Some people are narrow-minded in ways that I just can’t get down with. Empathy is a HUGE thing with me. But I’ll get back to that…
When it was reported that Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent heroin overdose on Super Bowl Sunday, at first the flood of comments were ones of shock (of course) and of true dismay – even if that guy wasn’t your favourite, to say he was mammoth of an actor is undeniable… what an amazing talent that guy was. I know I’ve missed seeing a few of his screen performances, but I think I’ve seen most of them – he has always stood out to me like a big, bright light. And not because I found him particularly attractive physically – pale, pasty, portly – but that guy could make a character sing. He brought meat and weight and depth of character to every role he’s ever played in ways I do find attractive. And extremely rare.
In Boogie Nights, he played his character with such vulnerability and realness, I wanted to hug him. His character, Scotty was completely enamoured with Mark Whalberg’s character, Dirk, that he wore his heart on his sleeve so outwardly, and so awkwardly, I wanted to shield my eyes whenever he was onscreen. I couldn’t take it. I wanted to bury myself in the sand for him, and for all his anguish… standing around in the backyard at a sexy pool party, unable to keep his eyes off the guy he adored so much… feeling all uncool and wrong in his too-short tank top stretched over his poochy belly… looking down at himself, shaking his own head, and sighing with self-loathing… uch. That performance was brutal. I loved it.
And how is it that some actors can get to those deep, dark places in ways that seem so effortless to the rest of us? Is it so effortless?! Could it be one can tap into these kinds of emotions if they’re not so far from the surface? I can’t say – I didn’t know the guy, so I can only speculate. Maybe it was just his natural way. Maybe he was a magical actor-unicorn. Maybe he channelled his demons in ways we couldn’t see, as a means of expressing himself. Maybe that’s all much harder than it appears.
He belonged to people, you know? He was a father to three… he had a woman I’m sure he loved like crazy. His mother must be devastated, as well as his siblings… I send love and light to all who loved him, and have now lost him.
As the hours ticked on, out came the inevitable vitriol that some people feel they absolutely must spew… and it just makes me really sad for some humans. It hurts my head, and it hurts my heart that some people can be so black-and-white about things. No empathy at all. Or, only empathy for those left behind, but none for the afflicted, since it’s just another junkie… and shame on him for choosing that crippling drug over his children, and indeed, why don’t these people just get help, especially if they have the means?
As if anything is as simple as that. As if addicts love living their lives this way. As if this man didn’t love his children as much as you love yours. C’mon now.
There wouldn’t be any junkies if love was enough. If you’ve never been a junkie, then you just don’t know what it’s like. And if you have been, and you’re clean now – first of all, GOOD FOR YOU! – but there’s probably no way you’re all smug about it, because you know how easy it can be for anyone to relapse into that kind of hell. (For the record, I’m not an addict – I’ve not recovered from anything except for nail-biting and cigarettes. And I’m still really fucking proud about it.)
I’ve read some things over the past several days I cannot unread. I’m hoping my selective memory will wipe much of it from my mind in the days that come – it will – I feel pretty confident about that, actually. But what I’m left with is this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach about how some people are. About what they really believe, and about how they think. This is troubling to me because I recognise how thought-patterns and coolness are qualitative when you choose the people with whom you surround yourself.
Sometimes it’s necessary to make edits.
* * *
Empathy is a lot like love: it’s not a finite thing – the more you practice, the more you have in you to use. Often, parents expecting their second child wonder quietly within themselves if they’ll be able to love another child as much as their first precious baby, because it seems so focused and all-consuming, and ohmygod how can I possibly love something or someone more than this?
You can, because you just do. It just happens.
Humans don’t come with a set amount of love that needs splicing into pieces – divided amongst the ones who got to you first, or to the ones you deem most worthy. Don’t be afraid to spread love around – you make more of it. And like empathy, one needn’t choose a side. You can feel all the sad feelings for children left behind by a lost and crippled alcoholic AND you can feel all the sad feelings for the alcoholic (though this is often feels impossible to do – I struggle with someone in my life) but you can feel both at the same time. One doesn’t negate the other, and it’s not an act of betrayal to try to understand where people are coming from.
Everyone has a life… everyone has a story. When we understand another man, we find it harder to condemn him. Nothing good comes from condemning people. (And yes, I understand there are some deplorable, truly evil humans out there… I’m not talking about the likes of Hitler or Saddam, you know.) Some people are just genetically and/or socially predisposed to this sort of thing. None of this is simple. Shit. SHIT!
If someone I knew and liked casually said to me, “You know, I just don’t dig The Gays… I think their lifestyle is gross, and the idea of marriage equality is a load of horseshit, and it’s symbolic of everything that’s wrong in the world…” I would probably cock my head to the left, and then to the right, and then start backing away, looking at that person with fresh eyes. I don’t… understand… you… what? And that would likely draw our acquaintance to a close in most ways. Because it’s just become painfully clear that we are not alike in the ways that matter to me most, and so we simply. cannot. hang.
Narrowmindedness is a problem. Not just for me – for everyone. It’s not about believing in everything I think to be true or fair or good in the world, but COME ON. If you can’t put yourself in the shoes of another person and imagine what it must be like to struggle as they do, then you’re just not trying hard enough. Or, you’re trying to isolate yourself. Or, being righteous is more important to you than getting along with others. Or something.
Everyone is invited to the Cool Humans Party, but broadmindedness is a guaranteed ticket in. Just try your best to understand things. Push yourself to learn, even when it feels strange. Try a little tenderness. And if you’re having a hard time, then try a little bit harder, please.
You reap what you sow. That shit you fling out there on the wind is on a boomerang, you know – it’s coming back your way. If you want to be understood, you have to be understanding of others, too.
Or at least do no harm.
* * *
I didn’t watch The Big Football Match last week, a) because it’s just not the kind of balling I like [ohyesshedid...] and 2) because it was Oliver’s birthday and we were busy doing birthday things… but I’m a bit sad I missed what sounds like some pretty excellent half-time performances by that cutie-pie Bruno Mars, and by my crushes-of-old, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers… but whatever.
And of course, there are all the amazing ads that air during the game too – Coca-Cola got on that action with an “America The Beautiful” ad featuring Americans of all stripes, singing that anthem with pride and with mirth, in English, Spanish, Arabic, as well as other tongues. There was a gay family depicted in the clip also. Aaaand, a percentage of le Twitter-users (and other vehicles) started foaming at the mouth, pissed that their ‘Merica had been sullied and let’s keep America white. (You know how they do.)
The same kinds of shit went down after Macklemore and Madge went and gayed up the Grammy’s and everybody got married on television, and now the world is burning on FYAH!! (And I know there are some in the queer comunity who are pissed that that straight white guy is getting fat rich right now, but that’s a whole other deal.)
These things don’t surprise me, exactly… but I tell you, I’m sad for humans.
But, you know what is good? The Humans of New York site by Brandon Stanton is one of the most uplifting corners of the net to me these days. In fact, the comments there are exceptionally positive – the haters and the assholes stand out like sore thumbs, and often get verbal beat-downs from the other 99% – the cheerful folk who smile and want to pass on the good vibes. There was a pic from late January (that I cannot find to link to) of a youngish, gaunt-looking couple sitting at a bistro table, talking about their addiction to prescription pain meds, which quickly morphed into heroin, because it’s cheaper, yo…
“We’ve been on it for two years.” “Did you do drugs before that?” “A line of coke at a party, every once in awhile we’d pop a couple Vicodin and watch TV. But we had normal lives. She was an office administrator, I was a cook. Then I got hurt and got a prescription for some Oxycontins. And I gave a few to her. And before long we were crushing them up and snorting them. Then we started doing heroin cause it was cheaper. It’s the same thing, really, as the Oxycontins. Just cheaper.” “What’s it feel like when you stop doing heroin?” “It’s like dying. And being reborn again. Your eyes keep crying and your nose keeps running and you’ve got cold sweats. And for like 4 days you’re flopping around and can’t get comfortable, so you can’t sleep for days so you start thinking crazy and seeing things. And if you can make it through those four days without getting a bag of dope, then you come out the other side so exhausted you can’t move. If you’re lucky you can get some methadone from a clinic, but that’s even more addictive than the heroin.” “Would you say heroin has ruined your life?” “Absolutely.” “Do you mind if I share that?” “That’s fine. Just say one thing. Be sure to say that we really do love each other and we’re trying to fix our lives.”
(I have something in my eye…)
I’ve thought of these people almost every day since. There were close to 15,000 comments posted about that single image, and I dare say almost ALL of them were positive. I love that so many other humans out there are wishing these two well, wanting better for them… sending words of hope and encouragement. Subscribe to the site on Facebook for some daily smile-worthy/cry-worthy stuff. I love this project so hard – it makes me hopeful. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Empathy, yo. It makes the world better. Go get some.