"Stanley, see this? This is this. This ain't something else. This is this." -Robert DeNiro as Michael in The Deer Hunter

Somehow this phrase gets stuck in the back of my head when I am trying to concentrate on things. The beginning of this movie plays in my head, reminding me of a midwestern childhood where weekends were spent in the lower level of the Knights of Columbus hall. I would explore the bathrooms, hiding behind folding chairs, and testing the doors to storage closets while my parents drank cheap beer out of high-ball glasses.

This is this. This is not something else. Concentrate on what you are doing, your nostalgia flows like weakened briny syrup through your sinuses, it is apparent and it makes you cry, I tell myself. Yours is not the first heart to be taken away and replaced with such salt. It weakens as time passes and comes out as tears. The world does not need to see this, and I can't help but show it.

This is not something else. This is not the past, and it deserves undivided attention. The past has its time, and it has its place, in a dry age where there are musty sleeping bags and wood paneled basements.

This is everything, and I keep mixing it with something else. I keep tasting the past in the back of my throat, making my life a saline blur.

"It is happening again."

Like most people I make the dangerous mistake of equating events in the present with events from the past. There are always striking similarities, even alarming similarities, but every situation is different. The players are different and bring with them different personalities and personal histories, and even if the players are the same there is character development in real life just like in your better novels and screenplays.

A lot can be learned from studying past events and our behavior in relation to those events. Yet the same events never happen again, not in the same way and never with exactly the same outcome. It might seem that way, but an infinite number of tiny differences can mean the difference between saving a life and pushing them over the ledge.

It was a year ago that my grandmother passed on. She was ninety-six and had lived a very eventful life filled with adventures. Like me she often wondered why people are borderline obsessed with living as long as possible by any means possible. Her quality of life had been declining for some time and those things in life she found her bliss in were slipping from her grasp. An avid reader who provided book reviews for the local library, simple one line reviews with grades reflecting her overall opinion of the book, she had struggled with short term memory retention. She could start reading a book, put it down to go to lunch and then come back and have no memory of what she read. Her friends and correspondents were all passing on and for a woman who once maintained correspondence with three dozen people scattered around the country this was a difficult thing to accept. She was a woman who greatly valued her ability to be independent and overcome difficult odds, which made having to move into an assisted living facility a difficult transition, but her forgetfulness had compromised her safety.

I believe she planned her death, having reached a point where life seemed to be nothing more than playing out the string. A woman of deep Christian faith, she often asked, out loud, "Why won't God take me?" She seemed to imply that she had done something wrong to offend her God and that she was being punished by being forced to live a life of limited independence while her joys in life were slowly being taken away from her.

"I believe the truly good people are given the hardest tests," I told her. "Someone wants to see if they are strong enough for a bigger challenge."

Often we misunderstand the meaning and the purpose of the tests we are given in life. This usually happens because we interpret them according to past experience or according to what we've seen or read. We tell ourselves we've been through this before and now we're going through the same things again. We've never been through what we're going through right now. We may have been through something very similiar, but it isn't the same. This is a new test. The simple element of having been through something similiar before changes the nature of the test in and of itself even if you put all the obvious differences aside.

While residing at the assisted living facility where she spent her last days, my grandmother would often lament to me that she could not do many of the things her roommate could do. I would shake my head and remind her that her roommate was younger than my uncle, my grandmother's eldest child, and that when she was her roommate's age she had her own apartment and worked part time. I work with people for a living, most of the time with badly damaged kids who have been through hell in their short time on this world. They will often make observations like those my grandmother did, that other people are able to do things easier than they can and handle stress and difficulty better than they can. I tend to tell them, "Well, they aren't carrying as much weight as you are." Although I'm careful about wording that when it comes to overweight kids.

I measure people by the amount of weight they carry in a psychological sense, in the sense of their personal histories and what they've been through. Someone who is carrying a great deal of weight already is going to have more trouble carrying more than someone who is carrying less weight. It is a simple calculation meant to avoid providing the straw that breaks the camel's back. There is the weight of the moment, usually seen in how much stress a person is currently under in relation to what is happening now, and there is the life weight, which is how much weight they have accumulated over the course of their life. The first type of weight is usually readily apparent while the second weight is rarely seen on the surface until the first type of weight reaches crisis level. How the stress of the moment affects someone is directly related to the weight of their life's history.

It is a measurement of a different kind to see how much weight a person is capable of carrying by how much experience they have carrying weight and how much will break them as a result of the wear and tear they have experienced over the course of a life carrying said weight.

Understanding what happens when a person reaches their breaking point is something that only comes to you when you have been there. I have been there myself in different ways. At one time I was driven to suicide. At another I was pushed to my limits by a lengthy hauling of a great deal of weight. My pride convinced me I could bear it. My ego told me I could take on more.

While I can relate to others who are at the edge of themselves I cannot directly comprehend the nature of their struggle with their weight. I can only understand on a comparative level and knowing this truth allows one to experience empathy more clearly. The one who thinks they know exactly what a person is going through is not truly empathetic. Believing you know exactly what a person is going through based on having experienced similar, overcome and perhaps thrived afterwards, leads to self-righteousness. The whole, "I did it, she did it, he did it, why can't you do it?" mentality, which, of course, is crap.

Some years back I tried to convince myself that what I set out to do, the defining journey of my life, was complete. I've managed to convince myself of this twice and each time I have come to realize that I was far from finished. I've always had this need to wrap things up, define them and put them away. It comes from the part of me that sees myself as a novelist. There has to be a neat little ending that wraps things up and explains everything in one way or another. I've also come to see that what really scares me is that I actually will reach the end of the road. I'm not afraid of death, quite the opposite actually. I fear the day the journey that began with my death experience actually will be completed. And so subconsciously I've created false endings to conceal this fear.

But the monster always pops back up for one more fright.

Completion brings a sense of personal satisfaction. It also brings a great emptiness, a lingering "What now?"

My personal spiritual beliefs hinge on the idea that each challenge we face is designed to prepare us for another challenge yet to come. If we choose to accept the challenges as they come and meet them with our accumulated knowledge, experience and wisdom we will be rewarded. Those rewards might consist of those things we normally consider to be rewards, a boon or prize of some kind, or they might be a matter of personal education. What is often considered failure is an educational experience that prepares us for something yet to come, something in which our past experience will be a valuable tool provided we recognize it. We don't really learn why it is important to look both ways when crossing the street until we get hit by a car after not bothering to look both ways. Getting hit by that car is a wonderful reward because it taught us a valuable lesson that we can use in the future.

I've come to enjoy getting hit by cars because I know I am learning something valuable that will be useful in challenges yet to come. My previous incarnation was greatly flawed in his interpretation of certain aspects of his journey. He was quite convinced that the point to our journey was to complete it, regardless of his protests to the contrary. He attempted to fill in the blanks with whatever seemed to fit in some small way instead of seeing the big picture. He greatest flaw was impatience driven by a need to understand the road before him in a way that made sense in the present tense. The expanse of time was a bit daunting, and looking back I can see why. Two decades of time seems like an eternity from the beginning. It seems like nothing from the tail section.

Leading a life that can be compared to one hero's journey after another is, as Joseph Campbell once said, the key to bliss. The most difficult element of this life is what I call The Wait. Much of life, of any life, is the time between "moments." We always remember those moments, those mile markers in life that are highlights and achievements. We remember when we meet special people, when we accomplish something meaningful as well as those standard mile markers of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and so on. In our memory the time between moments, The Wait, is usually glossed over. Months of time might pass in our life and the only thing we remember from those months was eating a really good steak one night. An infinite number of things actually happened during that time but none was interpreted as meaningful enough to commit to the world of memories.

I hated The Wait until I understood what it was for and how important it was, and this realization did not truly come to me until after a complete mental breakdown in 2009. With that breakdown being a result of pushing myself harder and harder, taking on more work and more challenges, pushed on by people telling me they were counting on me and that I was the only one they knew who could take on these challenges, I came to realize a great number of things about myself and about people in general. We need time to recharge. We need time to rest and to reflect. We need time to focus and gain perspective. We need time for processing. If we drive forward at top speed for too long without a break... well, you can fill in the blanks.

One of the things I forget with regularity are the less spectacular battles and achievements that come along the way of a life spent as a journey. When you put your focus into the larger picture, the more epic struggle that for me is about inspiring three very specific individuals I refer to as queens, you lessen your focus on the smaller battles that may be of equal or even greater importance in the end. In recent times I have come to realize this difficulty in focus and have sought to balance the two.

In my personal mythology there is a foundation that came about as a result of my experience with death. I was floating alone on a shaky little raft down a river while the people on the shore who called to me for help burned. A resolution was made upon my return to this world. I would build a bigger boat.

The only way to do this is to increase my personal capacity to carry more weight and also to allow others to help me. The latter has always been more difficult. It is this way for most people, whether they admit it or not. I need help to build that bigger boat. The larger the ship, the larger the crew required. And I have spent time recruiting my crew along the way.

When you reach a level of spiritual maturity where you are able to comprehend and accept that religion contains wonderful metaphorical truth, rather than the literal truth so many insist on pushing, you are able to comprehend your own personal mythology with greater clarity. There is no literal ship that I am building for transport into my next life. The reality of my situation is that I was isolated and intentionally shut off from other people in the days leading up to my suicide in 1994. The message in the portion of my death experience where I was on the raft and seeing the need to build a bigger boat was an indicator that the only way I was going to become what I truly wanted and needed to become was to accept other people into my core and to be able to bear, and share, more weight.

The first part of my return involved forming real friendships rather than co-dependent relationships. That era lasted almost three years until I went to Orlando and came to realize that I could impact the lives of others on a real and lasting level. That era lasted until I went to New Hampshire in 2005 and came to realize I could not simply "save everyone" and that I had to learn how to teach others how to help themselves, an era that was slow and painful in its development as I had to learn through several very hard lessons how powerless I really was. And then I had to learn a new way to interpret my power and abilities.

I work with teenagers in a residential psychiatric facility. Sometimes I find it amusing how easily frustrated many of my co-workers are because for me the work comes very easily. What you have to be able to do is let go and trust yourself, the person who is actually the hardest person for any of us to truly trust. And while I stay within the rules and operating philosophy of the company I work for, I go completely off-program on a regular basis because I trust myself. One of the things I teach is that you can see this rigid set of rules and regulations in life and think, "Fuck this shit," because you are different. We are all different and we all do what we can to function within a collective reality but we don't have to surrender our individual reality to do so.

Not too long ago I was with a number of the residents of our facility at a test and one of the residents was talking about me, telling anyone who would listen, "He's completely insane, he's a nut! He's crazier than anyone else here!" I shrugged and told him, "You might be right." When a co-worker went to take this young fellow back to his room, he said, "No, I want The Doctor to take me back to my room." On the way back to his room he told me, "Don't talk to me," and so I didn't. This episode actually does more to explain who I am than any other story I could tell. It is something I currently meditate on.

There are so many things we do without ever knowing what we're doing and sometimes we do them while we're looking the other way.

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