Looking back now, I understand more about the human spirit, about family, and about myself. But four years ago all I could only think of two things - surviving, and how grateful I was for another day on Earth.
Four years ago on this day I had my first real meal in weeks. It was greasy and lacked flavor, but it filled my belly. But more importantly it took a huge weight off my mind, because for months I had wondered how to get to sleep at night with a very empty stomach. When I lay down that night I knew hunger was one item off my list and I could concentrate on other things. But more importantly now, I think, I learned a lot.
In the months before I had access to food again, things happened to me that I chalked up to my string of bad luck. Weeks went by as I emptied out my pantry. I would look at a quart jar of beans someone had canned for me 10 years before and think, 'Ten years? Is it safe to eat that?', but I had no choice. I could make a quart jar of beans last two days. I'm no longer ashamed to say this, but I found boxes of mac and cheese a few years old which of course had bugs in them. I picked out the bugs and ate it. I would sleep a lot during the day so that I could hold off eating until almost bed time, so as not to go to bed on an empty stomach. I learned fear and forlorn were as formidable an enemy as hunger.
Once I asked someone if they could buy me some flour and lard. They did, but I learned the feeling I got from asking for help, and seeing a condescending look on someone's face tore my insides worse than hunger. My neighbors had an apple tree, and most of the apples went to waste after rolling down the hill into a ditch where our properties met. After dark, I gathered as many apples as I could and would bake pies - one pie, four slices, four days of food. I remember looking forward to those meals. I remember looking in the refrigerator and thinking, 'If I can just be hungry a few more hours, I get a slice of pie!'.
The most important lesson I learned back then was that it takes an extraordinary amount of courage and humility to ask for help. Once my aunt and uncle were in town. I was very proud of them, as they had retired and were living in a luxurious RV, traveling across the USA doing charity work in affiliation with their church. They offered to take me to lunch at a buffet and I fasted a couple days beforehand. I was not the least embarrassed at the trips I made to the buffet! It was nice to get to talk to them, too. As we ate and talked, I thought about how to ask them for help. Surely $50 would not be too much to ask for. As we walked to their car I summoned more courage than I ever knew I had and asked, "Hey, I have...absolutely no food in the house. At all. Could you guys maybe loan me $20 so I could get maybe some hamburger and buns or..." Yeah, I decided $20 would go over better than $50. This is when I learned the most important lesson of my entire life. I learned exactly what it takes to ask a question like that, how need has to exceed incredible embarrassment, and how long it takes to get that lump out of your throat.
They both in unison shook their heads in a kind of disgust, "No, no sorry. No...no!"
I wanted to choke them. Not for the money, but I wanted to scream, "A simple NO and a smile would have worked just fine! And if wanted to humiliate me with that look, mission accomplished, you bible-banging hypocrites!" But I am thankful that I was reminded that most people are charitable as long as they have a big enough audience, and how organized religion is an incredible farce for most people.
By the way, I spoke with them a couple weeks ago, almost four years later. I was pleasant with them and sat there smiling as I felt cash in my pocket. I thought of how nice it would have been, for all of us, if I had been able to pull $30 out of my pocket, given it to them and say, "Here's that money I borrowed 4 years ago, plus interest. You will never know how much it meant!"
I can't tell you how many nights back in that summer of 2008 my stomach hurt from hunger, how many nights I cried myself to sleep or did not sleep from self pity. All I can tell you is I did grow stronger, and the lessons I learned will serve me for the rest of my life.
Most people think of love as a concept – an intangible element that we spend our lives searching for, grasping like grains of sand but rarely holding tightly enough to fully experience. Some people even believe it’s a myth – a poor attempt to place a label on excuses for human inadequacies.
I say love is something you can see, almost everywhere, once you put reason in the trunk and allow whimsical to ride shotgun. It’s physical and metaphorical, apparent and incalculable, subtle yet smothering. Right now, where you sit, look and you’ll see it.
Love is the sweat dripping from a father’s forehead as he tightens the chain on his daughter’s bike. It’s the tension in the muscles of a hand holding a pick over the strings of Stratocaster illuminated by flood lights and vibrating from twenty thousand screams. It is the water drawn 300 feet in the air by a redwood tree.
Love is the smacking sound of an old man’s lips as he sips his morning coffee and the smile on an old woman’s face as she takes the compliment. It is a teacher rubbing her eyes so they will function after midnight as she grades her student’s work, the record sprint of a child from the bus to the lap of her mom, the tightness of the hug between the two, and the electromagnetic force behind the piece of rubber holding the paper with a big red “A+” on it to the refrigerator.
Love lives at that exact point at which an artist’s brush makes contact with the canvas. It jumps off a puppy’s wet nose, goes through a child’s face into his blood, and straight to his heart, and love softens the rough handle of a shovel when the family pet is buried. Love pushes the atmosphere out of the way of sound waves created by every blues song, and feeds off the embrace of couples on the dance floor.
Love follows tears down faces that cry and follows the edge of the moth up faces that laugh. It follows wave to the beach and sunsets out to sea. It is the stitching that holds together the quilt your grandmother made that lays folded on the back of the chair in the corner, and the neck tie from your son in your closet that doesn’t match anything.
Love tugs at the hands of people in hospital waiting rooms and makes the slides on playgrounds slicker. It is the thing that brings people to your house unannounced. It is a losing player offering a handshake to the winner after a football game and scabs on his arms and legs when he tries harder the next week. Love has never gone to war but has never left the side those affected by it.
Love is that is those things, and love is the feeling over your entire body at the exact moment you realize that all is this is true.
All my life I have been circling this big old house. Every once in a while I will find a window and get to see inside. My family and friends are in there, as well as strangers, people I have known and forgot about, people I remember passing on the street, everyone. I guess I seen just about everyone in there at one time. I look in the windows and they are all doing something I want to do. They're talking, laughing, and maybe the most important they are listening. To each other at least. I keep moving from window to window, thinking, "Man! I would love to get inside there!" but all the windows are locked. Sometimes the glass is open to a screen, and they can hear me, but never really acknowledge me. And so I move on to the next window. I have no idea what makes me think I will ever get inside, but I keep circling that house and looking inside, wishing I could get in, until there are days that I am so tired I collapse.
I'll look in one window and see my family celebrating something, and I'll try to get in until my hands are bloodied, and I'll think that's the worst pain and move on. I'll find another window and see my friends doing something I enjoy and feel the same way. I'm not really sure which window hurts me the worst, or which is locked the tightest. Maybe because I've looked for so long. But I am not stupid enough to believe I can do this forever.
"Thus I began my new life, in a new name, and with everything new about me. I felt like one in a dream. The remembrance of that life is fraught with so much want of hope. Whether it lasted for a year, or more, or less, I do not know. I only know that it was, and ceased to be; and there I leave it."
I want to beat this issue once again, for my own sanity and for my friends who I care about. Two questions...
1. Did you see my blog about the death of my nephew?
2. PLEASE Have you talked to the young people in your life?
A week after my nephew was killed a kid in FL was killed the same way, which makes me wish I would have hit this thing harder. Last night, like every day, I had to drive my car along that stretch of tracks where Andrew was killed. I always live that scene vividly in my mind. Then I was driving on a four lane near a Walmart and a kid with a bag of groceries all dressed in black was running through the traffic against the light. I slowed way down and when I got close to him, YEAH, he had a wire coming out of his hoodie. You can imagine how mad I was.
Don't be affraid of making some kid mad by telling them to take those damn earbuds out of their ears while walking in dangerous areas. And keep educating people about this. It's not gotten any easier for me or my family. We cry every day and think about it every minute. Please help prevent other people from going through this.