A Human Paradox

One of the great paradoxes COVID revealed in the human animal is how much we need each other while we simultaneously can’t stand to be around each other for long periods of time.

Stay-at-home orders booted us from our familiar social circles and, in many cases, put is in direct contact with those we love the most … All. The. Time.

Shocking to no one who has observed humans in their natural habitat, there has been a spike in reported mental illness, including depression, anxiety and suicides. The pandemic furthered the damage already being caused by the misapplication of social media — fraying our tattered IRL bonds.

  • Why exactly is it that we seem to be driven as a species to be around people for more than just the furtherance of the people — but at the same time annoyed as hell by being around those we say we love the most?

It would stand to reason that were we truly social creatures for any other purpose other than making sure we don’t go extinct, having someone you know and know well with whom to spend time wouldn’t lead to as much “Honey, I love you, but please don’t work from home today” as I hear and witness.

Maybe it’s that we just really suck at choosing the people with whom we ultimately end up spending the most time. Maybe we should merely apply any of a number of pithy sayings to this topic and be done — familiarity breeds contempt; family and fish are the same. After three days, they both stink. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

I was in an interesting position when the world shut down in March of 2020, having just extricated myself from a really nasty job situation such that I was still getting paid my full salary while nothing was required of me in terms of work and time. That put me smack-dab in the middle of a home life my wife has crafted to center around homeschooling our younger boy while working part time to add some bucks to the family coffer — a job that disappeared during lockdown.

  • Having me around full time was not exactly my wife’s dream scenario. And I get that. I’m kind of a pain in the ass.

Yet what I observed with us is far, far, far from rare. Whether it’s the off-handed banter of guys around other guys, essentially ragging on their “old ladies” for this or that, or it’s wives praying for a return to the office for themselves and/or their husbands, from what I’m seeing at this station in my life is that we love being around people … just not the people we’re supposed to love the most. Those folks? They irritate us. What once was charming is now annoying. What once was funny is now … not.

Worse than any of this are the folks who say it doesn’t apply to them. These are the people the rest of us want to throat-punch. They’re either newly married or somehow found the secret sauce to a recipe I’ve never even heard of. Most often, these folks are the one bringing quarantine babies into this world. Wonderful for them. I’m happy for them. Truly.

They just appear to be in the distinct minority.

  • Evolutionarily speaking, I understand why humans gather in groups. Aside from the aforementioned procreation benefits, there’s safety in numbers. Even if Grog hates Thor, he still understands that having Thor around to watch his back outweighs the burdens of Thor clipping his nails at the kitchen table.

But what is it about us that makes us all so annoying to those whom we love and who say they love us? Why do our actions, reactions and methods for handling life end up being a source of irritation instead of gracious acceptance? Why, I ask, do we end up wanting to get away from those we said we wanted to be with for the rest of our lives or the ones we created through that union?

It makes no sense. Yet the alternative is most often disastrous. Yes, there are examples of perfectly happy hermits. But most are bitter folks who had someone scar them pretty severely. They’re not exactly well adjusted.

Maybe we’re just living too goddamn long these days. We make fun of folks from the olden days who got married at 16 years old. But hell, they only made it to 35 — if they were lucky. Even with a pandemic-induced drop in life expectancy, we’re still living a helluva lot longer in close proximity to our tribe, and that doesn’t appear to be going well.

  • I understand this push from science to do things that help us beat diseases and live even longer. That really was the driving force behind the vaccine for COVID — that we all wanted to stay alive. Increasingly these days, I’m just not there.

I see my last surviving grandparent at age 94. Her husband passed away a long time ago. Most of her friends are gone. Her mind is slipping by the day. She’s just old. Is it a good thing that she’s still alive? I wonder what she would say. I know I sure as hell don’t want to live that long. I’m not sure I’m down for much past 50, at the rate things are going. So many people seem to be here because they’re stuck here, not because what’s happening is good.

Suicide is a weighty decision, and the dominant religious worldview in our nation doesn’t make that any easier of an option for people who would like some assurances about the state of their eternal soul. Which isn’t to suggest suicide is the answer. It’s not. It does so much damage to those left behind that the consequences of it on a person’s eternal soul really shouldn’t be the main focus at all.

  • But perhaps we shouldn’t be so focused on living so long. If scientists want to figure out how we could live longer, wonderful. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be lined up to swallow the pill that makes that happen.

Given the option between doing what I need to do and checking out at 60 vs. hanging around to 125 through modern science, most days I’d take the former. I’ve seen a lot and experienced a lot and survived a lot already, and this world sure as hell isn’t becoming a friendlier place as time marches onward, ever onward. I want to see my kids grow up and find success and happiness. I’d love to see some grandkids and be the cool grandpa, though if that’s not the route the kiddos want to go, that’s fine by me.

  • Want I don’t want is to be a burden on anyone. Not now. Not when I’m 80. And certainly not when I’m 95. We can talk about the moral rights and wrongs of assisted suicide, but that’s not even where my head is. It’s more in the space of wondering what the hell I’m doing trying to take care of this earthly vessel in such a way that I add years to the end of my days.

I wake up every single goddamn morning these days with horrible aches and pains in my hands and finger joints. Longhaul COVID? Probably. Older age? Maybe. A combination? Who knows, really? I also wake up every single goddamn morning these days with a horrible taste in my mouth that sticks with me the entire day, no matter how many times I brush my teeth, floss, use mouthwash or take breath mints. Multiple doctors have looked at my mouth and the area of my tongue that feels dead and said nothing is abnormal. Something sure as hell is abnormal. You just haven’t figured it out yet, and you really don’t seem all that interested in rolling up your sleeves to have a eureka moment and a forever-grateful patient.

Why exactly do I want to add years to this?

“Because the world is a beautiful place!”

“Because your family needs you.”

“Because you’re loved.”

“Because God obviously has more for you to do.”

Sure, sure, sure, sure. Fine. Cool.

  • Then let’s go back to the start of this. Why, then, do I annoy the shit out of those I love the most? Why do I so often feel so completely incompatible with life on this planet? Why am I constantly feeling as if I don’t belong here and that so, so many people would be better off if I became one of those weird hermits who stops inflicting himself on others? Why do others do the same to me?

I understand these are deep, existential questions for which there are no definitive answers. I say that, absent answers, I just want to walk through life more peacefully and operating from a point of love — yet then I have weeks like this one in which I am stunned by the callous indifference of adults towards a child and find myself wrestling with how someone who states he wants peace and love seems to attract and also hold so much conflict and anger.

I am by no means a saint. I have created a ton of situations that go directly against my stated desires for an easier path through life. But I don’t exactly go looking for trouble either, and when I see areas in my life that need improvement, I’m all about doing the hard work to create change.

  • Which just adds onto the paradox of living — how someone who wants peace and love can be the source of so much of the opposite for those he loves the most. I don’t want to be the Joker in the lives of people I care about. I don’t want to be an agent of chaos. Yet here I am and, if you look at my history, there I was — for now nearly 48 goddamn years.

I often joke about obituaries in which it is written that the deceased was loved by all who knew him. That’s certainly not going to be in my obit, and if I die in uncertain circumstances, there are a helluva lot of people out there who better have good alibis. There is no supply chain issue for stocking the shelves of those who aren’t fans of John.

So I ask again. … Why exactly do I want to add years onto this? And why do I seem to have this affect on those in my orbit? I have written and thought a lot lately about how those in that orbit are so few. Perhaps that’s a good thing, and I’m an asshole for wanting to bring others into it if it is so destructive. I might think I’m a good and fun and kind and giving person. But if that should be evidenced by people at least moderately wanting to be in my orbit, well, perhaps it’s time for a reappraisal of exactly who I am — at least, who I am as seen by other people.

In the end, where I am today on this is the same place I am with a lot of things these days — humbly admitting I know nothing or next to nothing and simply trying to do the best I can with the available data and observations. I want to understand all of this, to know exactly why we’re here with a desire to be with other people when being with other people so often leads to conflict and annoyance. More than anything, I no longer want to be a source of that conflict and annoyance for people I care about.

So how exactly do I go about doing that?

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