Day 2: Tolkien

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His name is Tolkien.

While I call Lewis my “problem child”, Tolkien was one of those instantly perfect creatures that just makes you want to protect him from the harshness of reality. Every once in a while, he makes me wonder at how different his life could have been. He could have been born a lab rat, or a sewer rat. He could have been experimented on and trotted over. Instead, he was born to a breeder and adopted by me.

The first night in my house, he was so frightened that he ran to Lewis for protection. The second night at my house, I opened the cage and he walked right up to me, crawling into my hands and licking my lips, my nose, and my cheeks. From that night forward, Tolkien would do anything it took to cuddle with me, including struggling against the bars of his cage until I open it for him.

There is a quote by the writer for whom Tolkien is named, which begins with him saying: “I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size”. For this, I believe Tolkien is very appropriately named. He is a simple rat. He loves food and playtime and just about everyone he has ever met. He never complains, not even when I wake him up in the middle of the day. He has never bitten me or shown aggression. Although he will steal treats, he will also make sure that his brother gets some as well, even if that means giving Lewis a peanut when he is without. Tolkien is pure, and I adore that purity in him. Through his purity, he offers me a glimpse of the good in this world every day.

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Day 1: Lewis

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His name is Lewis.

I adopted him from a breeder, and the very first time I held him, he struggled so much that I had to pin him between against my mouth to keep him from falling. For the longest time, he didn’t want anything to do with me, and truth be told, I felt a little betrayed by that. I called him my “problem child”, and joked about how much he hated me.

Nonetheless, I kept coming around because… well, what else could I do? I had adopted him. I was all he had – the one who fed him, protected him, kept him clean. I would hold him for the short periods of time that he would let me, and I would whisper to him, “it’s okay. I’m your mother. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Every day, he would stay with me for longer periods of time. He would stare at me from across the room, inside his cage, hiding in back corners and beneath dark shadows, big, black eyes glittering like diamonds. I began to see bits of myself in his personality – in how anxious he was, just like me. In how much he really rejected change, just like me. He liked things to be familiar and safe and warm – but he learned fast. He never bit me, no matter how scared he was. He never challenged me, even when he did run away. He was a gentle soul, who learned his name fast and watched my every move meticulously. He was a mad genius and a nervous wreck, just like me. We stressed each other out all the time, but we understood each other too.

Eventually, he came to accept me as a safe space. In unfamiliar rooms, he would cling to me like a small child. When he was afraid, I would hold him and whisper to him, and he would relax. And when he was calm and safe in his cage, he would get excited to see me. He ran to me and crawled across my shoulders and licked my hands with his tiny, pink tongue in anticipation of treats.

His name is Lewis, my sweet, anxious problem child.

Why We Can’t Only Focus on the Positive

I understand that everyone wants to be happy.

That’s the goal in life, right? To be happy. To feel fulfilled. I mean, as long as we have this, our lives are successful, right?

There are countless ways to reach this end. So many, in fact, that everyone has their own ways – art, love, family, pets, whatever works at the end of the day to make you feel warm and fuzzy. But one method that I hear brought up often is to focus on the positive in life.

I won’t deny that this is a worthwhile method. Not an easy one, but effective if you can teach yourself to do it right. Because we as human beings have this tendency to want to focus on the negative, for whatever reason (it sounds counter-productive to that whole ‘everyone wants to be happy’ theory, doesn’t it?). Before we notice the good in a situation, we’ll fixate on the bad. We obsess about flaws and pain and hardship so much that we sometimes forget to notice the strengths and growth and love, even when it is there.

And I do believe that what you see is what you get. If all you notice is what’s rotten with the world, then you’re not going to have a very high opinion of the world, are you? There might be a whole other side of the story, but to you, that won’t matter; what you focus on becomes your truth.

This is why it’s so important to train your mind to notice the good in the world. Because the good is there; we just need to see it.

And I believe this. Whole-heartedly, I believe this; but then there are the people who take it one step too far.

I have known people who will preach the importance of noticing the good in the world, of creating a more balanced, aware outlook on life. And yet, when someone tries to speak up about real pain and suffering in the world, they will just go silent. They will remove themselves from the conversation until it comes right back around to being about something happier again.

I have known people who will pretend that they have no pain, that everything in their world is just fine, even when that isn’t the case. Even when they are going through serious, life-changing pain, they still can’t bring themselves to complain. They can’t make their concerns heard; they need to focus on the positive in life.

These people bother me.

Because, like I said, I agree with training yourself to notice the good in the world. That is very important. But just because we notice the good in the world, just because we celebrate it and encourage it and hope that it continues, that doesn’t mean that we can’t notice when there is pain and hardship in the world.

We need to notice the good in the world because there is good in the world, and that good is worth fighting for. That good is what gets us through our days, keeps a smile on our face, makes our hearts a little lighter and our world a little brighter. Without the good, we’d all just be broken shells of despair, unenthused and unmotivated to do anything.

But we can’t live solely in the good. Because it might make us temporarily happier, but it won’t erase the fact that other people are still hurting. And, in some ways, it might even make things worse for us in the long run.

Because if we aren’t acknowledging the bad, the pain, the hardship, then we aren’t fighting it. We aren’t standing up for the voiceless, so the voiceless just keep getting beat down. We aren’t standing up for ourselves, so people just keep taking advantage of us and testing how many lines they can cross. We aren’t fighting for anything, and so no battles are won.

When we don’t acknowledge the bad, then we don’t challenge the bad. We become bystanders, and to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

The world that we came into was not perfect. And I’m not even sure that there is a way to make it perfect, but I do know that the only way to make it better is to stand up and fight for what matters. Not sit back and ignore the bad because we don’t want to see it.

End of day, all of this simply comes down to balance. We need both, the good and the bad, in order to function in this society. We need to know that the world is flawed. We need to know that pain and hurt happens every single day, and it is an uphill battle trying to stop it. But we need to know that we can stop it; maybe not today or tomorrow or a year from now, but if we keep trying, if we keep fighting, we can make a difference. We need to know that this is a world filled with love, and people who want to make a difference, even if it is also filled with people who don’t care about or even notice the harm that their actions cause. We need to notice both, because both are just as prevalent in our society.

The Other Me

“Come on, sweetheart; won’t you give me a smile? Is that too much to ask? Just one smile?”

Do I have to?

I know, in life, you’re going to have to say and do a lot of things that aren’t true, just to make other people happy. Words like “I’m fine” will have to escape your lips. “It’s all okay.” “No, I’m totally not on the verge of a breakdown, what are you talking about, this is my regular face.” But it’s just that… I’m so fucking tired of smiling. My face hurts, and I can feel my eye twitching from the strain, but you ask me to smile and I do it because what other choice do I have? I’ll just wait until your back is turned to let it fall. You won’t even realize it left; by the time you turn around again, it’ll be back, and you’ll be just as fooled by it as ever.

“Oh, come now, dear, that isn’t very happy. Cheer up! Tell us a different story! Give us a lesson, a moral, a happy ending so that we can all leave you feeling better about ourselves!”

Why would I? Maybe there is no lesson. Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe there is no great, big take-away, maybe there is no reason, no rhythm, no rhyme. Maybe the world is just one great, big stinking cesspool, and we’re all trying to force reason into it. Maybe life is nothing more than a constant stream of pain from which we can never fully escape. Maybe I spend all my time waiting for things to get better – just one more year, three more months, another day, things will be fine, I promise – and maybe it’s all just one great lie that I tell to keep myself from giving up.

Do I really believe that? Of course. Of course not. I won’t in an hour, at least, and I don’t even know if I do now, but now it feels like the right thing to say. Right now, whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter; what matters is that it reflects my mood.

I’m not saying it because I want you to believe it. I don’t. The only reason I’m saying it is so that you can see into my mind. So that you can understand why I hesitate when you ask me to smile.

Would you smile if these meaningless thoughts kept returning to your mind?

Stop ignoring me! Stop pretending that she is better than me, because she isn’t! She, the other me, the one who smiles without being told, the one who gives you inspiration that’s fresh and new and meaningful at the drop of a hat. She exists, but so do I. We take turns; sometimes she’s in charge, sometimes I am. And sometimes, she leaves me holding the bag, struggling to fill in for all the things she does, all the jobs she told me she’d be able to handle.

“Smile, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Give us a happy story, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Well, when will the other you be back? You’re tiresome and annoying; bring her back.”

I can’t. I can’t just summon her from thin air. She needs to return of her own accord. And until then, I’m all you’ve got. I’m sorry that isn’t enough for you, but I’m trying. Believe me, I’m trying so fucking hard, that I literally cannot do any more for you.

And why do I have to be her anyway? Why do I have to pretend for you? Why does every story need to be wrapped up nicely with a happily-ever-after? Why does every face need a smile to be considered polite? She’ll come back eventually, and when she does, you’ll get all of those, but in the meantime, why do I have to lie for you?

I don’t want to pretend. We shouldn’t have to. We should be allowed to feel how we feel, regardless of how we were yesterday. Because sometimes, we’re going to be happy, and sometimes we’re going to be mopey and tired and depressed. Both are perfectly alright. Both are part of being human.

Consistency is overrated; we are ever changing. Be who you are today, whoever that may be. Love who that is, and don’t compare them to who you were. Because fighting ourselves, forcing ourselves to be someone we want, is only going to make those moments of depression longer and harder to deal with.

She, the other me, the other you, will come back. But for now, don’t deny who you are.

 

All Happiness is Valid

Enjoy life to the fullest.

Talk about your passions, even if you suspect that the people around you might not be quite as invested in them as you are.

Get excited, jump up and down and scream, speak in a high-pitched, squeaky voice and don’t worry about the possibility that you might be annoying other people.

Love things. Love things deeply. Love material things and non-material things. Enjoy the feeling of sun on your face, or the way that ink spills easily out of a new pen. Enjoy wasting hours away on the internet. Enjoy every bite you take, whether that bite be out of an apple or a doughnut.

Read books that you want to read, rather than the books that you think make you look or sound most intelligent.

Play video games on easy, because you don’t have to be good at them to enjoy them.

Shave your head because you’ve always wanted to know what you might look like with it, or dye your hair a funky colour because you have the opportunity to.

Dress up a bit more than the occasion calls for, for no other reason than because you enjoy looking good.

Look good for yourself, rather than anybody else. Try out that new make-up look or wear that outfit, even if you think people won’t like it.

We don’t need to justify ourselves.

Because, here’s the thing: life can suck. In fact, at one point or another, life will suck. It’s unavoidable. We all deal with hardships, and we all have traumas from our past that we are struggling with, and we all have moments where everything just feels pointless and difficult.

Many of us, in fact, will even feel like giving up every now and again.

So, all of that considered, it seems sort of silly to deny ourselves pleasures, even seemingly small, insignificant ones, just because we’re worried about what other people might think.

Life is hard, and we all need those things that will get us through the day. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a network of supportive and loving friends and family to pull us out of our dark times, while some of us have little more to look forward to than the sun on your face. But we all have something. If we just allow ourselves the chance to search for it, we will find something that brings us even the smallest amount of joy in the most bitter times. And sometimes, all we need to pull ourselves through are those small, fleeting moments of happiness.

And nobody should ever feel silly or insignificant for the things that bring a smile to their face.

So, please, the next time that you see someone thoroughly enjoying something, even if you don’t understand it yourself, allow them enjoy it. And the next time that you are enjoying something that other people might not understand, allow yourself to enjoy it. We all deserve our happiness, no matter what form it takes. All happiness is valid, and all happiness is necessary. Because you are valid, and you are necessary, and nobody should ever make you feel otherwise.