MY TRIBUTE TO THE WEIRDOS
In my bathroom sits this three tiered holder of river rocks. I’m a potter. I made the small bowls myself. I call this simple thing my “tribute to the weirdos”. No, I don’t use that word in any other situation. Just this one… And, when I say this, the word is used consciously and with tenderness. I know; that doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Around 1990, I went through one of those life traumas that cause you to start thinking about the big questions. What’s the point? What actually matters? And on and on… I devoured self-help books and any information that might help me make sense of life. I began my daily meditation practice. I recharged my connection with my spiritual community. I became part of a women’s talking circle /support group. But I was still lost. My love for my daughter was the only thing that made sense to me. Much of everything else felt confusing and dark.
I needed to figure out who I was and why I was here.
One of the principles of my spiritual community is that we believe in treating all people with respect and dignity. Yes, that sounds really good. But I was haunted by that statement. ALL people. If I believe that, who is in my life? What do we do together? How exactly do we relate to each other?
A book that helped me was How Can I Help by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. Here is my summary of that book. It explained that if you are to treat someone with respect, it is only truly respectful when it doesn’t come from a place of sympathy or pity. I understood that many relationships are built on unhealthy foundations. I could see that even with good intentions, many efforts at helpfulness were actually very harmful. I was so saddened by the realization that there are many large charities that have done and are doing great harm by treating people as lesser than and assuming that the helper is better, smarter, and more capable than the one being “helped.” Rather than helping, they cripple by disempowering people.
Once I better understood all that, I could see that I had a lot of work to do on myself. Was I giving lip service to treating all people with respect and dignity while feeling superior or somehow better? Were any of my efforts at kindness ever a self-serving flaunting of my abilities? Did I let social pressures for acceptance influence the choices I made about who to allow into my life? Did I make any efforts to reach out?
I hadn’t thought that I held disrespectful attitudes before but now I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure until I tested it out. I opened myself to the possibility of establishing a friendship with a person from a different background and a different social class. Sure enough, when I was seen in public with that person, I did get an uneasy feeling of being judged by others and my mind would rush to explanations I could give to whomever about why I was with this person. Oh no! I had to dig into my embarrassment about potentially being seen as connected to someone less educated and from a lower social class. It rattled me to the core when I realized how deeply I held classist feelings. My thoughts told me that I wasn’t classist but my feelings told me that I was.
So I began the work of reprogramming my subconscious. After learning this Native prayer received from my women’s group, I repeated it to myself thousands of times with each word being spoken from a deeply sincere place as I thought about the meaning of each and every line.
Spirit, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred – let me sow love.
Where there is injury – pardon.
Where there is doubt – faith.
Where there is despair – hope.
Where there is darkness – light.
Where there is sadness – joy.
O Great Spirit, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in the giving that we receive;
In pardoning that we are pardoned;
In dying that we are born to eternal life.
As I read books about finding one’s purpose, I gleaned many ideas and accepted this as my purpose statement. I read this purpose statement constantly.
“My purpose is pursuit of passionate connection. First, I commit to connect to my inner self for the strength and direction which will allow me to contribute to everything around me in a meaningful way. I commit to strengthen my connection to people, animals, plants and the universe in a way that elevates us all. I promise to use compassion, integrity and example as my tools. Everything I do, every choice I make, every action I take must be aligned with my purpose. I know that as I pursue this purpose, I will grow, and as I grow so will my purpose. I will never fulfill it totally. I’ll always be in pursuit of it. As a result, I will achieve and do more than I have ever before – both for myself and others.”
And then, I took the boldest of steps. Over time I developed a relationship with a man who was outside my social group. It lasted only less than two years and then it was over. I don’t regret that relationship at all because it was a place for some significant learning for both of us.
Many people speak about the value of loving thy neighbor because they know that in principle, that’s a good value to have. But, if you really do believe this, there is so much more needed than to just say those words. I know personally that it’s possible to treat someone with respect while harboring feelings that are not truly respectful. I know that keeping certain types of people at arm’s length away isn’t very loving. That doesn’t mean that healthy boundaries aren’t important. They are. They are very important. Loving others doesn’t mean not loving oneself. Learning when and how to “love from a distance” is part of the formula to love all people. Loving from a distance is loving none the less. Loving all also doesn’t mean approving of everyone’s actions. That is a completely different issue.
I understand now how hard it is to become a truly loving and kind person but I also believe that being there is easier than getting there.
The writing on the shirt in this picture is a good representation of the treat ALL people with respect and dignity thinking.
And, let’s not forget our highly educated neighbors, our transsexual neighbors, our bi-sexual neighbors, our annoying neighbors, our materialistic neighbors, our gentle and quiet neighbors, our neighbors from every corner of the planet, our incarcerated and previously incarcerated neighbors, our rich neighbors, our neighbors with mental health challenges, our developmentally challenged neighbors, our neighbors who reject us, our neighbors who hurt us, our neighbors who are spiritually gifted, our self-centered neighbors and our neighbors who are oblivious to others. Did I forget someone? I’m sure I accidentally did. Whoever you are, consider yourself included, please!
And, this thinking isn’t uncommon. A lot of people say they believe in loving all people. Saying these words will get you onto all kinds of good-guy and / or good-girl lists.
When I crossed over the sacred line of the socially acceptable relationships and attempted a relationship with someone outside my social group, I learned even more. These were extremely painful but very important lessons. Sadly, actually being loving towards many on this list won’t always get you onto those same good lists.
While expressing anger towards me for stepping over that line, someone I care about very much used the word weirdo to describe the socially unacceptable people. Calling someone a name, like weirdo, is hard to hear. It’s judgmental, insensitive and unkind. It’s hurtful. That person still rejects me even though that socially unacceptable relationship has been over for many years. And the non-profit work I did for 12 years with socially unacceptable people is now over too. But here’s the thing… I accept that person’s choice to say what they say, feel what they feel and do what they do. It doesn’t cause me to want to pretend to be someone different than who I am and who I want to become. It hurts but it’s completely ok. My love for them remains deep.
I’ve learned that spiritual development grows on a continuum. A few markers of progress include: knowing right from wrong, choosing right, developing compassion and practicing forgiveness. Each of these can take a long, long time to understand and even more time to internalize. The understanding of each can sometimes take a lifetime of study and consideration. There are some among us who find their way to being well able to live these concepts. I admire them very much. I’m going to continue to put my efforts towards learning more about compassion and forgiveness because I want to make it as far as I can in my own spiritual development for as long as I’m able.
I empathize with all the pain of those considered weirdos. Some of the river rocks in my tribute to the weirdos were given to me by the person whose presence in my life created so much upset in the minds of others. I wish I could do something to soften the pain felt by all being labeled so disparagingly and the pain of those who are so uncomfortable with differences. Maybe it will help to know that there are a lot of good people working to make things better for all of us. I believe there are. I believe in us.
Namaste. The divinity in me respects and bows to the divinity in you.