Last week I went to trivia night at a local bar that one of my friends was helping to host. I love trivia and always have, despite being consistently terrible at it. I’m pretty useless at remembering facts, and as it happened, the other 4 people on my team weren’t that good at it either. We did our best and we lost gloriously.
But something happened in the course of the trivia game that came close to ruining what would have been an otherwise perfect evening. There was a man sitting at the table behind ours. From his boisterous commentary I gathered that he was German, liked jager bombs and mojitos, and had absolutely no sense of decency.
Rarely in my life have I encountered someone so unpleasant. Unpleasant isn’t even the right word…what is it? It’s that feeling you get if you imagine a cheese grater running up and down your skin, followed by a wash of vinegar and lemon juice. Painful. Nauseating. Insufferable. He was that feeling personified. This man hated Jews, gays, Americans, and probably joy and puppies too. He was mean, rude, vulgar, and offensive, and made his feelings aggressively known.
I’m typically a pretty docile person. I don’t get angry very often. But I had some pretty strong feelings about this man. Namely, strong feelings of hate and loathing. But more than that, they were feelings of absolute shock, horror, and disbelief.
I have depression. Chronic, insufferable depression. I wake up daily entirely overwhelmed at the prospect of making it through another day. It’s a part of my life I’ve adjusted to, though I continually strive to improve it. And every day when I wake up, I face this decision: I can choose to live this day with love, or I can choose to live it with self-pity, anger, and resentment. And some days, I’ll admit, it’s a hard decision. Because life is unbelievably difficult sometimes. But generally, there’s no question about it. No matter how bad I feel, no matter how hard life is, I choose love. Always. Endlessly. I choose love.
Perhaps because of the somewhat fragile nature of my mental and emotional health, I am extremely sensitive toward the actions of others. I appreciate acts of kindness with my whole heart. I value to my depths humanity’s capacity for kindness, and the love that is shown to me daily by friends and strangers alike. And I feel, with the greatest distress, the hatred we are capable of. And my heart is shattered by it.
Both online and in person this week I encountered people who thought we should gas the Jews. Gas the Jews. I know the historical tragedy of the Holocaust, but let this sink in: There are people, living now in 2016, who think an entire race of people should be murdered for no reason other than they are different. No, really. Let that sink in. But it’s not just not Jews. It’s the Muslims. Especially the Muslims. Or the blacks. Or the gays.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr
People like that insufferable man at trivia cannot be corrected through strong words, or lectures, or punches to the face, despite the immensity with which I wish they could.
I feel similarly about Trump supporters posting ignorant and offensive things on Facebook. I want to yell at them and slap the truth in their face until they see it, but that won’t work. Force will do nothing to lessen the hatred of evil men. The only thing I can do, the only thing any of us can do, is fight hatred with love. Immense, unyielding love. Love that confuses people. Baffles them with its resiliency. Strengthens them with its endurance.
And it is so, so, difficult.
Last week I found a little dragonfly in my classroom at school. I don’t know how he got in, but he seemed to be perfectly content to live there. When I arrived in the morning it was sitting on the light switch. In morning circle it landed on one of my students. At nap time, it rested on the back of my computer while I worked. And on Thursday afternoon I found it lying on the tile floor outside my classroom, crushed. And I almost cried. What made it even sadder, was that I knew no one else would cry for it. Because it’s just a bug. Who cares?
Maybe I’m too sensitive, too emotional. But maybe the rest of the world has forgotten the importance of feeling things deeply. Maybe you should feel heartbroken by people’s hatred. Maybe you should feel an ache in your chest when people talk about other people like they’re less. Or when they think that a beautiful animal dying is nothing to think twice about.
Sometimes, yes, I think my over-sensitivity is a bad thing. Mostly because it makes it a lot harder for me to function. I’m an emotional mess most of the time. But I think it has also made me a more deeply compassionate person. And that’s not such a bad thing.
Yesterday (or today, back in the States) was World Mental Health Day. On this day especially, I think about how deeply my life has been impacted by my own mental illness. And in many ways, perhaps most ways, it’s been to my detriment. But in some, I think it’s turned me into a kinder, more loving person.
So here’s to you: the overly-sensitive, struggling, barely-together deep feelers. The ones who know pain like no one else, who understand grief, and use it to make yourselves into better people. You’re incredible. So keep on loving. Keep on feeling. Keep on being your messy, perfect selves.