by Leonard Bishop
When I was 50 years old I began feeling happy, and this immediately upset me. I could handle sorrow, depression, morbidity, anger–but happiness was a shock of confusion. It wasn’t “me.”
If I wasn’t brooding, I didn’t feel alive. If I did not feel shame for what I was like, it was a wasted day. Regret for past failures helped me feel adjusted to my society. Deep and tormenting guilt gave me the spiritual agony I needed to feel comfortable. Resentment, envy, bitterness, were inbred traits in my identity. They kept me feeling in common with the world. I lived in dark concealment and people thought I was a “nice guy.” This life-long deception made me feel superior.
But there I was, at the age of 50, happy–and utterly confused. How could such an unexpected and horrible condition happen to me?
Then I understood. I was busy writing a novel. For two entire weeks it had absorbed me. I was reaching depths of character I had never touched before. I was creating dramatic effects I did not believe possible. I was so concentrated on what I was doing, I had forgotten about myself.
Yet the world had not exploded. Children still laughed; birds still perched on branches and gobbled worms. Life was continuing without my worry, my agitation. Nor had I been destroyed by my two-week absence from myself. I was astonished by this realization.
By getting away from myself, I was relieved of a grinding, agonizing pressure of constant self-condemnation. For a little while I had anesthetized my enemy. Me. My past that was badgering me today.
Well, if happiness could happen by accident, or by an odd shift in circumstance, then I could make it happen, deliberately. To hell with my long history of miserable yesterdays. To hell with the ugliness of my past. Yes, to hell with all that dead, stone-heavy junk.
Whining about having been born in poverty; carping about parents who did not enjoy my birth or truly love me; hating the world for having been born Jewish in an era when it was as ugly as being born black today. Justifying the rottenness I did by listing all the rottenness that had been done against me. Scheming for admiration from people who, if I knew them, I would not like. To hell with that past. The memories were so worn from use, they were no longer clear, or accurate. They were not unique.
To hell with being ashamed of my low educational background–getting dumped into industrial classes set up for dummies. I had been a thief, and violent. A drifter, a mooch, an amoral opportunist who loved to lie and avoided the truth. What did it matter now if people had once used to me, abused me, gutted me for any worth I might have had, and flushed the shell of me down. Living inside those remembrances and dragging them into my today, was stupid. To hell with them–and that’s where they belong–in hell.
I’m 50 years old and I learned that I could be happy by getting away from myself, away from rolling through life in a wheelchair of memories. I have no cause for shame today.
I have a marvelous wife and splendid children: I am loved. I am a writer of stories, biographies, manuals, television scripts, novels. I am teaching at an esteemed university–men and women with educations pay to hear me. I have no cause to be afraid that if I let people know what I’m really like, they will despise me. Why don’t I pry off the sewer lid I’ve kept on my life and let out the stink of decay and death? I’m tired of myself. I’m bored with myself. I’ve been swelling in sour juices of self-pity for so long, my soul is marinated.
I don’t have to start over at 50. I just have to keep getting away from myself, my past, and lived in today just the way I want to become. Other people have done it, and I am like other people. And when I do it, other people will also do it because they are me.
I don’t have to assert my authority at home by jamming my wife into a corner and stomping her down like unwelcome dirt. I don’t have to be a startling speaker by using obscenities that would petrify a degenerate witch. I don’t have to lie about adventures I have never had, to make people believe I am remarkable. Instead of being viciously aggressive to be esteemed as interesting, begin searching for the interesting depths in other people. Look at what is right today and to hell with what went wrong yesterday. Don’t dig among the dead, die with the living.
Hey, Bishop, go easy. You can’t suddenly dump 50 years of what you contrived to become, to reveal what you really are. Wrong, Bishop, dead wrong. Show me the universal law, the immutable law that says you can’t. All it takes is hope for a better life, the need to give love, faith in yourself and trust in God–which you already have–or you wouldn’t be here today.
The guilts, the shames, the regrets you once lived, are dead. You revive them by resurrecting them to rule your today. If you cannot bring back all of yesterday, then why bring back only the pain? It is dead.
Every time you feel deprived, think of what you have. Every time you doubt, realize where you are certain. When you hate someone think of how it feels to be hated. For every phony characteristic you drop, allow a natural one to emerge. Look at people’s eyes, their faces, their bodies. Hear their words, listen to their ideas. People want to love because they are lonely, just as you were. Open your life to everyone. They cannot hurt you any more. Hope is a shield, happiness is power. Love is joy.
I am good. The more of me is greater than the less of me which might be evil. I am worth being loved because I can, sure as people have hearts, give love. To hell with yesterday. I’m going to risk all of what I am, on today–and get away from myself.
©Copyright Leonard Bishop
(First published Sunday, March 24, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)