About 18 years ago I ended up in a rough place. My father had been diagnosed with cancer and the outlook was very grim, at best. Most people don’t survive their first go ’round with this type of cancer, much less see another year or two. I was in my early twenties and just starting to get a grip on the basics of real life. I was only beginning to understand that most of what we had been taught growing up was lies, and even though I had a non-standard childhood, it really didn’t prepare me for the sheer amount of B.S. that I had learned along the way. To top it off, I was just starting to get to know my father, who hadn’t been a huge part of my life growing up due to divorce at a very early age. Honestly, I was just now discovering how much of my personality and mannerisms had been shaped by a parent I barely knew, and yet, here I was facing the prospect of losing my father just as I was getting to know him. Not easy to deal with, I’m sure you probably understand.
At this time my father had just undergone a major surgery, removing a large part of his esophagus and a portion of his stomach, all in order to arrest the cancer that was trying to spread in his body and do its level best to kill him. This was after undergoing the maximum dosage of chemo and radiation allowable in order to prevent the cancer from growing. The surgery was major, to say the least. The odds were not in his favor, but we could hope. Since this was out of my home town at the time, I was staying at my friend Lee’s house, sleeping there when I wasn’t up at the hospital with my dad.
I was spending some time away from the hospital, trying to decompress and wrap my head around my thoughts and feelings. I got a call from my brother, he wanted to check and see how things were going. He was in the military and had been forced to return to his deployment after a short time back home. I know it was very rough for him, being far away, disconnected and helpless. At the time, however, I was less interested in how he was dealing with it and just focusing on trying to get through it myself. Long story short, my brother said some frustrated, hurtful things on the phone and I reacted in pain and anger. I know exactly where he was coming from, I definitely don’t hold it against him, but at the time, yeah, it hurt. So I end the phone call, rush out of the house and start walking. I’m so angry I’m crying. Many of you probably don’t understand what I mean, but for the few that do, you get it. I’m walking as fast as my short ass legs can carry me, I’m talking to myself, cussing and venting my frustrations and fear, my pain and anger. I even punch and kick some stop signs and light poles along the way. I’m not sure what they thought about it, but it gave me some temporary relief. I don’t know how far I walked, maybe 4-6 blocks before I got myself under control, but through all this time, there was my friend Lee, just walking beside me. He didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, he just listened and let me deal with everything as best I could. When it was all said and done and we’d meandered back to his house, myself finally under some semblance of control, right before we headed back inside, he stopped me. He stopped me and gave me a hug. It was the weirdest damn thing in the world. I did not come from an emotionally expressive family- neither did he. The idea that you would give somebody who wasn’t immediate family a hug and tell them that you care about them was pretty damn foreign to me, to say the least. Just a hug. I cannot describe the feeling, I cannot do it justice, the impact it had on me at the time. How much I needed it.
Almost twenty years later I still remember that act of kindness, that act of honest humanity. One person treating another person as something meaningful – with compassion regardless of circumstances; regardless of upbringing, religion or philosophy.
I’m putting this experience in writing today because I want people to reconnect, to remember their humanity. Facebook and social media are a cesspool of unconscionable division. Instead of connecting with everyone, understanding each other, we use it to divide, to classify, to spread hate and and discontent. It’s Us vs. them, Left Vs, Right, straights vs. everyone else(and the reverse), illegals, immigrants and nationalists, oh my! We share memes and sayings that strip away some faction’s fundamental humanity in an effort to show how much better our viewpoint is than somebody else’s. How much better our belief is than the one we choose not see or or understand. We hold up religion, education, nationality and class as our shield, our justification of why our views make us the better human. We hurt each other and revel in our own righteousness. Every single day.
So I share my story in the hopes that there are others who understand. One hug won’t heal the world, won’t make anything better for the masses, but God damn us all, have we even tried?