The following entry is not done with detached equanimity. It is written in the raw; with imperfection . I strive to do well and to be well but what follows is a stumbling block that I have yet to clear. The intention of posting is to hang it out in the proverbial sun and hopefully push myself farther along the proverbial road.
Five years. It’s been almost five years since an important human touchstone decided he’d rather annihilate himself than continue his existence. Two years ago I thought to stop marking the day of his self-deliverance, as he put it in his letter to me. So instead I decided to try the path of recalling his birthday and thinking of the gifts I received from my knowing Joe. I’ve tried to guide my mind away from clinging to his continuing existence and move it toward his legacy of influence.
So when his birthday came around, I did my best to think of what he offered and how important it was, especially in the timing. I was eighteen? I think? I took a job at a country club as something to do during school, after the fire season. I wasn’t jazzed about the culture of a country club but the first co-worker I met was Joe, except his nametag didn’t say ‘Joe’ it said ‘Evil’. At first I thought ‘okay, this guy has a wry sense of humor, I think I’ll like him.’ But it turned out it was more than that. He was also making a statement. It *was* his nick name but he wore the nametag to illustrate how people didn’t even look at it or recognize his humanity. He could wear it for a week and the general manager wouldn’t notice. Once noticed he’d take it off, and then wait long enough to start wearing it again and again it would stay on for a while.
The country club was in a part of town that was full of vacuous, materialistic, classist fashion plates but it was a mellow job and Joe made it easy to endure, sometimes very entertaining. We would have lunch and share our outlook and beliefs. For my part, I suffered having to have a very handsome self-marketer for a brother who delighted in singling me out for practical jokes and hazing in front of other kids in the neighborhood and at school. He was so good looking and so cool that all the kids wanted to be his best friend. Needless to say I was marginalized from the beginning. It didn’t help that I had a quick and toxic wit that alienated me further when I was teased. Joe suffered nearly the same condition in his corner of town where he grew up; except the kids were wealthier, more materialistic and more fascist fashionistas.
He was pretty much the first person I had met who also weathered that cruel storm without compromising. He knew who he was, he suffered the abuse and stood his ground; an example of the not-material, the not-fashionable, the not-popular, and the not-falling-for-it. We hung out during lunch, after work, on our days off. We laughed, we debated, we traded youthful platitudes, peppered with some serious stuff too. Joe was the brother I should have had. I loved him. I love him. In my mind, at any moment that someone told me I had to dress more pretty for whatever reason, I had Joe in my corner. When a friend confided in him about being discouraged by others to try out for law enforcement because he was too short, Joe proclaimed it nonsense and immediately began a dedicated training program with that friend until that friend got that law enforcement job.
The other side of that coin however was that Joe would absolutely not compromise what he saw as right and wrong. He was so focused on that that it eventually lost him his job at the country club. He was inexorable. He then went through a few jobs that were not satisfying until he landed the management of a local comic book store and he made it his purpose in life to create a community for nerds, geeks and rejects to come and have refuge while playing D&D or Yu-Gi-Oh! To Joe, that place was Imladris and he was Elrond. Though those are my analogies, he might use another metaphor.
The problem was that he didn’t own the business and he didn’t have the final word on things, even though he made it very profitable. He saw something unethical going on and reported it to the owner, who didn’t want to be bothered by it. Inexorably he pursued it but Joe’s Imladris was someone else’s financial means to an end. He was fired. His sanctuary for his kind, ripped from his heart. It was also not a good time for finding work and the only thing he could get was a job that demanded physical work his previous injuries could not endure. Having what he saw as no other choice, he stayed in that job and it ruined him. At about this time I was trying to get in touch with him after having moved back to my home town. At about this time he actively chose to not return my calls, because he had already made his decision. I still feel like I failed him. I failed. Even in this post I am failing. I try to keep it on his good legacy and I still cling to talking about the tragedy as if retelling the pain will somehow make it not so and he will somehow take corporeal form so that I can hug him again.
Buddhist teaching instructs us not to cling and I do not know if this process allows me to let go or keeps me in the state of dukkha.
On the day of his birthday all I could think of was my anger at all of the things that caused him suffering and is so pervasive now. I’ve had opinions on them all but have become more strident about them in the last 5 years. It is becoming more clear that my fervency is related to my grief over Joe. Trying to work through my grief on his birthday, I typed out these notes on my phone…
“I reject the paradigm of money and anyone who would cause harm to someone they knew for the sake of it.
I reject the strip mining of human beings as resources. The mountaintop removal of our passions, our inspiration, our hearts, our dignity, and our hope.
I reject ‘othering’ to the point of ruining someone’s ability to survive or thrive because of it.
I reject the paradigm of solitary solution out of pride as it reinforces the idea of failure if help is requested.
I reject societal reinforcement of sacrifice through suicide as a remedy for anything. Yes, self-sacrifice for those you love has been and can be noble and beautiful but when that act is glorified in front of the masses it is very manipulable in the hands of powerful sociopaths and this act.
I reject shame, not because people shouldn’t feel responsible for wrong actions but shaming has also been used as a threat or a tool to excommunicate many who do not deserve it with tragic results.
I reject socio-political sleepwalking. Because when one sleepwalks through life, joining other somnambulants, one magnifies the tragedy of those who had their lives cut short even though they were doing their best to serve others and offered their hearts and minds for good causes, no matter how small and unpublicized.
I reject, I reject, I reject“
This is where I am failing and the Buddhist Mara is winning.
“Mara is that desperate longing for a self and a world that are comprehensible, manageable, and safe. Such clinging, however, turns into a kind of death. As its hold tightens, one feels as though life itself is being stifled and snuffed out.” ~Stephen Batchelor
I know this. The analytical in me knows this. The mourner in me does not feel satisfied however. So I am watching myself as I grapple with the Mara of my mind, understanding that the way to beat Mara is to not engage on Mara’s turf and on Mara’s terms.