t something that comes naturally to me, but I do believe in showing respect to everyone who walks in and out of my life, and to be generous with my smiles, especially to those who seem to need it most.
I believe in treating others with a sense of dignity and mutual respect, that no one should feel as if the course of his/her life is trivial or meaningless compared with others who may be more affluent or more attractive or more successful. I resent any implication of a “lesser” person or persons.
As trite as it is to admit, I believe in karmic retribution, and the idea that what you put out into the world gets returned back to you. I don’t consider myself a particularly virtuous person, and I’m no big philanthropist. My life philosophy can be summed up simply as, “Don’t be an asshole.”
And honestly, the world has enough assholes. I think not being one of them is something to believe in.
I’m going to marry this boy one day.
Still I could feel this thing between us, not just lust but a kind of immediate love, the sort that, like instant oatmeal, can be realized in a matter of minutes and is just as nutritious as the real thing. — David Sedaris, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls”
Touching Craigslist missed connection.
Grand Central - November 1973 - m4w - 58 (Midtown)
In the fall of 1973 I was studying as a freshman at NYU, and after failing to make my initial train home to Maine, I was rushing through Grand Central on the evening before Thanksgiving 1973 when I spotted you, emerging from one of the railways, with a look of utter confusion on your face. You had the blondest hair I had ever seen, and a plaid dress. I had never seen a plaid dress before.
I was, in those days, terribly shy, and if I am honest with myself, I’ve never shook that stubborn sense of timidity or loneliness in crowds. To this day, trying to explain the uncharacteristic courageousness that seized me in that moment, and inspired me to walk up to you and say “are you lost?” is almost completely beyond me.
You were studying at Oberlin, and on your way to spend Thanksgiving with your aunt in Jersey City. After explaining to you where you could get a bus, I asked, in spite of knowing it would mean sacrificing my last chance to spend the holiday with my family (and likely infuriate my over-protective mother), if you wanted to get a drink and you said yes.
We walked out into a rainy Manhattan street and ducked into the first (cheap) bar we saw, where I ordered us two bottles of beer. Now in my 50’s, when with any luck a man might finally begin to acquire that elusive thing called wisdom, I know that there is nothing more exciting yet rare in life than making a true connection with someone. I have always been too sentimental for my own good, but in all honesty, I have never felt more at ease with anyone than I did laughing and talking to you that dimly lit midtown bar.
When I confessed that I purposefully missed my train to keep talking to you, you smiled slyly and said “well I guess it’s only fair that I miss my bus.” With no money for a cab, we walked to my Lower East Side dorm room, which was deserted aside from my German classmate Franklin, who kindly gave us a half-finished bottle of red wine.
We made love that night, and in the morning coached one another through shaky phone calls to our angry relatives back home. With the November cold turning the night’s rain into a dreary wintery mix, we stayed in bed all day, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes, discussing politics and philosophy. You told me you had never felt “so New York before.”
That evening, you took a bus to Jersey City. A few weeks later I received a letter from California. You sent no return address, and I never saw you again.
I have been married twice since then - once divorced, and once widowed. I have had a successful career as an English professor, and am a proud father. My life has known its share of triumphs and heartaches, of love and loss. Against my better judgement, I haven’t forgotten that day - and, at least once a year, while mowing the lawn, or reading a newspaper, the details come back to me.
Perhaps, if life’s strange circumstances can permit it, we can have a second drink.
There’s something about writing, about calling oneself a “writer,” that instills deep feelings of self-consciousness and doubt within me. I’ve never been bold enough to consider myself a “writer,” not truly, despite the fact that I’ve been journaling since I was 9 and do indeed write things that people read from time to time.
Even now, in writing just this short bit of text, I’ve already edited and rewritten and erased three other paragraphs.
There’s an insecurity that hovers over you as you write something for public consumption - a fear that readers will misinterpret you, or worse, that they’ll give absolutely no fucks about what you have to say.
When writing, you wonder to yourself, “Will anyone care about this beside me?” “Is this completely banal?” “Do I sound like an asshole and/or a narcissist?” These are real fears, because writing about yourself with any amount of frequency necessitates a certain level of self-importance and narcissism, and it can be difficult to step outside of yourself long enough to predict how others will perceive you.
Despite any praise or recognition I’ve received for my writing, I still approach the task of writing with fear and uncertainty. Some of this fear most likely stems from my history of sex/relationship writing, and all of the scrutiny and criticism that came with it.
However, I’d like to get back into the habit of writing more frequently around a wider range of topics, beyond the activities that take place (or don’t take place) within my bedroom. I feel like I’ve been discrediting myself and have been avoiding writing about a number of things, out of a fear that I have nothing new or intelligent to add to life’s discussions.
But I’d like to tell you everything. I’d like to tell you about my life and all of its random coincidences and insanities, about my observations as a 25-year old working in the tech industry in beautiful San Francisco. I’d like to tell you everything about me, unfold all of myself before you, and eliminate the fear that’s settled deeply in my chest that you won’t give a shit about me, because that’s no way write, and that’s no way to live.