Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

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A convicted child rapist’s face was being shown on TV.

He was 19, and convicted of molesting a 3-year-old girl (which is heinous and disgusting in every imaginable way).

The Orange County, California judge hearing the case reduced the convicted rapist’s sentence to 10 years, even though law mandates a minimum 25-year sentence for child rape convictions.

I was sitting in the living room with my mom who was visiting. She joined the chorus of people absolutely infuriated by this judge’s actions.

“Doesn’t this upset you?” she asked. “What if that was your son?”

“Assuming it’s true, it’s troubling. Yeah. I don’t know enough to make a determination one way or the other.”

“He was convicted of rape, Matt,” she said.

“Sometimes an 18-year-old has consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend and gets convicted of rape.”

“This is a child, Matt.”

“All I’m saying is I don’t always believe everything I see on TV. In my experience, there are always two sides to every story,” I said.

“This judge was way out of line,” she said.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “But for the sake of argument, can you conceive of a situation in which an adult could be accused of molesting a child without actually molesting a child?”

My mother often works as a substitute school teacher.

“Yes, actually. I can.”

I didn’t know as much about that particular case as I do now. I think that kid did sodomize a 3-year-old family member, and it’s immeasurably horrible and disgusting. And I don’t think judges should be able to arbitrarily create new legal sentences out of thin air.

But when I first heard it, I didn’t jump to conclusions. I’m glad I didn’t. People always jump to conclusions and roughly half of them are wrong.

That’s a life skill I’ve only learned in my thirties. I used to be like many others and rush to judgment and be wrong half the time.

Everything Feels Wrong Sometimes

I was going off.

Really getting on a roll.

Mom was the only person there to listen. I was probably annoying her the way she sometimes annoy one another.

Our education system is in crisis. Our health care system is thievery.

Our entire way of life was pissing me off, and I felt the need to unload on mom about it.

We’re born and then we get herded into the school system where we are taught what they want to teach us (Don’t learn what YOU want and are interested in! WE know better!) so that we can “get a good job someday.”

Why do we need a job?

It’s because we have to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat, and transportation to and from our jobs, of course!

I get the sense sometimes that they—“they” being people super high up the decision-making food chain in magical Fuck-Everybody-Land—just want people to go get jobs and follow their rules, so we keep buying things.

They want us to buy all their stuff. And then more stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff.

We can’t be happy without all this stuff!!!

That’s why we need our jobs! For the stuff!

That’s why you have to play by the rules! So you can be happy and buy stuff!

I don’t like how we all got brainwashed into believing we HAD to do it this way. But with almost everyone buying in, it’s so hard to escape the machine.

You can’t quit your job! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t pull your kid out of school! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t spend your time doing what you want to do! Follow the rules! Spend your whole life working for someone! That’s THE WAY.

I’m in a phase, I guess.

My mom is a very religious woman. She probably didn’t like me using the word “bullshit” so much during my little rant, but I didn’t care.

“I get it, Matt. I do. But that doesn’t exist on Earth,” she said. “What you want? What your heart wants? You’re describing Heaven. And the entire point of our time here in this life is about getting there. Nothing else matters.”

It wasn’t an unwise thing for her to say. You have no idea how much I want her to be right. I hope she is.

But you know what I muttered to myself?

Well, fuck. What if there is no heaven?

It’s because I don’t always believe everything I hear on TV.

We All Want to be the Catcher in the Rye

I just finished the book last night. J.D. Salinger’s classic ended up in a place I hadn’t seen coming.

I had no idea how the book got its name, but it all made sense in the end.

Holden Caulfield is a troubled 16-year-old feeling disenchanted about growing up in a world where it often feels like EVERYONE is chasing things that don’t matter.

He’s nostalgic for the age of innocence and he wants to be the guy saving all the children from running blindly through the field and falling off the cliff into adulthood when the world turns harsher, colder and uglier. Sometimes, people fall off the cliff before they’re adults because older, messed-up adults like the 19-year-old molester in California steal their innocence.

Holden can’t stand it.

I can’t either.

You feel it when the big kids tell you there’s no Santa Claus and you realize how foolish you must have seemed to believe such a tall tale.

You feel it when you find out an old neighbor man used to diddle up people you love when they were little kids, telling them: “Shhhh. Now don’t you tell anyone.”

You feel it when you get older and realize all the adults are just as messed up as you. When you realize all these people you grew up loving and admiring all have dysfunctional marriages because everyone is having sex with people they’re not supposed to or drinking too much or gambling away their life savings.

You feel it when masked men cut off people’s heads.

You feel it when police officers gun down unarmed citizens who are running away from them.

You feel it when you get divorced and you’re just like: Damn. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was so good when we were little and we just played.

We didn’t know what was really going on and some people think ignorance is bad, but maybe it’s better. Because if we’re not pursuing happiness, what are we pursuing?

You get so tired sometimes because there isn’t just one problem to tackle. There are unlimited problems.

And sometimes we’re not very good multitaskers.

We have more people writing hate onto walls than we have people to clean it off. It’s because we all get so tired and there’s never enough time.

“If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.” – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit crazy.

Maybe it’s because of genetics.

Maybe it’s because God really is there feeding me the strength and grace and hope I chase constantly.

I don’t know. But I hope. I always hope.

Sometimes we’re knocked down. Other times, we fall.

But we have grit. And we get back up.

I don’t stay down long. You can’t kill me.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way to look at everything.

In my experience, there are always two sides to every story.

Always new ways to reframe things. Always new, better questions to ask.

For one, short moment, Holden was able to feel peace.

He felt happy.

He looked around and saw more than phoniness.

His little sister rode the carousel in the park.

Round and round and round.

And that was it. Nothing else happened.

There was nothing bad.

Nothing that might stand out to us as particularly good.

It was a moment of just “being.”

Without judgment.

A moment full of innocence and nostalgia.

He was so happy.

He probably wanted that carousel to keep spinning and spinning and spinning forever because then maybe he’d always be happy.

The carousel can’t keep spinning forever, though.

We have to wake up tomorrow and pay another surprise bill or fix something that was working fine yesterday or deal with some new family crisis.

Because things always change and life always happens and we have no control except how we choose to respond to it.

It feels good to be angry about it sometimes. To point out all the phonies and their bullshit.

But maybe a better use of our time is looking forward to that next carousel ride.

That next moment of happiness.

And hold onto it for as long as we can.

And be grateful it happened.

And then look forward to next time.

29 thoughts on “Don’t Believe Everything You Hear”

  1. And those moments? Those are heaven on earth. I’m not waiting til I die to experience heaven.
    Thanks for linking to my post, Matt.

    1. I’m trying to learn how to live “right now” instead of always worrying about what happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow.

      Thank you for writing your post. It’s magnificent and I hope every person who reads this will make time to read it.

  2. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Once someone says, “this is better,” be it a way to make more money, a way to feel no pain, a way to herd humans into the pen, we get off on the tangent and think it’s right or the only way it can be. We keep following the path of that tangent, getting further away from the path of contentment or, dare I say, happiness.

    1. I tend to use “contentment” and “happiness” interchangeably, and rub people the wrong way by doing so. But, yeah. Thank you for reading and for understanding.

  3. Powerful words you wrote. You have just described the human experience all through the ages. We are constantly seeking meaning, looking for hope, trying to fix a broken world that defies fixing.

    I have learned that there is great wisdom behind the idea that 98% of life is all about our attitudes and what we chose to focus on. Our perceptions really do start to shape our realities, so when we focus too much on what is wrong with the world, on our own suffering and the suffering of others, we tend to miss out on the beauty that is to be found all around us.

    It’s a tough one, but that child that suffered and that kid that is now going to jail, there can be victory and triumph found even in that. The world is full of children who have over come such things, who have survived and thrived, and gone on to be amazing people with the eyes to see the world and people as we really are, and to love them anyway. It’s a real testament to the human spirit and reminds me everyday that we do have some redeeming qualities after all.

    As to heaven, there’s saying I’m kind of fond of, “Christ didn’t come just to get you into heaven, He came to get a little bit of heaven into you.”

    1. I don’t know if my penchant for feeling hopeful came through in this post, but I hope it did.

      Because you’re so right. We see what we want to see.

      And there is so much beauty. So much good.

      And if we all look for it and contribute to it, then maybe the intolerable becomes tolerable.

      One can always hope. 🙂

      1. Your penchant for hope always come through loud and clear. All that melancholy and angst that we go through as people, kind of serves a purpose and helps us to really enjoy those moments of happiness and to have hope.

        There’s an interesting paradox in the Western world, we tend to suffer from more depression and unhappiness then places like war torn Somalia. It’s an interesting quirk of human nature, but too much peace and affluence and limited suffering tends to make us even more unhappy. Some of the most hopeful people in the world are actually living in the worst circumstances possible.

        1. Perspective and gratitude are really powerful things.

          Thank you for telling me you detect hope in my writing. I’d hate to be part of what I perceive to be the problem.

  4. Matt, I think that we are all guilty of jumping to conclusions before we get all the facts. The problem today is the news that we get on TV and Newspapers is written to sell! And the facts get pushed somewhere in the back to bring sensationalism to the front. Everybody seems to be concerned with their own bottom line and have no interest in the Truth!!

    1. I spent 10 years in newspaper newsrooms before finding something else to do. What you’ve just described is part of the reason I’m happy to no longer be part of that industry. Just like everything else, money trumped principle.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

  5. I’m woefully behind on your posts, Matt, but was too intrigued by the intro to let another one pass. I’m completely with you on this. I get in arguments with friends because they jump to what seem like obvious conclusions to them, whereas I’ll hold off on judgment or opinion because I know there’s more to the story; there always is. It’s a complex world with millions of shades of gray. Nice to know someone else understands that, too. Hope you’re well!

    1. You don’t owe me your time, Gail. I’m supposed to earn it. I’m so glad I was able to today.

      I do understand. I think I spent a lot of years getting things wrong. Probably going to keep some of that up. I’m just more self-aware than I used to be and I’m glad to be so.

      Thank you very much for reading and saying hi. Really nice to hear from you and see your name pop up. Please have a great weekend!

      1. Oh, you earn it, Matt. I’m just remiss in taking advantage of it, which is completely my loss. I’ll only benefit from making time for it.

        Ah, self-awareness. What a thing of beauty.

        Hope you have an awesome weekend, too, Matt! And I totally could have pointed you to some carousel photos for this post! 😉

  6. Reblogged this on maney smiles back and commented:
    Such a beautiful and complex piece. “You get so tired sometimes because there isn’t just one problem to tackle. There are unlimited problems.” Keep your hope, team! (P.S. it has a few F-bombs.)

      1. Oh, it’s totally okay! I just know some of my audience members find them distasteful and appreciate the warning. “Bad words” buried in so much amazing writing are okay with me.

  7. Hope is a terrible thing sometimes, those times when we feel inundated by cycles of the horror stories. Those times when we feel we have no control over the world surrounding us. But you know Matt, it isn’t entirely true. We have control, first and foremost we have control over hope. No matter how terrible it seems, we have control over our reaction to it.

    I have a friend who tells me constantly I live in hopeland, I suppose I do in some strange way. Despite my life experience, I believe strongly we can choose. We can see behind the curtain.

  8. Hi! I am just working my way through your old posts… so this comment is like 3 years too late … and I am aware you may have totally changed your mind in that intervening period. “Everyone is chasing things that don’t matter” – very true. I’ve never read “catcher”, and not sure I can now, now that you’ve told me to….

    However: >>”Why do we need a job?
    It’s because we have to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat, and transportation to and from our jobs, of course!
    I get the sense sometimes that they—“they” being people super high up the decision-making food chain in magical Fuck-Everybody-Land—just want people to go get jobs and follow their rules, so we keep buying things.
    They want us to buy all their stuff. And then more stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff.”<<

    Not sure if I'm agreeing with you or not, but never assume there's a "they".

    I could run away from the job, and try to hunt for animals, and then if it turns out I'm bad at hunting, I'll starve to death and die, even if it's not my fault. Or I could try to grow crops, and if it turns out I plant things slightly wrong, or the wrong things, or at the wrong time, or pests get them, then I'll die, and my children will die too. Or I can just go to a job, and someone will tell me what I am expected to do, and train me, and try to motivate me, and make sure it's on track. Man, I LOVE having a job. People LOVE having jobs really. It's so much easier than any other way of living. I've never started a company, but I have friends who have. They work twice as hard as anyone else I know, and they have to make all the decisions, and then their chance of success is like about 20%. So I'm not going to imagine them as someone who just gets their kicks from bossing other people around and make them follow their rules.

    So yeah, question the rules — but don't attribute malevolence to some "them". Get a job in a cubicle, or don't, but try to remember it's your conflict with yourself, not with some parent figure.

    1. Please tell me you’re an occupational hypnotherapist like in Office Space and that you have the ability to make me feel like I’ve been fishing all day at the close of business.

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Matt Fray

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