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?
I always thought you were cool and funny. Fun to be with when listening to records or watching TV or whatever was going on.
I enjoy reading your writings.
Buddy. Amazing post. Such a great concept, to revisit all the points where we potentially “started.” I liked Keith’s poetic response as well. Your writing has gotten so clear and focused, even when you’re allowing yourself to follow those tangential trails. Nice work.
Thanks for the kind words Gavin. I cannot travel back to many points in my life where i was considered “clear and focused”. I’ll take it.
I read this early this morning, while I was waiting for the sun to come up so we could get in our bike ride before the heat. I often have a song or two running through my head while I ride. You placed one in there today. While I rode I contemplated when my life took a 180 degree turn for the better. By the end of twenty miles, I knew when it was that I was so low and miserable I knew I needed to ask for help; when I knew there had to be another way. I had had a series of bad relationships. The one I was in sure had potential but again, I was trying to change someone and felt if I just loved him enough he surely would change. Instead, trying to control someone else’s behavior was making me a very unhappy person. There I was on a Cape Cod beach feeling again like I was a victim and feeling stuck. I was yelling at the waves that I didn’t need him; that I didn’t need anyone when in fact I knew I needed a connection to someone who understood my situation more than anything else. Some changes are life changing. None of us have to go through tough times alone. Taking that fiirst step to ask for help was a game changer for me. I truly believe that life is all about helping one another.
That is a powerful story Brenda and I am grateful you felt encouraged enough by my somewhat meandering post to share it. It is what I hoped from the beginning would happen around and within Couch Surfing at 70. Having followed you closely these last number of years I can see that things worked in your life for the best. I don’t think everyone gets to say that, though I have come to believe that change is possible. Part Two of this post moves more directly into that place – change is possible and help is available — even if the next part is maybe a tad over the top. I’m hoping for some useful conclusions when we arrive at the end of Part Three. Thanks again for taking the time to show up and share.
Your blog title is very much misleading. Stepping in here I expected to find the stories of voyages across the globe camping on some strangers couch.
Instead, I find myself plunged into a very touching and emotionally poignant web of stories. You bring to life, through beautiful penmanship, the story of a lifetime of trials and adventures. You have led a very full life, a life well-worth recounting and your story-telling makes it well-worth reading!
Thank you so much Matti. Really appreciate the comment. And the kind words. Like the post says, Part Two, somewhat gnarly for sure, is closer to the intention the title provides. I have a feeling Part Three, unwritten yet, will get pretty much all the way there.
Anyone else reading this, Matti is a young writer and excellent photographer in San Francisco and I have had the great pleasure of making his acquaintance by becoming one of his Patreon supporters. I suggest checking his work out, maybe joining the support team.
Sounds like you are pleased with your choices and what you’ve become because of them. I hear contentment throughout. Nice.
Thanks Dave, for reading and taking the time to comment. I’d say I am happier now than I’ve ever been before and that is part of this post and the two connected to follow. The question of “Help” is what concerns me now, these posts are kind of thinking out loud.
Well !!! Truth is,Mom always liked Buddy best ….just ask my sister.
Well. Kick a man week. I get it. It’s cool. I dig it.
like ya very much so…
found Jon Kabat-Zinn on the Geriatric Physc ward, mom ( shes a therapist) brought me the book.
Alcoholism, I believe for me, Fear in its 100 forms- producing self delusion Self centered self will run riot, is just a manifestation of prolonged trauma that kicks off the genetic marker which in us all
“war fever ran high” ( WW1 greatest trauma know to man kind to date the first words in Bill’s story- co founder-rock star- vessel for the transmission of the movement du jour
Nowadays the world is trauma.com#/ all the time everywhere you look!…
JKZ is a product of the Jack Kornfield people…mindfulness meditators…recovery is about being mindful…not out of
ones mind hahahaha
Which a constant diet of Trauma and fear create insanity…
Like ya very Much Mr Cushman!
Actually love you!
Here’s today’s Poetic transmission
I am aligned
with the source
The Great way…
guide provide protect
As I walk –
Of the revolution
What’s the solution?
Are you so lost
that your the boss
blot it out
at any cost
Run from the pain
Till Broken & lame
In the LA streets
you dance insane
“Hills on fire”
Just like your brain
I can relate
Once filled with hate
Self interference until of late
I do not balk or hesitate
to bring it loud and clear
But live eternal
In this infernal
to the hope
it’s 332 A.M. PST
the owls just arrived on set!
Don’t give up
My wildest dream with and for this Blog – Couch Surfing at 70 – was to write words somehow engaging enough to draw out, illicit some quality of emotional response from anyone kind enough to read each post. This, your comment Keith, is another example of a dream come true, for which I am so humbled and grateful, and beyond that fulfillment, it’s also an absolutely amazing piece of writing, for me doing what I want to do for others — lifting up my life energies, drawing something more, hopefully something better, from within. And then we get to the poem. Un-fucking believable that you cranked this out, like, on demand. I’ll do my best to get others to take a look at what you’ve written here, anyone will be the better for it. Many thanks, and I have a thought about a place I will hope to take this poem — more to follow.
Reaffirms my belief that throughout our life, we are faced with pre-ordained paths. Our free will is that we get to choose which path at that point in our life we will choose. If it’s the “right” pre-ordained path, we go on to door #2. If it’s the wrong one, eventually some mystical “correction” occurs-almost like a do over, to get us back on the path to door #2. And so on through our life’s journey. Looking back, it’s always amazing to try and figure out events, More often than not, it’s “what the hell was I thinking?” and more often than not, the answer was “you weren’t”. And now older, I’m amazed at how f*cking smart I’ve become…
Butch – you continue to show up and let my words take you to other places and times and then write so eloquently about what those little journeys have to say. Going through doors, limited in number, is something I think about often. Making decisions, the best I can, the best we can at the time – whenever that time is. We’ve been pals for more than 60 years. Talking about time. Pretty cool. Thanks so much.
Love you, kiddo. Always have.
goes way back to going to Sunday school in the “Stone”Church basement. There’s an irony there somewhere. Things I never knew. You were always a master at hiding any awkwardness or insecurity. I always thought you were cool as hell. Strange to think of you running around a track in Stoneham , when in 73 I was living in Winchester – taking the train back and forth to work at BU. Many a night I’d get wasted at the bar in North Station( I think it was the Brass Rail) and keep missing trains. I’m so glad that after a year or so I was able to see I was “de-railing” and luckily escaped from Winchester and the booze.
I’m so glad you’re able to write. You truly have a gift. BU taught me how not to write, and it worked.
Just wanted you to know that I’m reading and enjoying all of these revelations and look forward to the next installment .
Thank you for this comment Pat, and the blasts from the past. I’ve felt for a long time we were pretty lucky to have grown up where we did. And when. Not sure what the curriculum on Comm Ave had it mind for you, because you were the best writer I knew back in the day. I think my dad would have said the same thing. By the way, I caught a big dose of my sobriety in Winchester on Tuesday nights over a bunch of years. Yup Walt, it’s a small world after all. Thanks again, and so glad you are along for the ride. Pssst – the “next installment” may be a little off the rails as well.