On Deserving

I remember a post-breakup dinner with a woman that I dated years ago. (Yes, yes I know you are trying to figure out what the hell a post-breakup dinner is. I can’t help you with that one.) At any rate I remember her saying the sympathetic words, “You deserve the best that life has to offer.” I think that those words are scripted into the breakup bible somewhere, probably in bold, maybe underlined.

The words have always thrown me off. Wait, I didn’t realize that I deserved the best. All of this time I was thinking that I deserved only the forth best that life has to offer, who do I call to correct this issue so that I can trade lives with someone who deserves a much shittier life?

All of the people who have spoken those words of deserving to me meant them with the best of intentions and I know exactly what they were trying to say and I feel only the warmest regard for people who want the best for me.

It’s just that “deserve” is the wrong damn word.

At the time the words about deserving were spoken to me I was taking incredibly long walks around the city park. I would get home from work, eat, and head out for hours regardless of the late fall weather. I was carving ruts in the path around city park lake in a desperate attempt to quit smoking because I had been unemployed for several months and things were starting to look bleak.  Life was hard and if deserving was the shape of things…maybe I deserved it. Maybe I deserved the rage and disappointment. Maybe I deserved the breakup, the divorce, the bad weather, the loneliness.

Except that way of thinking was precisely the thing that was choking the color out of my life. I was the fuck up. The one who had trouble thinking that I had anything useful to offer. Shame disqualifies you from humanity and it is built around a poor self perception based off of shortcomings both real and imagined. In order to determine your ranking in the human race you must compare yourself to others.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. – Matthew 7:2

My deserving narrative placed me firmly at the center of the world. When the world is about you and if the world is not meeting your needs the world is not operating correctly. Somebody has to be blamed for the condition of things and it’s either you, a bunch of other folks, or my personal favorite catch-all God. God is the easiest of them all because, chances are pretty good that there will be no clear and tangible defense descending from the clouds anytime soon. The silence will give you plenty of time to list out offenses.

Unless…

Unless Deserving is thoroughly infected with the deep misconception that we have a clear understanding of what a good life is, and that a good life is one with as little suffering as possible. It presumes that difficulty is a problem that only bad people should have to cope with. That good people have good lives which perpetually move in an upward trajectory. However sometimes really rich and beautiful lives include huge burning swaths of hardship and loss.

You see in the process of wandering aimlessly around the park I discovered that the endorphins released in long walks were more or less the same as the chemical kick that I got from cigarettes. So in my time spent yelling at God and walking around the lake I was becoming more healthy. It wasn’t because healthiness was the goal. If it would’ve been a goal it would’ve been absorbed into my comparison based world-view and corrupted in the process. I would’ve joined races to prove that I was “better” by a new standard, a brand new measure with different consequences. It was only by sneaking under the radar that it was effective. When I realized that I was happier, that I found joy in the process the joy became the reason.

When you include other people in your life, you are bound to get hurt, but a life without other people sucks. In the act of pursuing something that you care about you may discover that the thing that you wanted is really difficult once you get it. If you decide to create something and offer it to the world not everybody is going to shower you with comforting words of praise. When you are focused on deserving you forget the joy that is found in the sheer act of participating in life.

“It is very odd that people should think that when we do good God will reward us and when we do evil he will punish us. I mean it is very odd that Christians should think this, that God deals out to us what we deserve…. You could say that the main theme of the preaching of Jesus is that God isn’t like this at all.” In fact this image of a punitive God is “the view of God as seen from hell,” such that damnation “must be just being fixed in this illusion.” This is the illusion that defines the sinner. To see that this illusion is an illusion is to recognize that one is a sinner, and in this very self-knowledge one ceases to be a sinner.” – Herbert Mccabe

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