I hung out with a friend of mine today who recently finished up four months of jail time.
He is one of those instantly likable people. We’ve been friends since sixth grade drumming class, and while I’ve known that he’s had some struggles with aggression, I never anticipated that he would end up in jail because of assault (I’ll leave the details out of it, they’re not important). He’s a good Christian guy with a pretty rough childhood who got mixed up with the wrong people. That’s basically it.
Anyway, this friend and I went for a long walk today in the woods behind my house, about 2 miles or so. He told me that jail gives you a lot of time to think about your life and how you got to where you are now (I guess that’s kind of the point). We were talking about relationships and breakups and such and he told me something I thought was pretty interesting.
He said that one of the reasons he ended up in jail was that he didn’t let anybody love him.
There were a lot of nasty situations—well, one nasty situation, really—that led to my friend’s arrest, a lot of tension that built up over time that sort of exploded in one incident. He said he had tried to talk about it with a couple friends, but when that didn’t seem to work, and when they didn’t seem to listen, he found himself trying to manage the whole situation completely on his own.
And he found out, of course, that he couldn’t.
The second thing he told me he learned in jail is that the more he tried to control his life, the worse it seemed to become. Now that he’s out, he’s stopped trying to control his life and has begun to let God control things instead.
My little brother, who is finishing up high school, came in the family room today and starting telling my mom and I about this boy on his drumline whom he really, really hates. I don’t blame him, I guess, because this kid is really annoying and bad at drumming, but he also calls my brother a fat faggot all the time. My brother, Nick, said that if this kid didn’t shut up he was going to beat him up, and he’s lucky that he wasn’t going to kill him, even though he wanted to.
I could hear the hatred, and even more deeply, the hurt in his voice as he said this.
I doubt that he listened, but I told Nick that hurting this kid wasn’t going to solve the problem at all. We try to control people by threatening or committing violence against them, but ultimately it doesn’t work. Hatred only fuels hatred. This kid would only come back angrier than before, which would only reinforce my brother’s hatred for him, and so on.
We think we can control a lot of things, but we can’t.
Not really, anyway. When you think about it, there’s precious few things that you and I have control over. Personally, I can hardly control my own thoughts and emotions, let alone other people.
You’ll laugh or roll your eyes, but I told my brother that love was the answer. My brother had to change the way he thought and felt and acted toward this kid or nothing would really change. He insisted that it was this kid’s fault that everyone hated him, and maybe that’s true, but I told him that it doesn’t matter. He had to change himself before anything was going to get better.
I wonder what happens when we release ourselves from the burden of controlling other people, or controlling our environment. If we could transform ourselves—or let ourselves be transformed—from people who try to control the world into people who try to love the world, I bet we would be freer than we are now. Freer because controlling people takes a lot of time and energy!
Ironically, it was in jail that my friend found the freedom to be honest with himself and to think through his life. It’s in this kind of introspection that real change happens—lasting, meaningful change.