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It’s not about the money

I felt seen last night. Understood too. Not on all levels, but on a level. The energy I exerted resonated with the table I was serving, but in particular with the woman, Lori. Let me first depict the atmosphere. Much like any other regular Saturday night, I was at work. Unlike every other Saturday night, I didn’t have any tables – my section was the patio. And it’s spring. And that means beautifully sunny afternoons, but brisk and chilly nights. Between my co-worker and I, whom I was sharing the patio with, we only had two tables between us in three hours. Just as I was about to ask my manager if I could please go home, I was sat with a table of four. I was conflicted with a desire to leave and my desire to work. I contemplated, albeit momentarily, giving the table to my co-worker so I could gracefully be excused from work and making no money. But I didn’t. I chose to stay and greeted the table with enthusiasm. I immediately apologised in advance for the inevitable hovering that might occur given the slow nature of my night. Before I could even take their drink order, we began conversing about our heritage, mine being Dutch and Czechoslovakian (hence my European nose which sparked the heritage interest), and theirs Italian. They introduced themselves and explained how they knew each other; there was the former son-in-law, James, the father-in-law, Tony, his wife, Gloria, and the landlord of both of them, Lori. Somehow I was posed the question, “What are you passionate about?” To which I responded, “Well, soccer makes me feel alive, but I am unable to play it given my knees. I’m also extremely passionate about psychology, the brain, and people.” Boom. Connection established. Tony himself is extremely passionate about psychology. We started to discuss the power in positive thinking and how, given the high vibrational frequency in which it operates, it can have preventative properties as opposed to negative, low vibrational frequency thinking, which manifests illnesses. He recommended a book, The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, after disclosing how his wife had survived cancer, a miracle as he described, but accomplished because of his belief in her survival.

After somehow managing to find a few brief pauses in conversation, I was able to take their orders. Upon returning, I was greeted with flattering compliments. They stated that I am very confident and well put-together. They then asked if I had a man in my life. I gracefully responded with a no and they insisted that I will find the “right guy” in time. Tony stated that if he had a son, he would certainly set me up. I think it was at this moment that I realised their religious affiliation. And not in a negative sense by any means, just that that is what they believe; a man and a woman, that is what is natural. Before that moment I had considered sharing this blog, but I was now mildly cautious given the content of my blog. In particular, my sexual preference being that of women and not of men as they evidently thought.

They proceeded to move inside after their entrees to continue drinking and talking in the warmth of the heated restaurant rather than battling the chilly air of a Georgian spring night. We returned our focus back to that of positive thinking. Tony mentioned that he struggles to understand people who are not motivated and who essentially fall into these “negative slumps” and can’t get themselves out. And let me clarify, this wasn’t a man judging those who were in those positions, but merely seeking an explanation for how they remained “stuck”. I explained that one of the primary symptoms of depression is hopelessness. There comes a point when you just give up. Learned helplessness is a conditioned response to continual failures. The mentality becomes, why try if I’m just going to fail anyway? So they stop trying. I then proceeded to explain when I was suicidal a year beforehand. I was stuck in a dark place and I couldn’t get out. And any time someone said “just be positive” it seemed to diminish the struggle I was facing. It’s not that simple. Depression isn’t that simple. It’s complicated. It’s a struggle. It’s an illness. No different from someone suffering from cancer, except you can’t see it. It’s an invisible illness and that’s why it kills so many people in the form of suicide.

In an earlier conversation, Tony had alluded to the fact that 5% of our thinking is conscious and 95% is subconscious or unconscious. I explained that given that the majority of our life is lived unconsciously, we are governed then by our habits. Negative thinking is a habit. In order to change the habit, we must first catch it when it is happening. And this is done through awareness. Once you become aware of it, then you can start to change it. But it is only through practice and discipline that we can create lasting changes to our thoughts. That is why so few people reach enlightenment or lasting happiness. Because they must practice it every day.

After this conversation, I was once again greeted with overwhelmingly flattering compliments. I was told that I have an old soul, one of the oldest that they have encountered. I was also told that I was the most enlightened 22 year old they have come across. All very, very humbling statements. I was then asked, “What is it that I am looking for in a guy?” And at that very moment, I had a choice to make. Do I risk being judged by being honest and potentially confronting some of their beliefs on homosexuality, or do I neglect to mention my sexual preference to preserve this idealistic image they might have created? I chose the former. And I chose to share my blog. I responded with a question, “What if it isn’t a guy that I am looking for?” Okay. Nothing. I watched their behaviour closely and nothing significantly changed. I know it didn’t make them feel comfortable, but they seemingly accepted it. But with Lori, however, I just spoke a language that spoke to her. She broke out into a discreet smile. And I sense that her heart warmed a little. Something about my openness with my sexuality resonated with her and I would later find out why.

I crossed a bridge with my openness and authenticity that encouraged Tony to do the same. He then confessed a few things he has struggled with to which I am beyond grateful he felt safe enough to do so. We started then to discuss religion. Lori was picking up what I was putting down, I sensed that she entirely understood my perspective. The other three, however, had a slightly more challenging time, but were still extremely receptive to my perspective and I to theirs. I questioned why we have to label ourselves as agnostic, Christian, Catholic, Jewish etc., because at the end of the day, do all religions not essentially promote the same thing: love? Is that not the central premise of all religions? If yes, why then, must we create labels to separate ourselves from one human to the next if we all essentially believe in the same thing? Does separation not encourage anything but hatred and contempt? To me, we are all humans. We are all the same. Whether you believe in God or not does not matter to me. I will love you regardless and that’s simply because at the most basic, simple level, we are all the same. Lori shared that she has read a similar theory, that all religions are based on the same premise, on the same energy, it is just the way we have been raised that determines what we identify with because we know no different. But, again, she agreed the principles are all the same.

I shared with them an excerpt from The Book by Alan Watts which really resonated with me. Once again, I did so cautiously because I knew this could potentially be difficult to stomach given their beliefs.

Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness – an act of trust in the unknown.

An ardent Jehovah’s Witness once tried to convince me that if there were a God of love, he would certainly provide mankind with a reliable and infallible textbook for the guidance of conduct. I replied that no considerate God would destroy the human mind by making it so rigid and unadaptable as to depend upon one book, the Bible, for all the answers.

What Alan Watts is saying (and in 1966 might I add) is not that he doesn’t believe in a God, but that identifying with any particular religion closes one’s mind to the world and alternate perspectives, thus narrowing one’s ability to learn and adapt. Tony’s response to this was that as an intellect, one must consider different perspectives. And that this book, was just one man’s perspective and if I am going to read this, then I have to read the Bible too. I challenged him though and stated, is the Bible not just a series of different people’s opinions? What makes what is said in the Bible any more superior than what Alan Watts is stating in this book? It is impossible to read every person’s perspective. The reason however, that I like what Alan Watts stated is because of his inclusiveness. His open-mindedness. He challenges whether religion really allows that inclusiveness to occur, again, because of people’s need to identify solely with one particular religion. And identification is really just the ego and not actually our conscious, authentic selves.

Throughout the evening, all of them mentioned that I was special and that God was saving me for something big. He stated that I was to be “a warrior of Christ”. This is not the first time that I have heard this, nor do I take offense in what some might consider a projection of their beliefs on to me. Because I know that that isn’t what their intentions are. I have stated that I do not have a relationship with God because I have not felt the need nor desire to and that might change. To which they agreed. But I also said, but it also might not change. And I challenged them to consider that perhaps I might not ever have a place for God in my life. Who really knows? I guess that’s where faith comes in.

Tony handed me his card about his story with his wife. He wants to be a motivational speaker and asked me whether I think he will be successful. I answered with, we don’t know anything for certain. The future is no different. I stated that he might struggle if his intentions to speak are primarily to become “successful” and famous because that is something that is beyond one’s control. I had to be clear about my intentions with my blog – ideally, I would love for my blog to go big and to reach a lot of people. But that wasn’t my primary intention. My primary intention was to externalise my internal thoughts – an outlet for myself that I hoped might resonate with others and potentially help them too. So much of who we reach is beyond our control. We can obviously market ourselves and promote ourselves, but we are not in control of becoming “famous”. The universe is. I also stated, in alignment with what Liz Gilbert discusses in Big Magic, that putting pressure on creativity kills creativity. Inspiration occurs naturally and cannot be forced. Speaking to influence others or become famous, that’s forcing; it’s extrinsic. Speaking from your heart, that’s natural. That’s intrinsic. That’s within your control.

I am extremely grateful for last night’s interaction. Not only were the conversations challenging, but they were enlightening too. These individuals saw me for the individual I was. I also sensed they understood the struggle throughout my life to feel understood given the depth and intellect of my discussions. I was able to discuss some somewhat uncomfortable topics with them because of who they are and where they are at in their life. Tony is an extremely centred individual. He identifies as a Christian, yes, but securely. He is extremely secure within his beliefs, so much so that when I challenged them, it did not come across as a personal attack nor did he feel the need to defend himself. All of which allowed for civil, intellectual discussions. And for that, I am grateful. I am grateful too for their time, their respect, and their understanding. As I mentioned before, I felt seen. I felt comfortable. I felt understood. And I long for connections like that.

I woke up this morning (afternoon actually) to an overwhelmingly beautiful and generous email from Lori. She disclosed that she is recently recovering from a very difficult break up and briefly explained the circumstances in which she was at dinner last night. And then she mentioned she has a transgender kid, a girl transitioning to a boy. She believes I can have a positive impact on her child’s life and that, to me, is an exceptional compliment and one I am very flattered to receive. I titled this post, “It’s not about the money,” to explain why I am a server. I am a waitress not because it often pays more than the $7.25 minimum wage Georgia offers, but because of this. Because of the interactions I am so fortunate to encounter. Because of the connections I form. Because of the often times overwhelmingly beautiful people I meet. And she was one of them. Being open, authentic, and vulnerable allows for connections like this to form. It allows us as humans to unite. Because at the end of the day, we all want the same things; to love and be loved in return. Along with that comes happiness and avoidance of suffering. There is comfort to be found when we can connect with others who understand that. And that is exactly what I found in her.

Please note: Some of the names in this post have been changed out of respect for the individuals discussed.

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