It’s hot, but heat is relative to where you live—and heat varies depending on the region. When I complain of the heat, I am speaking as one who lives in Central Indiana next to the White River. What makes the heat unbearable to me is the humidity. Ninety degrees isn’t just ninety degrees, but an additional twenty to thirty degrees from a towel soaked in hot water placed on my head, wrapped around my face, and covering my body. This effect produces an oily, squishy feeling in every crease of my body—sloshing and spattering with every movement I make at work or walking to my shift as a volunteer. What I inhale stays in my nose caking and becoming gelatinous. The experience is complete misery. So you can imagine the relief I felt walking around Portland, OR in the summer.
In Portland, OR ninety degrees is hot, but the temperature is simply ninety degrees. Don’t misunderstand , I still felt discomfort, but one of the beautiful things about Portland in the summer is the Pacific Ocean. I assumed living next to the Willamette River would have the same effect as living next to the White River in Indiana, but such was not the case to my surprise. When I talked to some of the people at the Shambhala Center they told me the Pacific Ocean—only an hour away—knocked out the humidity in Portland. Though the sun beat upon my head and arms, and the streets toasted the soles of my feet through my rope sandals, I wasn’t a slimy, oily mess. While Ronnie and I waited for the bus at 52nd & Gladstone we chit chatted with a woman who told us that day was the hottest Portland had been in decades. I chuckled and motioned my hand downwards, “Oh, honey, I don’t mean to one up you, but I’m from Indianapolis, and we have to deal with the weight of humidity in addition to the heat. Compared to what I am used to, this is lovely.” We laughed and talked more. When we got on the bus, we breathed easier because of the air conditioning. Ronnie and I took off our rucksacks, sat down, and gave our knees and backs some much needed rest until our next stop.
Bullying has had the same effect on me. I know, it’s surprising that someone who is 6”8, and has always been a head taller than his classmates, was the object of bullying. Beginning in elementary school, I was expected to always act older by the teachers because I looked like I was twelve when I was eight. How many eight year olds do you know that are 5”6? That was a terrible inconvenience, but nothing compared to the treatment I received in high school when I skyrocketed to 6”4. Because of my size, I should have played football, but I loathe any organized sport, and wanted nothing to do with such things. I preferred going to shows, reading, and getting my hands on any punk rock or hardcore. Aside from the condescension and resentment teachers gave me, the students took it upon myself to come after me and make my life a living hell. Beating on a giant improved street credibility, and would have meant something had I wanted to fight back. I’m not fighter. I’m not really hardcore. By the strictest, current, arbitrary definition, I am not masculine—though I tried to be to the derisive amusement of my classmates. Things became worse when, in American Lit, we read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I began to be taunted as Lenny, and treated as stupid—even my teachers joined in with the ridicule. There was no safe space for me to go to. At home, I faced scorn from my great grandmother and my great aunt, resentment from my mother because I was a mistake, and my father’s fist when he lost his temper. At church, I was expected to take everything that was dealt to me, and when I spoke up, I was threatened by one of the pastor’s sons. In response, I shut down whatever emotion remained, and retreated into my mind.
In my mind, I could tear apart books, devour the knowledge, and defend myself. I learned from the best at home, and I had no lines other than my personal survival. I became the intellectual equivalent of a little man going into the gym and going to BJJ classes because he has a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove. Nothing to prove to the people in his life, but to the demons that remained long after home, school, and church vanished. Unfortunately, how that translates into the present is something volatile, something destructive, and set on a hair trigger. But that is not with everything. Nowadays, it’s only limited to Christianity.
When I returned to school, I went into religious studies so I could have the academic equivalent of brass knuckles to break the jaw of any Christian who felt justified in attacking me or people in my life. During my academic career, I realized I was right to reject the religion that had been presented to me, and that should have been a turning point in letting go. It wasn’t. Because I had greater intellectual resources, I publicly shamed the bullies and backed them into a corner where they responded with ad homiem attacks or they were humiliated into silence. When one person used their brand of Christianity to insult a friend of mine, I jumped in and educated them on their doctrinal history, and citing sources while I pointed out the errors of their stance. I ended with, “Before you make another comment could you please do some further research into Church history and theology so as to spare yourself some embarrassment? Thanks.” I write this to my shame.
I can spin this into a noble reason of triumph over ignorance and heresy, but the truth of the matter is, and I hate to admit it, I still hate Christianity for the wounds I have received in its name. I have become Ishmael crippled and blinded by an irrational desire to hunt down Moby Dick, and slay that whale for taking my leg. We all know how that story ends. The ship is obliterated, and all but the narrator of the story have perished. Is it worth killing myself over a machine that has been operating since the mid-4th century? I would say, no. I do get some kind of juicy pleasure when I write and name names, or when I intellectually stick it to people from churches that hurt me. But I get no justice. Vengeance feels good like a shot of rye whiskey, but offers no balance. My desire for revenge has turned me into those bullies who made my life a living hell. I’m continuing the cycle while destroying myself in the process.
Nietzsche said, “In order to fight the monsters you must act like the monster, but be careful to not become the monster—you stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back into you.” I had become the monster. The abyss had filled me, and I didn’t even realize it. I’ve studied Buddhist meditation, and I’ve been to counseling, but more work needs to be done. I have tasted the ocean air and felt the freedom of peace of other people who go about their lives avoiding conflict and embracing compassion, but I can barely breathe through this soaked towel and my vision is clouded—I see men as trees walking. I want that freedom, though, and I want that peace and I want to feel compassion. I want to care. There is much to unlearn and to learn. In no way do I blame my current psychological struggles on my family, high school, or the church. At some point we make a choice, and the consequences are our own, but sometimes we need help with our learning process. Sometimes we need to be shown how to unwrap the towel so we can see our path. The heat is never the problem. It’s the humidity, and sometimes we need to make that move away from our present climate to feel the world as is without the masks and filters feeding our insecurities.