Untitled

Written by Patrick J Turner Jr

Published on June 22th, 2023

Inside: where I am from, where I will die, a discussion about God and labels, my family dynamics, and why I am writing this.

I have since gotten into a better headspace, signed a lease on a new house in a big city, and learned how to write and blog more effectively! In that exact order.

I am from South Carolina. If you can believe it that's right under North Carolina. In 2011 my family moved from South Carolina to North Carolina for my Dad's career. To this day I have always lived within less than 200 miles of the town I was born in. Within two weeks, I will be living exactly 235 miles from the town I was born in. Everyone in my family is from South Carolina. My girlfriend is from South Carolina too! I do not believe this to be a coincidence. Most of her family is from South Carolina as well. Most of our families have lived in South Carolina for all of their lives. They will likely die in South Carolina. For reasons I cannot fully explain in words, I feel in my heart that I will die in South Carolina.

I once told my roommate about this nebulous feeling I have about my (hopefully timely) death in my home state. We have talked about our deaths and what we would like to be done with our bodies after death on multiple occasions. That is kind of relationship we have. When I told him I believed I would die and be buried in the small town where my grandparents live, he scoffed slightly. I knew what he was going to say before he said it.

"Why would you want to be buried somewhere like South Carolina?"

He did not have to explain the meaning behind his question. I knew what he meant. He meant the same thing that everyone means when they ask, "Why South Carolina?" I have no good answer for them. Not one that anyone would understand.

Listen, I am not blind to why people dislike South Carolina. I know all too well about South Carolina's racist and sexist past, present, and unfortunately future. Amongst the progressive, liberal-minded crowd I run with, South Carolina may as well be Hell on Earth. It is not hard to understand why people feel this way. I have lived there for half my life! Anyone with a high schooler's understanding of the state's history and current politics can see why some feel this way about South Carolina or the American South in general. In the minds of many, the South represents the worst parts of America. Whether that is a fair assessment or not depends on your perspective. I will not speak about the problems with South Carolina anymore. They are not the point of this essay.

All of this to say yes, I know South Carolina. I have lived there. I have loved and I have lost there. I have hated it. I cannot hate it anymore. South Carolina is my oldest home, and I will carry my experiences from there with me until I inevitably return there and die. It is likely that I will be buried on the family graveyard plot. That plot has been reserved long before I was born. That may sound bleak, but I mean it to be beautiful. Every place we go, everywhere we have ever been lives within us always. We internalize our memories and they inform our actions long after the memories fade. As humans this is inherent to our nature. We cannot forget our past. We cannot escape our nature. We may hate or try to defy ourselves, but nature always wins in the end.

For a brief moment in time I was ashamed of myself, my family, and my home state. I was young and leaving home for the first time to enter college. I wasn't exactly rebellious, but for the first time I was considering what I wanted. For most of my life I had done what I thought my parents wanted me to do. We would go to church every Sunday. I would sing psalms and go to church with my friends on Wednesdays. I went on a not insignificant number of mission trips across the east coast. For most of my life I did this because it is what I was encouraged to do. What I wanted or felt were never a part of the equation, at least in my mind. I had never considered any alternative. I did it because everyone in my family did it. I did it because it was our community.

In my freshman year of high school my closest friend became my biggest enemy. I hated him. I had never hated anyone before. He and some of our other friends had become atheists at the ripe age of 14, while my churchgoing friends and I remained uninterested or unwilling to question the authority of God, or more acurately, our parents. We fought each other relentlessly. He was an asshole. He would admit this to me himself on several different drunken nights out in our early twenties. I believe he meant it each time. At some point we both realized that we needed each other more than we wanted to hate each other. We will be roommates in less than two weeks.

My relationship with God is complicated. I do not feel I have ever really known God. I was introduced to them at a young age, before my earliest memory. I went through the typical motions of knowing God as my family and our church directed. I was baptised at a young age. I went to Bible studies. I went to Sunday school. People would often speak of having a personal relationship with God, but my relationship never looked or felt that way. They would mention hearing God. I have never heard God speak. Once I was on my own in college, I didn't feel the need to perform my devotion for anyone anymore.

I stopped going to church in college. Many of my friends who were avid churchgoers stopped as well. We became more aware of ourselves and of the rhetoric of the church. We matured. In a sense, we ate of the proverbial fruit of knowledge. My perspective on God has changed since then.

In the Methodist and Baptist churches of my youth I had a very static view of God and His relationship to us. To have a relationship with God meant doing as you were told, reading the Bible, going to church, doing the "right" thing, etc. If you prayed and did all this, God would speak to you and you would receive his blessings. God was literal as He was described in the Bible. There was room for interpretation of God's will, but it typically involved performing guesswork as to why God was a bit mean in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament. I found this perspective on God to be boring, repetitive, and impersonal.

The deeply personal, metaphysical relationship with God as defined by the individual was not obvious to me then as it is now. I feel this contrasts with the Christian view of God as it was taught to me. I have met many people with many diverse views and relationships with God. I believe that God is within each of us. God cannot be summarized or explained. To try to explain God according to our own thin slice of the world is man's greatest folly.

I do not fully understand my relationship to God. Maybe no one does! In technical terms, I would likely be classified as agnostic. I do not particularly like falling into this label. Labels generally feel too simple for the often fluid, complicated identities which they are applied to. Similarly, I do not place God under any labels or religions. Perhaps because of this change to a less rigid conceptualization of God I now find myself more accepting of God and other's views toward them than I once was. These days I think God is pretty cool! Having an opinion on the feelings you ascribe to God is part of being human. I believe this is one of the most important things you can do.

I want to talk a little more about labels. The first time I considered the inefficiency of labels in classifying abstract feelings or ideas I was eating lunch on my college campus one afternoon in 2020. It was sunny. A nice breeze brushed my hair and face. I sat on a bench outside the student union and soaked in the good weather. I was eating a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich from the cafeteria. A girl sat next to me with her lunchbox. She asked if she could sit there. I told her I didn't mind. She began to talk to me about life as she ate her lunch. She asked me what I thought about the human need to classify and label things. I was shocked to find myself in such a philosophically charged conversation with someone I had just met. I went with it. I told her that I thought humans had an inherent need to know about the world around them, and that classifications were a large part of that. She openly pondered the idea of humans simply leaving something unknown. She pointed to a tree on the central lawn of campus. "What if we didn't have a name for that tree, wouldn't the world go on spinning? Isn't there something poetic about not knowing?" I supposed she was right. She finished her lunch. She asked me for my name. I told her and asked for hers. She told me her name. She told me to have a nice life. I told her to do the same. I never saw her again. I think about our conversation often. Maybe I dreamed it. Maybe most conversations I have with others are in my head.

I have only ever told one person about that conversation. She was the person who changed my life. We will talk about her one day, maybe soon.

At the same time my relationship with God changed, so too did my relationship with my family. This is all part of the gross process of growing up and maturing. My family has always appeared to me as Normal, Christian, politically moderate, upstanding citizens. For reasons I do not fully understand, after I left for college my family seemingly became more loose. My dad cursed more freely. They would voice their frustrations with other family members, work, or the news more openly and honestly.

Maybe it was because they realized they had done well enough as parents to get one of their two sons into a good university and performing successfully. Maybe it was just my imagination. Regardless of the reason, I felt as though my parents started to act differently once I was out of the house. I felt jealous of my brother for getting to experience a different side of my parents. Perhaps it was Second Child Syndrome rearing its ugly head in the opposite direction.

Some may be unaware that I have a brother. He is two and a half years younger than me. My earliest memory is the day he was born.

My brother and I are polar opposites. Many people have been shocked to learn that we are brothers. "You two look and act nothing alike!" My brother looks more like my mother and acts more like my dad. I look more like my dad and act more like my mother. Our family always considered this to be part of some cosmic irony. My mother used to say that God had a sense of humor because despite her prayers for a daughter she gave birth to two boys. I never understood why it would be shocking for God to have a sense of humor.

Most of our relationship as kids consisted of a brotherly love my parents described as, "One day they'll wake up the best of friends, other days they're the worst of enemies." I always liked the phrasing.

I can count the number of times my brother has angered me to the point of hitting him on two fingers:

Once we were playing the Nintendo Wii at home and I hit him on his tail bone with a Wii remote.

Another time we were playing dodgeball on the church playground and I spun around, hitting his nose with my fist. My mother loves telling this particular story because it happened in public and at church.

"It wouldn't be such a big deal if it hadn't happened at church."

Our youth pastor said he couldn't believe I would do something like that. The pastor's sister saw the whole thing happen and said my brother had it coming.

Both times I hit my brother I felt an immediate shock of regret at seeing my brother burst into a mess of tears and blood. I felt overwhelmed by guilt and Love. I felt disgusted with myself for letting my anger out in such a cruel way. It's sort of funny to think about these moments from a top down perspective. I try not to think about these moments or moments like them from any other perspective. I do not enjoy the thought of myself committing real harm unto others.

Today my relationship to my brother is much quieter. We don't see each other often. We rarely text. We are friendly with each other, but not particularly close. I think we like each other. We might even Love each other. At least in our own brotherly way. I feel that no one in my family gets very sentimental with one another. I may be too sentimental with myself.

I'm going to tell you some awful things about myself. When we were younger I deluded myself into thinking I was the favorite child. Of course parents never choose favorites, but I had convinced myself that I was the favorite because I was well-behaved, smart, kind, and the first born. I realize how blindly narcissistic that was now. Whoops.

Pictures of me adorned every surface of our old house. At one point it became a family joke that my brother didn't have as many pictures because of Second Child Syndrome. I was the miracle baby my parents struggled to have. By the time my brother was born I think they were more experienced and less interested in documenting the life of their second child. This was never personal; it's basic human psychology. It must be. Professionals named a whole Syndrome after it.

To tell you the truth, I often delude myself into thinking things that aren't true. I believe others hate me. At some point early in college I decided that I was no longer ashamed of my family or home state. I no longer believed I knew better than other people. I became ashamed of myself. My anxiety became worse. I believed everyone hated me. Sometimes I still do. Sometimes I hate myself. When my self hatred becomes overwhelming I enter depressive episodes. We will talk more about those in detail another time.

A psychological counselor at my university told me this self doubt was a symptom of anxiety. She told me that my fears did not reflect reality. She helped me to see things as they truly were. She taught me some strategies to use to stay mindful of reality. Some of them helped, others did not. I still struggle with anxiety, but not as badly as I once did. I owe that psychology grad student interning for the university counseling service a great debt.

For a time I believed my family hated me. I have always felt like a black sheep in my family. These days I feel this way even more. My brother has a close relationship with my dad. They play golf together and watch sports and also bet on sports together. My dad tries to connect with me where he can. We talk about music and movies a good bit, but it's obvious he isn't as close with me as he is with my brother. They laugh more together. They just understand each other more. My brother seems more loose with both my parents. My parents seem more loose with him. Their relationship just seems so much more casual than my own relationship with any of them. I do not know how to reconcile this.

I have always had a hard time being open with others. It is a mental block I seem unable to get around with most people. I try to be as friendly and inoffensive as possible to everyone. I try to make everyone like me, but remain at a surface level in the end. In my mind I want to appear well-behaved. I do not want to make my family worry. I do not want to show them the real me. I hide myself from myself. I hide from my family and from the world.

I read this phrase recently: Loving someone means showing them your true self.

It has been a thread stuck in my mind fuzz ever since the words beamed into my eyes. I know my current methods for connecting with others are not working. I am spiritually sick and must reevaluate the way I approach others in order to be healed.

When it is dark and I am alone I will often try to perform the mental calculus on my favorite internal math problem: "What is Wrong with me?" All of my personal writing, public and private, for the past five years has been dedicated to attempting to solve this problem. Unlike before, I have turned on the light. I mean that figuratively and literally. I write during the day and with lights on now. I write with a clear conscience and mind. I recognize now what I did not in my previous blog. Trying on different explanations for what my Problem is will only leave me unsure of myself and depressed. I have learned that in reality, most questions have no "right" answer, especially this question.

Knowing yourself does not mean knowing what is Wrong with you. We can never know what is Wrong with ourselves. Every person you meet will have a different perspective on what is Wrong with you. Most people are not thinking about what is Wrong with you. Even if people were thinking about what is Wrong with you, who cares? What matters most in life is being happy with yourself. Knowing yourself means understanding the sum total of your experiences and the person that it has made you. Being yourself means embodying the values you hold dear by taking action and doing the things you love.

I write this blog for myself. I care about myself. The act of writing, of thinking deeply about my feelings and writing honestly about them is important to me. It is the truest form of self expression I have engaged in. By allowing myself to write what I think and publish it for others to read I am freeing myself from my mental constraints. I am free to be judged by others. I am free to be understood by others. Life is about putting yourself out there. I also write this blog for You, dear reader. I have learned that our words can often have more value to others than ourselves. My memories and experiences along with the perspectives that depict them will go on to inform the memories and experiences of others. I hope these words meant something to You. Thank You for reading.

- Patrick Turner