For some time my favorite Johnny Cash song was "A Boy Named Sue" until in 2010 my history teacher introduced me to this. Mr. Lehman wasn't a very sentimental person, but he was very sincere about a lot of things. Behind all that cynicism was a man who cared a lot and, in spite of his low opinions of everyone, valued them dearly and believed in doing the right thing. In a similar way, I balance an ongoing disappointment with humanity with a belief in its fundamental worth.
I wrote a story a while back. For those who haven't read it, I won't advertise, but basically I made indirect reference to this song in some of the dialogue, particularly through a character who was supposed to represent me. I realize that sometimes there's a time for ethics and philosophy, but depending on your point of view you either have to take a step back from this or step in a little to take a good look. In any case, sometimes in order to see things as they really are you have to stop examining it, and you have to stop trying to feel it. What you need is to simply believe in the whole point to morality: to care and to love other people. In order to understand it you have to do it. Don't try to experience it - act on it.
Perhaps I'm fortunate to have grown up in an unsentimental town, filled with stoic Iowans sitting silently in their Calvinistic pews. We weren't looking for an experience. Of course, you could say that we didn't act on our ideology either. Then i went to a Pentecostal church where people were huge on experiencing righteousness, but their supposed good deeds ultimately didn't come out of love and I ultimately had to question whether they were loving people. I would like to come to the defense of my cultural background and say that the Iowa Gothics have it right and the Armenian hippies had it wrong, but I can't quite say that one person was more loving than the other.
If anyone got it, it was Johnny Cash. I like to call myself a Johnny Cash Christian. If you don't believe in the things I believe, fine; call me a Johnny Cash American or Johnny Cash human. I prefer to attach his name to my faith because that's what's most important to me. In any case, I'm a person who's lived in a lot of silence and has gone through some rough times. There's another song that described it quite well, one I will write a completely different essay for later, that really explains the internal decay we share in common. What I understand about John is that he's a person who went through rough times, and he saw the ugliness of the world. For whatever reason, that's what it took to also see its beauty. Here he is, a broken man, and by seeing his brokenness and neediness and helplessness, he managed to see it in others and had compassion.
Growing up, I suffered depression. I still do. It's never gone away, no matter what I've tried to do. Even when it all seems okay, my positive feelings stand in front of a backdrop of profound sadness. Things went horribly wrong in my life, and I tried and failed to fix them. Some of that was out of my power, some of it was. I'm not sure which is more despairing.
I have found this to be somewhat of a truth: true sadness cannot exist without having known true happiness, and true happiness cannot have existed if not for true sadness. They are both necessary, in order to know either one intimately. So perhaps I have been blessed, because I am not depressed for no reason. Rather, I have never lost sight of what constitutes for true joy. I have never taken it for granted, and joy remains precious and real to me, even if it is distant. At least I can be still and know it exists.
Now, having known this darkness, and having looked left and right and realized that in the humility it brings the world seems much bigger all of a sudden, I cannot look at others without feeling some degree of compassion. I want the best for them, better than what I have for myself. Perhaps they don't suffer depression like I do, but I want them to all know true joy. I want what is right for them. I waited for a long time, hoping for someone to come along and hold me when I was not enough, but there came a time to put that waiting aside. Since I know what joylessness feels like, I cannot wish that upon anyone else.
This isn't a grand exposition of morality and ethics. I'm just, for a moment here, being completely human, and sometimes it's difficult to find the words to express that. Morally speaking, it's very simple: Do unto one another as you would have done unto yourself. Somehow, though, I don't say this in moral language. I just know what I want done for me, and I realize I can't have it, and in order for there to be something right in this world I have to give it out to other people. Pretty soon my pain becomes not my own, but that of the others I want the best for, who lack the best. I'm not thinking of whether or not it's moral, and it isn't an experience. I'm a slave to grace. That makes sense, somehow, but I'm still trying to figure out what that means.
What matters is that I'm sincere. No, that doesn't matter. It's important, but it's secondary to the real thing that matters. What reallymatters is that other people hurt, too, and we should all be a little more selfless and sympathize with their wounds. We have to deliver on the promise of a better world, and not out of some blind idealism, not because we're preaching morality or because we want to be better people. I don't care how good I am. I'm not looking at myself. Helping others doesn't make me feel better, and at this point I've stopped caring about how I feel. What do I feel? Variations of depression, my only real friend. It's unfortunate, but I've learned to love myself in spite of it, whether I succeed or not in helping others, and whether my failures are within my control or beyond it.
Love. It's really that simple. There's a stoic way of saying it; that's intellectual. There's a hippie way of saying it; that's emotional. I just want to see the doing done. I want to see genuine love come from a person's spirit, even if it's imperfect. Love everyone; yourself, in spite of your flaws that you know all too well, and others, even when they don't live up to your standards. Don't even think about standards. The only reason you should apply them is because it's for the food of the people you hold them to, and they will be healthier if they act lovingly as well. Not everyone's life is going to improve. That's okay; it's all the more reason to love them.
To the people I love dearly, who mean a lot to me, who I have been praying for and hoping for, to the people I have had to comfort, and to many others who are hurting and not even knowing it, I'm on your side, and I dedicate this entry to you. I will never give up on you.