I’ve come to classify my life as largely phased into two halves, and I think you may be able to relate. Maybe Jesus was able to revamp our entire calendar, but all of us are able to reach a personal point of epiphany in our own lives that is perhaps even more influential than the BC/AC dichotomy- it’s what I’ve come to call GAF/DGAF (i.e. “give a f*ck”/ “don’t give a fu*k”).
I can trace back my roots in GAF to my mother- a Catholic-raised woman of ignoble tolerance, and perhaps more than a little enviable naiveté (perhaps the nuns beat the capacity for rational thinking out of her with their sticks). There were always excuses:
“She’s only treating you that way because she has sadness in her own life” or
“You should feel sorry for her because she’s insecure.”
And I would try. If I could take back all the hours and days and weeks that I spent “beating around bushes” and carrying anger within me so I could wear smiles on the surface, I’d probably not only have a medical degree with the free time, but I never would have met my good old friend Xanax, either.
But there comes a point in one’s life when rational thinking overpowers giving a f*ck. You pour endless hours into relationships that inevitably yield the same less-than-desirable results. You hold low expectations of people, and become heartbroken each time they can’t meet them. And sometimes you find that maybe your expectations of certain people were perhaps a little too high to begin with. And other times you find that some people are just assholes. That’s it. Nothing more.
For a long time, I admired my mother’s perspective of people and life and, though it went against my natural way of thinking, I tried to embrace a similar outlook. It always seemed to keep her content, and so I tried to become practiced in the same philosophy. And there are many attributes I have taken from my mother that have served me well (more on that in a minute), but excusing bad behavior became simply a toxic strategy in my life. Because here’s the thing: how one behaves at the worst moments of their life is exactly what defines them as person. Not how they behave on their wedding day, or in the weeks, months, or years that they dwindle in happiness before they inevitably crash into another obstacle. It’s how they treat others when they are at their worst.
A few years back I sat in a psychotherapy session- part of an 18-month long series of visits to confront these very issues. We were in month 16 when my therapist asked, “you never mention your mother. Most of my patients talk endlessly about their mothers, but in 16 months of seeing you I hardly know her name.”
That’s when it hit me.
I really was no different from her other patients. I was there because of my mother. She never came up because she’s as close to a living saint as a human being can come, but nonetheless I can blame my presence on that ubiquitous therapy couch on her.
“My mother encouraged me, quite endlessly, to be kind to those who treat me poorly.” I responded. “And that is quite right. Cruelness would run me in quite an angry circle. But there was something dramatically important that, for all these years, she has left out and that I am only now learning here.”
“What’s that?” she asked, quizzically.
“It’s that, while I should never be cruel to such people, I should also not waste the precious few moments I have here on earth chasing after something that will never exist. And what will never exist is a satisfactory relationship with an asshole.”
My days in therapy served as an important addendum to my childhood: a time and place to explore the missing pieces. I’d call them parental failures, but the fact is that all parents fail their children in some ways. It’s then up to us to do the best we can to go find those pieces and fit them into the puzzle as adults. And there was something wholesomely important that I gained in those days with Dr. E: macroscopically we might call this “not giving a f*ck”, but on a smaller scale it was calling a spade a spade. And then learning how to minimize the presence of the spades in my life.
The problem is, not all spades are excommunicable. In some cases, the spade may even be your own mother. And the hardest part is digging deep to find the line between your morality and your reality, finding just the right place to put the assholes in your life.
I think I can most poignantly make my point by telling you that I write this from a hospital bed. It’s a bed that has become quite familiar to me over the years and one that has left me with little time in my life to spend with the tremendous amount of people that make me deliriously happy. The ones that are there when I need to cry. The ones that sacrifice a day at the beach to be in my dark hospital room. The ones that get no paid leave, but take that day off of work anyway to watch my daughter when I can’t be there with her myself.
But there’s something even more important about these people I speak of. They are the ones that celebrate my victories in the midst of their own defeats. The ones that cried tears of joy on my wedding day, despite being single. They are the people that are proud of my accomplishments, despite not being afforded the same opportunities as I have been given. The SCI friend that inspires with her optimism- the hospice patient that checks in to see how I’m doing. They are the people that took their heads out of their own asses and, by doing so, stopped spreading shit and started spreading love.
As for the rest of you, I simply don’t have the time.