Good times, bad times
You know I had my share
When my woman left home
With a brown eyed man
Well, I still don't seem to care
LED ZEPPELIN, Good Times Bad Times
I saw a homeless man eating food out of a garbage can the other day. He drank leftover soda from discarded cups and ate whatever he could find in crumpled up McDonald's bags. He was an old man wearing a dirty yellow jacket. I imagine he was a drunk as well. I can go easy on people like that because life is so hard and so unfair that cheap alcohol is the only thing these people have left in life. My wife just played me some YouTube clips of children and family living in poverty around the country. The most heartbreaking were of families living out of their cars in Central Florida. The men had jobs, but the housing market collapse and the crappy economy has left them in dire straits.
I have been homeless twice in my life. The first time was in Central Florida after my friend and housemate committed suicide. I found his body, and the trauma of the event made it impossible to stay in that house anymore. My other housemate had friends to stay with. I was not as fortunate, so I opted to sleep on the floor of an empty apartment being painted. This was a two week ordeal, but I endured it by reading The Count of Monte Cristo. In hindsight, I should have been praying to God, but I stopped talking to God when I found that body bled out and cold from a razor cut. My faith had died with him.
I don't know why God allowed that in my life except that it is probably easier to convert an atheist to Catholicism than a Calvinist. One thing I remained convinced about to this day is that Calvinism drove my friend to his desperate act. Since this was all the religion I knew and believed in, I concluded that all religion was a delusion. This was not an immediate conclusion but one I would drift to over a few years of not praying. I did not pray for 15 years solid.
The second time I was homeless was as a consequence of my family. No two people in my life have harmed me more than my own mother and father. They are the sort of people who repay charity with ingratitude. If you do them a good turn, they will do you a bad turn. My brother has the same trait. As for me, I am a softhearted fool. The bad times have toughened me up a bit and made me wiser, but I always feel a pain in my heart for people who are having a tough time. I wish I was a rich philanthropist, but my charity is more on par with the widow's mite and giving a cup of water to someone.
I am grateful to my aunt for helping me out of my rough patch that my family put me in. Unfortunately, she does not understand why I can never trust any of them ever again. When people do me wrong, I pray for them and endure what happened. But I cannot read anywhere in the Bible where I am required to trust them again. This is why I can give food to a homeless person, but I never give them cash. People can be like wild beasts that will eat everything you give them and then devour you when it is all done.
Some people are beyond hope and help. This is their doing. Their hearts are so hardened and blackened that they can never move towards the light. I was on my way to that state, but I could never get there. I remember as an atheist being invited to a Christian concert by an evangelical Protestant friend, and I went with the purpose of mocking it and taking a crap on it. This one lady got up to sing a solo, and I could see her love for God on her face. At that moment, I felt that urge inside myself to just crap all over this foolishness, but I couldn't do it. Some part of me convicted myself and told me that I would be evil and worthy of some kind of damnation if I did that. I believed the woman was deluded by her religious fantasies, and I felt sorry for her. But I felt compassion for her. I remembered when I was similarly "deluded" and how much happiness that delusion brought me. I decided then and there as an atheist that I would never ever try and take away someone's faith from them. In a world of emptiness, what did it matter what anyone believed?
That moment did something for me, and I see it clearly now. That was God giving me a bit of grace. I had made the right response when I could have chosen the dark path. I would meet another "deluded" woman shortly thereafter, and I would end up marrying her. But I remembered my decision, and I was a tolerant atheist. This gave me the window that God could shine a light through.
When I was homeless the second time, I did not pray. I wanted to die. I don't know which pain was worse--the first time when my roommate killed himself or the second time when I wished that I was dead with him. I would have to say it was the second time. The first time was traumatic and sudden like breaking a bone. The second time was more like having cancer that got worse instead of better. I knew I would live through the first time. I didn't care if I lived through the second time.
Why live? This was a question that came to me again and again as an atheist. I recently read that they euthanized some poor young girl over in Europe somewhere (I forget) because she was suffering from mental health issues on par with PTSD. This puts the pro-lifers in fits, but I understand why they did it. Without God, life is reduced to pleasure. If there is no pleasure, the quality of life is non-existent, so it is not worth living. I've lived long enough to realize that even with pleasure life is not worth living. God is the only thing that makes life worth living. Without God, it all becomes a farce.
This farce is what guys like Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus dealt with. Their thinking was nothing new as you can see it in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. That book is one of the most depressing you can ever read because it is written by someone who had it all and realized it was vanity. When you are in poverty and suffering, you can dream of riches and better times. But when you are rich and in better times and you find yourself empty, what else is there to dream about?
We were watching a documentary about Andy Warhol the other night, and Andy dreamed of making a splash in the real art world. He was already making a decent living in the commercial art world, but he really wanted to be a serious artist. The problem was that the serious art world snubbed him because he was a commercial artist. It bothered him until Andy came to his So What philosophy:
Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, So what. That's one of my favorite things to say. So what.Basically, Andy realized that he was making himself miserable when he could just stop doing it by not caring. Here's another gem from Warhol:
If something's going to happen for you, it will, you can't make it happen. And it never does happen until you're past the point where you care whether it happens or not. I guess it's for your own good that it always happens that way, because after you stop wanting things is where having them won't make you go crazy.
Apathy is a fascinating thing. We think we know apathy, but most people are just kidding themselves about that. Then, you see the real thing. Apathy is a single mom in a Toyota van passing you on the way to the work like you are standing still. I know this person, and she is someone who truly does not give a damn about anything. I have a certain admiration for her. I wish I could not care in the same way. Her apathy comes not so much from not being responsible so much as fatigue from responsibility. It's the same way that exhaustion lessens stress.
I feel depressed as I write this because I have to work tomorrow, and I hate my job. I could quit the job, but I know the next job will be just like this one. This is because this job is just like the last one. A job is where you endure pain, exhaustion, madness, and misery for money. I would be happy with just working, but management always makes it worse. Management is why I hate my job. They want production but find ways to make the job longer and harder. They don't want to pay you overtime, but they always want you to come in on your day off. Ultimately, they want you to work for free, and I think even that would satisfy them for about a week until they could scheme some way to make you pay for the privilege of suffering there.
I wake up every morning that I have to go to work with the urge to vomit. It leaves me on the weekends but is my constant source of misery until I clock out on Friday evening. The nights before a workday are black and depressing. The world is misery and evil.
I try to compare my black thoughts with those when I was homeless, and I have to admit something. It felt better being homeless. That is sad to admit that, but it is true. It's like when I was homeless the first time and in distress. I could always go back home to mom and dad, but I preferred being in that state than being around my old man. I would console myself in those dark times with the pleasant thought that I didn't have to listen to my old man ever again. I would never go back home because I felt sorry for myself. I did it only when I felt sorry for him. That would make me homeless a second time. Lesson learned.
There is a sneaking suspicion among many that the homeless are taking a break from life. They have no responsibilities. They spend their days drunk. They don't care about anything. The words spoken against them sound envious. This should tell you something. When life is so bad that you envy the homeless, that says it all right there. My friend in the dirty yellow jacket eating garbage probably looks at people like me slaving away on the job to make rich people richer and pities them. Is the slave who is beaten but fed superior to the free man who starves?
I can't make any sense out of it except to say that I do what I do because I have to do it. I don't enjoy it. My days are suffering which I offer up to the Lord in reparation for my sins. It is my penance for all my evil deeds. My hope is God. As for everything else, so what?