Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This (I Think) I Believe In...

One of the many (and I stress "many") things I love about my wife is how unbelievably bright she is.  Long ago, when I was compiling a checklist of traits I wanted in a potential, life-long mate, intelligence would always fall near the top.  It was apparent from day one she possessed that characteristic in spades, and on an almost daily basis, I learn something new from her.

But, intelligence comes in different forms.  Sure, she's book-smart, and street-smart, which are important, but it's so much more than that.  She has impeccable grammar, and calls me out on my grammatical mistakes on a regular basis.  She also has a great, "smart," sense of humor, can debate virtually any topic (ones in which she's interested, at least), and can articulate ideas so well that I sometimes find myself wondering how complex thoughts can be spoken so simplistically.

Adrienne and I can, and do often, sit and watch Jeopardy! and find ourselves competing against one another.  We can have in-depth conversations about social and political issues, and we can laugh for days about billboards and banners with typos or a misplaced exclamation point.  So, it should come as no surprise that her family possesses many of the same traits.

Recently, Liza posted on her blog about her beliefs and ideas as they relate to some of the more "important" topics people always claim to really believe in, one way or another.  I found it interesting and inspiring to see someone really put themselves out there in a way that leaves them vulnerable to criticism or praise, depending on which side of the fence one may fall.  It made me think about how Adrienne and I can have similar conversations all the time (something that I love), but it also really got me to thinking, too.

"What do I believe or believe in?"

I'm going to italicize Liza's thoughts on these topics, and then respond with my own.

And I want to say up front that I don't think what follows puts me on some intellectual or analytical pedestal. While doubt is sometimes a product of open-mindedness, science, or research, it can also be a sign of weakness, selfishness, or lack of resolve. In fact, I associate some of my own skepticism with these obviously less noble motivations.

I don't necessarily believe that doubt or skepticism is a sign of weakness.  In fact, I think it's a sign of strength.  It is much easier for people to believe in certain things, or at least pretend to, in order to "fit in" with the established order around them than it is to strive for change.  Virtually every person throughout history who has had ideas that veer from the norm has been viewed, in their own time, as crazy, revolutionary (in a negative sense), or a threat to society as a whole.  Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Galileo...All were essentially despised by those in power at the time because their views threatened the status quo.  But, as time has passed, we've come to realize the true greatness those minds possessed, and it would have never happened if they hadn't asked themselves a fundamental question: "Why are things the way they are, and why can't they be different?"  Being able to seek out those answers despite constant ridicule and opposition might be the quintessential definition of strength.

In religion...
I pray, but to whom or what, I don't know. I don't believe that things happen for a reason and I take very little comfort in notions of "divine paths" or "destiny." I would never suggest that I have an understanding of heaven or hell or that I know who might end up in either. I know kind people who are atheists and kind people who are devout Christians; I don't think either kindness trumps the other.  I don't have any real sense of what faith means to me.

This is the big one for many people.  Religion can be a source of immense strength and joy, but it can also be a source of unfathomable hate and violence, as history has shown.  More people have died in the name of God than probably any other cause, and that is something that I have grown to struggle with.  I believe in God, and I consider myself a Christian.  But, I don't know if God is a real, existing being, or more of an idea that helps make life more tolerable.  I realize my view is narrow, because I can't speak for other religions because I don't know much about them.  But Christian origins have so many similarities with other cultures that I wonder if perhaps all we are left with are different interpretations of singular events, or if stories have just been copied and recycled over the years to "fit" with certain criteria.  I guess I can just say that I have more questions than answers, and am left fighting an internal battle between what I've always thought to be true, and what I've come to learn over the years.  Because if I had been writing this same post five or ten years ago, my words would be totally different.

In others...
I have complete trust in only two people.  I know what to expect from them. I think they have a strong grasp of their own core values and feel fairly confident that if I were to ask them questions today, I would get the same answers I would get if I ask them those same questions in ten years. I feel like they know, and appreciate, the me that I like.  This isn't to suggest that I don't respect, or even love, other people in my life; I simply don't find a sense of comfort and stability in those relationships.

I find this to be a bit on the cynical side, or perhaps I'm just being naive.  But I like to believe there is an inherent goodness to most people.  I like to believe that, when push comes to shove, most people show their true, positive selves.  I also know that isn't always the case, but I have all the trust in the world in far more than two people.  Maybe it's better to be guarded, because you can better avoid being let down.  But, on the flip side, I believe if you expect more from people, they are more likely to reach those expectations.  Besides...No matter how much trust you have in someone, human imperfection will show eventually, in some form or fashion.  And I think that's okay.

In myself...
I can come across as confident...and sometimes I actually feel that way.  Speaking my mind about things that matter to me is not a problem.  I consider myself a moral person with good intentions.  Nevertheless, my issues with stability in others are the same issues I have with myself.  I worry I don't have the resolve to stick with/to things for the "long haul;" I'm always dreaming of other possibilities or pondering what I could - or should - be doing.  I have little confidence that the things I want now will be the same things I'll want in 5, 10 or 20 years.  I crave a sense of settledness, and yet fight against it with everything I have.  

I think this is little more than human nature.  Humans have been explorers and seekers for as long as we've existed.  I love the life I have.  I have the greatest wife on earth, a good job, two dogs, an amazing family, and my own little piece of earth.  But I still find myself wondering what else is out there.  I don't necessarily seek it, and even if I did, I'd take Adrienne with me.  But I still wonder.  I just think that's something that is engrained in all of us from the womb.  As for me, I have far more doubt in myself and my abilities than I would ever let on.  Maybe part of it is trying to live up to unrealistic societal expectations.  Maybe part of it is just having a competitive nature and never being satisfied.  In any event, I try to be the best husband, son, brother, friend, and man I can possibly be.  But, I also wonder if my efforts are enough.  I always think I can do better, but I'm not exactly sure how to go about it. 

In love...
While some people do affect us in profound ways, often both indescribable and unexpected, I don't really believe in soul mates.  I think we can love a variety of people in completely different ways and occasionally at overlapping times.  I don't think "love is enough" or that "love conquers all." I think sometimes those who would be best for each other can't be together because of circumstances beyond their control. I don't think things necessarily "work out in the end." I think we can miss and regret and mourn someone for an infinite amount of time.  Does love exist? Of course. And do some people have what most would classify as "true love"? Sure. Will we all have it? No.

I don't think there is a real definition of "true love."  Love takes on different forms, looks differently and feels differently, for every person.  I've found what I consider to be true love, but even as amazing as is the love Adrienne and I share, I know the notion that "love is enough" is completely ridiculous.  I can love Adrienne all I want to, but if I don't do the things necessary to show it to her, it won't conquer a damn thing.  Love is really hard, because we are human.  We screw up.  We make one another angry.  We let one another down.  It takes a lot of work.  But it's a gratifying work.  It's fun work.  I don't know about the notion that things "work out in the end," because we will perceive our reality however we want to.  And, for me, any reality without Adrienne is not one I want any part of.  So, in that regard, things have worked out perfectly for me.  But I also know that people can easily become jaded, especially when it comes to love.  It's one of those strange things that seems to happen when we least expect it, and sometimes when we want it the least.

I believe the most important things in life are family and friends.  I believe in hard work, but I also believe life should be fun and as much time as possible should be spent surrounded by those we cherish.  I'm not even 30 yet, and I already find myself constantly reminiscing about funny moments from years gone by.  I believe in making memories (thanks, Mom).  I believe our problems are only as big as we allow them to be, and we have far more influence on our own happiness than it sometimes may seem.  Although I sometimes fall victim to it, I really try not to worry about things I can't control.  I don't believe we make our own luck...Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.  I believe life isn't fair.  I try to keep that from discouraging me.  I believe in humor and I believe if you can't laugh at yourself, you will never be truly happy.  Other than that...I've got nothing.