Sunday, January 16, 2011

As Good As It Gets Is Not Good Enough, Is It?

Everybody has a dark side. Some of us acknowledge it, perhaps even embrace it, while others bottle it up inside for fear of others seeing it and judging them by it. This “dark side” can consist of any number of personal flaws, real or imagined, ranging from something as relatively harmless as secret haughtiness to something as dangerous as murderous rage. The human soul can contain all manner of malignance and vice, and even though one can go his or her entire life without letting it out, one slip-up can reveal what lies beneath, never to be truly camouflaged again. One remark about wanting to avoid a certain individual may lead an onlooker to remark, “I’ve never seen this side of you before,” and it’s a bit of an eye-opener to then realize that your entire image in this person’s eyes was an almost saintly one, and this one shred of human conceit has perhaps dashed that irreparably.

I’m going to be completely honest with you here, because I owe you that much: I’m not a saint, and I’m hardly the naïve, Ned Flanders-ish innocent I appear to be. I can be cold, I can be calculating, and a very real, always-present part of my mind is very dark and cruel. I do my very best to keep that part of myself under control, and for the most part I mean well, but sometimes the other side breaks on through (apologies to the late Jim Morrison for paraphrasing his lyrics). Sometimes I get so angry I can barely maintain my cool. I remember, not fondly at all, the time a “friend” decided to use me as a verbal punching bag. She had every right to be angry, but not at me; she was mad at life, and I just happened to be convenient. She knew just where to hit me, exactly where it would hurt the most, and she was just waiting for me to snap back, to turn it into a pseudo-shouting match (it was via instant message, so “shouting” is a bit of an oxymoron—you know what I mean, though), but I didn’t crack . . . not outwardly, anyway. I fell back on logic and rationality to defuse the situation, and before long the damaging winds of this angry woman could buffet me no more—in layman’s terms, she ran outta steam and left me alone. But even though I didn’t let her push me across the line, inside I was positively livid. I had never been hurt so badly in my life—not by a trusted friend—and I was suffering the physical consequences. Even as I typed my oh, so calm response to her absolutely hateful remarks—about my religion, my politics, and worst of all, my personal character—my hands were shaking so badly I could scarcely continue. Worst of all, have you ever been so angry you literally had heartburn? I never get heartburn, thankfully, as my stomach can process just about anything with minimal grief—anything except rage. The acid churned so hard at the back of my throat, I daresay any further prodding would have caused me to vaporize something with my sheer anger. I’m not saying this flowery crap about my “glorious, righteous anger” to imply I’m proud of it; if anything, I’m horrifically ashamed of it. Sure, I didn’t do anything—I didn’t act on my anger—but my inner thoughts were borderline murderous.

Maybe my “friend” was right about me, without even knowing it, in her blind rage and bitterness. What kind of Christian am I, if I hide these kinds of evil thoughts in my mind? How can I go through life, often admired for my alleged good character, when all manner of perversity flows through my mind? Yeah, I do my best to be honest and kind in my daily life, and people like me for that, but does it really matter that I do the right thing if inside I’m thinking all kinds of horrible stuff? I guess it does to some extent, because people thinking I’m a good guy has actually been a blessing to some. But I’m not satisfied with myself.  I know what’s under the “good guy” façade, and it bothers me . . . I see the Hyde lurking inside Dr. Jekyll’s flesh, and I know he’s just waiting for the right moment to rip his way out and have his way with the world. Part of that is why I’m so uptight. I have massive control issues, because I am scared to death of what would happen if I were unable to manage my actions. I had my first drink in 22 years on New Year’s Day, and the feeling of my mind slowing down scared the crap out of me. I stopped when I was just barely tipsy, and I will never drink again—I can’t relax, can’t forget myself, can’t take a chance on saying or doing anything that will show people the real me. I have to live the lie because the truth scares even me. I’m not the good guy, nor will I ever be. I don’t drink, smoke, hook up, party hearty, or do anything at all that might constitute cutting loose or getting into trouble, but even though I don’t physically do anything wrong, my body’s inaction will never make me “good”—not while my mind runs rampant and untamed. One careless thought given voice can destroy a reputation built upon years of false smiles and compulsively-performed good deeds.

It’s hard to get close to other people if we have this kind of mindset. Isn’t it always the way of humanity, to believe we can read so deeply into the character of others and assume they know nothing of our own? Seriously, I know we all have skeletons in our closets (maybe not literally . . . I hope), but we’re all screwed up in some way or another, and we all say and/or do and/or think stuff we’re not proud of at some point. We can’t keep putting ourselves down or let our personal shortcomings keep us from living our lives, no matter how easy it may be. Here’s the hard part: we have to acknowledge and accept that we’re going to goof up at some point, we have to put all that crap behind us, and we have to move on, with both the intention of not repeating our mistakes again and the willingness to accept that we may fall off the wagon again. Not to get preachy, but that’s kind of a nice thing about faith—the knowledge that when we fall, there’s someone to help us get back up again. Now, just because God will catch us when we fall doesn’t mean we should take up skydiving, figuratively speaking, but it does mean that we can walk with a little more spring in our step, knowing our crappy, screwed-up lives aren’t worthless, and even though we may never be perfect, if we keep striving for that goal we might still be able to help someone along the way. I'm not the "good guy" I wish I could be, but I'm trying my best to be better, and maybe trying one's best, earnestly and diligently, does count for something.

I'm sorry, by the way. My intention was never to be preachy or mopey or self-righteous or gripey, but sometimes . . . sometimes I just need to let some of this stuff out. I feel introspective sometimes, and when that happens, goodness knows what kind of random crap I'll dredge up. I promise, though, that once I get one or two of these dark ones out of my system, I'll come up with something really, really funny to tell you all. Promise!