Before she gave up trying to talk with me, she asked me one question. It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question, and it won’t be the last time I hear that question. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
As I’d done for years, for others who had asked me that question, I answered as honestly, and truthfully as I could. “I will protect you from me.”
She didn’t understand my answer. No one really ever had. Except for my psychotherapist, and it took him years to figure it out.
She was a member of this one particular church. I’d tried attending that church. For six months I tried. In the end, I walked away. I removed every phone number, every contact, every address I had for anyone who was a member of that church, and walked away.
“I will protect you from me.”
My therapist told me, shortly after I started seeing my psychiatrist, “Let’s not destroy his view of the world just yet, OK? Be nice to him.”
“OK, Doc. I will.”
Her church was ruled, yes ruled, not led, but ruled, by a charismatic, strong willed pastor whose decisions, and words, were the only ones that mattered. The word authoritarian comes to mind. Within a few weeks of first visiting her church, I knew I had a decision to make. The same decision I have to make endlessly. “Do I lie about everything, about who I am, what I believe, what I think, what I feel, and construct an image of a person the people who attend this church want me to be? Or do I leave.”
It was a simple decision to make, but I let emotions get in the way, and spent months pretending I could find a solution.
I remember things she said to me, on several occasions. Things that screamed about the corrupt, damaged nature of that church. Things that screamed about its authoritarian pastor, and the sheep that attended all its services, and bleated to the pastor, “Tell us how to live, what to think, who to be, how to be, what is right, and what is wrong. Remove from us all our responsibilities in this life. Make our lives simple. The kind of lives that don’t give us headaches, that don’t cause us stress, that don’t make us worry about anything.”
“Don’t make me question my faith.” Words she spoke to me. Words others in that church also spoke. “Don’t make me question my faith.”
Really? How strong can your faith be if it’s so fragile you can’t have anyone ask questions? How strong can your faith be if you can’t tolerate, can’t withstand, other people having different beliefs, different faiths, different understandings than yours.
“Don’t make me question my faith.”
Words that have only one real, honest meaning. “I don’t want to know the truth.” Words that scream, “I know this is all a lie, but it’s the only thing keeping me sane in this insane world. This image in my head, about God and Jesus, and the world the pastor describes. Because, I’ll be blunt. The world we live in is fucked up, and I can’t cope with it.”
“Don’t make me question my faith.”
Oh, you are so weak, so child-like, so spoiled, that you can’t deal with life? That you’d have to become an alcoholic, or drug abuser? That you’d become another statistic in the drug overdose epidemic? That you might have to admit you like looking at pictures of men and women having sex? That you might have to admit you like smoking marajuana?a
Why can’t you question your faith? Because the questions scare you? And the answers scare you even more?
There are other words she spoke.
“I’ve worked hard to gain the trust of these people. I have an image here. They think of me in a good way. I’m going to keep that.”
And there it is. In broad daylight. In total clarity. Not hidden from anyone or anything. “I live a lie here. I pretend to be someone I know these people want me to be. I like the way these people treat me when I pretend to be that person.”
“I have an image here that I must maintain.”
As I looked around in that church, I saw precisely what she’d said. Everyone there had an image they had to maintain. Everyone there had a lie they had to live. Such that everyone else there would treat them as they wanted to be treated, with a specific kind of respect, with a specific kind of trust.
I saw everyone looking at each other with a smile, and a wink of the eye, “We know the truth. But we keep playing this game, because it gives us an escape from the reality of life, and we can’t handle that reality.”
So, I told her, “I will protect you from me.”
Because I know the truth. I know we are all darkness and light. Good and evil. Just and unjust. I know our society, or economy, our companies, our industries, don’t care if I live or die. That I’m just a human resource. Expendable. Replaceable. Just like the tires on a car. Or the lightbulbs in a house.
I know that’s the reality of the world we live in. I know that’s why people live in pain. In agony. And get high to escape that truth. Or get drunk. Or play basketball. Or go bowling. Or visit the bar on the way home every night.
Because they can’t cope with that truth. They can’t cope with being a lightbulb that you throw away when it burns out. They can’t cope with a society that places no value on them, on what they believe, on what they think, on what they feel.
Because they seek any means of escaping that truth.
So I told her, “I will protect you from me.”
Sometimes, I get sad, knowing how many others are terrified of that truth. Knowing how many others can’t cope with being a simple, expendable human resource in some big machine. Especially since it’s a machine of our own design, or our own making.
Sometimes, I get sad, knowing how many others can’t find a way to live with that truth, and elect, instead, to live in a lie that never ends. A lie that pretends everything is good. And right. And true. And as it should be.
As long as they don’t look too closely.
As long as they don’t ask questions.
So, I left. To protect her from me.
Because I know the truth, and I don’t hide from it.
But sometimes. I get sad.