“I believe in a guy who broke conventions. He hung around with prostitutes, he was nasty to those others looked up to, he was even nastier sometimes to his own friends..”
They often say love and hate are two sides of the same coin. I have always, naively perhaps, struggled to believe this. I still try to find it hard to believe. Alas, in the last few years, the evidence is mounting up to suggest I’m wrong. It’s a battle against bitterness these days.
I simply don’t understand the concept of how someone (as a friend or lover or whatever) can one minute be all supportive of you for something you’ve said or done or been, and the next condemn you for exactly the same things. For me, if I’ve said something is good, then it stays good. If I say something is bad then it stays bad. Nevertheless, I’m hearing the same complaint across countries and cultures. I’m not alone.
What I am learning is that people love to judge, criticise and condemn and will do so at the drop of hat. I don’t mean about political stuff or world matters. I mean deeply personal. It’s almost as if everyone is a vampire; waiting for you to cut yourself and draw blood before turning on you with fangs revealed for the first time.
I’ve always tried to avoid matters of faith and religion on this blog – for various reasons including wanting this to be a safe place for people of all persuasions who are of reasonable mind – but for once I’m going to reveal a little about what makes me tick.
31 years ago I came to faith – not easily and in some ways not even willingly. I’d love to tell you I’ve been a true believer who follows every word of my scriptures and is a pious and holy man. The truth is, half the time I don’t even know if I still believe any of it. Every day I struggle with what is now a very battered and torn faith. And even when I do feel it’s the right road, I’m very aware I’m pretty crap at living it and, frankly, feck up all the time. But I also remember just how screwed my life was before I had a faith. One day, it’ll be a book I’ll write, but for now let’s just say it was a tough beginning to life.
However, two things came out of my conversion which have remained firm all these decades:
- My faith says I don’t have to ‘do’ or ‘be’ anyone to be alright with God. Literally. I can be bad, wrong and even evil and still forgiven and loved. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not a license to do as I please. It comes with a flipside – that if you truly love someone and you’re grateful for them then you will do things that you know please them; same with God. My faith says you can’t ‘earn’ your salvation. Instead, your life is about loving the person who first loved you and doing the things you know they want you to do. Salvation is not earned by ‘works’ but there should be evidence of your faith if it exists. The upshot of this is that the only things I do ‘religiously’ I do for love and not because I think I ‘ought to’. There is no compulsion in my faith. It’s all an act of love.
- Love is everything. Like, painfully, sacrificially, really truly comes-with-a-cost, everything. If someone is actually willing to die for you then you owe them big time. It’s easy to say “I love you” but really meaning it is much harder. Whatever it costs, you give. It’s not just words. If the best you can muster is ‘I love you’ then you don’t love at all.
So, thanks to the first point, for 31 years I’ve lived pretty much content with who I am. I don’t have the angst many others have told me they feel – I don’t go searching for ‘peace’ or my ‘place in the universe’ or anything like that. I go where doors open and I step away from where doors close. I have bad days where I know I’ve been rubbish – done crap, got angry, upset, said harsh words, felt down, got it horribly wrong. But the black moods lift and all the way through it I know that it is actually ok to fail, ok to get it wrong, ok to even be bad. As long as it’s always ‘onwards and upwards’. It’s not about thinking too highly of yourself. It’s about not being so selfish as to demand something more from the universe and have a hissy fit when it doesn’t go your way, saying ‘woe is me’ and thinking of yourself as a terrible person. Actually, you can be a normal person – with good and bad moments – and still be loved.
But I’ve also lived this life remaining grateful that I have a life at all (I very nearly didn’t – twice) and I’ve been blessed and I am loved – so I try to give that back (the second point). Oddly, it’s my attempts to give back love which give the most grief.
I believe in a guy who broke conventions. He hung around with prostitutes, he was nasty to those others looked up to, he was even nastier sometimes to his own friends if they were really missing the point and getting it wrong! He went to parties with bad people, and thought nothing of getting angry with those he didn’t like and would even try and ruin their lawful businesses by ‘turning over tables’. He didn’t care less about his reputation and he encouraged others to go much further than they needed to when helping others. He didn’t offer sweet, gentle, ‘let’s all just hold hands and dream of angels’ love. His was a tough, pragmatic, in-your-face love. Love until it hurts, and then love more. For him, it cost him not just his reputation but his life. Here there were no health and safety rules, no ‘consideration of reputations’, no fear of what others might think if they found out (he really let a prostitute get that close to him and behave like that with him?! Disgusting. It’s perverse). He did what was right and, literally, to hell with the consequences.
I’ve done my best to do something of that. I’m not beefing myself up here – I ain’t died for no one and there’s plenty of times someone has got me so upset that I’ve said “screw you” and walked away, at least for a while. But, naively perhaps, I’ve believed all that crap about ‘going the extra mile’ bit. I have to say, in one sense, it’s done me no good – but I’ve done it anyway. I believed long ago that my life doesn’t belong to me any more and I didn’t want anyone else I knew to feel friendless, alone, worthless or unlovable. I’ve been there and I know it feels pretty shit.
Listening to others
For 31 years, I’ve listened to people. I’ve tried to be a safe place to talk about anything. I’ve listened to tales of drug addictions, prostitution, gambling problems, marriage break-ups, rapes and sexual abuses, physical abuses from spouses or parents, deviant sexual urges, fall-outs with loved ones, grief, depression, money problems – and more. Where someone has needed money, I’ve given it if I can. Where they’ve needed a hug, I’ve given it. Where they just want to talk about anything, especially in cultures where normally they can’t do that, I’ve done that. Heck I’ve even talked about penile dysfunction and breast sizes where it has been wanted. No one has ever shocked me with their stories or their problems and I learned long ago that if someone is upset or worried then they’re upset and worried – it doesn’t matter whether the problem is actually big or small. To them, it’s a problem and deserves the respect. Even if their biggest problem is they eat too much chocolate sometimes, I’ve listened with respect. Of course, I’ve screwed up with that sometimes. I don’t try to be a counsellor. I just try to be a friend. I don’t try to sugarcoat things – if I think someone is being an arse then I say ‘you’re being an arse’. Most of the time they know it’s not coming from an arrogant judgmental attitude. Sometimes though, it’s too much and walk away. That’s my error, not theirs. I’m okay with that – I screw up.
But I have never understood those who feel that listening to the problems of others is some kind of ‘burden’ and they feel drained of it. To me, it’s an honour when someone shares their deepest thoughts with you; a privilege to share the journey a little with them. My reward, I guess, is a sense of knowing that someone is a little happier today because you were there. I’m sure many of my fellow believers will condemn me for saying this but – I’m proud of the kind of love I’ve given for three decades. When I die I’ll do so knowing I did some good out there even if others want to see it as ‘perverse’ or wrong. I didn’t do it for the observers. I did what I thought best at the time for the person in front of me who needed a friend. Screwed up and imperfect though I’ve been every single time.
I’ve tried, in writing all this, to emphasise that this is not about ‘wonderful me’. Compared to several people I know, I’m a really selfish bastard. I don’t give a rat’s arse about people seeing my ‘sins’ and my faults because my sense of self-worth doesn’t come from how good I’ve been today. It comes from being loved by someone else who equally doesn’t give a rat’s arse whether I’ve been Mother Teresa or a mini-Hitler – none of it would be good enough anyway, so there’s a totally different measure for love involved. I’ve written this to try and give a (poor) inkling of how I believe love should work.
Which is why I don’t understand how things can go so sour so fast. Between lovers, between spouses, between friends…the one recurring message I hear from people again and again is “how could they turn out to be so cruel? So uncaring? So vindictive?”
And I’ve been bounced by this myself more times than I care to remember. So many friends over the years where I’ve done my best to be that safe place and then, some argument, some failing (of mine or theirs – usually both I think), some lapse in mutual respect perhaps and BOOM! Suddenly they want nothing to do with you ever again. I really don’t understand it. To me, this suggests that whatever love was felt, it wasn’t real. How can someone go from being grateful for your friendship and saying the whole ‘friends forever’ thing and, within a single argument, never speak to you again? No wonder many people tell me they feel everyone is ‘fake’.
Are there really two sides to this coin? Is it inevitable that love and hate must be paired together? I don’t know if my coin has turned out to be dodgy – a double-headed piece? – or if I’ve always just been too scared to flip mine over. I can think of several people that I have every right to ‘hate’ but I simply can’t do it. Usually I just pity them and worry, perhaps, about others coming into their lives who might be hurt in similar ways. Anger I know well – I’m a master at getting pissed with someone – but never hate. I do know that even when I’ve been really angry and upset how someone has behaved, a genuine and heartfelt ‘sorry’ has usually been all that’s needed to start rebuilding the bridges. Which I guess is also the basis for the founder of my faith? Forgiveness is a remarkably powerful weapon – but wielding it is not something I’ve mastered yet. In fact I’m pretty lousy at it. “I can forgive but I can’t forget” I sometimes say – but I’m not sure whether that’s just an excuse to hold on to bitterness.
I still want to believe that there is always opportunity to forgive. After all, that’s what brought me to this point in the first place. But just as love, if genuine, will prove itself in actions more than words, so perhaps forgiveness needs to be given to someone who proves they actually want to be forgiven.
That said, my founder also said “forgive them for they know not what they do”. I’ll admit it openly. I’m so not ready to do that yet. There’s still so much in me that needs to change, clearly. Just like 31 years ago though, I’m content with that fact – as long as it’s always onwards and upwards.
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Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org