Friday, March 6, 2015

Too Cool to Care

This is the sixth and final blog in my series: 
6 Things Robbing You of a More Meaningful Life.
You can start at the beginning of the series here:

My Sixth Grade Yearbook Picture

A Look at Apathy

I am not really sure at what age it was I stopped caring about things. I know as a young boy I cared quite a lot. Just as most little boys, my heart was wide open. But somewhere along the way I lost it. Somewhere in the course of time I believed the lie that boys who care are not real boys. And so I stopped caring.

For me it was around middle school when this transition began. Middle school felt like a different world. It was as if over the summer between fifth and sixth grade everyone morphed into a strange new species. I’m not just talking about the body hair and the acne. Something had changed inside. These new creatures had shed their innocence and were acting and talking in ways that completely caught me off guard. Everyone had turned into little adults over the break. Apparently I had missed the memo.

I walked into the hallway of Brown Middle School as if I had stepped into the pages of Lord of the Flies. Kids were cursing like sailors (some words I had never even heard before), boys and girls were holding hands and kissing, and I even heard rumors that a few of the eight graders smoked… tobacco! Complete anarchy! As humorous at it is to me now, at the time, I was mortified. I was a slightly chubby, severely shy kid with jacked up teeth. Amongst the chaos, I suddenly felt the need to hide. And so I did. I began to do anything in my power to blend into the background, much like an extra on Saved by the Bell, I never spoke up and never drew attention to myself.

A big part of my hiding (and conforming) was to immediately stop caring about anything. Everything was stupid, and if you thought anything was cool, you were stupid for thinking so. Conversations often went something like this:

“You like art?” a guy would ask; seeing me doodle during lunch.

“Yeah, I mean, I like to draw,” I would answer nervously.


“I don’t know.”

“Isn’t art a girl thing?”

My face would turn bright red in embarrassment, as I quietly folded up my notebook.

I learned quickly that being myself had to take a back seat. It was safer that way.

I can remember my first mission trip to Mexico with our youth group. I was in eighth grade at the time. We flew into El Paso and drove across the border on an old propane-fueled school bus. I had never seen such destitution before. The sun was setting as we passed through the large city of Chihuahua. The homes were made of scrap metal and cardboard, and were the size of the storage building where my granddad parked his lawnmower. Children kicked old soccer balls in the dirt; their clothes torn and filthy. I had heard about poverty before. I had seen the pictures. But confronting that reality face to face was troubling.

A picture of the property we stayed on in Mexico. I took this with a trusty disposable camera.

Still, my best friend and I spent more time cracking jokes than actually caring. I specifically remember the last night of our time in Mexico when the locals cooked for us some homemade tacos. It was the best Mexican food I had ever eaten, which, at the time, only consisted of Taco Bell. The sun dipped behind the nearby ridge, as we gathered in a circle to talk about our experience. I honestly do not remember anything that was said. I do remember there were a lot people crying and throwing around phrases like “life changing” and “heart breaking.” I can remember sitting there hearing them talk through their tears, as I began to think about my week of complete culture shock. I remember this emotion rising from my gut. (It was unrelated to the homemade tacos.) I just wanted to break down and cry. But I didn’t. My friend cracked a joke under his breath, and I smirked back at him. It was enough to stop the feeling from overtaking me. I pushed the dreaded emotion back down deep inside where it belonged. I whispered something in return to my friend and laughed quietly with my hand over my mouth. I was to cool to care.

Maybe it was just my age, but that moment in Mexico was followed by hundreds of other moments just like it. Moments of surrendering my feelings, and putting up the front of apathy. These seemingly unimportant occasions snowballed into a mindset; into an unspoken belief. The belief that I could not care and be cool at the same time. Unfortunately I carried this belief all the way into adulthood.

By the time I was in college I had unknowingly rewired my brain to not care about anything. My heart was calloused from years of rolling my eyes at the world. I joked about everything. Nothing was off limits. Humor became an easy way to deflect actually feeling something. So if the moment got serious, I would make fun of it. I was so apathetic about everything it had made me passionate about nothing. Because if I cared enough to speak up, people would call me out on it, and I would no longer be in the background. I liked playing the background character. The only problem when you’re a background character is that you are a character living in someone else’s story.

I am not suggesting that living a quiet and passive life is necessarily bad, but for me, it began to grow old. In my early twenties I was already married and had a daughter. In a way, I was forced to either step up to the plate and start caring about some things, or continue down the path of apathy; a path that was beginning to lose its appeal to me. Even though, at the time, it did not feel like a decision to make, I chose to care for my family. This never struck me as noble. It seemed the normal and right thing to do. I had other people to live for, and I could feel my heart beginning to awaken from its long hibernation. The more I cared about others, the more my soul softened into a fertile place where compassion could grow wild. 

It is still a daily battle. I use to really have to work at caring, but lately it has been coming more natural to me. I guess I have realized all the opportunities apathy has stolen from me. Chances to do something or go places that were snubbed out by my own lack of interest now make me look back in regret. I never want to miss an adventure because I don't care enough to do anything.

If I could go back in time to Brown Middle School, I would love to have a talk with the chubby little me with the crooked front teeth. I would love to tell him to be himself, and care about things... even when no one else does. I would love to persuade him to worry more about pleasing God and not the people around him. But most of all, I think I would tell him to care about others with his heart wide open. Because the world will never be changed by cool people, but by those who care enough to do something.

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