Dear Hope Nation,
“None of us truly knows the good we do, or, more important, the evil we prevent by our actions. Like Kierkegaard, we must leap, hopeful and filled with faith that our works matter. They do.”
–Quote from my old office wall, which I think I wrote, but who can be sure?
I had a long drive yesterday, up to Berlin and back, which gave me time to ponder. Pondering can be dangerous—many of my worst ideas have been conceived, hatched and inflicted on the world out of self-reflection, almost as though my brain is a funhouse mirror. Contrariwise, pondering can also lead to insights I would otherwise have overlooked. You’ll have to decide into which box the following should be placed.
I believe down to the core of my being that we, each and every one of us, matter, maybe most importantly when we don’t even recognize our importance. Right now, I’d like to recognize a half-dozen or so people who changed the course of my life through, at the time, relatively small nudges to my fate. Those nudges continue to reverberate. Just a few brief thumbnails:
Airport security guard at Minneapolis Airport in 1976. Through a series of strange circumstances, I’d hitchhiked about 600 miles from Indianapolis, where I was training in the Army. A couple of buddies and I were going to the airport to visit a bartender one of them knew who might be interested in buying a half-pound of weed, said marijuana broken into ounce bags and stashed in my oversized down jacket. Stonedly, I didn’t think about airports having security, even back in those pre-9/11 days. For some reason, perhaps the knife in my pocket, the metal detector beeped and a guard came to inspect me. If he’d been a different man (or the same man in a different mood), he’d have looked into my inner pockets, seen the weed and immediately handcuffed me. Instead, he glanced down, smiled at me and said, “Be cool, Man.” Of course, I left him an ounce in the nearest men’s room paper-towel dispenser.
Captain William (?) Baines—My Army company commander in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. When I approached him about my little heroin “problem,” he referred me to a (long-since discredited) rehab program instead of instituting a bad conduct discharge.
Carl Hindy—A newly-minted psychologist who got my case in 1986, toward the end of a two-month psychiatric stay. My attending psychiatrist had misdiagnosed me and recommended my next step be to live in a group home for adults with severe mental illness. Once Carl and I had talked for just a couple times, he told me it was crazy to think I was crazy, changed my discharge plan and saved my life.
Marti Stevens—The woman who introduced me to improv theater and helped make four years of nationwide travel and performing a reality.
I don’t have space to give even thumbnails for Mark Roth, the nurse at the VA who got me into recovery, Charlie Flood, Melissa Crews or the dozens of other folks whose paths intersected with mine and whose presence changed my life. One commonality, though, is that none of them knew what they were doing, knew they were, like meteors tapping a spaceship, changing my trajectory.
Each day each of us has an infinite number of choices. Choosing to be kind, choosing to be creative, choosing to take the long view of things makes a difference. Really and for true.
You matter. I matter. We matter.