I never wanted the life I have. I don’t know if anyone does. But I know I didn’t. I’m writing this on a park bench surrounded by pristine silence. Shadows are spread before me on the cupped snow at my feet. I’m not used to the cold of an east coast winter. And the quiet has brought back bad memories. Life is funny that way.
In the short time I’ve spent on Earth I’ve been a lot of things. Some I’m proud of – some that make it hard for me to sleep. I don’t know if silence is my friend but it is often my companion. And on still nights like this as the chill chafes against the tight skin of my scalp I find the memories come quickly and unwanted like so many of life’s surprises.
You may have heard that God laughs at the plans of mice and men. The poet Robert Burns said that. Doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not – the statement is true regardless. We are often laughable creatures. So where does that leave us?
We travel down the one way street of our life hurtling toward a final rest. But until then we’re left to react the best we know how. And some of us, for reasons that make no sense and make one feel that life is unfair, are given challenges we don’t know how to handle but have to deal with nevertheless.
I’ve been a lot of things in this life. A brother. A son. A friend. A lover. An actor. An outlaw. A writer. And the only thing that remains consistent is the singular sense that time rolls on. One day you learn this is your savings grace. Life never stops.
I’ve been in rooms I never wanted to be in. I’ve sat with killers. Tight with nerves, I’ve felt the lifeless cold of a gun against my waist as I watched drugs deals go down that most folks only see in movies. I’ve listened to men tell stories about doing things to others and the details of the horrors they recounted one never forgets. And these men stand next to you on the subway. These men sit in cars next to you at stop lights. And you wouldn’t know them on sight.
Despite knowing and seeing acts of what others would call evil I’ve never abandoned my belief that people want to be good – they just lose sight of how. Some are broken when they are children and never had the chance that you have. Some are shattered in adolescence. Others are severed from their decency in their adulthood. But even those folks were once children. Innocent. And I’ve seen killers come back from the brink to become loving fathers and husbands. And it is this that I focus on. It’s this that allows me to keep going no matter how dark my days get.
The thing about life is you always have a choice as long as you’re on this side of the grass. No matter how much you may feel that darkness has swallowed your hope – it’s still there with you like the sound of the echo of your heart thumping along inside your cage of ribs.
Many folks who deal with me think I’m a strange bird. They sense how eager I am to see them happy and it makes them suspicious because what they don’t understand they chalk up to easy conclusions. Often when I’m kind or thoughtful a person thinks I have an angle, and since they don’t know where I’ve been they assume I must want something from them. The funny thing is I get what I want by giving. I don’t want anything from them other than to tell someone not with words but with an action that I see and appreciate them and what they do, and I give them whatever I do because to see how I make someone smile reminds me we’re all connected and that what I do can spread joy and their joy is my joy; that with these finite moments of my life, with these tiny actions, we keep hope and love alive. That’s very important – now more so than ever.
We live in selfish times. And rather than give in to the rhythms of self-concern I remind myself that by thinking of others I make my life better. Outlaws taught me that. With the same energy we use to take, we can give. And when we give to others we spread joy and hope. By giving to others you invest in yourself a belief in a better tomorrow. When you think of others as you would yourself you gain that better tomorrow for you. Life is backwards like that.
Be kind to others because it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. This is what motivates the protesters in Ukraine, in Russia, and Venezuela. This why the ones who risk their lives to give strangers a better tomorrow know they’re giving themselves the gift of hope. And with the softness of hope any transgression can be endured. This is how water defeats rock and steel. (And ironically, this is also why Ukrainian grandmothers are making Molotov cocktails).
If we are ever to transcend our base natures it will be because the hope of selflessness reaches a critical mass that makes it possible for people to believe that what they do has meaning and value and will outlast them.
Music is the language of the soul. I’ll leave you with this final message of indefatigable hope sung by agitprop art collective Pussy Riot. Just like the outlaws and killers who taught me, Pussy Riot wants to tell the world how “Putin Will Teach You How To Love.”
This is the great and timeless power that spurs them on despite the sting of the lash or the cold of a prison cell. Hope and love outlast. Always.