I’ve been asked my more than one person to respond to the Open Letter to America, which is currently burning up the internet so fast, you’d think it was written by rtm.
I am reminded of a time in my own life when I got a letter from someone I really cared about, telling me what I refused to tell myself: I was an asshole.
Set the wayback machine circa 1988 or 1989. I am on top of the world. I travel in limos and fly first class to events where hundreds and sometimes thousands of people scream for me. Everywhere I look, I see my face staring back at me from Teen Cheese and Non-Threatening Boys magazines. I am getting more fan mail than anyone else at Paramount.
I am also desperately unhappy.
In the summer of 1988 or 89, I had this huge crush on a girl from school. She was really beautiful, sexy, and fun to be with.
We dated a few times, hung out a lot, and I was really falling for her. Then one day she stopped returning my calls, and coming over.
I was crushed. I didn’t understand what had happened.
Then one morning I got a letter from her. In it, she told me, as delicately as possible, that she just couldn’t be around me any more. I was arrogant, rude, ungrateful for what I had, and I treated her like property. I was demanding, overbearing, unwilling to listen to or respect other people’s opinions. I was a dick, an ass, a jerk. She described to me a person I wouldn’t ever want to sit next to on a bench, much less be.
I was stunned. I took the letter to my best friend Darin, and showed it to him, looking for comfort. He’d help me feel better about this frigid bitch, I thought.
When he was done reading it, he asked me what I thought. I declared, with righteous indignation, that she “didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about”, and that she could “fuck off, because it was bullshit.”
Darin looked at me, and he said, gently, “Wil, you should read it again, because she’s right.”
I looked at him, he looked back at me. This was not the reaction I was expecting.
“What?” I asked, wondering if maybe I’d brought the wrong letter.
“[Her name] wrote you this letter because she cares about you, and she doesn’t like what you’ve become. Frankly, none of your friends do. So you can read it again, and take it to heart, or you can blow it off, and continue to alienate yourself from everyone who cares about you, including me.”
I really respected Darin. He was (is) the most tolerant, patient, loyal, honest person I knew (know). His words, added to those I held in my now-quaking hands were a Rosetta stone. Everything I didn’t like about myself but was unwilling to address was all on those 3 sheets of hand-written 8×10 spiral-bound notebook paper, translated by my best friend into language I could understand.
A door was opened in that moment, and I had a choice to make: walk through and face myself, or ignore it and walk past.
I walked through, and on that day I began the process of re-evaluating my life, my priorities, and most importantly my attitude. It was scary, it was uncertain, it was vital. It was a long process, taking nearly 6 years, but it started that day.
People ask me all the time why I haven’t ended up dead or drug-addicted, or in trouble in the law. The answer is still written on those sheets of paper, long-lost but not forgotten.
To this day I carry more than a little bit of guilt for the way I treated her. I’ve been able to apologize to everyone else who I’ve wronged in my life, but never to her. Maybe she’ll read this and hear me say “Thank you, and I’m sorry.”
So, back to the Open Letter. Do I agree with all of it? No. I think some of it is wildly off-base, and I think the message would be listened to by more people who need to hear it if it wasn’t so inflammatory.
On the other hand, I think that America has an opportunity to walk through an open door, and take a long hard look at ourselves. The simple fact is, America, most of the world really doesn’t like us. We’re arrogant, irresponsible, and unaccountable. We loudly an constantly remind the world that we are a Superpower…well, with great power comes great responsibility, right?
The great thing about America is that We The People have a voice, and the louder that voice, the more insistent that voice, the harder it is to silence.
Let’s raise our voice, and walk through this open door. It’s scary. It is uncertain, but it is vital that we do. It will be a long process, but we can do it.
I’ll take the first step, with this Thought for Today:
“If you succeed through violence at the expense of other’s rights and welfare, you have not solved the problem, but only created the seeds for another.”