I learned quite a few things after surgery, and none of them had to do with making my neck better. Writing is risky, and the permanence of words can make it irreparably damaging. But in the end, I’ve found that when you’re truly torn about whether to write something or not – it’s best to write it. I always learn more than I teach. I heard from a few unexpected places after I wrote “Abandoned Ship” and I finally snapped out of it. I found a little grace at the bottom of my glass of lonely.
Two weeks after surgery, I was in a dark place. I felt as alone as I had in as long as I can remember; which is really saying something, because to be new to a city like this is to truly know about being lonely. But I finally learned what being lonely is all about. It’s about being selfish; terribly, awfully and horribly selfish. It’s about putting yourself in the center of the world and creating a vast space between you and everyone else for you to gaze wistfully across and assign some sort of meaningful sadness to. It’s about turning in what you’re scared to put out. It’s about losing sight of the things that are close to you because you want to behold the majesty of the barren plain around you. It’s about delusion.
I’ve written so many times about how so many people around me are deluded – and I forgot to take my own advice. I got all wrapped up in me, and looked right past the folks that never left. I expected extraordinary things from ordinary relationships. I wanted the love of the crowd, and not the love of my friends – I was childish, and I was wrong.
If this sounds like an apology, in part, it is. I owe many. But it’s also about finding something in this circumstance. It’s also about what I learned, and sharing it – because if I’m free to share the pain, I ought to share the salvation, right? Otherwise it’s only part of the story; it’s just the tragedy without the wonderful ending; it’s about optimism, closing the gap, and that feeling you get when you’ve truly won something.
As for the apology, it’s thus: I marginalized some amazing people – because I thought that if my support didn’t come in great numbers that it meant very little, which is the view of a much younger and immature version of me that I thought I’d left far behind.
Cheryl – out of the blue, someone who I’d spoken with only occasionally, and who is by far the smartest person to ever think I was either intelligent or charming (or both , for that matter), showed up. She showed up in the hospital against tremendous circumstances. She stood next to my father – and waited while I slowly came into consciousness, and took my hand in my worst moment. She smiled the same smile as when we first met – when I was strong, confident and smooth. She was an angel. She visited me, even while she was finalizing her first novel for publication. She walked with me. She checked up on me. I can’t believe I took that for granted. I realize, after picking up my head, how much it was.
Steven – an old teammate, and a better cheerleader than I’ll ever hope to be – came by the hospital after work, came by the house a couple of times after work. Sat and played Halo with me when that’s all I had the strength to do. Never said a word about the weight I’d lost. Never did anything but what he always did before: make me feel like I was his colleague, like his partner, like his brother. He is, in a friendship, what he is in a stunt: solid. A guy who could make me feel small at any moment, went out of his way to make me feel huge.
David – my reality advisor; intolerant of my self-pity; my most unlikely friend. I sometimes think that David and Steve are the two sides of me – and if you could put the two of them into one person, that you’d get me. He refuses to accept my doubts, and believes that I am more capable of amazing things than I do – even in my most optimistic moments. He never lets me forget the blessed life I lead – and that if I cannot find peace, the rest of the things I’m looking for won’t be found either. He’s a spiritual advisor in a 7% body fat body, with crazy hair and bitchin’ surfer wardrobe.
My directors – are busy. Yet, they each sent me a card, which in their lives is an extraordinary undertaking. Jessie and Ben, pushed on without me – and never made me feel like I wasn’t welcome back the moment I was safely physically able to do so. For the time they did take, I was grateful. For not reaching out to let them know I was ok, but lonely – I’m sorry.
My teammates – sent me great flowers, while I was still in the hospital – and I walked by many rooms with people in much worse condition who didn’t have the same. My room was full of love – and although I hate hospitals for all the horrible things happening there, I could close my door and see my room filled with sunshine and flowers. I think that’s how I got out of there after only one night.
My Dad – after two heart surgeries and my constant urging to the contrary, flew out from Colorado on two days notice and carried me through the toughest of times. He was scared for me. He waited at the hospital for thirteen hours. He bought me a crock pot so I would stop eating take-out food. I’ve cooked almost every night since. I sometimes forget that I’m his only son, and what it must feel like for me to be in some real danger, and to feel helpless. I know how good it feels to help someone you love who needs it. I’m sorry I asked him not to come. I could never have done it without him. I love you, Dad.
These are the extraordinary things that people did. Many others sent text messages, e-mails or MySpace notes to ask how I was doing. I didn’t realize just how much love I was getting – because I had somehow found some sort of meaning in the bleakness of imagined solitude. I missed it. To all of you, to every one of you who read “Abandoned Ship” and felt like I had missed something that you did – you’re right, and I’m sorry; deeply and truthfully sorry.
But I’m not sorry I wrote it. Because writing it, and hearing from those people I hurt with it, is precisely was snapped me out of it.
Lessons I’ve learned:
- You are equally responsible for the relationships in your life. You don’t get a free pass on your part just because you’re not well. If you need help, ask.
- You cannot create a family where there is none – groups come together, and they break up. Performers come together because they’re good at performing and not because they’re all amazing and selfless people. Performing is not charity – it’s work. Performing groups aren’t families, they’re co-workers. I’m on a great team – and trying to make it into a family was my failure and no one else’s.
- You may find some amazing friends amongst your co-workers, maybe even some close enough to call family. I have. But to expect that a group selected for its merit will yield a group that you will love, and who will love you back without exception, is foolish, self-aggrandizing and ignorant. I am guilty of all three.
- Life, a good life, will not come find you in a place like this. If you want it, you must go out and seize it – including and especially during those times when you’re not at your best. Ordinary efforts yield ordinary results. The same is true for extraordinary efforts.
- There is beauty and joy all around, if you step outside your own silly shell and just look.
- Salvation and resurrection are available to me – they’re not offered to me. I’m going after them, on my own two feet (and, in fairness, sometimes in my car).
- (and one I had forgotten from an earlier piece) There is only true happiness in love, empathy, sacrifice, in the grace of unselfish generosity, and in forgiveness. I'm finally taking this advice and startlingly happy as a result.
It’s time to start giving. It’s time to stop feeling sorry for myself. When my arm heals I’m going to tattoo it with something to remind me of how I almost lost it: “From darkness, light. From weakness, strength.” I will be back. I will be better than I was before. My ship’s back on the water, back on course. Come on aboard, we're sailing for grace.