Taking Help – Part One
Will It Go Round In Circles
I wonder when my story began?
In a delivery room in St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, Massachusetts sometime early the morning of January 19, 1949? A Wednesday. That’s the easiest answer. Or was it the winter-turning-into-fall of 1969 when my outlook on life – perhaps stance is a better noun — underwent a sea change that found me moving from carrying an elect Richard Nixon sign on a Hyannis rotary to finding real fault with a college President’s decision to cut funding for the student newspaper and being the first one to take a seat on the floor outside his office — for three days? Then how can I not lean directly, completely into the somewhat la-de-da decision made one warm Saturday morning in June of 2008, something like me saying aloud on the Cape Cod Rail trail to no one but myself, “I think I’ll move to Portland.” A decision carried out first three, then more completely six months later, a Match.com rendezvous with the woman now my wife, her encouragements and teases and late-night whispers to go ahead and try something new, a hated job and a long-distance friend’s phone call reminding me that “abundance is everywhere – abundance rules.” Was that when?
There is the accidental pregnancy in Florida, two amazing sons, a third baby lost between the two, that tiny life loss arranging this life-affirming generosity, a generosity born of magic — the cost of cremation $375, a bank account of zero, a four-day leave of absence from the New England Home For Little Wanderers, my stopping in un-announced and unexpectedly late in December of 1989 to make an appearance at the kids’ annual Christmas party, my boss taking me aside and handing me a plain white envelope, explaining it wasn’t much but the staff wanted to help out, and when I opened the envelope later found exactly $375. To the dollar. Did I become someone else that day? Changed by coincidence, something greater? The person handing me that envelope, such a kind soul, one of my subscribers here today. Reading this now.
In the spring of 2008 I was living in a winter rental in North Truro on Cape Cod with my son Spenser. I was for a year the Director of Housing for the Aids Support Group of Cape Cod in Provincetown and he was a freshman at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham. With his Down Syndrome. One Saturday afternoon in March, rainy and cold, I left Spenser home alone for an hour or so and drove over to the North Truro public library. I found myself, after a while, in the basement strolling through stacks of books, laying my fingers across their spines here and there, every so often lifting one out from its cousins and putting it back. One of those books pulled from the pile was “Wherever You Go There You Are” written by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn. Thumbing through I saw lots of quotes from Thoreau and others of like mind and took the book out. A week or so later I sat for 10 minutes on a ten-dollar used swivel back chair I’d bought years before at a thrift shop in Lowell – my first formal attempt at meditation. That was a couple of weeks before the 25th anniversary of my last drink and drug, and I have been sitting every morning ever since. Was that the beginning?
Through books purchased, borrowed, and gifted over those years I came to study and learn a thing or two about Zen and Buddhism and all that eastern stuff, and in readings have come often upon the concept of suffering. And thought about suffering, and often my own. Through the years. Here’s a smidge – There is this vision – I am in the seventh grade, maybe the eighth, and there is a high school basketball game in the gym just up the road from our house. My friends will be there, it’s what you do, and my intention is to go. But I find myself on my bed, the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” on the radio (or was it a record player) the words “to lock out all my worries and my fears” just a little too close. On the bed, not fitting in, not being comfortable. Going to the game eventually, late, alone. Just one night. So many nights. Was I those nights?
There are what are called the “Four Noble Truths” in Buddhism, as taught by the Buddha, and the cliff notes version goes like this – life is suffering and there is a path out of suffering. Maybe I became what I am today when I began to sit with the four noble truths. Or maybe it was 26 or 27 years earlier, 1983, on an April afternoon running seemingly endlessly around and around a high school track in Stoneham, a few miles north of Boston, saying aloud upon completion of the 14th lap to no one but me — “I’m an alcoholic.” Maybe the path out of suffering was a circle. A circular beginning.
I wonder when my story – my today story – began?
The title of this post is ‘Taking Help’ and I meant for it to be something entirely different before I began typing. Wildly different. In fact another post, coming in a couple of days but written before this one, is closer to the original intention, something about the process of accepting help – the whole process including the decision to ask for help. Hell, even the awareness that you need the help. Thoreau says one of the kindest things a human can do is to allow another to be part of their journey – asking for and accepting another’s help. I wonder if that rings true if you ask a fee for your help you offer. It’s a question I’m pondering.
Seemingly different animals, this post and the two to follow are bound together like electrons around a nucleus, through experience and daydream, by personal geography and DNA, the result of la vida loca.
How you like me so far?