I do not have a reputation for being the kindest person in the world.
When I cross paths with any of the multitude of panhandlers found in all sections of San Francisco, I not only walk past without giving any change, I also, more times than not, have an overwhelming feeling of loathing toward these individuals.
I do not feel sorry for people who relapse. I do not give my seat on the bus to a woman just because she is a woman (I do offer my seat to people [men and women] who are noticeably weaker than I am). I do not believe I need to leave a tip for a barista if all they do is pour me a cup of coffee. And, I have little tolerance for anyone who does not keep himself (at least) somewhat up to date – don’t even get me started on anyone who is unable to name the current Vice President of the United States or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
And although I do not do it as often as I have when it first began, I confess that I occasionally wish ill-will toward the members of my father’s family who refer to me as “that AIDS-infested faggot” and the members of that side of my family who may not refer to me that way directly, but do not speak out on how small-minded a statement like that is.
Without condoning or apologizing for these admittedly hateful feelings, and, at the risk of sounding just a tiny bit arrogant and apathetic, I have enough days of recovery from drugs and alcohol to know that this way of thinking stems from my fears:
I fear being homeless, hungry and alone – even though I have a roof over my head, food in my kitchen and too many friends to count.
I fear that I may relapse – even though I have not had a serious obsession or craving in I don’t know how long.
I fear falling if I stand on a moving bus or train – even though my osteo-necrotic knees and my balance have improved as my health gets stronger.
I fear running out of money – even though I have a regular source of income, built a small savings and learned to manage my money more than I had in the past.
I fear losing my mind as a negative result from AIDS – even though, as my health has gotten stronger, so has my mental capacities and abilities.
All that said I know the true reason for my attitude toward those types of people I have mentioned here is simply because they remind me I have these fears.
I have also been taught by those who have done the 12-steps before me that the best way to combat these fears, thereby changing my pessimistic outlook, is to live a life of kindness.
Another confession I feel I must make is that I was first taught this particular lesson early in my recovery – I had just chosen not to apply it to my life. Sadly, sometimes those of us in recovery (humans in general, I think) have a tendency to settle into a mind-set or behavior which they prefer to adhere to since, because it is the only way they know to be, it is comfortable – even if they know that mind-set or behavior to be spiritually detrimental. I have known for a long time that I am one to stick with what I know because I fear the unknown of how my life will be if I try to change.
I was also taught that when “a person is in enough pain, he will do something to change or he will die.”
I have not yet reached the point at which my negative thoughts have caused me so much pain that I must change or die, but it is strong enough that I thought to myself, “why not make the change before it becomes too great?” After all, I definitely do not want to die.
One of my resolutions/goals for 2012 is to be kinder which I hope to do by practicing gratitude and positive actions.
I’ve decided to write at least one letter a week to those people who have made an impact in my life and tell them exactly how I believe they were significant in making me the man I am today – a man I happen to like.
This morning I contacted my high school and asked the woman if the school would forward a letter to a former English teacher of mine that has since retired; I explained my plan and how much Mr. McGovern taught me is still with me nearly (can it be true?) thirty years later.
She told me that normally the school disposes of mail that arrives for teachers who are no longer at the school, but, if I sent it directly to her, she would personally see that my former teacher gets the note.
The happiness I felt at a woman I have never met agreeing to help a man she has never met do something nice for someone else set my day on such a positive path that I have been smiling all day.
When I went to pick up my food at Project Open Hand today, I overheard another client asking if he could have a second bag of the leftover holiday chocolates, he told the man helping him that those particular candies were his favorite. Unfortunately, the volunteer was unable to grant his request as the rules (which I believe to be important) prevented him from making an exception, despite the polite tone in which the inquiry was made.
I was going to take a bag of the chocolates home for myself, however, when I heard my fellow client describe his fondness for the sweet treats, I walked over to him and told him that if he waited for me in the front lobby, I would give him my share of the chocolates, which I ended up doing.
I cannot imagine the joy given by the taste of those chocolates would be anywhere near the joy given by seeing how happy the man was when I handed him the bag of candy.
I am fully aware that this entry can be viewed as my trying to say to the world, “Look at me! Look at how much of a good person I can be!”
I promise you, my readers, that it not my intent.
I am writing these words so that I can see what kind of man I can be if I choose to act with kindness.
I am also writing these words to share with you the elation I experience by acting contrary to the instincts to which I have conditioned myself.
Today has taught me that when I pay attention to the people who share this existence with me, and see that they have the same basic needs and similar harmless wants, I am occasionally find myself having the willingness and the means to make someone feel just a little bit better, and, in the process of doing so, make myself feel better as well.
When I walk around judging people and trying to find ways as to how I am “better than” or “better off than,” I tend to be miserable and depressed – at least depressed.
Because when I am one-hundred percent honest with myself and remain open-minded that the only person I need to be “better than” is the person I was yesterday.