“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
―Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I was on blackout status at the treatment facility in Las Vegas, thinking I was special and therefore deserved and expected the CAs to keep an eye on my car for me, I was forced to take a loss and didn’t find out about it until it was too late. During that time I wasn’t allowed to receive any visitors for the first 45 days – except for my sponsor – an older recovering alcoholic from Texas who walks with a cane and talks about Death during breakfast; and who was diagnosed with a wicked case of malignant spinal cord tumors some years ago. Surgical strategies were successful at removing the tumors from his spine but the operation left him with permanent disabilities that wiped out any chance of walking again. The old man literally had to shit in a pan for the first 6 months and couldn’t go to sleep without going through an entire process of crawling and “transferring” into bed. After nearly 2 years of assisted shitting solutions, he was able to move one leg just enough to smash around on a cane. He continued gaining movement until he was able to shit in peace again, and then, started showering on his own. Before anyone knew it, he was somehow driving again. Then, the tumors came back. He had to go for a second surgery and although the doctors were successful at removing the tumors from his spine again, the surgery took him back to the start.
All the way back to the pan.
I got the news about my car on a Friday and saw my sponsor the following Saturday morning. Once we got past the FFR “check-in” routine, I learned that my sponsor was coming up on the 2-year mark at which point “the ole cancer” tries to come back. He was getting ready to leave to California for his 2-year recurrence screening to see if the tumors were back. After the second surgery, the old man gained enough feeling in one leg to take a real shit and bounce around on a cane again, but if the Doctors in California were to find another recurrence, he would need a third surgery which would probably set him back to the start.
And damn, there I was walking into the visiting room after a not so major stress event with an overly materialistic mindset feeling sorry for myself over a 2007 Toyota Camry. I felt really rude to my sponsor because I was so wrapped up in my own shit that I wasn’t paying attention to him; and simultaneously humbled knowing that he was on the verge of receiving potentially paralyzing news while I was getting ready to complain to him about a piece of replaceable metal.
Humiliated enough, I never mentioned the car.
One of the books I’ve spent some time studying during the institutional downtime I’ve had is Revolt of the Masses by Jose Ortega y Gasset. I’ve read this text several times and have taken my time trying to uncover many of the ideas in this book. Gasset can be overly elitist and even annoying at times but one of the interesting ideas put forth in this book is the ungrateful nature of what Gasset calls the “mass man,” who insists on more and more of everything without realizing that what he wants has always been a privilege of a small group of elites.
Take the relationship between mass man and the motor vehicle for example. A single car is made up of tens of thousands of parts working together to get mass man from point A to point B. Consider the engineering, printing, supplying, shipping, testing, laboring, and many faces and phases of workers and materials contributing to the complex manufacturing processes involved in the production of the motor vehicle – all the little nodes, rods, pieces, metals, plastics, electronic circuits, and specialized parts – it is breathtaking, really. But not only does mass man not appreciate all of this; he doesn’t even acknowledge it. Instead, mass man jumps in the car and drives away; and if anything, he complains about fuel efficiency and how gas prices aren’t fair to him.
Like many people, I wish I was making 100k a year and driving a Z06 Super Car but I’m not. I live in an overpriced metropolitan area and shop at a filthy discount store full of anti-theft security cameras, ugly babies, and expired spinach. That puts me in the 12% underwater tax bracket among other things, and yeah, I have to deal with lazy, incompetent managers breathing down my back at work because they’re willing to BS people and stay in a suit for long periods of time while doing nothing but standing around looking douchey and hitting on the front desk girls all day. And knowing that I’m smarter than them doesn’t help much. Kurt Vonneghan really nailed it: “The real horror is waking up one day and realizing your high school class is running the country.”
Plenty of incompetent and over-privileged people I know make more money than I do and it used to bother me but not anymore. What helped me get over it wasn’t a killer new job with a massively huge pay-check so that I could make snarky status updates on social media as a way to project a successful image of myself by insulting all of my friends, exes, and old co-workers, and holding on to a fancy job title and discretionary income as a form of social approval and professional “success” to sweep my own lack of self-worth under the rug which really comes from a combination of modern anxieties caused by seeing so many people on Facebook talk about how they’re only getting richer and happier when really they’re all full of shit.
What brought me back was the gift of losing everything and ending up back on the streets where I was forced to take time away from everything to find joy in the moment again. I feel that I was forced to face what Gasset described as the possible loss of man as we know him, and the “silent return to the animal scale” on a personal, individual level. I had to go back to the start and rebuild a human life one piece at a time and much less sheltered than 99 percent of US graduates’ experiences who no doubt got a head start compared to everyone else in the streets; the difference is that out of my personal anarchy I was able to pursue a life that I’m grateful for and to do it the way I want to do it without falling back on a silver spoon.
Sometimes I start to think that maybe I just got a bad hand and that’s the way it is but then I remember how lucky I am to have four walls with a lock on it in a first world country where I can eat pizza for 5 bucks and download tons of music for free.
A grateful recovering heroin addict from the Rooms in Chinatown told me like this: “if you’re going to compare yourself to something, compare your worst night on the streets. . . to yesterday.”
I’m just really fucking grateful.