I am a therapist.
This means I listen to other people’s problems and other people’s stories, and I respond and try to find solutions and I help in any way I can. Sometimes this means I just nod my head and say “mmm.” Sometimes this means I talk even more than my client. I learn everything there is to know about my clients, and I carry their secrets in the depths of my heart.
I lump their secrets along with my own. Secrets are very heavy, you know. They weigh down on your heart until you can barely stand. That’s when you collapse. So far, I’ve collapsed twice. Once in Vegas, 1998, and once in Montana, 2004. But I’ve dusted myself off, stood up, and continued. Because that’s what you do.
Sometimes I feel like Jesus Christ. No, I’m not saying that I’m as great as him, but I take in everybody’s sin, just as Jesus did. I wonder how that was for him. He absorbed our sin–we gave it to him freely, no doubt, but he, in retrospect, accepted it freely—and eventually died to cure our wickedness. In that approach, I see myself as Jesus Christ.
I had these two clients, married, who visited me weekly. Not with each other; they visited me separately. His name was Lucifer, and he visited me on Sundays when he told his wife he was going to watch football with his friends. He had no trouble telling his wife that because she didn’t care for sports and she didn’t know it wasn’t football season. He was cheating on his wife at least three days a week with a girl in his office. Everyone at his office knew because, as he had been told, the sounds they made in the bathroom were louder than an elephant stampede. He would come home late each night and his wife would ask where he had been and he would say “Working.” And that would be the end of it because there wasn’t anything else to fill the silence.
Her name was Penelope and she came to me on Wednesdays during her lunch because those were the only lunches she wasn’t busy. She had been seeing this man she met at a bar a few weeks ago after going out with friends for one too many drinks. He listened to her force a laugh at all the wrong jokes and sigh when she thought no one was watching and look past everyone as if she were waiting for someone to show, and he knew she was broken, and he had patched her up the best he knew how. He entertained her every day, making her smile like she hadn’t in years and making her feel as if she were well on her way to becoming whole again. I once asked her if she wanted to confront her husband and she told me no, she didn’t want to hurt him, because the quiet at nights when he wasn’t home was already almost too much to bear, and she knew they were already quivering on the edge and anything else would keel the boat.
At nights, when he came home to a quiet, detached wife, it would pierce him like a cold knife plunged into his gut and he would wish they could make an elephant stampede together, if only just to cover the silence.
That was before she died.
Afterwards, he visited me only a couple of times more to tell me he had finished it with that girl from the office and he had quit his job and placed so many wreaths of flowers on his wife’s tombstone that the stone was almost completely covered in regret. And then he left, and I was left with another story to carry on my back.
“Life!” he shouted in the air
as if had somehow upset him
“Must mean something more than death!”
He swayed from side to side
leaned on the table
then on the wall.
I heartily agreed with him
raised a glass to his name.
“Now come here, you,” I slurred.
“Sit down, have another.”
He groaned, plopped down
swirled his glass and downed it.
“To love!” A drink.
“To hope!” A drink.
“To the merry, hairy Pope!”
A laugh, a drink.
The chink of glass.
The scotch slopped down my arm.
“Another!” I cried.
“Another!” he sighed.
“To a savior that may save us.”
He wasn’t a kind man. He had laugh lines, though, his eyes shone bright, he greeted the children coming home from school with subdued cheer, his eyes crinkled when he smiled. Or, I think they would, if he ever smiled. I find it sad that he doesn’t smile. He hoards in his laughter and happiness as if it were a precious commodity, as if it were something he could lose if he didn’t hold a tight enough rein. I find it sad because there is a reason he hoarded his smiles. Something or someone happened to make him this way, and I shudder to think what it could have been.
Whatever it was, I knew one thing. There was no way he could have deserved it. He wasn’t a kind man, no, but neither was he unkind. And I think he could be kind, if he had it in him. I think he wants to be kind. But that’s another thing he’s lost. He’s lost enthusiasm. It’s as if he just doesn’t have it in him to smile or wave or laugh at a lame joke. As if he’s too tired. As if all he can do is run his hand through his hair, sigh, and hope he won’t have to endure it again tomorrow. He looks like he’s given up, like he’s content to let day after day pass him by and just cling on and hope he survives.
Frankly, it’s disheartening to see someone like this. No one should have to hang on the edges of life in hopes of never having to face it at its full capacity. So I decided I was going to fix him, whether he wanted me to or not. I could be persistent. Jesus, could I be persistent.
You’re lying in bed reading your favorite book for the third time, and maybe it’s because you’re emotional from staying up too late, or maybe it’s because you just got a bad grade on a test you thought you did well on, but as you’re staring at the page you suddenly realize that you’re going to live a completely average life. You’re lying there and you remember once again that you’re completely ordinary, and for a moment, you’re going to feel like this ardently average person couldn’t possibly be you. But you’re going to be all right. Because you have your entire life ahead of you, full of new experiences and risks and violent acts of passion. You’re going to experience flashes of all-consuming hate, and you’re going to experience slow, cathartic movements of coursing love. You’re going to kiss your best friend in a sea of strangers as the ball drops in Times Square, and you’re going to hold their hand and laugh at the fireworks crackling in the midnight sky. You’re going to feel alive. You’re going end up on the floor with blotchy red cheeks, laughing at some idiot joke your roommate made about three men that walk into a bar. You’re going to matter to so many people. They won’t always tell you, but someday you’re going to be the most important person in their lives, more important than you’ll ever know. You’re going to find the one you want to spend the rest of your life with, and you’re going to get married, and you’re going to grow old together. And after it’s all over, you’re going to look into that person’s eyes and think, Wow, what an incredible adventure it’s been.
And you’re going to live. So go ahead and close your eyes for a moment, and remember: you’re going to be okay.
Some people call me a poor madman with a stick up his ass. Whatever I am, I know what I am not. I am not a brick. I am not an item used for the construction of other items; I am not passive. Perhaps it would be better if I were a passive man. Not passive in the sense that I live life without experience it, but in the sense that I live without a mark made, good or bad, onto the essence of my being. A passive man is one that allows nothing to affect his beliefs and judgment. He is clear-headed; he is the leader of mankind as it strives to develop itself in accordance with the idealistic nature of human personality. Perhaps, had I been a passive man, who I am would not be a reflection of others, but of myself. Alas, I am not a passive man. My perspective is as fluid as a toddler with its toys. I am affected by everything and anything from the philosophical persuasion of the friend closest to my heart to the ephemeral temperature of the grass beneath my feet. I am made up of the grotesque amalgamation of the opinions of others. Of, most probably, more passive man. I am, in reality, a made man. I am not passive, and though I might have benefited had I been, I am still glad I am not. Because it is the passive men, the men with dreams and aspirations, the men whose ideals stretch far beyond the bare planes of reality, that serve as stepping stones for change. They are bricks. Singularly, they are nothing, but together, they can construct something that revolutionizes the very idea of revolution. I do not want to be a brick. I do not want to serve as a foundation for others; no, I want others to serve as a foundation for me. Fo what are great politicians except melting pots for the ideas of others? I do not want to be a brick; I want to be a politician. Say what you will, leading a life through the lenses of accommodation is infinitely preferable to leading a life dictated by the stringency of one’s own morals.
That being said, passive men bring great joy to my life. It is they who tell me that there is meaning. To what, I am not certain, but the clarity of meaning is obvious. There are many types of passive men:
1) There is the effortless type. These men are passive without thought. They are guided by their own personal morals without the influence of those around them. These people are rare. When one thinks of an effortlessly passive man, one may imagine a sweet, God-loving virgin boy, one who wears sweater vests and attends family functions. If one wanted, he might even be hideous. No, this is not the effortlessly passive man. One could argue that he follows only himself. One could argue that his morals are present, and yes, that is true. His morals are present, but they are not the same morals as those of an effortlessly passive man. These are the morals that were handed to him. An effortlessly passive man, on the other hand, may be a man who skins young pups alive. He could have a thousand sex slaves, he could run an underground black market. Most importantly, he does not care for others, and barely himself. This man is the one who will take the world by storm. He respects himself as the man he is rather than the man others define him to be. However, he will be forever lonely. Without the acceptance of others, he is often referred to as the man who wastes away. So is the tragedy of the effortlessly passive man.
2) The second type of passive man is perhaps more common. This is the righteously passive man. This is the man who, before knowing the opinions of the rest of the world, developed his own. And on learning that his opinions were contrary to those of the public, he gained a sense of purposeful righteousness. This is the man that proves himself passive, that uses his passivity as a character trait to bolster his idea of his self-importance. This is the man who believes himself the underdog in most situations. He is proud of his differentiation—and it is by no means a hollow accomplishment, for he has earnestly developed his perspective without interference. The difference between the righteously passive man and the effortlessly passive man is that the righteously passive man is only passive in one respect, while the effortlessly passive man is passive in all. I say this because the righteously passive man cannot afford to be passive in all respects. His righteousness flows from his solid belief that he is special for holding an opinion antithetical to those of the majority. And in this sense, he finds himself caring for his standing in comparison to the rest. His review of himself is wholly affected by the standing of the world. In this sense, he is not an effortlessly passive man.
So far, I have depicted the righteously passive man in an unfavorable light. Let me say that being a righteously passive man is not a bad situation—you are already better than I am. To have an original thought is an accomplishment indeed, and all the much better to find the courage to stick by it. All good original thoughts have already been taken, and if you’ve managed to find a new original thought worth adhering to, then I can only express my admiration. Passive thoughts are becoming rarer as human ingenuity continues to perform at its standard level but discoveries of thought cease to be made. Infinite pockets of undiscovered thought are waiting to be found, that is certain, but so stuck are we to the ingenuity of the past that we become complacent, unwilling to explore further the corners of our imaginations. In conclusion, righteously passive men aren’t nearly as pretentious as I had made them out to be.
3) The third type of passive man is what is probably the opposite of the effortlessly passive man. Let us call him the effortfully passive man. The effortfully passive man works to be passive, to develop his own ideas without influence from the public. In this way, he is influenced entirely by society. He sees and he understands the views of society, and he develops ideas that contrast directly. One could argue that this man is not passive at all. In fact, this sort of man may be even more affected than the average man. He is consumed by the systematic nature of society, the desperate desire to escape the cycle in coalition with the need to be successfully unique, to remind him that his true soul could shake the very foundations of understanding. Some may call him a devil’s advocate. This is incorrect. He does not argue for the sake of arguing, but for the sake of his own well-being. This is the motive of the effortfully passive man. We must pity this man, who requires physical confirmation of his own value. He is, like I am, a made man.
These are the passive men. These are the constituents of society. Admire us, pity us, sympathize with us. But do not try to fix us.