Call It a Kit
“Full stop” is a pithy, somewhat stentorian, two-syllable, percussive summation that we encounter a lot now. It’s mean to be a form of punctuation, but for extra emphasis, as if a period won’t do, or our intended statement of totality just wasn’t total enough.
Sometimes we’re joking: “That pizza was the best, full stop.” But I think those words linger around the confines of our mouths, ready to throw themselves from the tips of our tongues, because often we’re people who are fully stopped ourselves, and more than we wish to admit.
There are all kinds of ways to avoid the admitting, in terms of a general, outward showcasing. We have social media, for example, a central conduit of what personal interaction we have, where we can play a manner of emotional dress-up, controlling the narrative. If we’re unhappy but want to give the impression not just of happiness but a happiness of which others should be envious, we highlight a certain photo, go heavy on the exclamation points, put muscle behind our intended linguistic gusto.
The people we know best, if they’re not too wrapped up in doing the same thing, know the truth, but we’re operating for show, and also as an attempt at wish fulfillment. Maybe if we say something enough, with suitable relish, we’ll begin to feel that way. Post it, and it shall come to pass. When in doubt, post again. What do they say? Lather, rinse, repeat? The tub is an ocean of suds for which a snorkel is required to take an honest breath.
Nothing works this way, though, and what ends up happening is we get far enough away from what had been—in theory—our goal, that we lose sight of it, and now our lives become a high-wire act of treading water, allowing that the aerial circus had come to the community pool.
That’s not a pretty status quo, but we try to make it so. We feel the pressure of these other lives people are leading, and they feel pressure from us, with no one really stopping to think that everyone is embroiled in the execution of a variation on a theme, because when we doubt ourselves, we forfeit perspective, or just a simple, soul-buttressing reminder to chill. Deep breaths are less for the body, and more for the soul. Without them, the heart rate only goes up. We’re panting in place.
We continue in this fashion, sans advancing, and even if we don’t, something is likely to happen at one point or another. There’s going to come a blow. A detonating, fracturing blow. I don’t know what it’s going to be for you, or for anyone from afar, though it can be different with people in my own life. I might see it coming when they don’t. I know what some of these blows of mass personal destruction—because we are a mass of many things, if we are any single one thing—have been for myself. These pages touch on several of them.
The marriage may fail. We may lose the love of a child. We can wake up on a morning after twenty-five years of devoting ourselves to the same job, realizing that we never in truth committed ourselves that much, nor cared with the gravity with which we wanted to, and the amount of good that had been realized via these years was in truth minimal. We could have done more harm than benefit. We allowed a lie to live us.
That which has long seeped into us can cause us to sag through ourselves, as if we’re a human accordion, going only in that one direction of scrunch and sigh. We may know tragedy, the death of the loved one who was what we have called our everything. Not because of hyperbole, but because they were. Inside and out. Our love for them brought out the person inside of us that we didn’t know we could be. Yes, it was us, but it was for them. And now they are gone, and where does that leave us?
Post-fracturing, post-one-way compressing, after the emotional waters of the seep have turned into the roiling waters of anxiety, depression, doubt, we may look to those who are dependent on us still. We “live” for them. We’re heroic. Okay. Let’s allow that. We’re heroic. We rose to a challenge. But what’s to stop a hero from being more heroic still? A hero’s hero. Their own hero? You wouldn’t actually be your own hero. You’d be bigger than that, because you wouldn’t have any need to define yourself to yourself.
After my father died at a young age, my mother lived for her children. To help them in every possible way. She carried on for us, but not for her and us. At least not for many years. When we keep going to keep going, we tend to regard that as an end in and of itself. It’s like, “Hey, what more do you want—?“
You fill in the blank. The universe. God. How reasonable do the fates keep their expectations? We’re a pile of bones and dust and memories that look like sad, weathered streamers barely flapping in the breeze that is stripping the leaves from the trees on all sides of us, no problem at all. But we’re not a part of that natural life cycle anymore. Renewal and loss, loss and renewal. We’re outside of that circle. We trudge on, working the perimeter, because what else is there to do? Our life now has the quality of having an asterisk affixed to the end of it, which, in another sense, can’t come soon enough.
But what if that’s really the start? The potential start? We have arrived at the real version of Go Time. You come into this world, and it’s like, “okay, I made it out, later, birth canal! Success.” Then it starts hard. Immediately. All around you. Commotion. Doctors, nurses, gabbing, tears, relief, joy. You did that. You brought on those effects and those feelings. You’ve made an impact already. You weren’t even trying. Let’s say there comes a time later on when it’s paramount that you try harder during that period—a period you believe has no end—and doing so could lead to a start that makes that first one seems paltry by comparison, save that it meant you were officially alive? But anyone can be officially alive. And then there is self-delivery. You find the rabbit that is you, in the hat that you never knew you had.
I think we’re most alive when we’re able to look at that pile of bones, dust, the limp streamers, behold how it’s trying to drag itself along, and say, “hold up. This isn’t living. What if…”
And that starts it. A process. It will take time, effort, commitment. But the prospect of a process is an offering of hope. And hope is always more. It’s not a status quo, a sustaining. Hope is built upon a foundation of “This would be better.” Any realization of anything worthy, begins with someone wondering what if and why not. Sounding the possibility.
What if Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again? And this isn’t ordinary Humpty Dumpty who was cavorting on a wall, showing off for all the king’s men, but rather a fellow who was dislodged, from behind, by a roving gang of bad circumstances. He can be a victim, or he can be a victim of his own bad choices. Whatever. He’s here is the point. We get there, too. Then it’s time to start. To start like we never have, which is to say, to always be restarting, no beginnings, no ends. A flowing human, minus all the dust, the riparian force that takes us to places we’d given up on ever going, including places inside of ourselves, and places we didn’t know were there. Throw out the old maps. Get plenty of fresh paper. Bring an eraser. The compass is embedded in the flesh of your right thigh. In a pocket under your heart. I don’t know. But it is there.
The band the Byrds had a song called “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star?” The way they posed the question made it sound like they were talking about more than being someone with a guitar on the cover of a teenybopper magazine. It was a challenge, and it didn’t really mean rock and roll star as much as it signified an extreme. A full-blown, legit, again—fill in the blank.
At a live radio date in Stockholm in 1967, singer Roger McGuinn introduced the song by saying they thought it’d be cool if we all had these kits and we could assemble what we wanted to assemble on that larger-level.
I think we do. We just often think we don’t, especially when we are shattered, and carrying on is deemed our ne plus ultra of all we can ever be again. This will sound cruel, but perhaps we weren’t close to what we could have been in the first place? We all know the expression, “to whom much is given, much is asked.” But how about this: “To whom much has happened, there is much they can do and be.” Let’s add the key qualifier: that they wouldn’t have been otherwise. Nothing is as daunting as a broken self. A partially broken self, a fully slaughtered self. We don’t all break in a one-size-fits-all metric. But we’re also not here to compare shards. We’re here to grow crystals.
So many people now are a version of this breakage, slumping along, until they’re not. Poof, gone, dead, release. The problem is, a lot of us aren’t here when we’re here. This is a book about locating your personal kit. Your suturing kit, your paste-it-back-together-again kit, you’re stronger, more-alive-than-ever, kit. This is a book about throwing down against tragedy. Whatever form it takes. Big and hairy. Small and unshakeable. The latter may be worse than the former. Quantifiers are silly.
We don’t have the same kit. They’re not packed with the same supplies. But we do all have them. I’m going to tell you about how I became ash, and subsequently about the locating and deployment of my kit, which I also had to try and comprehend.
In the kit, there are techniques. It’s not just stitches and tape. You’ll have your own versions of these techniques. You’re welcome to use mine. They could be yours, too. This is not a self-help book. This is not a book of life hacks. This is a book of gods and goddesses here on earth. Human gods and goddesses, because we are all ultimately, potentially, the vanquishers of a form of death that is pervasive and hidden, given the various masks we wear and that this age demands. Or so we think.
I say screw this age. Screw the pretending. Screw just getting through. Screw surviving. Yes, dash it down. It’s not enough. You need not mock it—surviving is great; tip-top—but you can rise above it. There's higher. The only thing that ever will be truly enough is living as much as a person can live. I don’t care what the king’s men can or can’t do, with that broken form before them. I only care what I can do with me and what you can do with you. This is a book about what that is. Nothing less. Let us never be less.
We are gods and goddesses of glue. Full stop? No. Full start.