Thursday, April 11, 2013

Respect In The Graveyard

by CWK

I want to return to an earlier theme from this blog: the importance of respect for nurturing the heart of a man. Women crave love, usually in the form of affection and tenderness; men crave love also, usually in the form of respect. 

Men want, more than anything else in the universe, to be respected. The want to be listened to. They want their opinion to weigh. They want to be regarded, a person of interest, a person worthy of notice. They want their reputation to shine. They want others to look to them for guidance. They want the weak, assured of solidity, to lean on them. They want the strong to respect, or else fear, them. They want good men to count on them, tired men to flee to them, and bad men to flee from them. They want to kill dragons and rescue damsels. Men want to be generals, pro-football players, policemen, fire-fighters, fighters, conquerors, warriors, leaders, hunters -- they want the world to see them, and nod with -- if only slight -- deference. Men want to be heroes. Men want flowers delivered, not to their desks, but their tombstones.

But it's a hard hard world; a world at war on the dignity of humanity in general, and men in particular. The world is filled with open graves into which a man might fall and die. Where are such graves? The Bible says our mouths are open graves -- dangerous places within it'd be better not to fall -- and we kill each other with our slights, asides, slanders, and dismissals. Many men die, before the day on their death certificate, having expired under the hot lava of disdain. Sometimes such disdain is contained, not in the content, but the manner of the words. It is possible to tell a man "I respect you" in such a way, such a manner, with such connotations, that he loses all self-respect.

One scene from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind has always rattled around in my heart. It pictures the kind of sensitivity men have to disregard; it pictures how easy it is to unravel a man's dignity to the point he just runs away.

Joel: I walked out, I walked out the door!
Clementine: Why?
Joel: I don't know. I felt like I was a scared little kid, I was like … it was above my head, I don't know.
Clementine: You were scared?
Joel: Yeah. I thought you knew that about me. I ran back to the bonfire, trying to outrun my humiliation, I think.
Clementine: Was it something I said?
Joel: Yeah, you said "so go." With such disdain, you know?
Clementine: Oh, I'm sorry.
Joel: It's okay.

Many men die a slow and agonizing death under a withering scorn: perhaps, under the watchful eye of displeased (albeit always smiling) wives; perhaps, under the mocking (albeit supposedly good-natured) taunts and nicknames of buddies; perhaps, under the micromanaging eye of a boss who, year after year, fails to notice good work. The graveyard of the tongue fills the world with graveyards of men. Zombies are popular now; they represent the living dead. Zombies walk around with only the merest shreds of life: there is nothing vital in them; no energy; no remnants of true breathing humanity. The world is, at this moment, full of zombies: men alive on the outside, but nowhere else -- men who have died from disrespect.

Even the man who is respected encounters a dizzying path to self-respect. Respect, when held out, is only held out grudgingly. The famous line from Rocky comes to mind, "You want (your) respect? Come and get it!"

Respect -- men need it, not just to thrive, but to live, to survive. With it, men rise like conquerors. With it, men live heroic lives -- without it, men die tragic deaths.

This essay was prompted after reading a recent post from musician and poet Mo Leverett:

At this moment I sit outdoors a coffee shop in Tallahassee, FL – the place where my children and first wife live – a place where I once shepherded a church. Perhaps I will speak of this later – we’ll see. My son has a game tonight that I will attend. I rarely miss one, though I live almost 3 hours away. Yesterday he stroked a ball that hit the top of the fence about a foot short from going over. I’ve had similar hits – and never a home run. Such is the story of my life. I hope by my support and encouragement before the season’s over – he’ll have that memory of circling the bases triumphantly. Something his Dad has not yet known but aspired to and probably secretly continues to vicariously through him.

Men want that – to be celebrated, respected. Wise women understand. Our dream is not so much to be cherished but to be heroic. I always dreamed of being significant – I used to imagine myself on a field of football dreams making an incredible move, followed by overpowering an unsuspecting defensive cornerback or linebacker, accelerating with incomparable speed and crossing the goal line with football high-lifted in the air. That’s where my dreams began – with a football.
My father played football and we, my siblings and I, were immersed in it as a pseudo-religion. For me it was the only worthwhile life aspiration – to play professional football. Everything else was something short of the pinnacle plan. My love of football was in its essence a form of father worship. It was the place where I had hoped to please him, to gain his respect, approval and affirmation. For my father it was a place of discipline into the higher manifestations of hyper-masculinity.

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