Learning to embrace life.
It was a dark and dingy night. Rain wasn't falling hard, just a drizzle. The kind of mist that chills the skin down to the very marrow. My friends and I had driven down countless country back roads to come to this place. This long desolate driveway. The sound of the wipers broken only by the clicking of the signal as we turned in. No one spoke as we sat there silently and no one wanted to be the first to get out of the car. We knew this would be the final goodbye to our friend who just days before had taken his own life.
We all stepped out of the car and onto the cold wet gravel. The pressure of our feet against the decaying leaves kicking up the fresh scent of late autumn. I swear that was one of the longest walks I've ever taken. We walked up onto the porch, dimly lit with just one light. The paint on the slab boards of the house pealing from age and mildew growing on the planks of the small porch. It wasn't much to look at but in this moment it was a shrine. The place where a boy had laughed, cried when he skinned his knee, first found and first lost love. A place where life was. A place where life had left.
We were invited into the house. No real words were expressed, just the simple hallmark greetings that pass between people in pain. We all took up residence on the smoke stained couch, the chair, the floor. Where ever suited us best just like a hundred times before. She disappeared into the back room and came back with something in her hands. It was what we were there to see. As she held it in her hands, it was hard to believe that this was all that was left. Well, all that was meaningful in that moment. A ragged, old journal. It was stained here and there, pages torn out and missing to all of time. If he was older I'd say the stains were from wine that he had spilled across the page in a drunken rage while lamenting an old lover. But he wasn't older and it wasn't wine.
“What If” was scrawled across the first page. Through a haze of cigarette smoke and a glaze of tears we read deep into the night. These were the last words of our friend. The final musings of deepest and darkest pain written in such poetic beauty that any bard would be jealous.
I don't recall the specifics anymore, I wish I did. That opus which was left behind was a man crying out for help, seeing no path through his own hell. I also wish I had seen that for what it was at the time. Instead, in adolescent futility and superhero abundance I just saw it as poetic beauty.
We all have our “What ifs” though. Life is funny that way. Moments that pass by in opportunities not taken and mistaken paths trodden. They all create a word or a page in that book of ours. That can add up over time. The bulk of that book is likely filled with pages dedicated to those missed opportunities. Speaking from experience at least. Being 5 minutes too late to say goodbye to someone who passes away because I had to build up the courage to say goodbye only to miss that opportunity, not taking an opportunity to play with the kids and then finding one day that they're too old to hang. As we live longer those moments build up to amass volumes instead of just one youthful book.
I am not among the countless that call for hanging that book up and starting fresh. Well, maybe in a way I am. I do believe in fresh starts. But I also believe, as I have written before, that those volumes color our lives in the most beautiful ways and that, my friend is worth something. What I love most though, are plot twists.
What's better than watching a movie or reading a book and just when you've figured out the main character and know exactly how it's going to end, everything changes. The entire narrative goes a totally different direction than what you had expected and what looked to be doom and gloom turns out to be absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring. You know, the type of movie that doesn't just draw you in, it inspires you to take action. In literature that's called the Hero's Journey. It's basically Man vs. Man-as the character fights against everyone around him in a self absorbed war against humanity to Man vs. Nature as he begins to turn slightly inward and fights his own selfish human nature finally to Man vs. Self as the hero finally defeats those selfish desires and moves to help those people he once fought so hard against. In this scenario we watch our hero move from self-centric to other-centeric and this is celebrated as it awakens some force with us.
How does our hero do this? Simply by re-writing his own narrative and we can learn from this.
The hero always comes to a point when they are forced to own up. There is always a pivotal moment of sheer pain and torture-mental or physical. This causes a point of self reflection in which the hero takes a hard inward look and sees how selfish they have been. They are forced to own up to those times, to fight back against that instinct of self perseverance. Sometimes they see opportunities that were in front of them that seem so obvious in hind sight. The guilt begins to destroy the walls they've built up. As that part of them begins to figuratively die they do what any creature would do. They fight. Nothing wants to die, there is always a part of every living being that wants to live and it will fight. The same holds true of our baser natures. As we begin to own up to ourselves, that part will fight back. Only one of us can survive. And in the case of the hero, it is him. As the fight wanes the hero enters into the next phase.
Scarred and fatigued from the fight and the journey the burial begins. The old man is placed into the ground. Typically we see this as a long quiet journey home with a new look on the face of the hero. A stoic look of dogged determination. In our own lives that may look like forgiveness. We have learned many lessons, those lessons have taken their tole on us, left us scarred and tired. But as we journey back, into this plot twist, this new creation of ourselves there will be a new determination. We will strive to leave that part of ourselves buried in the ground. Although, not like others, no. We have not buried it while it lived. We got to know the enemy and fought bare knuckled into the night to overcome that part of ourselves and create ourselves anew. On the journey back we, our souls begin to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix reborn.
Upon returning to their homes they are changed. Older, wiser, carrying the heaviest of burdens on their crimson stained shoulders.
But it is here, at this point in the story line that the real story begins. The plot twist. The basest and villain has become good and gives back. Fights for others instead of against. Takes chances and opportunities. For he has learned to recreate himself. To pull himself up after the righteous fight.
Those “what ifs” become “I did”. Life becomes as we create and we create as we live. It is through the fight, not in spite of the fight that beauty is found and made to shine brighter. We need but to only embrace what is already there. Embrace it in a death grip finding the courage to find our own way and the hero inside of us all.