Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Kentucky Clerk

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you've probably heard more than you ever wanted to hear about a Kentucky county clerk named Kim Davis.


Lately, everywhere I go there seems to be conversation about her. People can't stop talking about her since she was arrested for defying a federal court order to issue marriage licenses. She was refusing to do this because, according to her, she was acting under God's authority, which apparently takes offense to the Supreme Court's recent ruling on marriage rights for same gender couples. 

Ms. Davis was released a few days after her arrest, looking disheveled and, frankly, traumatized in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters who view her as a near martyr and an inspiration for standing up for what she believes in. 

The feud over this person and her actions and her statements has been heated, to say the least. And from the moment it began to win news coverage, it became a very uncomfortable back-and-forth for me to watch. 

I wasn't torn, obviously. I knew exactly what my views were on this. Kim Davis's beliefs on God's will and authority are nonsensical to me. I think her actions are wholly inappropriate. And I'm appalled by many of the utterly shameful things I've heard some of her supporters say.

While I heartily support the concept and importance of religious liberty, I think Ms. Davis's actions and words are laced with bigotry. And as a government employee, I believe that her decision to deny same gender couples marriage licenses amounted to illegal discrimination. 

I was comfortable with my opinion that Ms. Davis was wrong. What made me uncomfortable was the anger I initially felt when I heard of her and the way the discussion has been largely approached by those around me.

Immediately, memes popped up, mocking Ms. Davis's personal life, calling her names, comparing her image to various unflattering fictional sci-fi characters, and threatening to hurt her or her family. Many zealous religious folks jumped to her defense, attacking same gender couples, and calling gay people the vilest of names. 

I'm not proud to say that some very unkind things ran through my own mind about the people who began to flood my social media pages with opinions I despised.

In the midst of this, I was running on a treadmill when a TV at the gym broke to news coverage of Ms. Davis's press conference when she had just been released from custody after she spent a few long days in jail. I shook my head when it showed her face, wishing I could yell to her and the supporters in attendance all of the things I thought of them. 

I watched the muted TV with interest as Ms. Davis, accompanied by a number of people whose views I didn't have much respect for, walked onto a stage.

She looked tired and beaten and perpetually on the verge of tears. She didn't look like a crazed lunatic to me. She didn't look like a hatemonger.  

And it hit me so hard in that moment that this person, about whom I had heard so much for the last few days, was just that. A person

She frustrates me. I have a very difficult time understanding why she has acted the way she has acted. And I wish she would change. 

But, she's a person

A real person. With feelings and emotions and insecurities and fears and beliefs and confusion and heartache. Real, actual, heartache. 

She's cried because of pain. She's been mistreated. Maybe she's been abused in her life. Maybe she's been abandoned by people she loves and been called names by people she wishes loved her. She may have gone through hurt in her life that I've never had to face.

None of these things make her actions right. But in that moment they served to remind me that vitriol isn't right either.

It's human nature to believe that if someone treats you badly, you're justified in treating them badly back. But meanness is rarely a helpful or necessary component of standing up for beliefs when the belief is truly based in anything other than hate. Yes, it feels vindicating to refer to a perceived opponent in the most offensive terms. But one of the harsh truths of shared humanity is that poisoning the well hurts everyone.

Vitriol stings the target. And it embitters the heart of its proponent. It permeates the collective dialogue and lands on every listening ear, from the guiltiest of the guilty to the most innocent of the innocent. And no one who is faced with it, be it the people on the fence trying to make up their minds to the children in our lives who don't yet know that their minds are supposed to be made up at some point, comes out of the encounter better off. 

I have to believe that a more powerful response to a perceived act of bigotry than name calling would be an impassioned sermon on kindness and equity. A less hypocritical method of communicating disapproval of close-mindedness might be sharing personal anecdotes rather than impersonal judgment. And I'm certain that in twenty or thirty or forty years we'll be happier to reflect on how we fought for justice long ago if that fight entailed fervent persuasion rather than vindictive acrimony. 

And, no, reasoned argument may never reach the heart of the unreasonable or cause the unreasonable to change. But hate won't do that either. And at least the former approach will let us keep our heads high because we aren't being weighed down by the bitterness of the latter. 

These aren't principles I've perfectly applied in my own life in approaching my intimate relationships or in responding to well-known current happenings. But the fact that I've engaged in the more shameful forms of reaction only makes me a more credible expert for this soap-boxing.

And so I'll soap-box the lesson I continue to learn and relearn, thousands of miles away from a Kentucky press conference. And I'll hope that one day I won't have to relearn that no kindness is ever wasted. Even and especially when it's spent on those who don't understand it.

~It Just Gets Stranger 

46 comments:

  1. Thoughtful and thought provoking. And you didn't self defecate at all ;) I never know when I come here whether to expect to laugh, cry or think, although usually it's the former.

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  2. Out of tradition, and a strong belief in the power of laughter, I read all that is written here. That being said, I almost didn't read this one because I'm so tired of all the hate from both sides and didn't want to have to sift through that again.

    Curiosity got the better of me. Obviously.

    Thank you for adding a plot twist and thoughtful approach to the whole situation! Can we all just breath that in for a second.

    This whole world would be a lot better off if we all took the time to remember that kindness doesn't mean blindness. (I totally just made that up! Once up the barrel and all that) treating someone with kindness doesn't necessarily mean you agree with them and aren't aware of their short comings, it simply means you remember they are human.

    Well done, Mr. Eli. Tammy must be so proud.

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  3. Thank you for recognizing that she is human too! So many people who disagree with her don't see that. It's refreshing to see someone understand that she thinks she is doing the right thing. Thank you for reminding us that right now, it's more important to be kind to each other, than it is to be 'right.'

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  4. Thank you for recognizing that she is human too! So many people who disagree with her don't see that. It's refreshing to see someone understand that she thinks she is doing the right thing. Thank you for reminding us that right now, it's more important to be kind to each other, than it is to be 'right.'

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  5. This was a perfect way to start my Monday. Thank you, Eli, for being such a bright light in a sometimes dark and strange world.

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  6. This! This times a hundred! When I fear for the future of our world (and I do, on occasion), what worries me more is not the laws and politics of it all, what worries me is that people seem to be so full of hate towards each other. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for trying to lessen the polarization of our country.

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  7. Like Emilie, I almost didn't read this. See, I'm from Kentucky. And since I know your opinion on the topic, I had a feeling this was probably yet another story about how wrong Ms. Davis is and how much she's hated and how stupid everyone from Kentucky is. I apologize for doubting you. Really, I'm sorry.

    I just want to say, THANK YOU, for presenting a call to both sides for kindness. While I may not always agree with you, I don't actually agree with how Ms. Davis has handled the situation either. Regardless of where you stand in the debate, there is ALWAYS room for kindness and compassion. And since we're talking about Kentucky, we have a phrase in the South - 'You win more flies with honey than with vinegar.' Basically, you don't win anybody over with sourness and ugly - no matter what you're trying to win them to.

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  8. Thank you so much for this. Instead of getting up on that soapbox and lecturing about how terrible she is and how hateful her actions are, like most people with your views would do, you're okay to simply disagree but value the person she (and we) all are.

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    1. "like most people with your views would do"

      I've fortunately been able to hear from lots of people who disagree with her and, while frustrated, aren't lecturing.

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  9. I'm not sure when it happened; maybe it was too gradual to detect, but we here in the U.S. have lost the ability to have civil discourse. We no longer can talk WITH each other, and share opinions and perspectives, we now talk AT each other, usually with escalating voices and tempers. We seem to have lost the inclination to be kind, to consider, to weigh our words, to be thoughtful in our response. Maybe it's the "instant gratification" of computers, and all that, how we need IMMEDIATE service, response, I don't know. But we need to find a way back to our ability to feel and act out of kindness.

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    1. Louie - I think it's always been a problem. It's just exploded with the advent of anonymous discourse on subjects through chat rooms, Facebook, et al. I try to imagine the person I'm 'speaking' with on the Internet is standing right in front of me. It tempers thought and puts a clamp on my tongue sometimes. I am older, though, and did not grow up with the Internet. For me, up until a few years ago my interactions were with real people and not their keyboards. Still, I believe if we all just imagine the person we are speaking to/about is right in front of us, we will find that most people are kinder than we are lead to believe.

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    2. I'm an office manager who has to give customer service on a daily basis. I've come to the conclusion that there are certain people who have this rare mythical thing called manners, and there a lot of people who have this common affliction called apathy, and then there are a few people who just have an unhealthy desire to be a victim and be angry all of the time. The first give me hope, the second make me tired, and the third make me sad. And whenever I deal with the 2nd or 3rd types I remind myself not to become them.

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    3. awesomesauciness -- You have a valid point; prior to "all things computer", we did most of our interaction face-to-face, or with a real person over the phone. You don't hear voice inflection in an e-mail, so you can read something and take offense at some innocuous comment that flares misunderstandings. And The Suzzzz --- sometimes, a person's attitude is so pervasive, that it infects the entire work area (to the good or the bad) I've worked with some negative people, and I've seen how one person's attitude can bring down an entire team. On the reverse, I once worked with a person who started each morning with a beautiful smile and a "good morning!" to everyone she met. Just that little bit of positive energy worked wonders on me, and I found that I was a happier manager and employee than I had been prior to her starting; I promised myself I'd continue that type of positivity, after she changed jobs and left the department; It was hard, but I found later that others looked to me for a spurt of positive energy, so your awareness will work that way with you, too.

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  10. As for Ms. Davis' actions.......I had kept silent about her, until a part of a Scripture popped into my head one day as I listened to yet another pundit declare the "war on Christians" was escalating.

    "Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, and unto God, that which is God's"....or something like that.

    To my interpretation it meant, basically, when in Rome... Abide by the laws of the land, and if your convictions prevent that, then leave the land or get another job, or affect change through 'Ceasar's' government. Don't deny Ceasar those things that are his. In this case, it's been decided that same-sex marriages are valid and couples shall be awarded licenses to marry.

    Whether or not Ms. Davis, you, me, or anyone else likes the ruling is a moot point. We live in a land where it is the law. Period.

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    1. FYI, the following views that I'm posting have nothing to do with Kim Davis or what she believes in, so please don't think I'm agreeing with her in any way. This is a more generalized opinion regarding Awesome's post.

      I can disagree on this to a certain point. Because if we were to just let government decide everything for us and not march when we know something is wrong, the government will just start to close their ever tightening fists around us. Sometimes you have to stand up for what is right and say "no" to what the government (or anyone else) is trying to force on us. Being born in the U.S. or Canada or where ever, gives us the right to stand up for what we believe in. At one time black slaves were legal. Are you telling me that Rosa Parks, or Martin Luthor King, etc... should have just gone somewhere else instead of fighting for what they believed in? Rosa Parks wasn't supposed to sit on the bus in the seat she sat in. So she did something that was against the law in order to affect change. People marched to stop wars, etc...

      Is this lady right or wrong because she was fighting for what she believed in? She's a person, just as Eli stated. She has every right to fight for her beliefs whether we agree with them or not. It's her choice.

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    2. Lee - in a perfect world, what you say is...well, very nearly perfect. But we are not talking about a perfect world and I was not referring to social activism..or any other kind. We are also taught by Jesus to engage in those activities (temple, anyone?) when it's warranted.

      In this instance, Ms. Davis was in the wrong..legally. Whether or not she was morally right is not for me (or you) to decide. That's between her, her conscience, and God.

      Her actions did nothing to further the cause of those who believe it immoral and dangerous to grant same-sex couples a license. They did nothing because she was one woman. If she wants to affect change, then she needs to follow in Rosa Parks' footsteps and garner support, start a movement (or join one of the many out there), and in doing so affect changes to the law......legally.

      I never said let government decide everything. I was a child of the 60's, and if it taught us anything it was to distrust the government almost all the time. I saw the marches. I heard the protests. I was there for some of it. No one advocated anything but peaceful change.

      If Ms. Davis is the catalyst for the change she so fervently believes in, then so be it and more power to her for standing up.

      My argument was simply that right there, right then, she was wrong. I stand behind that assertion.

      Now, you wanna talk about the bigger picture here? Yeah, we can discuss that but make no mistake it's not at all to which I spoke.

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  11. I'm glad being a big-shot attorney hasn't made you disenchanted with life yet. People keep accusing me of being too naive and optimistic about things at work and telling me that someday I'll be bitter and angry like they are. Here's to hoping we never get to that point.

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  12. Very eloquent Eli, a good reminder to everyone involved, thank you for sharing.

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  13. I'm not necessarily going to comment on this issue because I try to keep an open mind and see both sides, and I honestly don't know how I would act if I were in her situation. I don't think anyone can really say what they would or wouldn't do unless they're actually put into that situation. I was talking to my husband this morning about how sick I am of social media and how it has almost become a place to just argue about who matters most. I understand the thinking behind #blacklivesmatter #poliecelivesmatter #nursejobsmatter and so forth, but who are we to decide who or what matters most? Everyone matters. Everyone is important. Everyone deserves to feel love. Everyone deserves to live how they want to live as long as it really isn't of any danger to anyone else. Let's get the hashtag #everyonematters going around. Yeah?

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    1. #everyonematters Yes, indeed!

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  14. I love that you used the word "Vitriol" :-)

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  15. Nicely said, Eli. Thanks for being so thoughtful and being a good human.

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  17. Interesting how many say they were hesitant to even read this post because they supposedly knew your views. That alone should indicate how unwilling some people are to challenge themselves with other perspectives. Maybe it's human nature to want to surround ourselves with only those ideas that make us feel comfortable but I think we can all do better. Thanks for the reminder.

    On the other hand, Davis is clearly a nut, bless her heart.

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    1. I've realized this is why its so frustrating to talk about topics that are controversal (sp?) With people. They are unwilling to challenge their beliefs/opinions. On a side note, I think it might be because a lot of my friends are mormon and challenging your thoughts on some of these issues means challenging what church teaches you. And that is a scary, almost unthinkable, path to go down for some mormons. But speaking from experience, you can do both!

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    2. Religion is really good at keeping people thinking inside the box. Why decide for ourselves what is right or wrong when we can refer to ideas from another time and place? The world isn't still flat, right?

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    3. Interesting how many of these people said they were hesitant to read the post... and then did anyway. It IS uncomfortable to confront views you disagree with, but all these people are just fessing up to the fact that they were prepared to do just that.
      I would bet that the majority of Eli's audience comes to this blog primarily for entertainment, so when it appears there is going to be some discussion of "weightier matters," it's tempting to just scroll past it in your newsfeed or click on to some buzzfeed article instead. But all those people who said "I was hesitant..." actually showed their willingness to engage in the discussion, even when they expected it would require them to change from "entertainment" mindset to "challenging themselves with other perspecitves" mindset. But I think that says a lot about the community Eli has fostered here.
      I would hope we could follow his lead in the comments and avoid falling into that all-too-common narrative of how "mormons/religious people are so closed-minded and unwilling to challenge their beliefs and perspectives" just because they show reluctance to engage in discussions or "come around" to your reasoning. Instead, we should consider that holding firmly to a particular opinion or belief that you happen to disagree with does not necessarily mean that they have not challenged or examined that belief. It may be that they have just come to a different conclusion than you.
      When I first read Eli's post, a John Mayer line popped into my head: "Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign? Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking ranks at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?" I think this line really speaks to the way we all--religious and non--tend to get entrenched in our ways of thinking. Just like Eli said, seldom does any amount of discussion or argument actually lead us to change our mind, especially when we feel that we are under attack, which just comes all too easily on the internet.
      But just look at what Eli's been able to communicate through these types of posts, using a non-hostile, well-reasoned, but still passionate approach to these "hot topics." Many people overcome their reluctance to engage in the discussion because they've come to trust him and to feel safe in this environment. I think it would be wise to take a page out of Eli's book and refrain from "communicating disapproval of closed-mindedness...through impersonal judgment" in the comment section, too.

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    4. Brian, I'm sorry if I came off negative in any way. I wasn't criticizing the comments from the readers on this blog. I guess I was carrying baggage from some recent frustrating conversations I have had on various social topics with my friends over social media. And the reason they became very frustrating for me, is because in the end, they ended up essentially telling me "that's what the church says, Hilary, so it doesn't matter what you think" and they continue on making judgments about my worthiness as a Mormon. That may speak more to the people I was talking to, rather than Mormon's as a whole, and I do believe that many Mormons think through their stances (and I often enjoy my discussions with them). It is just frustrating to me when I find myself talking to someone who hasn't thought through a topic with the thought that their long-held belief might be wrong. It is okay to come to a different conclusion than the church. But many Mormon's don't venture into that territory because, admittedly (and from experience), saying that you think the church is wrong on a subject and pursuing the topic with that as your basis, can lead to some very hard testimony-rocking questions/situations. But in the end, I was able to reconcile my differences and find joy in the gospel anyway. And I think even though my path has been rockier than some, it was worth it. I don't have to defend stances in the church that I'm uncomfortable with, and am still able to worship freely, which is something that is invaluable to me as a liberal Mormon.

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    5. And I know that the quote from Elder Uchtdorf might come to mind about "doubting your doubts before doubting your faith" and that has been very helpful in some instances for me; however, sometimes it has been equally important for me to think that they might be wrong about some things (this article has a few historical examples of just that https://medium.com/@ungewissen/missing-church-in-july-928e90931ee1) and then pursue your own thoughts/feelings/actions/testimony on the matter.

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  18. This is beautiful:


    "Vitriol stings the target. And it embitters the heart of its proponent. It permeates the collective dialogue and lands on every listening ear, from the guiltiest of the guilty to the most innocent of the innocent. And no one who is faced with it, be it the people on the fence trying to make up their minds to the children in our lives who don't yet know that their minds are supposed to be made up at some point, comes out of the encounter better off."

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  19. Well said Eli. Thank you.

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  20. How have you felt about the planned parenthood videos? I've been trying to understand why Kim Davis has elicited more of an emotional response than the deplorable acts against humanity that have been revealed about planned parenthood. Please share your thoughts.

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    1. It doesn't fit his agenda. Eli rarely comments on current events (most content is fictional fantasies about Eli's day-to-day), but when he does there is a theme.

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  21. Mr. Eli,
    I'm very glad there are people in the world like yourself. Those who are able to look past the surface of this clerk in Kentucky to see a person. A person who has hopes and has endured pains in life. I'm not one of those people. I've looked, but I can't find anything but hate and bigotry. And it makes me angry as hell.

    When I saw the look in her eyes as she turned people away, I saw my dad instead. My dad who, when I was like 10-11, said to my mom (when they didn't know I could hear) that I "didn't act right." I saw in that clerk's eyes my mother a few years later say off-handed that she "would disown one of her kids if they were gay." I also see myself at 19 years old in that clerk's eyes. The same disgusted look I saw in the mirror because I was too cowardly to swallow the pills and kill myself.

    So when I finally go up to that counter to get my own piece of paper from a clerk, the hope is that I don't see any of those ghosts. I'd much rather see someone like you there. Someone who can see that I am just a person. A person who has hopes and has endured pains in life. Someone that does not force me to adhere to laws of a god I don't believe in and that don't apply to me. Someone who just hands me a piece of paper and lets me live my life.

    So yeah, I can't see much else in that clerk other than hate and I'm quick to say it, usually not in the nicest of terms. And I'm unable to look deeper. I'm flawed and a bit broken. I accept and own that aspect of myself. That's why we need people like you, ones that hopefully outnumber people like me.

    Michael

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    1. Thanks, Mr. Michael. This is beautifully written and the sort of persuasive personal anecdote I referred to above.

      I don't think there's anything wrong with recognizing hate and bigotry and calling it what it is.

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    3. Be yourself Michael. That's the best thing you can do in this crazy world. Be yourself, and keep an open mind. Those thoughts are normal and we all have them. When it harms us is when we let those thoughts fester inside of us. Filling your cup with anger and hate will do you no good and will make you no better than the people that make you feel that way. If you are like me and you find that certain TV programs or Internet sites you're reading are filling you up with hate and anger, change the station or find a web page that will make you smile or laugh instead. People who tend to be negative are best to try and decrease the amount of negative things in our lives.

      I've dealt with depression in my past as well as thoughts of killing myself, so I'm going to give you some meditation advice and you can follow it or not (I'm bossy and opinionated and give advice whether people as me for it or not so...), it's up to you, but here's a quick thing that's helped me though much depression. Close your eyes and see yourself sitting by a river and the river is all of your thoughts flowing by. When you focus on the negative thoughts, acknowledge them, and send them on their way down the river. See them floating away until they're gone. Keep doing that with all of the negative thoughts that seem to be holding on to you. After a few days you will notice that some of the things that were really bothering you, are no longer an annoyance. Eventually, if you keep it up, you can even do it on the fly. Always think of yourself as only an observer of your thoughts rather than allowing yourself to imagine that your are part of what is going on in your thoughts.

      Be yourself. :)

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    4. Great comment! I especially like this part "Someone that does not force me to adhere to laws of a god I don't believe in and that don't apply to me. Someone who just hands me a piece of paper and lets me live my life."

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  23. Like Michael, I am also filled with hate and anger although for different reasons. I have been bullied throughout my life for one reason or another, for things that I am content with. I am who I am and I embrace it. But I am so frustrated and bewildered at all of the people who feel it's their right or their duty to inform me and others of our short-comings. I have flaws just like everyone else, but it's nobody's business but my own. I am a good person. I am kind-hearted. I am not malicious, nor do I hurt animals or children and I can find the silver lining in most situations. I am a GOOD person. I am not hurting anyone by being who I am, so just leave me to it and I'll leave you to yours. This is what is wrong with the world today - people feel they can bulldoze through anyone with no repercussions. Rant over. Eli, thank you for being a bigger person than I ever could, and for giving me something to aspire to.

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