John Boston | Setting Fire to Our Own Personal Heaven

John Boston
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I have a friend who years ago asked a question of the ages: “What if you just want to be — Mad?” My gal pal is so enthusiastic about life. It’s quite infectious. She was, and is, completely lovable, filled with mischief, wonder, questions. Lifelong friends, we each had our partners. Both of us ended up in the same class on relationships.

I know. I know.

A relationship symposium? Those who know me are sporting droll, cheesy grins. Pause a beat. Ask: “So. Did you get a refund?”

A poison, sometimes fatal, to a partnership is anger. I still applaud my friend for her courage. Wearing a happy face to the world, inside, she writhed in turmoil. Her confession? Deep down, she enjoyed Mad. Writhed in it. Mad is not close to many of us. It’s embedded. Warm. Familiar. Smarmy. Comfortable. Our identity.

To all of us? Mad is — justified

After all. Hadn’t she been wronged? Ignored? Treated with indifference and even cruelty? Haven’t we all?

“What if you just want to be – Mad?”

It’s not a question with a happy answer at the end.

Mad diligently erodes our soul. Turns our blood, our speech, the facial expressions our children later mimic, to vinegar. Mad blurs our vision. We see enemies when there are none. Like Dr. Frankenstein, we build our own, personal monster. What started as invisible and weightless — a thought — ends up huge and terrible, fists clenched, breathing in our face. The last thing we see? Over and over? 

Our own, daily, murder.

Something strange hovers in America’s air. It’s almost devilishly poetic, with the surrounding fires. We can survive to our end of days being Mad. We blow up. Sometimes, apologize. We meander through schedules until the next event takes us to the boiling point. And those are the lucky ones. The ones who vent don’t swallow and store impositions. We smarter ones learn to shove down feelings and quietly dine on our own entrails. Ignoring of the person we should love the most — ourselves — is a growth industry. It’s a multi-billion-dollar economic engine. Laxatives. Lawyers. Therapists. Aspirin. Drugs. Alcohol. Food. Even noble exercise.

“What if you just want to be — Mad?”

There’s hope. Granted. It’s a black hope. You won’t — stay — Mad. Mad evolves. It grows to Hate.

Look around. The country. Our own community. Outwardly? Secretly? Many can’t even see that lower-case god that somehow became capitalized. Mad? That was 12 train stations ago. Mad becomes Hate and smarmy, creepy crawly, whispering, screaming creatures ooze from its pours in the form of our curses.

It’s America. Someone with a distorted face is screaming, calling someone they don’t know a fascist or some noun with a satisfying “ist” hiss on the end. At the other end of the political spectrum, people — my conservative people — over and over, gleefully play back the video of the rioting anarchist whose feet caught on fire as he attempted to juggle a Molotov cocktail he concocted.

I still giggle.

The Guy. Got. What he. Deserved… 

Superior me.

I used to teach a Santa Clarita Valley history class. Some 50 semesters, I started the first class the exact same way. Marching to the board I wrote: “A man can live three days without water, three weeks without food, and 20 minutes without a justification.”

“What if you just want to be — Mad?”

There’s a place after Hate. It’s called War. War can be between husband and wife, neighbors, people with the wrong kind of political sign anchored on their own lawn. You tear down a statue. Show up armed at a rally not even thinking through: Am I really going to end someone’s life today with this gun? Hard to believe, there is something worse than War. It’s called Annihilation. Of others, first, then yourself.

All the while, the devil smiles, hands us one of his favorite kitchen utensils, the justification. I remember the teacher from that relationship class. She had a great line, delivered with the toothiest of grins: “The devil doesn’t care what you’re upset about —just that you’re upset.”

I wonder. Is War is coming? It’s hard to tell. It’s not like tracking a package from UPS or checking radar for the next tropical depression. But self-righteous fists are pounding the air. Posters with idiotic bumper sticker slogans are hastily drawn. Lasers shine to blind eyes. Buildings burn. Police murdered. Behind each badge was someone’s baby, lovingly held.


Mad can’t be rationalized, explained away. A symptom? It causes blindness. It’s the rare angry person who can, in the moment, gain control of himself. Stop. Breathe. Count to 10. Reach out and call a wise friend. Somewhere down the line, apologize, make amends.

Can’t do that if you’re nuts.

Healthy or wicked, Mad must be expressed. A scold. A shaming. A “You should” or “You never.” A yell. A punch in the face. A beating. A bullet. It begins with Satan’s electron, one lousy, sorry, shameful justification.

Since I’ve been a kid, I’ve always thought America was a wonderful place to live. I was not just fortunate but giddy to spend my days, share my home and life with people of different skin colors, mind sets, occupations, stories, dreams. America to me was heaven on Earth. A sanctuary. My home. My beautiful home. Problems? Always. Dirty laundry? Yup. Some of it rather entertaining. But there used to be that spiritual foundation we shared, a series of guiding principles and blueprints for solutions to which we could always return. A safe harbor.

“What happens if you just want to be — Mad?”

We all grow weary, walking back into an insane house.

And then, after a while, after all the yelling and fighting, posturing and revenge, the hitting and name-calling, you realize.

You have no home to go home to. 

John Boston is a local writer.

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