Fred Rogers, fighter planes, and especially for youth Tacoma 2009.

I’m in Tacoma, Washington as an EFY counselor and just writing down some thoughts at the end of another day.

I think about this afternoon when the entire group of youths and adults sit in the middle of a grassy field while the sun sets over the pine trees. A hush sweeps over the group and the sky begins to roar; 420 teenagers (ages 14-18) and 30 adults stop laughing and talking and shouting to silently watch a fighter jet fill the sky with rumbling noise. The silence is profound.

I think about last night when, at 11:00, I walk in on my boys playing cards, and then I take a moment to talk with them about how they avoid living pornography like those underdeveloped cheerleaders who ran through the sprinklers in their underwear right as the boys walked home from the dance. Our discussion is interrupted by my building counselor who opens the door to tell us we need to be in bed. The next day in our counselor meeting, that building counselor says, “Sometimes we think it’s a good idea to be popular with our youth and stay up with them to play cards past lights out, but we need to have integrity and keep our word of obedience instead.” He never looks in my direction as he says this.

I think about another one of the building counselors, a girl whose eyes seem to indicate a depth and understanding about life she isn’t showing, the kind of depth I need in my friends. She’s a BYU graduate who probably got a 3.7 GPA and is the most popular counselor here. When I talk to her, I don’t know what to say to show myself, so I make puns and laugh too much. Tonight, I found out that, again, I didn’t qualify for the good student driving insurance discount.

I think about yesterday. It is 1:30, and I sit in a fixed, wooden chair in a lecture hall. I squeeze out of my seat to introduce the speaker, then sit back down. On my desk rests a green photocopy. I pick it up; it reads, “Your feedback as a counselor is invaluable. Sometimes you will note things participants won’t acknowledge. Each EFY teacher is interested in improving. The ratings you give are important. Thank you for your honest feedback.” I place the paper down and remember when I taught seminary for a week last year. I spent four hours a day on my lessons, carefully reading and learning the material, and then I organized it in order to teach the content as effectively as possible. I thought I’d do well because I seem to interact with teenagers so easily, and teaching is one of the few things I think I’m actually great at (not just good.) Every day after teaching when I read my evaluation, my scores averaged a six out of ten, five being average. In that hard, wooden seat, I remember how I gave up the idea of teaching seminary as a career, then fear squeezes my heart as I wonder if I’ll be evaluated as a counselor at the end of the week.

And I finally think about Fred Rogers and how, out of all the dead people that have come in and out of my life, I miss him the most right now. Every day, Mr. Rogers changed his cardigan sweater and sneakers, and then invited us to be part of his neighborhood. In a slow, comforting pace, he told us he liked us just the way we are. A few weeks ago, I decided that they need a show like his for twentysomethings, where a nice man just comes on the TV and says that we’re good people, and that we’re alright how we are, and we don’t have to be evaluated for efficiency or proficiency or other areas of improvement. I want someone to just look at me and smile and genuinely say, “You’re a good guy and try really hard and I like you just the way you are,” and mean it without adding some way I need to change, or telling how I offend them, or trying to save me because they misinterpret my desire as a cry for help, or saying it just because we're supposed to say good things about people when they aren't feeling good.

But right now, in Tacoma, Washington at EFY, I feel like there’s no one but God and Fred Rogers, and that's painfully lonely.


Julie M said...

This is my favorite thing that you have posted Matt. I really feel like you balanced the piece nicely with contrasts of who you are, who you think you are, and how others perceive you.
But what's more this is honesty. And I loved it. This piece made me feel for you, relate to you, and ultimately connect with you. I actually saw YOU. Not masks, not weakness, not arrogance, but Matt. Just Matt. Trying to do all he can. Nice job.

Julie M said...

PS: Hang in there.

Sky said...

I cannot believe that a clip of Mr. Rogers is on this web site. I was sure you had done it because of your strange sense of humor to get back at me for something I said or did without thinking first (my normal mode of living). I read your post, then pushed "play," and his voice still pushes nausea clear up the back of my throat, but I'm going to agree with everything Julie said about your post. She is right. I want to add one statement, and if you could see my eyes right now, you would see that I am as sincere as I can be. I want you, Matt, to know that I have grown to respect you a great deal, sometimes simply because you DO try so hard. I want to say with all honesty, "You’re a good guy and try really hard and I like you just the way you are,” and I mean that. I really like the Matt you are right now and have been all along, and so will many others as you let the silences around you grow. You're a definite contender in those silences. Pay attention and let things just be. (Whoops. Is that too 60's?)

Sky said...

EmPo, I hope you follow Matt's post with your own. It fits.

Chan said...

I'm mixed. I really liked the first nine-tenths. You are a good writer, Matt. But then I get to the bottom, the bit about how you want people to just tell you you're okay, and not misinterpret your desires as a cry for help, or get offended or whatever. Then I get agitated.

The last paragraph of the essay seems to say to certain people, "Quit judging me and just accept me." Matt, you were an ass for half the semester. And then when people began to react, you got all huffy, like, "Please. This is so juvenile. Just leave me alone." But that's kind of the idea of relationships--you don't leave people alone. You invested in different friendships and by the same token invited the other person to invest. And then you just expected everyone to not care when you become noticeably edgy for an extended amount of time?

People got offended or treated your behavior as a cry for help because you said mean things, and they cared about you enough that they didn't ignore it. And yet in the same sentence that you complain about these behaviors, you say that you wish they would just affirm you. So let's get this straight—you can be an a-hole to people, but people can't get offended by that; they can only tell you—sincerely, mind you, none of that hollow-compliment stuff—that you're a great guy and everything will be okay. How many people are in these relationships? Just you?

Also, I can't help but wonder if this thought crossed your mind as you began the last paragraph: "My pathos is off the charts at this point. Now I can say pointed things aimed at Brittany and Karli and Aly and Sis. Morgan and the rest of the WC without offending them. They'll quit bugging me AND think I'm a nice guy. It's win/win." Is that overly suspicious on my part? Yeah. But you're smart enough that you can manipulate people this way, and sometimes you do. It may not be with ill intent, but that doesn't make me like it.

Your problems are your problems, Matt, and I respect that. They're legitimate. I'm not trying to fix them here. But I do feel a little jerked around, and I feel like the WC has been jerked around a bit.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, working by myself, I felt really lonely. It was weird because I don't think I've actually felt lonely in a really long time.

I thought about how I've changed as a person over the last couple of years, and how my view of people, life, and relationships has changed.

I've known for a while that I've not acted like the same person I was a year ago, or two years ago, but up until yesterday that didn't seem to matter. I was fine with the way I pushed people away, put myself down, and tried my hardest not to care about anyone or anything. But yesterday, working alone, I realized that even though I've learned a lot (from being a jerk to people, being selfish, and not trusting), I have been living alone. I've trusted no one, holding friends, family, and even God at arms length.

And yesterday, for the first time in quite a while, I craved real, openhanded, human connection. I wanted to care (about someone, anyone, everyone) just for the sake of making them happier, for doing the right thing.

I remember going to McDonald's with Matt, Ivor, and Chandler for free Big Macs. The event of a lifetime, free stuff from McDonald's, drew a large crowd, and slowed the service. After placing our order for the free Big Macs, and having waited for several minutes, Matt, seeing that the people in front of us had ordered the same thing (obviously, I mean they were free) took the Big Macs from their tray and put them on his.

When we sat down to eat, Matt explained, "You see, I've learned that in life most of the time there are no consequences. I just took those guys burgers, and what happened? Nothing."

I had a really hard time trusting Matt after that.

And yesterday, working alone, I thought about the consequences of doing the right thing, being friendly, and if it's time for me to stop being a jerk.

Matthew R. Hall, Esq. said...

Chan, you're one of the few people whose opinion I genuinely respect, so I appreciate your honesty. I want to clear up a few points. First, the last paragraph was not aimed directly at Aly or Britt or Karli or you or anyone else. I'm sorry if it came across that way. Second, I wasn't trying to manipulate anyone to my "side" with this post. I don't really care if people are on Team Matt; what I really want is to be understood.

Here's what got me this semester: I thought, at the time, that the first half of this semester was the most productive period of my life. The only friend who came to me before my complete social break down and told me that I was being terrible was Sharon. Looking back, I can see how I was a businessy, inconsiderate, and unsympathetic jerk, and I'm genuinely sorry I alienated so many people who I consider to be my real friends. At the same time that this was going on, though, I was dealing with the depressing loneliness I'm trying to keep secret because I don't think people understand me.

And they don't. And then that collapse of caring happened after that really crummy weekend in LA, and suddenly everyone who'd never sincerely asked how I was doing is pulling me aside in the back corner of the writing center and trying to save me, and people are in Sister Morgan's office daily telling her about how I've offended them, and then we had the "Matt you're being a defensive/offensive jerk knock it off" conference after seminar and I discovered that more people than Britt and Aly were offended by me. I'm being crowded on all sides in the place I thought was safe, and I realize that I'm actually the problem and the one who is wrong.

That doesn't feel good. I really do love you guys, and I hate myself for how I screwed things up. I'm not reveling in the conquest of my friend's emotions and friendships with this post; I'm trying to figure something out about what I really want and how I'm honestly feeling.

And as far as the Big Macs go, I'm really embarrassed that I did that. I vaguely remember that, and I remember that I somehow justified it in my mind, but I feel sick seeing myself do that and gloat over it, even though I do that kind of thing all the time.

So I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry.

Eric James said...

The number one thing I learned while working at the Writing Center is the importance of communication, and being able to articulate what exactly you want to say.

Whether it be in person in the middle of a semester after a seminar or on a follow-up blog post, I am glad we know how to communicate. And it's never too late for communication.

I can't wait to come back there in September.

Jami said...

One time, I was sitting in church waiting for the Bishop to get up and start the meeting. The person behind me made such an interesting comment, and I turned around and responded.

Then my eyes widened and I jerked my head back around thinking, "I was totally not part of that conversation." I like to be a part of conversations when people I care about are involved, but that's simply not possible all the time.

So right now I feel similarily to that time in church. Unknowingly, I feel as though I've evesdropped on a private conversation and shouldn't comment. Yet because I care about the people involved, I can't help myself. So I comment fully acknowledging that I have no clue what's going on and I don't even need to know. Here's an "I care" comment from someone most of you don't even know :)

Sky said...

Eric and Jami, so good to hear from you. Even Anon gave an honest post.