…it should be the questions and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged and considered, which matters in the end, not some stamp of salvation or damnation which disperses all the complexity in one unsatisfying little decision…’
There’s a quotation that I first came across last year, in Tony Kushner’s Millennium Approaches. When I read those words, they stuck with me. I came across that quote at a time when I really needed it.
The shape of a life. Total complexity. To me, that represented the idea that people were complex, holistic beings, not pure as the driven snow or silent-film villains twirling their moustaches menacingly. That people aren’t unassailably good, and they aren’t irredeemably evil.
That gave me hope, after having dealt with a lot of personal stuff in 2009, in which I felt that people were treating me as though I (and my headmates by extension, because they tended to conflate people) was irredeemably evil. Totally cutting off relationships, misconstruing my intentions. Some of that was related to untreated panic disorder that manifested in irrational behaviour that came across as something that it wasn’t intended to be. (Since that time, we’ve sought treatment for it. That’s for another post, though.)
I went through a lot of personal weirdness after that, wondering if I was a terrible person who didn’t deserve to be loved or cared about.
A shift happened, though, when we were taking some queer studies and health classes, two of which focussed on HIV/AIDS and how it affected different communities. One of the works we studied—in the queer studies HIV/AIDS class, that is—was Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. I don’t really think that I connected with the play as a whole, compared to some of the other works we read and watched in class, but that quote, about the shape of a life, and focussing on the whole of a person rather than ‘stamping them with salvation and damnation’.
I started thinking about what I wanted the shape of my life to be. Was I going to spend it in bitterness, thinking about all the people who’d hurt me in the past, storing up grudges and constantly spewing bilious rants about them? Or was I going to try to understand people and their motivations? Deal with the issues dealt me in life, and try and become a better person? I took the second path. Even if someone isn’t particularly fond of me, I have to remember that they’re also sentient, and have feelings, and aren’t monsters. Even if people, like certain members of our biological family, do things that are destructive to others, that doesn’t mean that they’re irredeemably evil; rather, it means that they have deep-set stuff going on that hasn’t been dealt with in a healthy way.
Am I claiming to be perfect? Fuck no; I still fuck up, occasionally misspeak. I’m flawed. Sometimes I’m too loud; sometimes I come on too strong; sometimes I let my opinions get the best of me. But I’m still trying, as hard as I can, to have the shape of my life be a good one.