Outside, the world is raging. People are actually arguing about what to call the cages they are throwing confiscated children into. One wealthy country’s criminally misguided drug laws put neighboring countries’ drug cartels into overdrive, people are killed, tortured, threatened. Citizens flee the violence of their impoverished home countries. They are caught at a border, have their kids grabbed, or are told that their children will wait for them while they’re being processed as potential illegal terrorist types . Then, as the adults go with authorities, their kids are secretly whisked hundreds of miles away, no receipt given, the kids can be anywhere. Whose fault is that?
Outside, on the Fourth of July, freedom is no doubt loudly, ponderously on the march. Is it still freedom if it wears jackboots? Back in Germany, between the world wars, as the violent revenge fantasies were gestating in vats of nationalist, racist steroids, militant German youth marched chanting “wir sheissen auf die freiheit!“. The NY Times translated this as “we spit on freedom!’ though, of course, the active verb in that sentence means “shit”. WE SHIT ON FREEDOM!
In my mind, it is much more quiet. Nobody shitting on freedom, no bureaucrats sending children hundreds of miles from their parents with no records kept, no world leader threatening to detonate nuclear bombs and annihilate millions if he doesn’t get universal adulation — and a Nobel Peace Prize.
“You pretentious asshole,” says an old friend.
“Yes?” I say.
“You seriously believe you can write your way out of a world of festering horrors?”
Mmmm, result is unclear.
“Did you read that off the little screen of your magic 8 ball?”
It is likely.
“Look, you seem to feel you can just write out your thoughts and feelings and put them up for your dozens of mindless followers to salute.”
Here is my bottom line. If you are my friend, I give you the benefit of the doubt. I exert myself not to judge the things you do to survive, even if they are things I myself am unable to do.
“Fuck you!” says my old friend.
Didn’t mean to sound judgmental, old bean. I only mean to point out that my first duty, as your friend, is to give you every benefit of every doubt. I was directed to an interesting opinion piece in the Grey Skank the other day about the corrosive shame so many men feel, and how it leads to the disrespect of women, which fuels more shame. This cycle culminates, of course, in toxic masculinity. That is the kind of macho bluster that puts violence at the top of the list of ways to get people who say uncomfortable things to shut the fuck up.
“Jesus, the torture never stops! Will you get to the fucking point?” says my old friend.
Of course. Giving the benefit of the doubt starts with recognizing the feelings of another person. He did this because he felt he was about to be killed. Fair enough. In his shoes I might well have done the same thing. I certainly would have felt the same way he did.
“You are maddening!” he says.
Yes. Anyway, I’ve learned that you cannot argue, or it is pointless to argue, aggravating and counterproductive to argue (unless your goal is a good argument), that you should not feel what you are feeling. The feeling must be acknowledged, its reality accepted. The feeling is what it is, the reasons for it cannot be understood or addressed without first acknowledging the feeling. No productive conversation into overcoming the bad feelings can be had if the other person’s strong feelings are denied.
“Feel this, motherfucker,” says my old friend clenching his fist and brandishing it uselessly.
“Oh, uselessly, eh?” says my old friend, swinging his fist an inch from my nose.
I smile without showing my teeth. “Doan wase yourself…” I say through my smile/smirk, like Bruce Lee on the deck of that boat in Enter the Dragon, not even turning my head to the bully, watching the waves lapping in the distance.
My friend punches me full force in the mouth.
Feel better, do we?
“You self-righteous fucking asshole,” says my friend.
Look, I get that your feelings are hurt. I seem to be blaming you for acting badly, even though it wasn’t your fault. You were in a total panic, afraid I was secretly angry at you, maliciously sabotaging your shaky marriage. I get all that. It was important for you to point out, at that time, that I always feel I’m right, never admit the possibility I could be wrong, never apologize about anything. I apologized to you, for what it was worth. Then you told me how hurt and angry you are that I see you as an anxious person who needs to be protected. I get it, I get all that, truly.
Thing is, though, strong feelings, stirred and unacknowledged by the people who are supposed to be your closest friends, lead to other strong feelings. This happens almost in direct proportion to the strength of the feeling that is left unacknowledged. If you deny my right to be angry, what am I to do with the feeling? You come to me in rage, I don’t acknowledge your right to be angry. Tell you you’re a fucking baby, advise you to “grow a pair”, man up, stop being a pussy(cat). What happens to the rage I tell you to fucking shut up about?
“One punch in the face wasn’t enough for you?” asks my friend.
Once is never enough, from a man like you. You remember that Captain and Tennille line, the pretty Tenille singing to the Captain: do that to me one more time, once is never enough, with a man like you. What the hell?
“I’m going to kill you,” says my friend.
No, you are not going to kill anyone. One thing I can assure you, I am not going to be killed by you today. You may feel like killing me, and we can talk about that, you toxic male you, but you ain’t going to kill me any more than I’m going to kill you.
Feel free, in the meantime, to punch me in the face as hard, and as many times, as you like. I’ve got to get back to my daydreaming on Independence Day, so forgive me if I don’t cry out. Rest assured, your punches are mighty, and terrible indeed.
 Not to make a gratuitous comparison between government lies told to helpless people, but when the Nazis forced the Jews at the killing centers to strip naked and line up, the Jews were told it was for a shower, not a gas chamber. Which would you rather step into? A nice hot shower, or a sealed room about to be pumped full of poison gas? Come on, is there even a choice?