Just a few short months ago I did something really extraordinary in my opinion - I lived long enough to have a 40th birthday. I use the word extraordinary to describe that event rather than using, say, 'milestone', because growing up I've never believed that I would live past 30 and so to be a full decade beyond what I always imagined my expiration date would be is an act of extraordinary measure. So, not wanting to let the occasion pass me by without a bit of introspection I decided I would give myself a gift on this particular birthday, something I plan on doing every birthday from now on. The one I gave myself is in 3 parts, and it's more about committing to be better - a better man, a better son, a better father, a better husband, a better friend - you get the idea. The first part was to lighten the fuck up. The second was to continue on learning new ways to become more humble, and the third was to let go (as much as humanly possible) of ego. I call this gift my path towards enlightenment. I simply couldn't imagine living this long and not taking time to fully appreciate and embrace what my life has been, and currently is, so this is what I came up with. The truly amazing thing is that I've learned insanely huge and mind-blowing things just by opening myself to learn more about my limits and boundaries and to really push myself to think critically about my role in everything I can imagine.
My political activism really hit the proverbial wall after the last midterm election. In fact, and to be more to the point, I've completely surrendered to the fact that I simply don't know what I believe in anymore with respect to politics. I know that I'm completely fed up with the two party system; that it will take a full-out revolution for me to personally invest myself again in campaign volunteering, and that I'm resolved to two things that will actually make some headway toward change: time and pressure. Time for the old white people who always turn out to vote to finally just fucking die off, and pressure to bring about the revolution I spoke of before. Once the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that corporations are people, and the President and his allies that I walked my legs off for are revealed to be just a bunch of bullshit artists whose principles (such as they are) are not centered around any backbone or balls, I have no cause to believe in them any longer. They roll over and cave to fear and try to make nice with the opposition all in the name of creating the kind of compromise that allows for goalposts to move at will. It's easier to have a standard that it is to maintain one and I simply cannot abide that kind of weak spinelessness.
I've always identified as a progressive, an independent, and a liberal - but never a Democrat. I can relate to the majority of their platforms and that's where I'm most comfortable, but when you shuck right down to the cob about your principles and morals and values - and come to find where you are right and true - that's how you learn to determine what is fair and equal, and consequently, what is right. The thing about being right is that you cannot be proved wrong, and it takes work to get to that point. When I see such dire conditions in my own country and government and the time to dig in your heels and fight for your principles and standards has never been more apparent - and those powers-that-be who have done their level best to convince us that they WILL fight, that they ARE committed, they WILL NOT back down end up being a bunch of fucking pussies, that's when I really have to reexamine my interest and my involvement. I remember when being a Democrat actually meant something other than simply not being a Republican, something that commanded respect, something that drove people who knew they were in the right to make changes in the law and thereby within the culture that benefited all by being fair and equal. Now it's not enough to be right - they want us to make the opposition LIKE us by falling to the illusion that such things are necessary. That unless we compromise, we cannot make gains for the betterment of all. Well, that sounds reasonable on the surface but if you just scratch beneath that you'll learn as I have that this, my friends, is folly. In fact, it's fucking bullshit. There is no compromising with people who, if you were lying on the side of the road and moments from death by dehydration, would give you the courtesy of taking a wet shit in your mouth. Sometimes there is no compromising with a bully who is simply intent on destroying you - there is only getting your own ass kicked over and over, or getting fed up enough that you arm yourself properly and just wreck that motherfucker to the point that he will never again underestimate you and certainly won't fuck with you for the sake of it anymore. THAT'S change.
I believe that it is your intention that matters in most all things. I've had the misfortune to let a few people get under my radar and betray me, and in the end it was their intentions that made up the sword they fell on all by themselves. So I've had to let them go and write them off and find the blessing in such things as it only serves to make you better when you cut out what becomes toxic or at the very least no longer works. My intention in loving the people I love is to be a soft place to land, a loyal and faithful confidante, a harsh critic to remind you when you're falling short of your standards, and to never, not even once, place a single particulate of the respect and trust I've earned from them at risk - for anyone or anything, ever. Because I cannot live with the idea that I've failed someone that loves me as much as those who love me best and sustain me.
A few days ago I returned from my home state of Georgia after being there for a total of 2 weeks for many reasons, but the main one was love. My family (blood and chosen) needed face time with me, needed my personal brand of support and acceptance, needed to be revered and adored, and mostly to be loved in person. It was a difficult task but I came back home to Arizona feeling I accomplished everything I set out to do in my time there and then some - and on my last day there, I decided to give myself another gift. Many of you who have known me since I was young know that my best friend when I was 15 was a girl named Staci Ward who died the summer of our 9th grade year. Staci and I were inseparable for the fleeting time we loved one another, and before moving across the country almost 2 years ago I meant to visit her grave site but never managed to. I was on my way to spend some time with my family for a nice send off hours before I was to board my plane in Atlanta and I missed the exit that would be the fastest route to my Daddy's house. By the time I passed the 2nd exit, I realized I would soon be near the cemetery and needed to stop just before it anyway to gas up my sister's truck and it occurred to me that I should go to Staci's grave. It was something I really felt I needed to do. I also felt strongly that I couldn't be that close to my dear friend Craig's house without stopping in for a minute or two to at least hug him and see him in the time I had remaining. As I was gassing the truck up, I called Craig and told him where I was and where I was about to go. Craig and I met the same day Staci and I met in the classroom 2 doors down from the one where he currently teaches, and he was with me the day we buried her. Craig is an amazing man and I adore him for his boundless love and acceptance of my entire existence, so I told him I was going to the cemetery and then coming to see him immediately afterward. Of course, he understood me perfectly.
It was windy but clear when I sat next to her grave and began to brush the sand and leaves from her headstone and for the first time ever since she died back in the summer of 1986, I realized I wasn't bereft and sobbing in this space. I decided to honor her, our love, and myself by surrendering my grief over her loss and instead do something I've never done before. I began speaking aloud while looking at the picture of her encased in glass and tracing her name with my fingers and said "Hi, sweetheart. I don't know if I'm right and I'm just talking to myself or I'm wrong and somehow you can hear or feel me, but I have to tell you some things..." I spoke of how much I loved and missed her and that she had never left my heart or mind, how well I've done for myself, about my life now and all of its amazing wonderment, about Damien and everyone who makes me feel constantly loved, and what she might think of it all. After a while, I decided it was time to head over to Craig's house and so I held her tightly in my mind's eye and loved her with everything I have as I said goodbye and walked back to the truck feeling solace and closure washing over me.
Less than 24 hours later I was flying over my new home in my beloved desert oasis that I share with the love of my life, in the town named for the bird that is capable of reducing itself to ashes and then being reborn from them - new, stronger, and ready for the next thing. My gift to myself was appreciation - that no matter how many times I've been knocked down or how many times my life has been one giant ass-whooping, I have it in me to stand back up.