As I stated in a previous post, I have always been a relationship kind of guy. While each of those relationships was unique, one commonality between all of them was that each of those girls was way out of my league. That’s not false humility. As a matter of fact, I’m certain that a few readers can and will attest to that fact (you guys are jerks).
Because of this personal deficiency, I often found myself being more agreeable to some things that were beyond reasonable relationship compromises. On one such occasion, I found myself in Houston on Halloween taking a wonderfully weird girl to see Tori Amos. As we entered the venue, I was surrounded by hundreds of girls wearing fairy wings and glitter; I knew I was in trouble.
We found our seats, which were absolutely terrible because we were young and broke, and obviously the tremendous population of teenaged fairy girls in Houston had driven up the price of the tickets. I settled deep into my seat, waiting to drown in the impending tidal wave of estrogen and feminine angst (at least that’s what I thought as an immature young man; as an immature old man, I do my best to not make sweeping generalizations, regardless of how often they are correct).
And then the opening act took to the stage. I could barely make him out, but it was a lanky fellow covered in denim and wearing a cheap cowboy hat. No band. No exceptional lighting. Just this Levi-clad waif, a piano and a guitar. His name was Rufus Wainwright, and I was immediately a fan.
Nothing about his style of music was like anything I really listened to at that time, but sometimes things connect at a deeper level than preference. One particular song, written by Rufus’ father (poignant for me), became a bit of anthem of mine after that and over the last several weeks it resurfaced again.
“One Man Guy” tells the story of a loner, which I have always considered myself to be. It’s not that I don’t enjoy people. It’s just that … No, that’s BS. I don’t enjoy people. They’re almost as insufferable as me. Except for you, of course. You’re good folk.
One part of the song in particular has always resonated with me:
I’m gonna bathe and shave
And dress myself and eat solo every night
Unplug the phone, sleep alone
Stay way out of sight
Sure it’s kind of lonely
Yeah it’s sort of sick
Being your own one and only
Is a dirty selfish trick
In the past, being a loner was always a point of pride and these lyrics affirmed that every time I heard them, but now it feels different. Now it feels a bit more like shame.
In the last several weeks, I have given myself permission to withdrawal. In the past this wasn’t even a conscious decision. It was always like breathing (or like making sweeping generalizations) for me. It just came naturally, but lately I have found that it takes a little more effort.
So, what’s the difference? There can only be one conclusion. This is Emily’s fault.
For nearly a decade, I watched Emily move through life making decisions that were the complete opposite of being a loner. Be it for her family, her friends, her students, random people that she went to high school with but had fallen out of touch, homeless people, strangers from Canada–it seemed to me that Emily’s motivation in life was all wrong. Not only did she not try to withdrawal, it seemed as though she actively sought out opportunities to make others’ lives better. Sometimes when it wasn’t even easy or when she wasn’t even going to get credit for it.
What the hell?!
Who does that?
And here comes the worst part. I’m afraid it’s contagious. I think I’ve got it. It hasn’t fully consumed me, but I can feel it in my veins. And there is this strange rhythmic thump in my chest. Like a Poe story, this constant beat is driving me insane. It reminds me of others. It makes me concerned with what they are doing.
When friends are going through difficulties, I feel some strange gravity pulling me towards them, compelling me to help or just be involved. When people text me, I respond. And I respond with thoughtfulness! Not just a random emoji or an “Lol.” Actual sincere words. And I can tell it’s progressing, because sometimes I initiate the text. And to my own horror, I actually made a phone call yesterday. God help us all.
Emily taught me how to care about people. Not just in principle, but with sincerity. The transformation isn’t complete, but I know it’s happening and will continue to happen. I know this because I have tried to pull away in the last weeks, and it just hasn’t worked. When you begin to organically and authentically care about others, it is impossible to live within yourself.
I’m still not sure if I am suited to this whole “authentically caring for others” thing, but it appears as though I don’t have a choice. And because it comes from Emily, I will do my best to embrace it. And in the moments when I do, I know she lives.