“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it under its roof.”Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
To say that writing this post/essay/rant has been a difficult, torturous journey would be an understatement of vast proportions; in my inimitable great timing, I decided at long last a month or so ago to to start a blog.
During a pandemic.
Shortly after my first few volleys landed somewhere around Neville Island, the country, and later, the world, erupted into violent, vibrant and vast sites of protest concerning the horrifying murder of George Floyd and countless other black Americans, brown Americans, Indigenous People, Hispanics, etc.,. This Tip of the Spear for long overdue Justice, Truth and Equality rightly captivated the entire world. Many of my friends protested, marching, cheering, making signs, writing letters, signing petitions, making phone calls, donating funds for bailout organizations and on and on.
Desperately trying just to make sense of all of this, and to figure out what I personally could do in this moment brought me back to this column. Health concerns prohibit me from a more physical and active role. But I can write. Will this possibly compare to most of the professional commentators, professors, media personalities and the first-hand testimonials of those who have suffered, are suffering, and are fighting, still grieving, freshly earned pain and righteousness coursing through their collective veins, powering their mighty voices into anthems, demands and Truth?
No, I couldn’t compete – or even try to, by confusing my offering towards those. Furthermore, I had been struggling also with how to pare down this topic, to find my niche, or approach – to go small because the overall subject was too daunting, required too much, maybe all that I had, gladly would I lose, just to make a mark, yet I found the sliver of light that I could lay claim to, and from there, I dared to flesh out this concept, the least Dan McCaffrey/Asthma Dan/Sir subject ANY OF YOU – in person, or online – could or would ever expect from me, or to even associate me with such a thing.
Ladies, gentlemen, fur babies, Ghosts, figments of my imagination and the world at large, I give you HOPE.
For all but the last 2 years of my life, I have lived life on the outside of everything. In my family, I had three sisters, no brothers, and they were all older than me. My male cousins lived too far away to see them often. I was also quite often sick as a child with severe Asthma & Allergies. I missed out on lots of things, from playing with my friends, to Tee-Ball/Little League Games and school. I learned to catch up when I made it back in to said game or class, but it took a lot out of me to do so. I never formed the early bonds that lasted with any group.
In school, I never fit in – I played sports, but not very well; I got good grades, when I was there, or cared, but not consistently; I was never part of any “popular” clique and I was never quite as cool as I hoped to be. I was a Bad Kid in general, which in retrospect looms large, acting up for attention, or reacting poorly to other stimuli.
I did learn by the time I (cough cough) left Central Catholic High School that I was at least skilled enough to move throughout all of these groups, and even more, because I could make people laugh, or be bold and decisive. I learned very early on that people, not just kids, bored easily and entertaining them or getting their attention felt not only good, but rewarded the entertainer with a certain measure of control. I also learned that my immediate and automatic willingness to defend my friends, to stand up for them, rallied people. “What should we do, Dan?” Became such a part of wherever I was, that I realized I had some budding leadership skills. Still, although I could hold the room’s attention, or command it, I could also clear it immediately with such behavior, as a dear friend said about me many years later.
Still, these skills didn’t bring me in, so to speak. I was still on the outside.
Going through the rest of my life, these truths and patterns remained. I sought out jobs and positions where I could be in control of my environment, as much as I could, and personally I became a social butterfly, with more friends than I can count in more bars, restaurants, nightclubs and shops than I could ever fully recall. Most nights were a party of some sort, bar-hopping and visiting people either on my own, or with my girlfriend or friends. I was “On” all the time. I felt good. I was comfortable, and the booze rounded off the edges of self-doubt and partially obscured that I wasn’t really a good fit.
But all of this takes energy, it takes integrity, it takes purity of purpose and it takes a laser-like focus to remain in control – at work – and focused on the Right Things, the proper functioning of the business first and foremost, the success, development and (if possible) the promotion and/or mentorship to staffers the driving force for me. Firstly, for their immediate benefit and gain, then the business, and then anything that remained for me. My success, or happiness, came from overseeing all of it. I didn’t care what credit I received.
Inverting that order at any point in the process, quickly corrupts said process and poisons the relationship. It only takes one mistake. So being separate as the boss is one thing, then being even more separate when you make a serious mistake or YOUR boss makes a similar mistake – these transgressions push you further and further towards the edge, away from The Center.
Now, I’m certainly not talking about Mainstream thought or Moderation. I am referring to the safety of clustering around other individuals who are pushing towards the Center themselves, which is really just a way of going forward – from wherever you start on the board. What’s in the Middle?
Whatever you want it to be. But staying on this track takes time, perseverance, thick skin, drive and Belief. Belief – in whatever you need to hold on to your vision – leads you to Hope. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not: Whatever you need to believe in, first requires hope that it can be achieved. I am not describing Faith, or anything religious – although that may be what you hope for, to believe in that – but I am talking about the journey. The journey is where we find ourselves, where our role is made manifest not to anyone else, but to ourselves. There are no statues, icons, rites, songs, books or practices involved. This is not dependent on others (but later, they will) or becoming part of something larger; rather, it is simply what you already have.
Put simply, one either wants to live, or one doesn’t. You aren’t down? Fine, here’s the rope. I’ll pull your chair out for you, if you’d like. You want to stick around? The Why and How are up to you. But I will be there when and if you want help. This is part of the chain – realizing it starts with submission towards Hope – and that extension, that asking for assistance, is crucial.
As I said earlier, I never fully fit in everywhere, and for decades, that seemed to serve me well. I was able to get out of situations sometimes before they became too crazy or harmful. I only got pulled in occasionally but I could always retreat back away from the mass forming at the Center and go back towards the rim. It was quiet there, and cold. Lots of space. Easy to get lost. But I tried to stay somewhere near enough the Center to know what’s going on, without risking anything.
The truth of the matter is, it was too hard to keep working towards the Center with so little energy, or fuel. I had no belief. I was sure the journey was pointless, that I would be set upon by some marauders, the victim of some calamity, or simply, well, drop dead. I was fine with this. This absence of belief was due to simply not caring. Nothing propelled me towards more uncertain work, with an uncertain payoff – if I was lucky.
What I learned to live on, to BELIEVE IN, during those times, was, more or less, myself. While consciously and unconsciously separating myself from my co-workers, the various companies I worked for, and even the friends and acquaintances from those jobs, I lost the connections, the threads that kept me from breaking away completely. See, by now, my own Doom & Gloom perspective – “EVERYTHING SUCKS!” – fueled nearly 24/7 from alcohol (drinking, recovery, planning to drink) was permeating my entire life. The girlfriend had enough, and threw me away. The opportunities along the way professionally, although not necessarily the exact right move, were gone. The contacts – also known as “friends,” in my younger days – had all moved on, either growing up and becoming responsible versions of themselves, or simply given up on me.
There were, and are, friends and family who have greatly invested in my welfare, both financially, emotionally and most stunningly, in time; my Amends list is rather heavy, and I will most likely be working on it for the rest of my life – but all of these Failures and Restarts – that I was always so sure would work out, but never did (for actual good reasons, for the most part) simply served to push me further away from them, my CORE. These were the people who lent money for utilities, bought bus passes, gave me countless rides to and from work, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, etc.,. fed me, kept me in clothes, listened to me kvetch, offered advice and insight, hooked me up with a meal, or an introduction, helped me move and everything else.
And all this did – was keep push push pushing me away. The tether from the Center was thinning. It looked like it would snap at any minute, and I would go beyond the known outcome. I could still hear and see most everything from the center – happy, loving people, with jobs that meant something to them, enjoying their relationships with their partners, their families, their friends and co-workers, traveling, going on adventures, getting married, publishing books, touring Europe, making a difference in someone else’s lives.
DId I give them as much credit as I should have? No. Did I begrudge them their success? No, but it rankled me. Did I make as much of an effort as I could have, to remain in their stable, super-connected orbit – with an unknowable amount of mutual friends, common interests and a shared close-geography? No. (I did miss a lot of events due to work that was beyond my control.) Did I follow up the missed party with a gift or call, or even a phone call? No, because I was starting to resent these folks. Didn’t they know I didn’t have a car and couldn’t get there from work by bus, in time?
I knew I was slipping. I didn’t care, basically. I didn’t have any belief, or hope, not in truth, simply the smallest shred of maybe if, or I might …something. I don’t know what.
The day came. I looked at the bottle, the pills, sweating in my soon-to-be-vacated apartment and I reached out to my sister. She sent an Uber. I lived. Doctors were consulted. Plans made. Wild, unimaginable offers of physical, tangible help materialized.
I did the thing. It was Time. I was ready. I said goodbye, Forever, to that living, breathing, pulsating beast with an unslakable hunger and thirst for everything that could be had, and I started working my way back to the Center. I didn’t know that yet, not yet – that would come much later.
I crawled, at first. I used a cane, at times. I was transported. I stumbled around, falling often, unsure where I was or how I was getting there for 2 years. I tried everyone’s patience. I disappointed myself. For everything I did right, I discovered there were things I did worse than before, or didn’t know about. But I kept moving. Even if just internally, the mechanism was cleaning itself, spitting out debris.
I don’t exactly know what specific tumblers clicked, what gears finally meshed, or what words finally found the right ears. This was all fresh and undiscovered territory for me. I knew some of the faces and the places, but the dialect was a bit off and things were, I found, at least, slightly less varnished and shop-worn than I expected; well-used, but well worth keeping.
I didn’t have anything resembling a well-planned out itinerary to arrive there, or here, Now. I still did a lot of things my way, which was always harder than it needs to be, confusing and stupid. Not everyone was a good actor, and some were not actually what they appeared to be. That part didn’t change. People show you who they are, even when they tell you differently, all the time.
I don’t have a central belief about why we are here, any of us, other than to be of a service to others however we can in this life. How and why that works is a deepening commitment and somewhat of an unknown for myself. I can’t sum up why I didn’t drain the bottle and take all of my blood thinners, nor can I explain why I never did any of the seriously dangerous substances that I was offered, or that proliferated around me at times. I just kept thinking that, no matter how much I wanted, to, no, deserved to die, that I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t be reduced to that final failure.
I had one constant that kept me from stopping: My sisters. I knew people would be hurt, miss me, maybe even mourn me, but I couldn’t saddle my sisters with this enormous and painful burden, or to hurt them any more than I already had.
Maybe it was, and is, pure ego that I envisioned what my loss would be, so in a roundabout way my hope to cling to, towards my treacherous and bumbling stumble-crawl towards the Center, revealed my own utter hypocrisy that I should live, that I deserved to live.
The center is better. I can see more of it and the sounds are far more appealing and welcoming. I still don’t know for sure what’s there – but I’m bringing my Own Stuff with me no matter what, and no one is going to take it away from me or fuck with me. I’m not stopping, and I’m not going back.
” The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”
Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Fall of Avalon