My wife and I watched “Silver Linings Playbook” last night, and it moved me to tears, though probably not for the reasons most people would expect. The beginning of the film depicts the protagonist in a psychiatric hospital, going to group therapy, taking his meds, and trying to make the best of a bad situation. I remember those days vividly.
In June of 2007 I was living in College Station, Texas. For a number of reasons I don’t need to rehash, things were not going well in my life and in my marriage. Things came to a head one night, and after my wife cried herself to sleep, I lay awake thinking of the damage I had done to our relationship and to our family. In an instant, I went from thinking that maybe things would be better if I weren’t around to actively trying to take my own life. I went into the walk-in closet, tied one end of a tie around the hanger rod and the other end around my neck. I think I would have gone through with it had it not hurt as much as it did.
Two days later I found myself in the back of a Sheriff’s car being taken to a psychiatric facility in Houston under a 72-hour involuntary commitment by court order. I’ve described the time I spent there elsewhere, but it wasn’t until I watched the film last night that I started thinking about what happened when I went home.
I don’t think I liked myself much back then. As I’ve mentioned in other threads, the combination of my family dynamics growing up and certain Mormon teachings about self-worth and guilt had convinced me I was never going to be good enough; indeed, I’ve been told by a few Mormons that I “failed” at Mormonism, whatever that means. But I didn’t like myself, and I think deep down inside I didn’t believe I was worthy of anyone’s love, though I don’t remember thinking that explicitly. My family’s love, I thought, was obligatory because I was a son, husband, and father.
When I came home, I was most afraid that I had done too much damage to my family relationships and that my loved ones would not know how to deal with me after everything that had happened. I thought maybe I’d given up the last reason for anyone to love me, and I prepared myself for rejection. But I was wrong. My wife and children were just happy to have me home. They loved me in spite of myself, in ways I hadn’t learned to love myself.
We also watched “The Wizard of Oz” the other night, and I had forgotten something the wizard said to the Tin Man:
A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.
I think I once unconsciously believed that, but I realize that it’s exactly backwards and quite unwise. If all that matters is how much others love you, you might spend your whole life trying to “earn” other people’s love, and you might feel you can’t be happy or fulfilled if you can’t earn that love.
I can tell you that, if you live that way, no amount of love or approval is ever going to be enough. You will always feel unloved and unfulfilled. The film I watched showed a young man trying to earn his estranged wife’s love by showing her “signs” of his love and his mental and emotional improvement. This kind of thinking seems to rest on the belief that love is a quantifiable commodity, and a certain saturation level has a cause-and-effect relationship with how people treat you. He had to learn, as I once did, that the quest to love enough so that you’ll get love in return is a fool’s errand.
What I have learned is that human beings have an endless capacity for love, and the best thing you can do is simply to love others and not worry about what you get in return. Not everyone is going to love you. Not everyone is going to be your friend, no matter how hard you try. But you can love everyone. You really can.
Love doesn’t always mean you have a bond of affection and emotion or anything like that. Love simply means treating people with love and care. And you really can do that with everyone, from the cashier at the supermarket to your family.
Yes, I know this isn’t the most profound thing ever, but I hope my random thoughts mean something to someone other than me. But it’s enough to know that I’ve learned this lesson in life, and I’m much happier for having learned it.