In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch memorably says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
As profound as Atticus makes this sound, when we stop to consider the people around us, we often feel like we’re surrounded by lunatics and screw-ups. We find people we don’t understand, and a whole lot of people who don’t understand us. We wish everyone could climb out of their lunacy and their mess and reach us on our own level. It’s the level of trying to make sense of life, working to improve ourselves, and of being better than all the crazy folks out there.
My husband and I recently sat down to watch the newly released Silver Linings Playbook (a 2012 film by The Weinstein Co. based on the novel by Matthew Quick). It claims to be a romance and a comedy, but it’s more than that. It is comedy in the midst of lunacy. It is romance because of lunacy. It is the story of two people who are quite literally crazy by most people’s standards—one has had a mental breakdown after her husband’s death, resulting in extreme sexual behavior, and the other has just finished his court ordered time in a mental institution after brutally attacking his wife’s lover. He’s learned that he’s bi-polar.
So there they are, two unstable people in an unstable world trying to make a go at life. Pat’s way, though, is entirely focused on seeing the silver linings and working to improve himself, all in the hopes that his cheating ex-wife will take him back. He says, “Nikki’s waiting for me to get in shape and get my life back together. Then we’re going to be together.” He’s working for a love contingent on him having his life together, and the problem is that there’s still not a whole lot put together about him. As Pat screams at his parents about Ernest Hemingway in the middle of the night, tears furiously through the house looking for his wedding video, also in the middle of the night, completely ignores his restraining order, and ends up in a full-on fight with his dad, you sit there and you know—you know, because it’s you, that despite all our best efforts at self-improvement, we still end up right back where we began.
That’s why Pat needs Tiffany. She’s young, brash, and off-her rocker. And she meets Pat where he is, in his crazy, broken, screwed-up mess. Pat’s fascinated by her problems, but doesn’t know what to do with her. When he looks at her, she’s worse off than he is. He’s getting his act together, but she’s a stalking lunatic. He can’t see himself in her. Pat tells her, “You have poor social skills. You have a problem.” And Tiffany replies, “I have a problem? You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things.”
As he resists their commonalities, he pushes away his chance to be understood, perhaps even to be loved. Tiffany is the one person who’s come to meet him where he’s at and he can’t see it. He’s horrified when she tells him he’s sort of like her. “Sort of like YOU? I hope to GOD she didn’t tell Nikki that!” “Why?” “Because! It’s just not right, lumping you and I together, its…. I mean it’s wrong and Nikki wouldn’t like that. Especially after all the shit you just told me.” You can see it dawn on Tiffany and she finally gets it. “You think that I’m crazier than you….You know what? Forget I offered to help you. Forget the entire f***ing idea. Because that must have been f***ing crazy, because I’m so much crazier than you! I’m just the crazy slut with a dead husband!”
Pat doesn’t know how to deal with himself. He wants to move past his crazy, to forget it, to be better. He doesn’t know how to accept it and he definitely doesn’t know how to be loved where he’s at. “You’re crazy!,” Pat tells Tiffany. “I’m not the one who just got out of that hospital in Baltimore.” “And I’m not the big slut!… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.” And Tiffany gets to the heart of the matter. “I was a big slut, but I’m not any more. There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself. Can you say the same about yourself f***er? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?”
And there stands Pat, in the midst of trying to fix himself up so his wife will take him back again, and he doesn’t have any idea how to love the lunatic in front of him because he can’t admit that he might still be there, in the midst of madness, with a dose of crazy. Maybe, “there’s always going to be a part of [him] that’s sloppy and dirty.” Maybe he doesn’t have things together and he’s still screwing up and he’s not totally in control of himself or his marriage. Maybe he’s just as crazy and hurting as the person in front of him.
It’s not until Pat realizes he needs to be met, in his weak and uncontrollable state, that he’s able to give and accept love. He tells Tiffany, “The only way you could beat my crazy was by doing something crazy yourself.” In this we see ourselves—we who are crazy trying to ignore our crazy and busy trying to earn love. We don’t realize that to be human is to need to know we’re loved no matter what, to have love meet us and accept us in our lunacy.
Mark Twain wrote, “Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to each other…” (Christian Science, 1907). The key to climbing into another’s skin is first seeing yourself in them—recognizing that their insanity is your insanity, and knowing that none of us have things put together. When we know that we need to be met, we are also able to meet others, to climb into their skins.
While it seems like craziness to admit to craziness, it is freedom. In knowing that we are weak and needy, we release ourselves. We stop trying to earn love and we become ok with the wild insane kind of love that comes to us, and maybe, we give some of it. We are the Pats of this world, and God only knows we need some crazy to beat ours.