I’ve always been a needlessly sentimental kinda guy. That’s not to say that I’m weepy (though, if you identify as being weepy, that’s perfectly ok), but I’ve always found a disproportionate amount of meaning in things that my peers might not have. And that’s part of a long series of me and my peers not always being on the same page when it comes to what matters.
I’ve never been what you’d describe as a “winner.” In fact I’ve won very little in my life. I’ve never won a raffle or a drawing or door prize of any time. Guaranteed, if I were in a raffle with one other person, they would be walking away with the new car. And I’m ok with that. Because I learned pretty early on that I wasn’t particularly inclined toward victory, not did that really affect my life experience in a negative way. Being a loser, or a “non-winner” didn’t make my life worse. It actually often made it better.
For example, there was no worse time for a kid to be in denial about being a loser than at birthday parties. Because until you turn 14 and everyone decides it’s cooler to stand around and talk drama instead of whack the crap out of a bright papier-mache animal filled with candy (and by the way, standing around talking drama never became cooler than whacking the crap out of a pinata. It still isn’t and it never actually will be.), birthday parties were dominated and defined by what games you played. Birthday parties were like casinos in which you played games requiring minimal talent, but you gambled with what little self-esteem and self-concept you’d accrued rather than money.
Anyway, I remember at one we played musical chairs, and I got out early because I was all the way in freakin’ Egypt when the music stopped and had no shot at getting to a chair in time. No biggie, it happens, I never win these things. But it gets down to the last, like, four kids. And by now, the parents basically choose the winners, right? You see who’s the odd-kid-out, and you snipe the rest of them. Except the wrong kid got sniped. And he couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that he’d lost. Or maybe he couldn’t unwrap it. Either way, the word of the day was bawling because this kid let loose the most fantastic display or waterworks I’ve probably ever witnessed in my life. Full on shameless tantrum.
Another time, I ended up getting second place at my best friend’s birthday party. It was some fluke with the bean bag tic tac toe game, but these parents had had the foresight to get runner-up prizes, which was a concept pretty much foreign to me. I knew who I was. I had no expectations. But my friend’s mom handed me a tube of Sprees and had this concerned look in her eye, and asked, “Is this ok?” like I was gonna throw the Sprees down and demand a true victor’s prize. Obviously she’d met the wrath of many a sore loser at her daughter’s parties. But of course it was ok, I was pleased to inform her, and I’d never tried Sprees before and guess what? Sprees are pretty dang dope!
And even though Sprees are never the candy I go for when I stop at a gas station on a youth trip, I still remember that day fondly as the day I discovered Sprees. The needless sentiment continues to this very minute. But I always felt like the people around me were worried about different things than I was. I wonder if that kid remembers throwing a tantrum at that birthday party. I wonder how he feels about it. I wonder what lessons people value learning in places they didn’t expect to.
That’s made it difficult for me to read certain situations, read the ways people wish to interact with me. I learned fairly early that many people see many relationships as more or less inconsequential. I probably do, too, in certain places- I don’t want that to look like me pointing the finger. No one would probably ever admit it, but that’s a message we send to one another quite often. Once, someone told me flat out.
My best friend from 5th-7th grade, Nathan, had a huge slumber party blowout 2 days before he moved away to California. We played video games in the living room because his room was all packed up. We put gross food in the blender and dared each other to drink it. We ran around the neighborhood and kept people up. We said cuss words because no one was gonna stop us. And the next morning, I was the last one to leave. We lived close together, so his grandparents drove me home. I told him that it was the best sleepover we’v e ever had. He agreed, but then said that he wouldn’t miss it, though. And he wouldn’t miss the other people who were there. I asked if he was serious, and he said yeah, that California was gonna be awesome, and soon he’d forget all about Texas.
Then I got out of the car and he drove away.
That rocked my world. Not because he said he wouldn’t miss me (I was used to losing, including people), but because he said it. There was apparently nothing about any of his life experience that had affected him. And that blew my mind.
Sentiment makes me uncomfortable. I think it makes everyone uncomfortable, probably for different reasons. But the reason sentiment makes me uncomfortable is because so often it is unexplainable, and even just plain dumb. There are things, moments, and people that we get attached to that seem like there should be no reason for us to, and so much of our lives revolves around explaining ourselves to one another that when it comes time to tell someone why something or someone or somewhen matters to us, there’s suddenly shame when we really don’t have the words.
My favorite movie is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s quirky, it’s funny, it’s action-packed, and it is tender in a way that many people are willing to let go unnoticed in favor of the spectacle of it all. To give a little bit of background, it’s about a dude named Scott who meets a girl named Ramona, is totally taken by her, and begins to date her. In order to do this, he has to fight her 7 evil exes, in the course learning about love and self-respect.
But my favorite scene is at the end of the movie. It’s after the quest is over, after everything should be fine. But it’s not. If you’re afraid of spoilers, don’t read this next part, but it’s not a hugely dramatic ending or anything. It looks like Scott won’t end up with Ramona as she walks away to try and find herself again. Scott asks her if it’s goodbye and Ramona says it is, to which he replies, “It’s kind of sad.” And she laughs and agrees that it is kind of sad.
And in a movie full of one liners and witty jokes, that is my favorite line. That is the line that gets me. Because all this time has been spent by two people trying to connect and now they’re about to say goodbye and the feelings that are connected to that cannot be sufficiently expressed with words.
It’s just kind of sad.
This past semester, I was in a creative non fiction class. We met once a week all semester, on Tuesday nights at 6:30 PM. We read together, we wrote together, and there were only 8 of us, plus my favorite English professor. And there’s something weird and a little dumb that happens when you put 8 people in a room for 15 or so weeks and tell them to put pieces of themselves down on paper together for a few hours a week. Even though your relationships are pretty casual, and even though they only really know you as the guy who tries to make everything he writes at least a little but funny, you get to the end of the semester and you finish your last class. And everyone packs up their bags and leaves because it was just another class and it’s time for summer. And you don’t know what to do with yourself because you have this inexplicable sense of sentiment toward these people, and if they didn’t feel it, that’s fine, but it feels inappropriate to ask or acknowledge. So you pack up your bag, too, walk across campus, hike up to your empty dorm room, and watch 111 minutes of your favorite movie just for a line that’s spoken in the last two.
Because what you’re left with at the end of an experience like that, when you’re left wanting so desperately for others to get what you’re feeling about something that’s in your life that maybe you feel a little ridiculous for feeling so attached to, but you know it’d be weird to acknowledge…
What you’re left with is kind of sad.
And I think it’s important for us to look at and live in the kind of sad. Because sad is ok. Sad is sacred in its own way. It reminds us that we feel, and that we are built to feel.
I don’t know what it is in your life, but may you feel blessed in your kind of sad. Because there’s something in there that keeps us coming back. I think there’s something in there that keeps us alive.