King of Pain: Always Be?

In 1983, I was just about the happiest pup in the play yard.

September 1983

I was a teenager, and everything – almost – was going my way.  In retrospect, it was one of the best years of my life.  I remember one very difficult rite of passage related to losing a good friend to major mistakes (his), but other than that, all of my memories of that year are very positive.  Like all adolescents, a touchstone of my memories is the music.  That year, The Police released Synchronicity.

One of the biggest hits from this album was King of Pain.  I sang it.  I wrote the lyrics.  I drove around town with my friends listening to it.  I hold it as a “Top 10” of my high school years songs.  And I had no more idea what it was about than I knew how to split the atom in my kitchen.

Today of all days, I know what it is about.  I accepted something today at last that I was postponing, postponing mostly due to my desire that it not be true.  Who can say why some things are clear in one interpretation and not in another?  I think it is in the interpretation, but also in the life experience.  I came across a video of another popular music artist singing the song, and in the first listen I got it.  Maybe it’s today.  Maybe it’s that the artist’s gender and age match mine at last.  Maybe I’ll never know.  But listening today, all of the images that for eighteen years have been strange and mysterious suddenly converged into a single, clear message: Futility is painful.

The images in King of Pain are not just about futility.  The images are nearly 100% images of life in its natural state, being exactly where it is “supposed” to be doing exactly what it is “supposed” to do, and yet being unreachable and unable to continue its purpose.

A dead salmon frozen in a waterfall.  A blue whale beached by a spring tide’s ebb.  A king in a position to lead, who is rendered blind.  A piece of cloth, run up a flag pole, whipped about in a wind that won’t stop.  A fossil trapped in a high cliff wall.  A cat unable to come down from a tree I’m sure it joyfully climbed.

This song is a very sad poem about doing everything right and still being in trouble and not knowing what to do next.

I think I’m really very grateful I had no idea what it was about when I was young.  I wouldn’t mind not knowing now.  But there is more…..all is not lost!

Closer to now.

Whenever someone asks what famous person living or dead I’d like to have dinner with, I am never prepared to answer.  Today, I am prepared.  I want to have dinner with Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner.  I want to ask the man who voiced King of Pain where he is now.  It’s not that I don’t think he still understands where he was in 1983; but he’s 60 years old this year and I imagine that after living nearly twice as long now as he had when he first sang his sad and haunting song, he has a new layer of perspective on those images.

Sting, just drop a comment here on the blog, friend.  I’ll email you and set something up.

A Few Good Men

Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood

Recently I’ve connected with the Good Men Project.  This work is so important, and the people doing it are so good at what they do, it boggles the mind.  One of the best aspects of the effort is that it’s the GOOD Men Project.  Not the Perfect Men.  Not the Simple Men.  Not the Straight Men or the Gay Men, the Married Men or the Black Men.  The Good Men.

There is a lot of space for honesty and diversity in this conversation.

If you don’t know about the project, you owe it to yourself to bookmark the site and especially the blog.  I am just beginning to get into all that is going on with the project, but it was my first foray into the conversation that hooked me.  As fair warning, the rest of this post addresses issues of rape and sexual assault; many of us have experienced the threat of or actual event of such things, and it is important to know in advance whether or not you care to pursue the topic.  I hope you will choose to read on, because as difficult as it is to engage, there are opportunities to learn things and to take actions that can make a positive difference in people’s lives.

What first grabbed my attention was a headline that read “In Yale fraternity pledging, rape is a laughing matter.”  Yale?  I thought this has to be a joke.  Oh no, it’s not a joke.  The pledge class from a certain fraternity marched around campus this fall chanting, “No means yes” and other things not suitable for print here (you can read it on the Good Men Project site).  I thought I might vomit when I read the story, but I pulled it together and read on to the (now) 100 comments. 

This is where it started to get Good.  Really Good.

The Good Men Project is creating space for dialogue about the things no one wants to talk about, but that we desperately need to figure out.  Yes, there is some unavoidable anger in the back-and-forth comments, but the overarching feeling is one of working toward understanding that can lead to change.  One especially moving story from the comments reads like this:

What if your daughter was a rape victim? Would you still tell her to ignore it? I really do see where you’re coming from. I don’t mean disrespect. I want to help you understand what I go through, which is unfortunately common.

I was in a female physiology class with a surprising amount of men (usually women take the large majority, but it was almost half/half). My teacher invited a speaker and had us close our eyes and raise our hands if we agree with the statement.  She started out with statements like, “I would rather walk with a friend during the dark.” A lot of people raised their hands.

Then she proceeded to statements like, “I would not walk alone during the dark ever.” Some hands started coming down from the men. Then she got a little more personal, “I am afraid of being raped.” Then the hands went back up. “I am so afraid of rape, I avoid certain places all together and am limited on a daily basis.”  Then, “I feel that my gender is objectified and disrespected at least twice a day.”

I couldn’t see a male raising his hand anywhere. Some men spoke out saying things like, “I had no idea that this many women felt so much fear and disrespect.” Others said, “It’s hard to believe that women have so much to worry about and that they’re limited because of this worry.”

One young man, said something that really touched me. He said something like, “This is disgusting. It’s disgusting that I was only aware of this 21 years into my life. I think about my sister, my mom, my daughter.  As a man, I have to influence other men.  They need to know women go through this.” I hope that maybe you’ll take something away from realizing the sh*t some people have to go through.

It is said that to know everything is to understand everything.  We can never know everything, but the more we know about each other the closer we can get to understanding why others conduct themselves the way they do.  We can know more about the effect of our words and actions on other people.  We can become more willing to share personal stories that illustrate diverse experiences and we can ask for help and understanding.

There is a lone guy in the comments who goes by “Daddy Files.”  He really takes some serious lumps, and I can’t say he doesn’t deserve it.  But the incredible thing is his willingness to keep coming back into the dialogue, despite the intense opposition to his point of view.  His point of view may not be popular, but he represents a large constituency when it comes to “boys will be boys” philosophy.  His willingness to keep driving the conversation fascinates me, and while I think he’s very confused about the difference between right and wrong, I also think the Good Men Project community owes him a debt of thanks for not letting a very tough issue sail off into the sunset entirely unresolved.

Let’s keep talking.

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When you visit the Good Men Project website, you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.  Image credit:  The Good Men Project