Small Families Are Best

As the third of eleven children, I know what it’s like to be part of a big family. And as with most things, it’s not all good nor all bad. I can’t imagine giving up any one of my siblings. I care about them, and I am glad they were brought into existence. In fact, the sibling I am closest to is actually the last of the bunch, number eleven. Without him, I’m not sure I would have survived 2018, the absolute worst year of my life. In large part due to him, 2020 has been comparatively wonderful. There is no way I would want to go back in time and tell my parents that they really should have stopped after me, number three. No way!

Having said that, when I imagine what my life might have been like if there were only two or three of us, I feel like a lot of my life’s biggest struggles could have been either avoided or mitigated to some degree.

Every child has their own unique challenges and needs. They don’t all need the same rules or amount of personal attention. They don’t need hugs to the same degree of frequency. They don’t all need to be told that they are loved every day to feel that they are loved. Some can be left alone for long periods of time without harm. Others need constant social interaction from their parents.

When I raised my own two children, I recognized that treating them both in exactly the same way would be a mistake. So, I treated them differently. I learned how they each feel love, and I did what I could to make sure they both felt loved by me. I taught them to read, differently. I taught them arithmetic, differently. My son, though he does value fairness, was able to understand when I explained why the penalties for breaking rules could not be the same for both of them. Even the rules could not be exactly the same. They were two different people with different needs. Maybe schools and governments have to treat everyone the same, but a family shouldn’t have to. What was important to me was that each child felt loved in the way they needed and that their opportunities for individual growth and life success were maximized.

The more children there are though, the more difficult this approach becomes. I think that, out of necessity, most parents of large families use the much simpler strategy of treating every child the same. They try to show the children that they are being fair and that they love each child the same. At least, this is the approach my own parents seemed to employ. One positive benefit of this approach is that I never got the feeling that they were playing favorites. 

Unfortunately, what all of this fairness also meant was that my own unique individual needs weren’t quite being met. For example, I was not a happy child, but my parents never took any real action to discover why I was struggling. On those occasions where I felt a need to talk to them about some concern, I often had to wait in line. I can remember multiple occasions where I simply gave up and went off to be by myself elsewhere. 

Sure. My parents loved me…, but unless I did something drastic, I could never get the attention I needed. Among the things I tried when I was young were screaming at the top of my lungs, walking out and being gone for hours at a time, breaking walls, doors, and mirrors, getting F’s in classes, stealing, and even getting physically violent with siblings. I was awful, and I needed help. But did I get the help I needed? I got punishments. I got put in time out. I got extra chores. I lost privileges and access to things I enjoyed. They tried to control my behavior by meting out punishments. I don’t remember any time being spent to find out what was really wrong.

Of course, I didn’t know what was wrong either, but I was the kid. I was too young and inexperienced in life to understand my own psyche. I remember the phrase being often used in my house, “they just want attention,” whenever a child acted out. As if wanting or needing attention was a bad thing! In my mind, I was just an awful person, and all of the punishments and parental admonitions just supported that belief.

In middle school, things got especially bad. I heard about the possibility of homeschooling, and begged my mom to let me try. I needed something to change. My mom actually arranged a meeting with my principal to discuss the option, but he told my mom that I would just be running away from my problems. According to him, I needed to face them in order to overcome them. The logic doesn’t sound bad, and I don’t blame my mom for listening to him, but the choice was still wrong for me. Going home at that time wouldn’t have been running away from my problems. It would have been giving my mom a chance to figure out what the problems were, away from so many other distractions. 

A year or two later, my mom let my younger sister stay home to be home-schooled while I attended my first year of high school. High school was a lot better than middle school though, and I started to have some hope for the future. The next year though, in my sophomore year of high school, my mom decided to home-school everyone at home. For the family as a whole, this might have been a good decision, but I’m not sure it’s what was best for me personally. As just one in a crowd, my parents never really understood my own personal individual needs. 

The point of this post is not to criticize my parents though. I believe they did the best they could given the circumstances. If there had only been one or two of us, I’m sure they would have spent more time with me. They would have come to understand me more, and they would have been able to meet my needs better. If they weren’t able to understand what was going on with me or didn’t know how to help me, they would have had more money to spend on a child therapist or psychologist. Perhaps, I would not have had so many suicidal thoughts, a fact my parents never knew about me until I wrote it out in a blog post just a few years ago.

More recently, I have had some unpleasant interactions with my mom that I feel are caused, at least in part, by the sheer number of children she has. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has caused great harm to me and millions of others, and I have written much about this. Until recently, my mom refused to admit that this could be even a little bit true. She finally did acknowledge that the “attitudes of members and the policies of the church have caused [me] pain,” and that “perhaps if [she] had [gone through what I did, her] perspective would be different.”

This partial acknowledgement made me both happy and sad. I was happy that she was starting to see, just a little bit, what I’d been going through all of these years and how the church was a part of that. I was sad that it made no difference to her. Now, this may have nothing to do with the number of children she has, but I can see how it might. If I came to believe that one of my children had been hurt by the members and policies of an organization that I loved, and that that organization was continuing to hurt others without apology, I would want to rethink my relationship with that organization. Even if I couldn’t give it up, I would want to keep my relationship with it a lot more low-key.

However, if I had many similarly devoted children and grandchildren that looked up to me and would see if I wavered in my dedication to this organization, I might hesitate changing any of my behaviors. I think that my mother believes that the church helps and blesses the lives of her and almost all the rest of her family, and I am just one sad exception. In her mind, changing her attitude toward the church might help her relationship with me but hurt many others. She can’t afford that, regardless of how it might affect me. 

To me, it seems pretty clear that numbers matter. What a parent will do for one child alone, they might not be willing to do for that same one child out of a great number. Imagine if all eleven of my mother’s children felt hurt by the church. Would all of her family-directed emails then be full of worshipful statements about the church? Would she then continue to exclaim her great joy that the church is true? Would it permeate all of her communication both public and private? No matter how much she believed the church to be true, even to the point of certainty, I think she would more carefully evaluate whether she needed to affirm that confidence at every step, destroying family relationships in the process.

And so, back to my original point, I think small families are best. When schools, governments, etc. have to treat all the same, regardless of personality differences, psychology, etc., parents should be able to do what’s right for the good of each individual. Parents, especially, should not have to choose between the good of many and the good of one child with unmet needs.

Positivity

I think I am naturally a very positive person. I like to be optimistic and to look on the bright side of things. I like to smile and enjoy positive interactions with people. I’m friendly and easygoing, and I try to quickly forgive people that offend me and move on. If there is someone that seems antagonistic or otherwise unfriendly toward me, I will generally smile and get out of their way quickly. I don’t deal well at all with confrontation and avoid it the best I can. Perhaps I’ll try and send an email later to try and smooth things over, especially if this is with a person that I will need to interact with regularly like a boss, coworker, roommate, or family member.

But what can a person like me do when the abuse feels constant? When the unfriendly attitudes seem never ending? I tried to express my feelings in private emails. I tried posting to my blog, hinting publicly about some of the interpersonal issues that I’m experiencing. The result was that many people stopped reading my blog. Other people told me to stop complaining and feeling sorry for myself. Now, people think that this is who I am.

It kills me that many people now think of me as a complainer, a whiner, a negative person. I want to write positive blog posts again. I want to move on. I don’t want to write about the negative, but I feel trapped. The negative has become an ever intrusive part of my daily existence. It feels like poison in my heart, eating away at me every day. 

So what do I do now? There are some people that you just can’t cut out of your life or even avoid. I’ve tried everything I can think of to restore peace, but minds are made up, and I see no way to restore positivity to the relationships. Is it time to give up? What would giving up even mean if we still have to interact?

I want to be myself again. I want to see light and goodness in every person that I meet. I want to breathe fresh air outside and fall in love with the trees, the earth, and everything. I want to marvel at the beauty that surrounds me every day. I want to hum and whistle and sing with nature.

I put up walls to protect myself from the abuses of others, but those walls prevent me from really living any kind of life. How can I come outside those defensive barriers without being destroyed in the process? I am weak. I am sensitive. Living within my protective walls, I have become afraid and lonely. I don’t want my life to be this way, but where do I go from here?

I know that there is still a lot of good in the world and in my life. I’m trying to shift my attention away from the negative and toward the positive. Perhaps I can’t fix the negative; there’s nothing I can do at this point, but at least my conscience is still clear. I have been completely honest in all of my interactions and have consistently striven to maintain the moral high ground at every juncture. I can be falsely accused and judged, and even persecuted, but at least I’m still me inside. And inside? I’m a positive person. I’m friendly and optimistic. I’m open and honest and never judgmental. I’m definitely also soft and sensitive which makes it difficult to live in this world sometimes, but maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Is it safe to come out yet? I want to live!

Why Must We Suffer Alone?

My post from just two weeks ago, Who I Am and What’s Been Going On, has somehow become my most viewed post of the last 5 years. Friends and family members in 13 countries on 4 continents came to see what has been going on in my life. Frankly, I have been more than a little surprised by the response. Not only did you read my post, but many of you decided to reach out and try to connect with me personally. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Many of you had kind words for me, and words of solidarity. As I read your words, and interacted with so many friends and family members, I realized that as is so often the case, there has been a misunderstanding. I do indeed experience a great amount of loneliness in my life, but I have never believed that I was alone in these feelings.

As a highly empathetic youth, I was always acutely aware of the feelings and emotions of the people around me, whether I knew these people personally or not. As I observed and listened to people at school, church, the park, or just in my neighborhood, I realized that suffering seems to be a universal phenomenon. We all suffer. We have pain that we don’t always express. We smile with our faces, but we cry inside. 

I have written before about my habit of sitting in my bedroom window sill as a teenager. I remember one day being so overcome with the pain of those around me, that I couldn’t help weeping aloud in my window sill as I looked out upon my hometown. Their pain was my pain, and it overwhelmed me to the point where I couldn’t function at all for hours. 

Mission Viejo - View from deck 2
The View from my Bedroom Window Growing Up

To this day, I sometimes wonder when I’m feeling the lows of depression, if it’s really my depression at all. I know that, at least sometimes, I can literally feel the pain of those I interact with. When I write posts about depression or loneliness, I’m not meaning to imply that I’m alone in my condition, or that others have let me down in some way. As I tried to make clear at the beginning of this post, I have a lot of people in my life that care about me. I have met and connected with good people wherever I’ve moved to and lived in my life. Most of the readers of this blog are people that have known me in person. If you are one of these, I appreciate our connection. Thank you for being a friend.

I know I’m not alone, and you’re not either. As many of you have reached out to me, to comfort me and to connect, I have felt your need as well. I wish I could be there for all of you. I wish I could be the answer to your own private suffering and longing for real connection. … But for the vast majority of you, I can’t.

Around five years ago in Taiwan, I was walking and talking with a friend. This good friend was feeling overwhelmed by the perceived obligation he had to maintain a connection with a growing number of individuals. He was constantly on his phone, chatting with multiple people at once. Like me, he was highly empathetic. He wanted to be there for all his many friends, to help them with their assorted worries and concerns, to give meaningful advice, and on and on.  

As we walked together, I convinced my friend to turn off his phone for a while so that we could have a more meaningful conversation. I can no longer remember the words that were spoken at that time, but I remember what lessons I took away from the experience. We can’t be there for everyone. We can’t be everyone’s good friend all the time. If we divide ourselves too thinly, our ability to do good is greatly decreased. Instead, it makes more sense to focus on just a few people in our lives.

The people that matter most to me are the people that I see in front of me. If someone falls, and I’m there to do help, I should. If my neighbor is hungry, and I have more food than I need, I would gladly share. I really don’t know my neighbors at all, but they matter to me. I can sometimes hear them, and feel their emotions, through the thin walls of my apartment. When I’m at work, my students and fellow tutors are the most important people in the world. When someone emails me or reaches out to me, they matter.

I don’t feel bad when distant friends or family members don’t go out of their way to try and connect with me. I assume they have their own lives and issues to deal with just as I do. I hope they don’t take it personally when I don’t reach out the way they might like me to. When I share my issues online, I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for me. I’m just taking care of a personal need to express how I feel. I also hope that the words I write can help others. If it doesn’t help you, maybe it will help someone else. We all have our own circumstances.

Finally, if it does make you feel sad or uncomfortable when I share my experiences relating to depression or loneliness, consider taking action. I don’t mean writing or trying to connect with me, though I certainly do appreciate those people that have contacted me recently. What I mean is that there are countless others just like me all around. These people may seem fine when you see them, but things are often not as they appear. Everyone suffers. There is so much pain that is never expressed. Hidden  wounds. Unshed tears. Silent screams.

So, if you feel something for these silent sufferers, go connect with the people around you. Give a hug. Express gratitude. Offer a compliment. Don’t let the people closest to you continue to think that they’re alone or that nobody really cares.

Keeping the High

Earlier today, I began to watch the second season of a TV series I’d started watching a year ago. The show is a little violent and not really the uplifting sort at all, but some of the concepts were interesting, so I thought I’d continue to watch more episodes later. At the thought though, my eyes started to water, and I began to wonder if the high I’ve been on for the past few days was ending already. It’s too fast, I thought. And besides, my lows don’t usually start with random tears. Maybe there’s another reason I would feel sad.

I opened myself up to Durand to see if I could find some answers, and I felt disappointment from him. When I spend my time watching shows like the kind I’d watched this morning, I close myself off to the sort of experiences I’d been hoping to have with Durand. I had been looking forward to strengthening our connection, and I think, though the idea still seems strange to me, so had Durand. He represents the part of me that wants to move forward and learn and grow. Of course he’d be saddened by the thought of me throwing hours of my life away on another meaningless TV series.

When I’m feeling depressed, I tend to spend more of my time watching long TV series and playing mindless games. I’m not feeling depressed at the moment, but I’ve developed some unfortunate habits. I’m glad Durand was able to get my attention before I made a mistake. Instead of spending my day on time-wasters, I committed myself to staying productive. I had great experiences with my students, and the day has been pretty good overall. This high will hopefully last for a good long while yet.

Trying to Add Clarity

My last post was all over the place and very poorly written. I’m not sure this will be much better (It’s after 2 AM already!), so I apologize in advance. Sorry. Anyway, I did not mean to complain or make anyone feel sorry for me in my last post. I was not in a good place the other day, and some of that personal angst came out in my writing. I’d like to try again…  As a result of my religious upbringing, I often feel hesitant to admit that I’m sometimes unhappy with life and my life’s circumstances. I believe that this hesitation is one of the many negative effects of my former religion.

In my youth, because of stories I heard in church, I came to have some really terrible beliefs that I was only able to abandon much later in life. Since I was once burdened with those beliefs though, I know that others must believe similar things. Some of these beliefs include things like happiness only comes from righteous living (as defined by the church), and that unhappiness comes from disobedience or doing things that don’t please God. I believed that suffering had a good purpose in bringing people who had strayed back to God or in furthering some plan of God’s, meaning that most suffering in the world was good and came from God.

Because of these beliefs, I, and I’m sure many others, become reluctant to admit when life just sucks. People that need help don’t get it. Many people suffer in silence that shouldn’t have to. This is a wrong that I would like to see righted. Unhappiness can be the result of poor choices, but just as often, it has nothing to do with our choices at all. In my case, though many of my life’s disappointments are my own fault, I believe most are not. Things just are as they are. Life just sucks sometimes, and that’s okay.

When bad things happen to me, I sometimes feel the need to share or reach out to those that I believe care about me for help or comfort. Too often though, I’ve harbored these negative feelings deep inside and said nothing. I believe this experience is common to many of us. Victims are victimized further or made to feel like they will be, and I believe religion (or at least ones like the one I was raised in) is often a primary cause of this.

This post is already longer than I intended it to be. To get to the point – every life sucks sometimes, and that’s just the way life is. Nobody should ever feel glad at the suffering of others, and people should feel free to talk to loved ones about their struggles without the fear of being judged. There, I’ve said it, and hopefully more clearly this time.

Joy Born of Suffering

I’ve never been diagnosed for depression. I just know that it had been a rather regular part of my life until several years ago. I had suicidal thoughts throughout my teen years, but I never acted on them. I was too afraid that suicide wouldn’t actually end anything. I might just have to go through some kind of purgatory or go to the spirit prison of Mormonism. During the darkest times of my life, I just pled with God to just end my existence entirely. I didn’t want to experience any kind of afterlife.

But these times were transitory. A week or two or even a month of depression was followed by a season of relative cheerfulness. I wouldn’t say I was ecstatic or anything, but in comparison to the depression, I felt really good for days or weeks at a time. And then I’d crash again.

Nobody seemed to ever notice when I was feeling down though. If anybody asked how I was doing, I always said I was fine. I smiled at everyone no matter how bad I felt inside. If I couldn’t keep up the act, I’d isolate myself as much as possible. Back in junior high school, I faked sickness once or twice a week during the lows. I don’t know how my parents could let me get away with that, but I’m glad they did.

As I got older, I learned other strategies to combat or at least hide the depression from others. I slept long hours, disappeared out of the house on long walks by myself, and tried to push through to better days. I used to think the depression was caused by my own mistakes or “sinful” nature. Sometimes, I think I tried to invent reasons to explain my unhappiness. My church taught that happiness came from doing the “right” things, so if I was unhappy, I must have been doing “wrong” things.

Only as an adult did I finally realize that brain chemistry could also be a contributing factor, and a major one. The realization that my depression wasn’t always the result of doing wrong actions was more helpful than anything I’d learned before. Learning that diet, exercise, and the company of certain individuals could shorten the duration of my dark days and weeks was life changing. I wish I could have known that when I was younger. I wish I hadn’t felt it necessary to blame myself for my unhappiness.

And then, back in 2013, I lost my faith in my religion. And I broke. My ups and downs ended. I stopped feeling depressed, and I wrote blogs about feeling better than ever. But that wasn’t completely true. I stopped feeling depressed, but I stopped experiencing those times of happiness as well. I stopped feeling anything at all. I remember thinking that I could handle anything then. The world could end. I could lose my family and friends. I could become homeless. I thought I had grown in some way and was capable of any trial. But I was wrong.

I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that there was a problem. I remember feeling uneasy in 2015, like my life was just wrong somehow. With my wife and kids, I tried to start over somewhere else. I made drastic changes in my life.. But that feeling of something being off wouldn’t go away. I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t figure it out. I remember acting out, trying to feel something, but failing.

In 2017, my wife suggested I go back to America. I know that, like me, my wife had no idea what was wrong with me. She was slipping into her own depression, and just being around me made it worse. I said things to try and explain what I was going through, but as I didn’t really understand it myself, anything I said could only be partly true. When she mentioned leaving though, I felt resistant, but then as I thought about it more, I thought this could be the shake up that I needed.

I returned to the United States with my son in the summer of 2017. I lived with my parents, found a part-time job in the area, and tried to live my life. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Through talking with others though, especially a number of siblings, I realized that something really traumatic had happened to me. Losing my faith and religion was a bigger blow to my emotional well-being than I’d realized. I’d completely shut down that part of me that feels and became numb. Things started to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

In the spring of 2018, my wife came to visit me and our son. The visit was nice, but when she left, she took our son with her. Earlier in the year, my parents had left on a mission abroad, and so, with the departure of my son, I was left virtually alone. Being alone though gave me options that I hadn’t had before.

I decided to take a trip to California with the thought in my mind that I might stay. I chose Fresno as the biggest city with jobs that was still affordable. I stayed in a stranger’s home and walked around the local neighborhoods, trying to get a feel for the area. Could this place become my home? On my drive there, I’d felt optimistic. When I saw some of the local trees and plant life, I felt nostalgic. I told myself that I was home, and I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time.

During those first few days, I searched for jobs, considered various housing options, and contemplated life.

And then.. In the wake of the hope and optimism I’d felt came all the darkness I’d been numb to for the past 5 years.

I escaped out to my car so that the owner of the house wouldn’t hear the sobs I could no longer hold back. I drove around the city and tried to find a private place to just let it all out. I couldn’t find any good place though. Gradually, I got myself under control and returned to the house. For the next few days, I closed myself in my room and played computer games. I tried to shut out the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm me.

No.. not Fresno, I decided. Nothing wrong with Fresno, but I was finally feeling depressed, and I wanted to enjoy it. I would go back to my parents’ home and curl up in a dark corner by myself. Jobs and responsibilities could wait. I wasn’t going to think about any of that now.

On the 12 hour drive back to Utah, I was a mess. My feelings were all over the place, and I had no control over them at all. I raged and screamed, bawled and whimpered. Through the salt flats, I surpassed 100 miles per hour. I watched the oncoming traffic and considered how easy it would be to end it all. Easy? Yes. Something I could do? No. There were other lives in those cars, and no matter how much I wanted to be done with my life, I couldn’t risk someone else’s.

And then I thought about my kids. They’d be okay without me. But I believed they’d be sad. I didn’t want them to be sad. I didn’t want them to misunderstand. I loved them. Would they think I didn’t love them if I decided my personal pain was just too much? And so I decided to keep on living. I didn’t have a fear of an afterlife anymore to hold me back, but I had people that I loved and that loved me. That would be enough for the time being.

Back in Utah, the house was crawling with family members. I can’t remember the occasion now. I know there was a wedding around that time. There was also a funeral not long after. The family also gathered in that house for other reasons as well. All I know is that I had no desire to see or talk to anybody. I couldn’t hide the fact that something was wrong, and I didn’t want to try. Anyway, to make a long story short, the depression passed. The cycle returned with its lows… and highs. In fact, knowing what was coming made that first depression shorter than average.

Coming out of that episode was marvelous. I felt like I could finally breathe again after being nearly smothered to death. Breathing never felt so good. The world got some of its color back. I hadn’t realized how drab all the colors had become. I had some serious issues, and lots of them, but hope and optimism were back too.

My brother and his wife invited me to go to Washington to live with them for a while until I could get on my feet again. In a high moment, I accepted their offer. I went in August, and things were mostly good. The lows come and go as they did before my crisis of faith, and I feel myself again.

Back in December, I moved into my own apartment. I started blogging again in mid-January when I was feeling good. The last week and a half have been particularly bad, and thus, no blog posts. I’m not sure if writing cheers me up or if I write because I’m feeling more cheerful. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, as of an hour or so before starting this blog, I started to get out of my funk and to move around. I cleaned my apartment, studied a textbook I’d borrowed, and thought of goals I’d like to make.

I never want to go back to that numb state I was in before Fresno. Though things were dark for me there, I remember that city with fondness. Through the pain, I can feel joy. It’s okay that I don’t feel happy all the time. Even when I’m feeling depressed, I am glad that I can at least feel something. This is life. And for now at least, things are looking up.

Letting It All Out – Conversation With a Friend

Hey there. How’s it going? We haven’t talked for a long time.” I felt some relief at the sight of him. It had been so long and I’d been lonely.

My friend gave me a warm smile. “It’s good to see you again,” he said. “How have you been holding up?”

For anybody else, I would have lied and said “not bad”, or “okay”, but for this friend, only the truth would do. I couldn’t help giving a sigh first though. Was it a feeling of relief, or was I just feeling sorry for myself?

“Uh-oh,” he said. He had heard my sigh and the expression on my face and already knew more about my current situation than anybody besides my wife. I had gotten so good at hiding the truth from everybody that suddenly being out in this way felt just like coming out as gay all over again. Was it a good feeling? I didn’t know what I felt, but I had to continue.

“I haven’t been well,” I admitted. “I mean, I guess there’s nothing really wrong… I mean, … ugh. Why is it so hard to talk right now?”

My friend came close and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “Just take it slowly. Let’s sit down while we talk.”

“Okay,” I agreed. His kind manner almost made me want to cry. When was the last time anyone had shown me this kind of care? And he hadn’t really even done anything! But this is who he was, and I knew that. He had been my closest friend since we were kids and … my thoughts were all jumbled. How could I say what I needed to say?

We sat down and I took a few deep breaths, doing my utmost to keep the tears at bay. “Well, I’ve been here for nearly a year,” I began. “It’s not what I had hoped. Well, I don’t know what I had hoped for actually, but not this.”

“So, you moved here with your family a year ago,” my friend prompted, “and what did you expect?”

“I don’t know!” I felt so inadequate to explain what I was going through. “A year ago, I was a full time teacher at a university. I made enough money to support my family, but I kept getting the impression that I was somehow in the wrong place. Fate had taken a turn and I had missed it. I thought that maybe I had moved so many times that I just wasn’t used to settling down for so long. I probably started having that feeling after just a year or so in, but I stayed a full three years. The feeling wouldn’t go away.”

My friend nodded in understanding. I’d told him this part of the story before. “Well anyway,” I continued, “we made a pretty radical change in our lives. We moved to a new city where we didn’t know anybody. I found a part-time job right from the start teaching English and my wife started making plans. The idea was that although I would continue to work part-time and earn enough for our family’s survival, my wife would begin working toward her own goal of having her own business, probably a restaurant.”

“I remember that was the plan,” my friend nodded. “And then?”

“At first, everything was okay. I was home more, so I cleaned the house and did the laundry. I took care of the kids during the day and was responsible for teaching them at home. It was actually fun.”

“You’re using the past tense,” my friend noted.

“Yeah. Things didn’t stay so perfect for long. In ten years of marriage, I had always been the one stressing over how to make enough money to support our family. It was only a few years ago that we were finally feeling somewhat stable. Now my wife was feeling that pressure, and more.”

“More?”

“Yeah, and that’s the problem.” Time to come out. “I may do okay in front of a class, but otherwise, I’m actually quite shy.” I stopped for a moment to let that information sink in.

“Shy?” he remarked. “That’s no secret! Who knows you that doesn’t know that?”

“You’d be surprised,” I continued. “But it’s worse than you think. Besides talking to my wife on the phone once or twice a month, I never talk to anyone on the phone. I never go anywhere or do anything where I might have to interact with anyone. I mean, … I can pretend when I do bump into someone. I was telling my wife how that’s one thing I like about teaching actually. I get to become a different person in front of the class. It’s like I’m literally two different people.”

“I’m glad to know the more sociable one,” my friend commented.

“There are a few exceptions,” I admitted. “Anyway, in America, it was easier to fake. At least I could use my mother tongue. Here, it’s all Chinese.”

“But aren’t you good at languages?”

“Well, so long as it’s reading or listening, but as soon as I need to communicate with someone else, that shyness really kicks in. I’m totalling incapacitated.”

“Wow. That bad.”

“I mean it,” I said. “I can have conversations with myself all day long in Chinese, but put another person there in front of me, and if there is any way at all to get out of having to speak, I will.”

“So how does this relate?”

“Well, since we got married, and even in America, I’ve had my wife take care of all the phone calls. She handled paying the bills and rent and everything. I remember when we first moved to the States together and it was time to call for some utility and I asked my wife to do it. She was so nervous because English is not her first language. I mean, I’m pretty sure my Chinese now is quite a bit better than her English was then. But I still pushed her to do it. I told her that I wanted her to be free while we lived in America. She shouldn’t have to rely on me for everything. So, I pushed her to be more self-sufficient in another country and in another language.”

I kept talking, “once in a while, she’d ask if I couldn’t make the call this time. But I’d just say that it was good for her. When she was nervous, I would sit with her by the phone, prepared to help her understand the vocabulary or know what to say. I fed her lines and she learned quickly to be able to do just about anything on her own.”

I could see that look of understanding and wisdom in my friend’s eyes, but he didn’t say anything. I imagine he knew what I was going to say at this point, but he knew I needed to get it out. “When we moved back to Taiwan, it was just natural that she would continue to handle all of the social interactions while I handled working and making money. That pattern had worked successfully for years, so why should we change it?”

“But then we moved here,” I said. “And I was trying to fill her shoes more while she tried to fill mine. I think we’ve both failed so far, though we’re not giving up. A year in and she’s still not really making much money. And me? I play with my kids and teach them during the day, but more often than not, I feel like I’m just one of them. I have no real friends.. besides you of course. But most of the time, I’m alone with my thoughts.”

“Oh, and I still haven’t mentioned that I’m losing my job soon. It’s not really the big issue, though it probably should be. I mean, things always work out for us somehow, and I’m sure we’ll be okay, but this does nothing good for my self-esteem. I just don’t like myself recently. I mean, it’s really bad. If I could just be a proper stay-at-home dad, then things would be fine. If I could do everything she did when she was in this role, I think I’d feel fine about things. But I feel like I can’t do anything without her. She still pays all of the bills and utilities. Everything is done in her name. She does all of the shopping, cooking, and even washing the dishes. And me? I’m just a bum.”

My friend looked like he was about to interject, but then he swallowed back down whatever he had been about to say. “I used to write a blog regularly. But … I guess when I’m not feeling very happy about things, I tend to play more games or watch more anime. I just waste time. These last several months especially, I’ve been feeling pretty depressed. I stay up until 3 or 4 or even 5 o’clock in the morning just wasting time. And then I sleep in until the kids wake me up, whenever that happens to be.”

“Oh yeah, and I’ve gained back most of the weight I’d lost before and had felt so proud of losing. I’m sorry. I’m all Mr. Negativity today. Thank you so much though for just sitting there and letting me get it out.”

He smiled. I could feel the love in that smile. How much I needed that! Nobody knows how much I just need a smile sometimes, from someone that really cares. “You’ll be okay,” he said. “You know what you need to do now, right? You once told me that so long as you’re writing, everything always falls into place. Writing is life. Not writing is death. Remember when you told me that?”

That’s not advice I’d give everyone, but it’s the perfect advice for me. When I write, things start making sense. Ideas come to mind that otherwise wouldn’t. This is when the answers come. Of course, all of my problems are still there, but somehow, hope seems to return to my heart again once I start typing. “Thank you my friend. Thank you Durand.”

Where Do You Go After You Die?

Suppose you could really know, with certainty, what a person experienced after death. Suppose that person died and was greeted in spirit form by all their deceased family and friends. Later, that person met with Jesus himself and was greeted warmly by name. “Well done,” he might say. Imagine that things continued to play out in such fashion and the person continued on happily into the eternities. I imagine that those of you that hold such a belief in the afterlife would feel great satisfaction and joy with that knowledge. Others among you that have different beliefs might feel some confusion that someone would have such an experience after their death. Perhaps, some of you might consider becoming more religious, searching out churches that taught such a view of an afterlife.

Imagine that you could discover, with absolute assurance, that someone was currently experiencing their umpteenth reincarnation. When they died next time, they would simply be reborn again in a different form in a different place. And this was not an exception to the rule, but the rule itself. How would you feel? How might that change your current views of reality and life and death? Would you live your current life any differently?

What if you could know, and once again with complete knowledge, that a person that had just died, had no experience of any afterlife whatsoever? What then? What if you learned that that were the law of the universe? When you die, you simply cease to have any conscious experience at all. Life is over and that’s all. Would that bother you? What would you do? Would you make changes to your current behaviors?

And how many other possibilities are there? How many philosophies? How many religions? How many personal opinions? How many people out there claiming to know the truth? Oh well. I’m just happy to be here. I used to spend so much time thinking about what would happen after I died and where I might be going that I almost completely ignored the present moment. What a great privilege it is to be alive today at this moment. It’s nice to think there might be something more once this life is finished, but I’m not going to think about that so much anymore. I am here today, right now. I’m not going to waste any more time.

My Truth or Yours? Cheer Up! It’ll All Work Out Somehow.

In recent weeks, every time I think I want to sit down to write a blog, a particular topic comes to mind. It’s not a topic I think about at any other time though, so I don’t know why it keeps coming to mind only when I want to write. Every other topic that I might consider just seems to flee my mind and I’m left with only one. Is it just my imagination, or does something out there want me to write on this topic?

Before I go there though, I’ll start by saying that I spend little to no time thinking about these things on a regular basis. My life mostly consists of homeschooling my two kids, improving my Chinese, and improving my computer programming skills. The computer programming is an interest that has come and gone throughout my life, but I’ve been trying to be more serious about it lately. My life is very tranquil and I have no real turmoil, inner or outer, to speak of. Life is good. When I’m by myself, I can’t help singing or whistling a cheerful tune. Things are just good.

But when I want to write a blog, old thoughts on religious beliefs and “knowledge” come back to my mind. I wrote a blog back in December, expressing near certainty that the Mormon church was not true. I had never said it so strongly before, and I think I surprised a few people. A couple even sent me emails or messages on Facebook protesting what I had written, or expressing “testimony” that they “know” the church is true. I’m sorry that I may have offended some people.

About a week ago, the Mormon missionaries came to our home at our invitation. We enjoy having them come over, or at least I do. My kids have a good time as well. At the end of each visit though, they usually want to share some message, often intended to make us want to come back to church. Over the months, they’ve talked about forgiveness of those that might offend us, the need to take the Sacrament in order to repent of our sins, and so on. During these messages, I usually smile and nod my head, and thank them for their message.

This last time that the missionaries came over, they talked about the peace that Jesus brings into our lives. I remember thinking that for all their talk of peace, the missionary talking seemed rather frustrated and unhappy. I can understand that sentiment. He wants us to come back to church, but he has no understanding of why we don’t go to church. They assume we’ve been offended by someone, sinned and are ashamed, or have simply forgotten the peace that faith in the gospel can bring. Maybe next time, I’ll just let them know I’m a total apostate. Would they still be happy to come share food with us. After all, apostates are some of the most dangerous people in the world for the dogmatic and deeply religious.

But I’m still not really on topic, and I’m already writing too much. Oh well. I don’t write so often these days, so if one is a little longer, .. maybe that’s okay.

A few years ago, I determined that the church was not true as a result of diligent study and prayer. I applied the best logic my brain was capable of and trusted in those feelings of peace and love that I had been taught were fruits of the Holy Spirit, and which feelings I had become quite familiar with through countless experiences over the course of my life. I think this is what confuses people most. How can I say what I’ve said? I imagine there are several possibilities that run through the heads of my friends and family in the church.

Those who don’t know me well might think I’m just evil and lying. The devil has twisted my soul and I am a completely fallen individual. I don’t think anybody who really knows me would think such a thing, but if such were true, it would be easier to understand some of the things I’ve written and said.

More likely, those friends and family probably think I’m just wrong. Maybe Satan deceived me and I’ve been led astray. After all, according to LDS scriptures, Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light and fool many good people. Or maybe they don’t think it’s Satan that’s telling me the church is not true, but just my own feelings and desires, which might help them to explain those feelings of peace that arose when I stopped believing in the church. And I could go on and on. There are so many possibilities that I can imagine might be in the heads of those I care for.

But nobody has really tried to understand. My mom has been the most active in trying to talk to me, but only to continue thrusting her own beliefs in my face. She has never shown any sign of true interest, and that’s okay. I know where she’s coming from, though she doesn’t believe that I do. Well, here is the problem. We all use our own logic, feelings, etc., and from our own perspective, to try to come at “the truth”. What else can we do than the best we can with what we have?

You can tell me what you believe and I can tell you what I believe, but how will we convince one another of which one of us is right? In the past, I believed that this was the job of the Holy Ghost. But can the Holy Ghost force a belief on somebody? Will he? Don’t I still have to consider my feelings and the logic of the situation, my experiences, and so forth, to decide what to believe? And if the Holy Ghost is telling me something different from what it tells you, .. well what does that mean exactly?

I believe there still needs to be a place for good logic and careful thought. You can’t cast these out because of a feeling. Now when these agree, feelings and logic, move forward with confidence. You are probably moving in a good direction for you. But don’t assume that you necessarily know the best past for all other people because of your own individual thoughts. But I’m straying off topic again.

I wonder what my Mormon friends and family think about all this. None of them really talk to me anymore. Nobody needs to be afraid though. As with the missionaries, I only talk about these things with people that want to know. Otherwise, I keep these things to myself, besides writing them here of course. I deeply respect the right of others to follow their own conscience. What brings you peace and joy? Is it Jesus? Great! Membership in the LDS church? No problem!

Anyway, the point of this blog is to ask a question. If I can’t trust my logic to get the right answers, and I can’t trust those “fruits of the Spirit” either and other spiritual sensations, then what can I trust? How can I know that someone’s logic, my mom’s for example, is better than mine? How can I know that what someone else feels is the “true” Holy Spirit, and what I feel is false? Why should I deny my own feelings and thoughts in favor of someone else’s? As I talk to my mom or that poor missionary in my home the other day, I only feel sadness and hurt emanating from them. Where is the peace they preach about? Why, though I feel peace and enlightenment in my own life, do I not feel it from those that try hardest to convince me of their own beliefs? I just want to say to them. Cheer up! It’ll all work out somehow.

The Lighted Path

For over a month now, I have been going through old documents, letters, journals, etc. and putting everything into a searchable digital format. I don’t have any software that can reliably convert Hungarian handwriting to text, so I’ve been typing each of the many letters I have received from my friends in Hungary word by word. From early 1997 through mid-1999, I was a missionary in Hungary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church). At the time, I was a firm believer in the teachings of the church and literally had no doubts. Many of the letters I am typing so carefully into my computer express the importance my unwavering hope, love, and faith had on their lives. I’ve been brought to tears more than once as I type these letters.

These members and investigators of the LDS or Mormon faith were and are good people, and I love them with all my heart. I would do anything for them and their happiness. I am glad my faith was so strong at that period of my life. If I could go back in time, I would not change a thing. I was exactly the person I needed to be for those people. I could not be as effective today as I was then at touching the lives of these individuals. The love and hope is the same, but the faith has changed.

Still, I have no sadness or regret about where I am today. If I were a missionary again, I could not proclaim the same absolute certainty about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. I would not worry so much about whether people wanted to join the church or not. I wouldn’t be so saddened by individuals that felt they needed to leave the church for their myriad reasons. But still, I would love them. I would want them to find the path that was best for them and their future successes and happiness.

I think certainty in a belief has much more power to change lives for good or evil than the uncertainties I can offer today. And I believe that sometimes, certainty, even if that certainty is placed in something that is not strictly true, can lead people onto the most beautiful paths and toward the greatest possibilities for happiness. Here is my dilemma. Should I try and encourage greater certainty in those most positive life-altering beliefs? Or should I continue to encourage the growth of uncertainty in the world? I believe both have their place and purpose in this world, both certainty and uncertainty. How can I encourage greater faith in some while striving to raise uncertainty in others?

In my current belief system, this is most likely what that highest consciousness, or God, is doing. The God I would support works with many belief systems, systems of unbelief, certainties, and uncertainties for the betterment of humanity as a whole and also for the happiness and growth of the individual. That voice that speaks to our hearts and whispers to our minds would encourage us to believe in and to follow those paths that will fulfill that purpose. It will tell one person to believe in some religious system and to follow it faithfully, and it will tell another that it is time to leave. For you, maybe believing the Mormon church is true is essential for your current and future happiness, and for the positive effect you may have on others as a result of that belief. For someone else, maybe believing in some other religion or philosophy would be more beneficial for that individual and those around them.

As for me, I am where I am, and I wish I could speak only to those that need what I have to offer. My words may hurt some, but help others. How can I find the way to speak only to those that need to hear my message? I love you! I want what’s best for you. I want what’s best for this world, now and in the future. I have no desire to weaken or destroy the positive growth-inducing beliefs that many of you have. And yet, I am driven to write and to share my ideas with the world.

All I can hope is that you will listen to that voice that speaks to your heart. Follow it as it leads you to that happiness that is meant for you. Where that voice speaks peace and love to your soul, have confidence that the path it recommends is the one that will best change the darkness in your life for light. That is the path that will best enable you to bring light into a world that often seems far too full of darkness. I may preach uncertainty at times, and will continue to do so, but my most sincere hope is that you will find your lighted path and trod thereon in happiness and joy. I am on my path now. Have you found yours?