Do You Believe In . . .

Hello from a little room in the Cathedral District,

Sometimes we want to believe in possibilities; we hope that what we have is reasonable or valuable, but it is hard to determine if that is true. Perhaps it is the reality that a good part of my life is coming to a close, and there are changes on the horizon. Perhaps it is my propensity for needing to plan. Perhaps it is even my expectation that I can make a difference in a world that seems more chaotic and unpredictable, and more hellbent on its own destruction. As I have a rather oxymoronic combination of hope and melancholia, there are times I find myself confused, struggling to make sense of others. As I look back on my life, this has been a rather constant companion of mine.

While I do not remember anything of my parents as a small child, trying to understand why they would neglect two of their children to the point, they lost them – or a mother could give a third child away to someone to never know where they are (and neither do I), is not something that makes sense to me, no matter how much I try to figure it out. In spite of a few years of living with a grandmother, a woman I still adore, the majority of my childhood and even beyond into adulthood, I made every effort to believe that I had something worthwhile. That battle was both internal and at times external. Today as I walked around, it came in an overwhelming manner once again. What I felt was demoralizing and it welled up like a beast from my past. As I walked around, I found myself examining my own worth and struggling to believe there was something of value. Perhaps most amazing was that I was able to hide it and go about the day as if it were normal, and nothing was amiss. As I sat in the Cathedral I think I felt like someone in a corner who could disappear and few would know. It was an profoundly intense and lonely feeling. Perhaps again, it was because I was trying to understand what I am trying to do, what I need, or perhaps do not need, to do. I am wondering if everyone struggles with the concept, the reality, of retirement the same way.

Sometimes I think it was because I generally felt like I was behind where I should be in terms of development, whether it was that I was smaller than everyone else, whether my starting college after everyone else my age, whether or not it was that I found my way through a maze of possibilities before I ended up in the academy. And once I figured it out or it figured me out, it seems like I have tried to make up for lost time. I have worked and worked crazy hours, but perhaps that is what kept me from taking care of my own self. I have been forced in many ways to manage my health situation. To not do so might have been fatal. So in many ways, I have been an incredible success in that area. I have done well as a professor, or at least I want to believe that is the case. There is my own struggle in believing that I can always do better. That might be my most profound demon. Not long ago, through conversations, I was pushed to understand my solitude, something that has lasted for over twenty years, with little change. How did I manage that or more significantly they asked how and why did it happen? While I think I have a reasonable handle on the external factors, I am not sure I have a clear sense of how my inner self kept that isolation possible. While I am neither female nor Muslim, their practice of purdah (living behind a veil or a curtain) might be a good metaphor of the past two-plus decades. And trying to come out from behind that veil has been a bit frightening. I am not sure how I might manage it, or if I will.

What I have been pushed to recognize is this: my work has been my escape from intimacy. The walls built, unbeknownst to the builder, are strong, and in spite of the ability of someone to see into that, there is more fear from their gaze than I sometimes realize. Today has been a day where little things pushed me to consider my place in the world. There was a young man asking for change, and I ignored his plea. As the day continued on, all I could think was I should have given him something. Do I understand the struggle and the nature of panhandling? Indeed, I do, but perhaps there was more of a struggle for this person than I realized. I felt like the person passing on the other side of the road. Phil Collins’ song “Another Day in Paradise” has been running through my head ever since. “Oh my Lord, there must be something you can say . . .” It seems too often we fail to care. These things haunt me. And even in this paragraph, I realize that I have ran away from the issue . . . thinking instead of other issues or other problems. What is in store for me? Where will I go? Will it make a difference and will it matter? What I am most afraid of, even as I often reclusively protect my solitude, is being alone. I am not sure that I have ever admitted that, even to myself.

When I find myself trying to believe that there was good in something, or in the someone, when that relationship was probably never a good thing (and I do not say that with any sense of malice), there is an issue. And I know undoubtedly, I did no better the second time, why would I even imagine wanting someone to be at my side again? Perhaps I am more clueless than I want to believe. And yet, I believe that loving someone is what makes us whole . . . it is what makes us grow and prosper. So why is it so difficult? Why is it so frightening? Much like when I tell my students how to write, and then I am reminded I should take my own advice, there is a parallel with relationships. I used to tell couples that being married would be the most difficult job they would ever attempt. I still believe that to be true, but in a much more thoughtful way than when I was that younger parish pastor half my life ago. I think, more than I want to believe, I was a failure as a spouse more often than not. I think there was so much more I could have given or have been willing to understand. I think this is my most profound failure as a person, and it now seems that it is the most consequential. I am amazed at my ability to want something and then I wonder if I unconsciously push it away at the same time? I have told some of a conversation with my graduate school counselor and his advice to me. When I called him the fall after COVID began, I told him that his advice was still ringing in my ears. We laughed about it, and there are elements that still cause me to smile, and yet today, it causes my eyes to well up in tears.

Sometimes, we are pushed when we least expect it to understand ourselves. Sometimes we are required to reassess what we have done, even in our distant past. Sometimes, we need forgiveness, which on one hand we have received, but on the other, the other will never forgive. Perhaps more importantly, can we forgive ourselves? This is where my childhood haunts me. If I was not good enough, worthy enough, valuable enough, why might I believe I am now? Again, please do not worry, I will work through it like I generally do, but on this rainy evening, it is proving to be a difficult task. I am reminded of another song that pushes me to rethink my lack of response today. It is a song by Everlast. The lyrics are tough, but honest. The reality of our inhumanity to others is front and center in this song. It haunts me as my actions did today. It haunts me as I struggle to understand my future . . . where it might happen, how it might happen, and if it will happen alone.

As always, thanks for reading.


Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

17 thoughts on “Do You Believe In . . .

  1. Dr. Martin

    I too struggle with wanting something so badly but subconsciously push it away time and time again. As a gay man growing up in rural PA, I’ve always struggled with the want/need of feeling loved. Yes I had a strong support system from my family, but it just never felt enough. I grew up watching tv shows and movies portraying high school kids falling in love over and over again, but I never got to experience that. I never got to experience so many things that my friends have. I didn’t even get into my first real relationship until I was 20, but it was long distance. He lived over 3 hours away and I only got to see him a few times before things ended between us. To this day I yearn to have someone like that in my life, but blow away my chance’s almost every shot I get. I tell myself, “I’m a senior I don’t want to commit to someone when we don’t know what we’ll even be doing in 6 months time.” But in reading your blog post and writing this, I’ve realized I’m scared. Scared to put myself out there. Scared of rejection. Scared of getting my heart broken again. And I don’t know if or when I could ever push past my anxiety. I’m young and free to do whatever I want (within reason of course) but some nights I lay in bed and wonder, will I ever get over my fears and find somebody?

  2. Dr. Martin,

    I truly believe that everyone doubts their self-worth in the course of their lives. Circumstances may differ, but the idea of questioning if our lives have contributed to the world in some way is, I believe, a very human quality. I can assure you that you are not alone in this feeling, even though it comes in a later season in life than some others may experience it. Personally, I too am coming to the end of an era; in a little more than six months, I will be a college graduate. This looming deadline has, in some ways, made me begin to question whether I have done enough during these past four years. However, I am lucky to have people in my life that get me out of my head and give me perspective on issues like you mention above. For instance, my father expressed that I should go actively pursue my passions before time has a chance to take my youth and opportunity from me. This is something I never would have thought I would hear my father say out loud, although both my parents have always been very supportive no matter the time or situation. Regardless, this interaction brought to light the intense need to seize opportunity. I’m realizing my biggest fear is regretting what I didn’t do because of fear; whether that is the fear of not fulfilling my own expectations or failing or looking stupid. Life is too damn short.

  3. In some ways, I can relate to this sort of existential moment you’ve had. After just one relationship (that didn’t end badly), I’ve struggled to let anyone get as close as that person once was. It’s a harsh reality to live with, but I believe there will be a moment or person that will provide clarity for the future.

  4. As a society we have a view of people who are not married that I do not understand. It is similar to body shaming where the message is if you are this age and you do not look like this you must be doing something wrong. Why is there some kind of value added to becoming married that gives people validation? I know plenty of married people who are the loneliest people I’ve ever met. My grandmother has been single my whole life and she has more friends than I do. People just see the finger with no ring and immediately assume that that person is alone. As cliche as it sounds I see it as being forever young in a way. When I heard someone who was younger than me (I’m 21) was getting married and having kids it tacks on a few years in my mind. Something about getting married and having kids makes people seem tired, they always seem like something that was apart of them died and they can’t get it back. Being single does not say anything about your character and there are positive aspects for both.

  5. Dr. Martin,
    To be human is to question oneself and their place in this world. Just like the mind tries to find patterns in randomness, the psyche attempts to extract the meaning, purpose, and significance in our daily lives. After reading your blog it is apparent that we have at least one thing in common, we both suffered trauma at a young age at the hands of individuals who should of protected us. Although our trauma is extremely different in nature, It left us questioning our self worth. For over half my life I walked a circular path in a zombie like state while trapped in a psychological purgatory. I was jailed by my own insecurities and thus sent me on a journey of self destruction and self harm. Worried about how the outside world would perceive me, I hid my emotions behind a fake smile and my scars under a long sleeve shirt. It wasn’t until I started collage that I realized that my self worth isn’t depended on how others perceive me, the grades I achieve, or events that happened in my past. I now truly know my worth and for once I am happy and content.

  6. Dr Martin,
    This blog you’ve written highlights some of the exact same questions about myself. When I was younger, I had to be cared for by my brother Alex and my sister Sydney, being the youngest of 6 by a large margin (Sydney is closest in age, however she’s 7 years older) was difficult for me and my broken relationship with my parents. I began to question my own worth over and over because I couldn’t reach expectations I thought at the time were exactly what my parents wanted. I realize now that I was simply trying to reach the standards of Alex and be exactly like him. But I couldn’t, and it was corrosive and still in my head for years and years. I had an issue with comparing intelligence, and I’d set myself up for failure. I hadn’t understood at the time that it is unfair to me to compare my weaknesses to his strengths, which I often did. Seldom did I ever give myself credit for things that I’m know proud of.
    It’s dangerous (at least for me) to ruminate sometimes, however. Hindsight is a double edged sword with 2 sides: Looking back and learning, and looking back and regretting. As what I would consider myself to be a pessimistic person, typically I “default” to the latter. I still have a really hard time being alone, which is almost ironic considering I spent so many years isolated, you’d think I’d be used to it. That’s never a place you can get used to. As I began to get older, I separated myself from any expectations aside from my own, which in turn become goals. I’m very appreciative of help and advice and I’ll gladly take it when presented, but I won’t turn my entire life (now and until I’m 6 feet under) into a struggle to reach other’s expectations. Even seeing other people(s), typically peers, succeed to a degree you haven’t so far can be demoralizing. What did I do wrong? Why can’t I be like them? I’m totally worthless, aren’t I? Those questions can come up too easily when ruminating, and that happens a lot in general for me. I’ve always been an overthinker, and while self-criticism can be good to a degree (constructive) and help, I can take it very, very far.

  7. An important comment made in this blog I believe, is the question of why we as humans are afraid of the perceived gamble that is called love? Another significant thought is the idea of self worth coming into question. In my opinion the question of self worth is a question many college age students ask themselves, and perhaps confide in each other depending on the relationship. I know I’ve questioned myself on this topic but have come to peace with it so long as I am making effort to accomplish my future goals and learn more about the world and my prospective field.

    Reeling back to the idea of love, I also feel as though many people that are college age are afraid of it. I hear a repeating story about how love was given and taken for granted. Crushed by some person who they may not even have spoken to for years, people they were with in high school. It’s upsetting that so many people let previous bad experiences dictate their view on love, since usually a small shift in perception can remedy most problems. I believe that we should be careful who we love, but not too careful because in that case we wouldn’t love at all. In my opinion, love is often a gamble we take, that can either work out joyfully, or crash and burn. The brightest flames are often the shortest.

    1. Devin,

      One insight I have gained over the last few years is that love and self-worth are two sides of the same coin. To truly value yourself as an individual, you must love yourself despite the faults ever-present within each one of us. With this said, there is a fine balance that must be maintained that is very hard to practically achieve. Too much love and belief in oneself causes narcissism and self-absorption while too little results in a lack of confidence and unfortunately settling for less than one deserves.

      When it comes to love for others, the same problem of maintaining a delicate balance rears its ugly head once again. In this circumstance, the equilibrium is based on the love received from others compared to the love an individual gives out. Loving too much with very little reciprocated results in feelings of being used and a diminishing belief of an individual self-worth whereas being closed off emotionally while others shower a person with love makes others feel distant and portrays the individual as being uncaring.

  8. Dr. Martin,
    Lately, I too get overwhelmed with life. I stress myself out by believing I need to do more with my time. Not knowing what I would like to do for the rest of my life stresses me out as well. Whatever I choose to do, it must be important and worthwhile.
    I also do not understand how someone could give up their child. I look forward to being farther in life and starting a family of my own. I am grateful you had your grandmother to be there for you. The struggles that ran through your head, I have had before. Learning how to mask these struggles have also been something that has become “normal.” I believe we all have the thought of we could do more, or be better. This lie comes and goes in my mind. While I am unsure how to control and condense these thoughts, I continue to work on it.

  9. —– retry—–

    Dr. Martin,

    As I read your blog I could not help but to reflect on my own personal experiences of having to “keep pushin’.” Most of my life has lived up to that motto as I am someone who has always had obstacles to overcome. With these obstacles coming at a young age, I had learned that everyone gets challenged. The reaction to an action is what determines who you are. Some people get content with mediocrity and that’s why they dont ‘keep pushin’.”
    In my first semester at Bloomsburg University I had almost dropped out. I had been messing with drugs, gambling, and a bad crowd overall. Bad decisions for myself eventually had me on academic and school probation at the same time. I had felt so much failure and despair and even hated myself for weeks. Next semester comes and I used that experience from my last semester and turned the negative thoughts into positive action — I made the Dean’s List.
    My entire experience at school had been me against the odds with external things that happened and here I am — 5 months from graduation! I could have given up the first class I had failed; I could have given up and not switched my major 3 times; I could have given up when going through a domestic court situations. The lack of forfeiting has pushed me way further than I had every imagined.
    Now I understand the importance of ‘keep pushin’ is to motivate to reach one goal. A real goal that would leave the individual uncomfortable if never accomplished. To still search for what is believed to be the happiness. It is up to an individual to decide what is their happiness but with enough determination whether it results to a positive or negative outcome, people will achieve it.

  10. Dear Dr. Martin,

    It seems like at the time of typing “Do You Believe In. . .” you were at a place of confusion. I couldn’t help but to relate to the idea of wanting something successfully, but failing to keep it on course. As humans, we tend to do things that we consciously know is immoral as a defense mechanism. There is a lack of consistency that is consistently present in your life since a child.
    I am not one to assume things and put a title on someone; I will compare their thoughts to mine in similar times. I too was undersized compared to my crowd. I wasn’t the smartest, biggest, fastest, strongest, or best-looking person in most situations. I had not excelled at something but was always average all-around. I felt a strong need to stand-out. That need to stand-out is the desire since a child to have success. That is a good but also not.
    It also seems as if abandonment issues as a child has caused many defensive mechanisms to flare up. You have the best of intentions with success and people, but your own thoughts may hurt things. You have always been valuable enough and seemingly have surpassed your own expectations and should be proud of that. Being average or below in most categories but still has found success. Now is setting the precedent for a younger generation.

  11. Dear Dr. Martin,

    It seems like at the time of typing “Do You Believe In. . .” you were at a place of confusion. I couldn’t help but to relate to the idea of wanting something successfully, but failing to keep it on course. As humans, we tend to do things that we consciously know is immoral as a defense mechanism. There is a lack of consistency that is consistently present in your life since a child.
    I am not one to assume things and put a title on someone; I will compare their thoughts to mine in similar times. I too was undersized compared to my crowd. I wasn’t the smartest, biggest, fastest, strongest, or best-looking person in most situations. I had not excelled at something but was always average all-around. I felt a strong need to stand-out. That need to stand-out is the desire since a child to have success. That is a good but also not.
    It also seems as if abandonment issues as a child has caused many defensive mechanisms to flare up. You have the best of intentions with success and people, but your own thoughts may hurt things. You have always been valuable enough and seemingly have surpassed your own expectations and should be proud of that. Being average or below in most categories but still has found success. Now is setting the precedent for a younger generation.

  12. Dr. Martin,

    When I saw a song by “Everlast” linked in this post, I knew I had to type a response out of my love for the art of rock. However, upon further reading, I’ve realized how much I relate to you as a person. As you know, I struggle with my own mental health demons daily, so to see such an in-depth and down-to-earth post, especially from a professor, is not only motivating, but also eye-opening. What you have written demonstrates that even the most successful people face difficulties in life.

    I, much like you, struggle to make sense of people’s actions. I have been hurt many times in my life by people whom I thought I could trust. I have completely lost every ounce of self-worth due to these experiences and it has left me with nothing but insecurities and deep-rooted trauma. I could never let somebody get close to me like that again. It is also an unfortunate happenstance because I genuinely want to feel like I matter. I want to feel wanted, like somebody loves me. I feel unlovable and the baggage I carry exemplifies that emotion. I feel lonely, and I’ve just become content with it.

    Needless to say, I understand how you feel. It’s absolutely insane how the actions of just a few people out of 8 billion can alter your psyche in such a way to make you feel obsolete. I think about that myself a lot, actually.

    1. Alexander,

      Please hear me: you matter and you have value. It is something to believe, even if it is for a moment or two at a time. In all you have written thus far, I see intelligence and ability. Please believe me.

      Dr. Martin

  13. Dear Dr. Martin,

    Wow, there are few blogs I have read in my mere two decades of living that are as raw as what I have just absorbed as yours. I need to apologize now because my reply will not be hopeful and will not bring comfort. At least the first part. I have unfortunate news: that feeling of loneliness that you are delving into has only gotten exponentially worse with each generation. Now, obviously, we are standing at very different viewpoints, what with your decades of knowledge and experience ahead of mine. However, the truth remains stagnant. With the rise of technology and the ideology of the individual being at the forefront of most research rather than groups of people, isolation has only increased. Do you want to know why more people in my generation are waiting to have children and get married? We have no idea how to even begin to form a human connection. Before the days of technology, it was all about human connection and reaching outward instead of only looking in. Now I’m not saying that having inner quiet is a bad thing. Quite the opposite in fact. Getting to a point where you can appreciate oneself is just as crucial, but it is the step of connecting with others that as you have mentioned in your blog post, we too as generation z struggle with every day.

    As you went through your life and experienced trauma that should not be bared to any child, the walls of defense were built up around you, and made you stronger, but also frailer. It is a delicate balance of knowing when to let people in and when you need to keep people out, and unfortunately until we learn that ever-important lesson, the walls stay down. I do suppose that is all a part of growing up, however unpleasant the outcomes may be. I personally can relate to those walls, and being worried about what people will think once they get past them. Because the walls are safe, and you stay protected, your brain tends to create a false sense of security, trading experiences that you could have received if only you’d been more vulnerable.

    I do hope that you have grown over the time since you posted this blog, and I hope you realize all of the lives that you have touched through being a professor. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy reading about your life, because I then know that there is someone out there who has been through the same thing and has made it to the other side. You are a professor who helps nurture the growth of some of the most stubborn mindsets out there. As a college student myself, I can simply tell you, we are still just kids and figuring out life. No one has all of the answers, and with the rising focus on isolating ourselves from one another, simply trying to connect with someone else has become increasingly difficult. But professors like you helping us realize that it is okay to let down the walls and be vulnerable makes it a lot easier. As you mentioned, it is a daily struggle, and some days are worse than others in this internal fight of finding yourself and your worth in the world. However, I hope you know that you are fostering the next generation of minds, which is one of the most exhausting and rewarding experiences in the world. Few students remember the professors that didn’t foster growth or challenge them. Everyone remembers their professors who not only helped them become better academics but also better people.

  14. Rebekah,

    Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful, and honest response. Honestly, one of the most amazing gifts in being a professor is in the realization that in all of you I find hope. Your response is spot on in so many ways, and it is nicely written.

    Dr. Martin

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