cleaning things up

good misfit
3 min readMar 3, 2022

He is outside, keeping himself busy to distract his mind from the pain, physical pain, and mental pain, the things that still give him nightmares at night, the things that still light his short fuse and get him angry, blaming government, other people, and maybe even himself for what’s going wrong. What gives him peace is physical activity, gardening, tidying, building things, cooking, distance from other people. At one point I thought I wished to communicate with him, to be able to speak things directly to him. However, I’ve long learned that this can be a difficult route. I ask a question, it’s misunderstood, and it leads down a path that doesn’t answer my original question. Or it leads to a deeply vehement and emotional tirade, an anger with government, a sadness about how it will affect future generations. Now I’ve started to hold back my tongue, because though I want to correct the sweeping generalizations (“lazy blacks” and “illegal immigrants”), I don’t see those types of conversations being fruitful. I’ve just seen the escalate to two very unhappy arguing people. Instead, I’m just listening. And I hear his arguments underneath. He values hard work, and it’s difficult to see when people don’t work so hard. He’s followed laws, and it’s difficult to see the grey areas outside of law. And to some extent, I just want to honor his point of view, because there are merits, and I agree with them. I’ve found that my desire to fix the precision of the language, to prevent triggering other people, just triggers him, then triggers me. I don’t want to drain my energy that way; I want to spend it differently.

This morning, she walked outside to help out. She wanted to move the trash bin a little farther from the car so that the trash trucks could pick it up more easily and not dent the car on the street. However, he is so focused on doing things himself, doing things his way, and not being bothered by the woman who is losing her memory due to Alzheimer’s. So he yells at her, just go back in the house. These are the types of things that trigger me, because I feel bad for his situation as caretaker and trying to get things done, I feel bad for her because she’s just trying to help out, I feel bad for myself because the emotions surface all this childhood fear and sadness and helplessness, that there’s this big yelling monster about to attack me, that I see the conundrum of everyone suffering and sad and trying to figure a way out. However, now as an adult, I just watch, and I see it’s like clockwork, these events and responses. For myself, I just quiet myself, nothing to fix, nothing to do, just be here and recognize my own sadness and frustration. Maybe a hope that my quiet serenity, groundedness, calm, can spread like osmosis, maybe make things gentler in the future, or at a minimum doesn’t add more fuel to the fire of this tense moment.

I feel this tension between different options: I can move away, pay for my own place, limit my time in these situations that feel toxic. Or I can continue to be in this environment, and work on my reactions and responses. Or I could do both, have a place, and still come to visit. And I recognize this is my decision making. I am choosing to be here to save money, to expose myself to these challenges, to grow from them. There’s not really a right or wrong approach, anyway. Any choice has pros and cons. The template I’m working towards is the Thích Nhất Hạnh ideal, that even a place that has endured so much suffering can be re-created to be good. That beautiful lotus flowers grow from (what we perceive to be dirty) mud. Or in the movie Bruce Almighty, Morgan Freeman as God gives his advice. “No matter how filthy something gets, you can always clean it right up.”