Cup half full

I knew a young man, he was nineteen when I met him, paralyzed from the neck down, on a ventilator. He’d been shot through the neck. He was in his twenties when he died. He was a wonderful person, pure and simple. I met a young man a few years ago who’d suffered a brain injury in a car accident. During the accident he saw, and I mean, saw, two of his friends get decapitated. I know a woman who went out walking with her husband one winter day pulling their two little children on a sled behind them when a snowmobile driven by a drunk driver crashed into them.  When this woman came out of a coma she learned she was permanently paralyzed from the neck down – and that both her children had died in the accident.

What I’ve just shared with you here helps, I hope, to explain why I pretty quickly weary of those who live in rather than with their problems, Problems take center stage, at the exclusion of everything else. Hell, it seems to me if I kept the problems I face in life center stage, at the exclusion of everything else, I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing this piece and I’d be missing out on a lot of wonderful things in life. No more reading books. No more good conversations. Not more movies, music, healthy love, making love, kissing, laughing, learning, all because my problems in life, difficult as some may be, have more control of my life than they deserve too.

If a large majority of your life is wrapped up in talking about and bemoaning your problems, then those very problems are guilty of robbing you of some wonderful life experiences.

If I see a beautiful sunset, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to disengage from what I’m doing at the moment to take it in. It’s beautiful, one of life’s delicacies, I don’t want to miss it.

Don’t miss the sunsets.

***

In loving memory of N.E.

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A matter of allegiance

There is little I value more in someone than kindness. Few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness.

Kind is defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.” The definition is incomplete. Kind is also having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help yourself by being kind to yourself; wanting and liking to do good things and bring happiness to your life as well as to the lives of others.

I was in the sauna  at my local YMCA recently when I heard a conversation going on just outside the door. One person was offering a helpful suggestion to another person who’d been dealing with a painful condition for some time. Hearing the kindness and compassion in the voice of the one offering support coupled with the heartfelt emotional tones of appreciation in the voice of the one receiving the support brought me to tears. There are many things I love about life, moments like these are among my favorites.

Like you, I’ve witnessed acts of kindness and cruelty. Never too much of the former, always too much of the latter. As a writer I instinctively pay close attention to the world I live in. One component of that world is the interaction between people, their patterns of thought and emotion, the multitude of ways in which they interact with and treat each other, as well as the ways in which they interact with and treat themselves. It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with life absent a healthy relationship with self.  It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with self without an allegiance to honesty.

Now, if I told you I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my life my nose would respond with a vigorous Pinocchio response and make a sizeable hole in the monitor’s screen. So, I won’t lie to you. I won’t lie to you because, one, I am committed to living an honest life, and, two, I’m rather fond of my monitor.

It would be understandable if you’re wondering how an essay that starts off talking about kindness has somehow meandered its way to honesty and dishonesty. It’s done so because I believe when dishonesty is one of life’s underpinnings, acts of kindness are often self-serving, designed to make an impression or illicit a particular response. There are times apparent acts of kindness are rooted in unhealthy antecedents which, by their nature, are destructive. To the person offering the “kindness” and to the person receiving it.

This brings me back to allegiance. Is it healthy or misplaced? That’s the question.  For years dishonesty was an underpinning of my life because my allegiance was to alcohol and drugs. In short, to addiction. When anyone is caught in the addiction web – a web that can include addiction to food, work, sex, shopping, etc. – life becomes about protecting the addiction rather than protecting the life. A lifestyle like this leaves nothing  in its wake but carnage.  A carnage that includes the destruction of relationships, friendships, families, children, jobs, careers, education, hopes, dreams, and, life. I could name many – some of whom I loved and love still – who are dead because of  addiction. I know some today who will no doubt add to these numbers unless they shift allegiance from addiction to self.

Stepping out from behind the dishonesty mask is a scary. It is also the first step in reclaiming – or for the first time claiming – the right to one’s self. For me, the thought of reaching the end of my life still entrenched in the addiction web and hidden behind the dishonesty mask was far scarier – it also made me blisteringly angry. First, I would die without ever  fully living life as myself, and, second, those that wounded me would’ve had control of my choices right up to the moment of my death.  They don’t deserve that kind of power.

And then there is this: I know no kindness greater than saving a life, including one’s own. As I said, there is little I value more in someone than kindness and few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness, including those that are self-inflicted.

A lift from Walt Whitman

“Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.”

*

It was the first line in this excerpt from Walt Whitman’s SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD that helped me reconnect with what is true about me and about each and every one of us. Simply being who we are, the fact that we are here, is, in and of itself, good-fortune, and deserved good fortune at that. That we are alive is in itself what gives us value and makes us worthy of the seemingly endless joys and adventures life has to offer.  Life happens to us whether we like it or not so along with the joys and adventures there are, of course, the wounds. Life and Utopia are not synonyms. They never will be. Wisdom applied accurately precluded the wounds from defining us.

Like many others (I am not unique),  I’ve tended, at times, to experience the presence or absence of others in my life as indicators of my value, underpinnings of my purpose. I am, of course, wrong on both counts. For the most part I am very clear on this, but life, as I suspect you already know, wears us down at times, exhausts us, and, in doing so, we lose track of  some basic and pivotal tenants.  One of them being that each of us is our own good-fortune. Another is this, if one stays open and receptive to the all of life, there will be moments, experiences, discoveries, that will, you can be sure, lift you and remind you of the miracle that is you.  Mr. Whitman just did that for me with his words, perhaps he will do the same for you. If not, there is ample reason to believe something or someone will.

Keep the faith, never give up, the world is a far better place because you, good-fortune, are here.

Goodbye My Sponsor

Note to reader: The following was first published on May 25, 2011.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

Only moments after finishing a speech today I learn you died. For a moment air leaves my world and then, standing outside minutes later in the sun, I hear you saying, “Remember, Peter, the moment you’re in is the only place you have to be.” And the air returns and I thank the sun for being there.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

In our first days together you over and over again say keep your head where your feet are, stay in the moment. Over our first coffee together you tell me you want me to stop biting my nails. I am perplexed. Why? Because you’ll have to stay in the moment you’re in.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

Once just before a meeting I tell you I didn’t feel like coming. You smiled and said, “There are only two times you should come to a meeting, when you want to and when you don’t.” Being a typical alcoholic I say, “What if I’m not sure,”  and you smile at me with so much love and say, “I stand corrected, there are three times.”

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

Walking together to the parking lot after a meeting one evening you touch my arm and say, “Look up, Peter. Look over there.” And you are pointing at a white church steeple and the beautiful blue-black sky beyond sprinkled with stars. “Don’t miss it,” you say, and I didn’t.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

You teach me to look for my unhealthy patterns. You may not get free of them right away, but when you begin to notice them you’re breaking their grip. And remember, alcoholism is like a sleeping dragon, every once in awhile it will open it’s eyes to see if you’re paying attention to your sobriety.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

I am doing my best one day at a time and I am alive today so much because of you and yes I am present and accounted for in this moment, and you are here with me.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

for E. L.