Once upon a time, Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears was my favorite song. Mostly because of a few specific phrases it contains:

Welcome to your life
Theres no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you
Acting on your best behaviour

It’s no great secret I spent a large fraction of my childhood in the 1980s, but much of that I only remember in a kind of broken haze. After my surgery, the thought of being alive meant something else, and I’m not entirely sure I ever decided exactly what that was. One day in high school, I heard this song as if I was hearing it for the first time–I couldn’t even remember why it was familiar. I only knew that being welcomed to a life without recourse was both a sobering and terrifying thing. That I was a goodie-two-shoes even when unencumbered by morality or reality just made me sad; always I’d be trapped as myself, even in the infinite spectrum of the dream world. I don’t know what the band intended, but I believe we need to make the most of what time we have, and make ourselves who we wish to be, so even in our dreams, we’re not disappointed–back then, I was only scared of never getting a second chance.

And of course, the chorus:

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Everyone wants things to be comfortable, recognizable, to their own biases and background. The only place they can really rule in that manner is their own dreams, but even that is impossible, so deep is our societal programming. It’s a slippery kind of control, and while we foolishly attempt to wrest control from the world, time marches inexorably onward, rending our most urgent and sincere longings, and ourselves, to dust. Without a possible afterlife of some kind, this would likely drive a great majority of our population insane, should it ever be given much thought. We must believe in God, or rebirth, or something, lest we spend our lives dreading death. It’s a lot to consider, and I’ve been thinking about it since I was six.

But I have a new favorite thing to ponder, or at least revel in. Depeche Mode is another of those 80’s bands, but one that has persisted long since the peak of their popularity. In their recent album, Playing the Angel, a single entitled Precious hit me like a sack of especially heavy bricks. Martin Gore wrote it to his children, to maybe help explain and apologize for his recent divorce from his wife, but it has tapped into such a greater vein of truth, I wonder if he even realizes. Why’s that?

Precious and fragile things
Need special handling

Followed shortly by the chorus:

Things get damaged, things get broken
I thought we’d manage, but words left unspoken
Left us so brittle
There was so little left to give

If this isn’t an allegory for life, I’m not sure what is. How many times have things simply gone wrong, leaving someone scrambling for an explanation, but there is none? How can we really give to others when our own lives are in turmoil, with hints of sadness or pain or lost dreams of how things could have been if reality hadn’t intruded? But there’s an answer for that, too:

If God has a master plan
That only He understands
I hope it’s your eyes He’s seeing through

If these things must happen, and there is a God orchestrating everything, it’s only fair that He feels the most pervasive empathy ever imagined. Every child dead of hunger; every genocide victim in Rwanda or Darfur; every parent weeping over a car wreck containing a family member; every last man, woman, and child taken by disease, and everyone who ever cared for them; the broken homes; those so lost that suicide seems viable and preferable; every sadness experienced fully and completely, or He is a callous God. But this works for enlightenment too. To comfort the lost and hopeless, the first step is empathy. We’re human, and we just want happiness, but we want meaning or our turmoil seems an empty sacrifice.

Angels with silver wings
Shouldn’t know suffering
I wish I could take the pain for you

Deep down, we’ve all been there: lost, scared, uncertain. Even age can be irrelevant, for anything novel can be just as unsettling, and an understanding hand can make all the difference. Sometimes though, it’s a futile and impotent gesture, because it’s impossible to actually feel pain in place of another, anguish, emotional devastation. The most anyone can do is lessen the impact, or imply things can only get better, even if they don’t. Hope is the only thing that got me by on several occasions, because I never had a role-model; nobody helped me when I needed it most, and thinking about all the people out there who are one inch away from oblivion is hard to accept. Some people just give up. At one point, that somebody was me, and if not for fear of never existing, I wouldn’t be here now.

That should never be something anyone can say. We’re, all of us, faced with hardships, but we have no context. I was poor; hundreds of millions are poor. I’ve gotten food donations; hundreds of millions have starved to death. While growing up, I had few friends, was tormented relentlessly, and emotionally and physically abused by a series of drunken stepfathers; Millions are beaten or raped as children, sold like chattel, and would probably rather die than see another sunrise. I knew all these things at the time, but I could not think above my own problems–I was alone, but worse, I was without the teaching necessary to reach out, to change my station, to identify with my peers; anything a father or older brother could have likely taught me, I had to blindly reinvent, and much of what I built is still perceptibly flawed.

Maybe that’s why it’s a little easier for me to try and seek enlightenment: most of my emotions are already damaged or outright detached. Mental clarity unencumbered by instinct or desire is one of the hardest things to attain, and it’s all a matter of perspective, something I could have learned earlier, had I a teacher. Many of us could feel more at ease, knowing our problems, even the worst, are not only eclipsed by orders of magnitude elsewhere, but are hardly insurmountable. But some never get that chance, they lose hope, or are wrenched from this world before someone can give them that tiny insight that can grow over the years. There is no turning back, ever, so we must always make the best of what we have, and stop chasing some impossible ideal until we find ourselves worn and old, our best years behind us. Maybe I can be that guiding light to others, before they spend two decades figuring it out from scratch.

Until Tomorrow

Everybody Broken
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3 thoughts on “Everybody Broken

  • You are going to be so annoyed with me, but all I can think about is that above everything you have faced, what a great life you have ended up with – a amazing woman who loves you, and great career, and the ability to be whoever you want to be. I think that’s pretty awesome.

  • if one is detached from one’s emotions, does it lessen their ability to distort thinking? i don’t believe so. there is a sense of pure reason that comes from repressing emotion but it is brittle; overpowering emotion or even somatic disturbance that removes the repression can destroy the illusion of control. I believe the true enlightenment comes with embracing the fact (yes FACT) of lack of control…and then striving as the vulnerable man rather than as the ego-defended superman. If that’s so, then the healing path for one who feels his emotions are (stunted, threatening, unworthy, unworthwhile, unacceptable) is to become a unified self again, who has access to his honestly-expressed emotions without shame. But we play the cards we’re dealt and take the steps we’re ready for. I’m glad you’re onto something that’s working for you, for now. I hope you will practice self-compassion.

  • Who’s complaining, Susan? I was just trying to convey my methods for keeping things in perspective, and some of my own philosophy. 🙂

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