By Daniel Boscaljon
Image by Melissa D. Johnston
“my best for your worst” is the fourth letter in a series of posts called Letters to You written by Daniel Boscaljon with images by Melissa D. Johnston (from one of her ongoing projects). Letters to You began in July with “everytime i write i feel myself disintegrate.”
some words have power. Even though I’m sure you will not dispute this assertion, I nonetheless will provide you with an example. During 7th grade band, Maria looked at me and said: “You bring out the worst in everyone.” An arrangement of seven words–do you think that they could stand engraved in my memory if they had no power? At the time, I laughed off the words, thinking to myself that they were only tossed out in a sort of bored and half-hearted rage. As the words continued to haunt me, I continued to defend myself using a variety of different strategies: 1) she doesn’t know me well enough to be able to judge me! 2) she just hasn’t seen me with my friends, and, reduced to the context of band, was rendering a verdict as universally true despite being only locally valid. 3) she herself was just having a bad day and simply displaced other troubles and anxieties onto me. Over the years, I settled on one or another of these theories, seeking solace overall in the wisdom of friends happy to assure me that I produced a beneficent effect on others and made them to be better people. At the same time, the TRUTH of these words continued to haunt me beneath the comfort and I was unable to simply remove myself from them altogether. Over the years, systematically unable to ignore her words, it was time for me to reconsider the original statement. This I did. I discovered, perhaps, that it is true. I DO, indeed, bring out the worst in everyone. I brought out the worst in her that day, her anger and blind frenzied frustration. But not only her, or those who dislike me, or my students, or those indifferent: in all, I bring out the worst. I finally understood that I want to bring out the worst even in you. I succor it, slowly allowing you to open up to me, to trust me enough to give me even that. I want to know ALL of you, I want the gift of you unfiltered, uncensored. I want your bests–but your worst, too. I want to bring it out of you. The question I’m sure you’re asking is WHY I would do this. For you, it’s easy…although there are two possible answers:1) I see your worst and realize how truly amazing you are…for your worst is not so bad at all. 2) I take your worst, drawing it out from you, allowing you to offer it to me as a type of purgative: freed from your worst, you can truly be your best. With others, an additional motive comes into play: 3) I draw out the worst within them such that they can see themselves as who they are. In my youth, I would bring the worst out in people as a type of game. As I aged, I grew self-righteous and would serve as a judge but now, I simply allow people’s worst to be reflected. Judge for yourself! I offer only comfort, never judgment. I will take your worst, and then give a hug in return (if such physical proximity is not abhorrent). I will do my best to get your worst. I use what empathy has been granted to me to probe below surfaces, to see the dark linings under silver clouds. I want your smog and pollutions, your dark secrets and rotting skeletons: once they’ve seen the light, perhaps we both can be released. I will not judge. I will not be angry. I will do my best for your worst, my utmost for your lowest. Such is my lot, and here do I embrace it!
Daniel Boscaljon has Ph.D.s in Modern Religious Thought and 19th-century American Literature, both from the University of Iowa. His interest is in the fragility and liminality of human experiences. His first book, Vigilant Faith: Passionate Agnosticism in the Secular World will be published by the University of Virginia Press this August.