A childhood classmate recently posted an old photo of the Catholic school we attended together. The building was as imposing as I remembered it being. It created and harbored both divinity and demons within its parochial walls.
The post started a string of comments recalling memorable times. I have lots of good memories from being there, too. I also have many that weren’t so innocent.
I still remember a good “friend” calling me a “faggot” in the school parking lot one day as if it happened a second ago. We all have our own equally devastating and impactful moments. I regret hurtful ones I am sure I have caused others along the way.
I wasn’t crushed that day because it was the first time someone said out loud what I secretly feared. It wasn’t even that it was my good friend who said it.
It was that he said it in such a bullying and dehumanizing way, as if being dead was better than being a “fag.” I will never forget the look on his face. It’s the same look I saw on the faces storming the Capitol building last week.
I have never felt safe with that kind of toxic masculinity. I have stayed far away from most contact sports, guns (even “toy” ones), war, souped-up mufflers that let people know you’ve arrived, conspiracy theories, mega engines and MAGA hats, violent video games, locker-room talk, and more. Somehow, they always lead to trouble.
I have never felt comfortable with winning at any cost, intimidation by power, attacking and belittling others, and stealing what we believe to be ours. I know what happens when people begin to identify too much with “masculine” behaviors. I know what happens when I do.
The images of people storming the US Capitol last week felt lethal to me because I recognized so many of them. I know these people intimately. They are members and supporters of a tribe that’s been hunting me and others like me since the day I was born often without consequence.
It wasn’t just men who were out of control in their fear and fury that day — toxic masculinity clearly isn’t defined by gender. We all possess it to some degree.
One night I overheard my friend’s father beating his older sister with a belt and shaming her about her appearance. I can only imagine the kind of conditioning my friend endured in that house.
We become what we follow.
As a result of social media and our global world, the way we now judge and crucify each other is multiplied exponentially by what we follow. Whether we are blue or red; black or white; male or female; evangelical or atheist — we are taught to fear and hate each other at every turn.
It is conditioning on steroids. It is radicalizing. We all must stop following it to survive. The tweets. The pundits. The rigid views of our friends and loved ones.
Three cancer experiences inspired me to become more committed to exploring the ways in which I am too extreme. Every day is a balancing act in trying to achieve equilibrium.
The day our nation erupted into chaos and disorder was a true test. As I watched from the discomfort of my living room, I was the “other” — the one the “bad” guys were coming for. However, I also wanted to hurt them. I wanted them to pay for what they were doing to us.
As tears filled my eyes for still being human enough to want to hurt someone else in some way, I expressed gratitude for the deep inner work that has also sparked something else, something more divine: a kind of love for for these people that if not complete is at least forming. I truly feel sorry for them and what brought them here. I feel sorry for all of us.
For so long we have been conditioned to destroy from within … to fear each other … to tear each other apart the way others have done to us. Even our police departments and troops don’t know if they can trust each other.
If we continue in this self-destructive path, I am convinced we will become extinct, or at least irrelevant, in the scheme of the universe. Moving forward we must condition each other and ourselves to love what most scares us … to love in a way that makes our time here worthwhile.
If we condition each other to love with as much passion and energy as we have learned to hate each other and our world, it’s possible. It's more than possible. It is the only way to true sacredness.
As the great mystic poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”
During this next critical week, I pray we all meet in the field.