Pretty much everything we do in life is silently dedicated to someone or something.
If you’ve ever given speech, published a book, sang a song that came from an especially ascendant or grasping place within, you understand dedicating a part of your life to another. These dedications are usually reserved for those we love, those who inspire us, those to who we feel we owe a debt. More often than not, at least for me, those are the easy dedications. No less meaningful. No less worthwhile. Maybe not easy to convey, or easy to feel, but easier, ultimately, to speak out loud. To admit or acknowledge to others.
Much more difficult to express outside ourselves are the unspoken dedications, the silent dedications we keep behind our smiles and grimaces, that we hide under laughter, sincere or forced. I become more aware of these dedications the older I get, and it seems as though every one of my moments now has such a dedication attached to it. I think we all accrue them over time, small notches in our spirit and the subtlest of wrinkles on our brains. We recall them and pay service whenever we do something that reignites our connection to them, and they Christen our actions, in their way.
Those dedications come in many forms, for many reasons. For example, every ounce success I attain, every achievement, be it personal or professional, major or minor, every moment that feels like a victory, these I silently dedicate to all those who ever doubted me, who ever discouraged me, screwed me over, set me back, or in any way blatantly attempted to sabotage me and my pursuits and my happiness. The teacher who told me that writing was a waste of time and to join the football team because of my size. The publisher who buried and/or orphaned my novel after buying it for ethereal reasons beyond my mortal comprehension. The Hollywood manager who hip-pocketed me for a year, extracted a free feature script from me, and ghosted me into oblivion. Everyone who occupies a spot on what my wife and I only half-jokingly refer to as The Fruit Basket List, a litany of names belonging to those we will one day send elaborate fruit baskets with unfailingly polite notes announcing how we’ve won at life, and genuinely and warmly thanking them for the role they played in that ultimate victory.
Pettiness is always best shared with someone you love who is as deeply petty as you are inside.
These dedications satisfy me in a way I’m too often embarrassed or confused to share aloud. They give me fuel. They give me shelter from my own doubt and depression.
On the flip side of that coin, the reverse of my spite, is every piece of kindness I undertake, randomly or calculated, every act that benefits another and not me. These I silently dedicate to all of those people throughout the whole of my life I could have helped, should have helped, but did not.
Some I didn’t reach out to due to ignorance, because I simply didn’t know they were in pain or need, or because I did not recognize my own privilege, my ability to elevate, even in a small way, those without it, to stand between them and the sources of their strife, their oppression, their grief. Youth and the anchors of indoctrination explain some of this, but never excuse it. I often ask myself why I couldn’t locate the empathy or at least the dim awareness of my 38-year-old self decades ago. On my best days the answer is I wasn’t ready. On my more honest days the answer is I didn’t want to be ready.
I regret those who didn’t receive my help or my time because of my own ignorance. I regret even more those I didn’t help because I refused to see beyond my own feelings, my anger or envy or pride, or my fear of having my hardwired world view turned on its head. I rejected those who challenged me too much, or who I perceived to have more than I wanted for myself. That is the bad pettiness, if such a thing can be said. There is nothing cute about that kind of petty.
It’s possible that I regret the most all those instances in which indifference and apathy were at the wheel, when I simply couldn’t be bothered by others or their problems or their needs. It’s true you have to see to yourself, of course, or rather not sacrifice yourself for the sake of everyone else in your life. Otherwise there will be nothing left of you at the end of the day, and that doesn’t help anyone, least of all yourself. But I think it’s also true you have to spend the time you can afford to spend. And I know I had the time, for a lot of people. I just didn’t want the weight of their concerns to be mine, even for a moment. I wanted dinner, or a nap, or silence, or to watch the newest episode of Deadliest Warrior, which is its own sin requiring its own essay. Most of all though, I just didn’t want to be bothered. I didn’t want to have to care, to feel. And I prioritized my numbness over the genuine hardships of others.
While so many other memories fade with age and time, I seem to recall even clearer every missed or shunned opportunity I was gifted to make someone else’s day or week or entire life better in some way, large or small. I think of them all whenever I’m given a new opportunity.
I’ve done and will continue to do what I can to regain some of those lost moments, to return some small act of service to those I denied. In some cases it has led to a closed door. In others it has opened a door that was closed for years. But there are others. Too many. I remember names, I see faces. They are beyond my help now. There remain so many I never really knew, or did know, but will never again encounter, the faces and names of those who might’ve been better for, or even saved, by my intervention, or at the very least my attention and simple acknowledgment.
To them I offer my deepest dedications of all.