Being good to oneself (and touching worms)

I went to school with this guy—we called him the BAG. It stood for something nasty, but I forget what. When he asked what it meant, we said Big Angry Geek, and he liked it so much he made his friends call him that.

I’ve been trying to remember the real phrase, but I can’t. If I can’t remember, and he never finds out, does that mean it’s always been Big Angry Geek?

Anyway, I was thinking last night, it’s easy to talk about being a shitbird, about times you’ve fucked up or let someone down. I could go on all day about ways I’ve stuffed up. It’s harder to say “you know what? I nailed that.” Like, I give stuff away a lot, even when I don’t want to. I gave some guy my coat because I thought he looked cold. I let a bum have my bus fare and walked six miles home. I bought a stranger a wheelchair because the price made her cry. But there’s a reason I do these things, and it’s not that I’m nice. It’s that, when I was four years old, I got a free Bible. I didn’t read the whole thing (at least, not at the time), but I did read one story, and it went something like this:

This absolute arsehole died and went to hell. It was horrible down there. He was burning and screaming, and he begged God for help. God (also an arsehole) was all “okay. I’ll throw down everything you ever gave anyone, and you can build yourself a ladder.” And God threw down a stick, or maybe a straw. Something too small to be used as a ladder. And the man wailed and gnashed his teeth, because he was stuck in hell.

I’m not Christian, or religious. I don’t believe in that story. But I do believe my value lies in what I have to offer. If I have something to give and I keep it for myself, what’s actually the point of me? What am I worth?

I don’t believe this in a conscious sense, at least not most of the time. But the lesson’s ingrained. Had I not let that bum have my bus fare, I’d have felt bad all day. (I’d also have got home in time for dinner, but that’s not the point. The point is, I can’t think of anything good I’ve done for a good reason.)

I volunteered to canvass my entire neighbourhood for the Canadian Diabetes Association…because I knew Mother would do it with me, and it sounded like fun.

I let a friend live in my spare room one summer…because she’d helped me find that flat. In truth, I’m afraid of people. I don’t like houseguests.

I gave a friend my ondansetron…because he was having chemo and couldn’t afford to buy his own. (That might sound like kindness, but it was nothing at all. I just called the pharmacy and got more for myself.)

I sometimes draw pictures with specific people in mind. That might be real kindness. I don’t do it for praise. Most of the time, I don’t even tell them—I just post the pictures, and if they see them, I’m pleased.

I also reach out to people if I think they seem lonely. I don’t do this often, just when it feels right.

…I’ve never reported Mr. Boose to HR? (That’s a joke. He’s not that bad. He’s just kind of a dick.)

It’s hard, though, to boast and not laugh it off—or to boast and not follow up with self-deprecation. It makes your skin crawl, somehow, like touching a ball of worms. Everyone should try it (or the thing with the worms), not for its own sake, but to prove we can.

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