Friday, May 17, 2013
I've helped organize a long-running group of Young Adult Quakers here in DC. Last night around ten of us met to first have a meal and then to participate in Worship Sharing. By now, most of us who have been around for a few years know each other by name and greatly value each other's company. One Friend shared her concern that we live in what can be a lonely city, one with very different priorities to our own.
Most of us are crammed into desk jobs and offices with super-serious people. We're lucky to have employment, assuming we do. Most of us deal with financial uncertainty in an expensive city on a regular basis. Many of us have undergone lengthy periods of unemployment. Some of us have had to move home to live with parents until jobs arrived. It's no wonder we often feel confused and alone.
Quaker gatherings regardless of the average age of the participant seem appeal more to women than to men. Female attenders, if in a heterosexual relationship, usually arrive for the first few events with their spouse or significant other in tow. The other relationship partner rarely stays around much longer than that. But I suppose this phenomenon might not be true only for heterosexuals. Many couples try to find activities they can do together, as a unit, and Quaker activities are rarely one of them.
In any case, men are a minority. For a while, that fact was a comfort to me. It meant I had fewer people to avoid and fewer feelings to hurt. The fear I feel towards other men has kept me from forming close friendships or even acquaintances. I am pleased to report that I have finally managed to move forward towards greater health. Last night, I tried to be more spontaneous and found I was too actively involved in the moment to be fearful or anxious.
Though it is still not especially easy, I was able to put aside some of my long-standing conundrums and existential crises. For once, I found myself seeking out other men to converse with, not side-step. This inner work is slow and deliberate, but I rejoice for the small victories. Next time, I hope I keep making progress. I don't want to be disappointed if I stagnate in fetid waters for a time.
I call my father on the phone ever week. Often, the first thing he asks is whether or not I've made friendships with men. The usually disappointed tone I hear in my ear is not an unfamiliar one. When I was hospitalized for mania, years ago, I was allowed to bring my guitar into the dining area and sing for fellow patients. I started out by playing Johnny Cash for him. He beamed ear to ear, carrying on a conversation with a group of visitors seated only a short distance away. They were also enjoying the performance.
When I decided to sing Vietnam War-era protest songs, my father's attention immediately drifted. My performance was equally competent to what came before, but his definition of what constituted "good" music appeared to be very limited. The hyper-masculine old school country he favors is only a fraction of what I like to play. In some respects, my desire to limit male company is to avoid being boxed in like this. I wonder if Dad ever questions his own masculinity, or has any understanding of gender and binary thinking.
I've learned a lot from deconstructing myself and my internalized beliefs, but sometimes I wonder how to encourage others to look within themselves. I want to help people and heal people, but I've often adopted a pessimistic attitude that many people will not change, regardless of the circumstances. In the meantime, I continue to push myself into uncomfortable situations, which is the only way I know how to win out in the end. I'm proud of myself for the progress.