SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 363: “Transformations Are Inspiring”

“If I had to boil it down into one sentence… that would be to treat your neighbor as you want to be treated,” say today’s stranger now friend, Steve.

Words that roll off the lips of so many of us, and words that are fundamental to the hope that many of us share. And at the very core of the sentiment is the reason that 365 has made it this far, only three days from the completion of its first year.

And Steve is one of those guys who has earned the chops to make the statement. You see, he has walked the walk of the rich and of the troubled, a life history that to the day of our meeting is challenging him to find who he is in settling into being a contributor to our world.

How did I meet Steve. Some of you may remember Pappy, another story of man facing demons of past decision and of growth to a higher place; and a man who is now a very important part of my life in continued friendship. A friendship that transcends all implications of class distinction and has grown beyond that of any assumed stereotypes. You see, Pappy is an ex-con and past gang banger; and now in his late fifties, with a history that would have destroyed the very soul of many, he has arisen to be a light to those who know him. And it is through Pappy that I am privileged to meet Steve.

No, Steve is not homeless, comes not from a gangster background, or showcases any body markings. He is a regular guy in many ways. A guy who most would pass by as a person living a charmed life – clean clothes, groomed dogs and a nice car.

“Then how does Steve link to Pappy?” you ask.

To answer, I’ll let Steve’s advice explain, “I think there is more goodness than bad out there. The bad gets the press… you know… like especially now, being political season, going into a presidential election. We keep hearing all this negative stuff about our candidates, or you learn about just how full of crap they all are.

“I’m prejudice… I want to believe all the good for one candidate and I want to believe all the bad for the other candidate.” Steve calls this observation, “Kind of interesting.”

“Kind of interesting,” a very curious summation in evaluating the hottest of issues, “Who will be the President of America.”

We’ll not get into that… my blog is not a political forum, and although we often reveal the outlooks of many on the subject, I wish not to allow it to become a place for debate of judgment toward the many strangers that we can now so openly call “friend.”

But what makes Steve special is not his political views, it’s his faith in self and in humanity. You see, Steve has seen the bottom, once a millionaire in the dot-com days, he has seen his wealth dissolve – stood by his wife in her battle with brain cancer, only to find chemical dependency and a failed marriage as the result. Steve has borne pains that are real, and through his courage to openly expose his past does he inspire those of us who are “regular” to realize there is more going on than one may realize.

So, how do Steve and Pappy connect? Pappy is very ill, looks like cancer, and for months Steve has been taking care of all of Pappy’s medical issues: helping him to find medical treatment, resolving his financial aid and securing his Federal/State insurance benefits. Even without enough money to meet his own needs, Steve regularly gives Pappy a few bucks here and there.

Now, I don’t want to make Steve out to be a saint in any way, or to make any innuendo that he is more charitable or a better person than any one of us. What I am saying is this, we are all connected. For Steve and I, it is through our concern for Pappy.

“I just watched Robert Downey Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes movies…” Steve visualizes as he speaks of the films antagonist, “…the whole reason for the world war that Sherlock Holmes stops is, as the villain says, ‘I don’t care who goes to war, I just want to supply the bullets and the bandages.’ He doesn’t care if he is hurting them or fixing them. He just wants to make the money.”

“Then there are other people who have a passion, that when there is a war, they’ll be the ones with the bandages, not out to make money, but to do good.

“I’m trying to not name names, but…” he shifts gears.

“…that’s what the answer seems to be… if you want to boil it down into just one sentence, ‘Just treat your neighbor as you want to be treated.’

“The other one would be, seeing that I am a dog person, ‘I always hope to be the person that I think my dogs thinks that I am.’

Samson, Steve, Sasha

“I guess by nature that I am a positive hopeful dude…” Steve reflects as he looks ahead, “…so speaking about the U.S. – I hope in five years we are not in war any longer. We can’t be a nation of prosperity when we are spending more money than we bring in, paying for war. So, that’s killing us.

“Killing the 98 percent… killing the 99 percent…”

This grabs my attention,“Your saying the 1 or 2 percent are the wealthy?”

“Yeah… I don’t know… I’m forty-eight, you don’t become forty-eight without having good times, bad times, ups and downs. And Looking back to the best of times it seems that I was part of a collective great thing that was going on. There was a lot of prosperity… and there was a lot of enjoyment out there… enthusiasm for the country… maybe even for the world.

“If we want to get global… I just said, I hope in five years the United States is not in war. But it’s not looking good that our planet isn’t going to be worse off than it is today… in five years. If you just take a look at what is being shown about what we are doing to our planet, and it doesn’t seem like the people that say, ‘It’s not happening…’ Like they don’t say, ‘That’s not happening.’ They just say, ‘That’s not going to cause what people say it will cause.’

“Everybody agrees that the icecaps are melting… but they are in denial that it is raising the temperature of our planet… our oceans especially. And without our oceans, we don’t survive.

“It just seems that those 1 to 2 percent, the biggest of the biggest companies in the world make money from producing energy. And there is just too much money in the stuff to stop destroying our planet. So I don’t know… how do you turn that around?

“But just for me, in my own little world, I have high hopes. I hope to be married with a family for the first time… developing a legacy… making enough money to pay my basic bills, that’s a stressful place to be. So if I could just turn that around a little. I don’t need a lot, but it sure would be nice.

“I think maybe for most people who have got themselves into my situation… to be debt free with a little safety net is a good start.”

Steve has ridden the top of the financial wave, making boatloads of new technology money, has weathered illness of a spouse, only to see the end of a marriage, and has sunk to the deepest despair in chemical and alcohol abuse.

But sitting, shaded from the heat of another hot summer day, I find wisdom of well-earned knowledge in Steve’s council.

I have to ask, because I know there are many in similar situations, “Steve do you mind if I publish the fact that you are recovering from dependency issues, and if so, what advice do you have for anyone battling addiction?”

He gladly accepts… “Get to a meeting… go every day when you don’t want to go, until you want to go… get there early and stay there late… and find somebody that tells your story and then go introduce yourself to that person…

‘They say get in the middle of the heard. It’s like… which animals get eaten in the jungle? It’s the ones on the fringe of the heard. The Antelope in the middle of the heard never gets eaten by the Lion, or Lioness. Just get in the middle of it.

“The Lion is the temptation, right?” I clarify.

“Yes…” Steve bridges to the realities of living with dependency issues, “It’s rough out there… there are a lot of reasons for people like me to drink and do drugs. It’s really painful out there right now… for me financially. For others it could be some other issue. And many times you just get to the point where you say, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’

“I’ve been to a lot of funerals this years, so if that’s your thing… I get it… I understand.

“Candidly, the only answer is to develop a relationship with a power greater than yourself. So that might not work for you… maybe God does not work for you. But in AA, we have a small book and a big book covering what we call the twelve and twelve. Step one is only four pages. The chapter in the big book called, ‘We the agnostics…’ there is a whole chapter, its like forty-seven pages. So if you have a problem with the God thing… you are in a much bigger group than people who believe.

“But you’ve got to find… because it is very clear that left to our own devices we will drink… absolutely drink… it’s too painful not to.

“That’s what I’ve been focusing on in the last twelve months is that relationship. I’ve been going back to Temple, that’s structured… it works for me… but mostly it’s my own perception.

“It’s my own perception” Steve concludes. And perception is a perfect word to finalize this post. For I see it remarkable how three people with uniquely different backgrounds such as Pappy, Steve and myself have found ground together, land that is stable, fertile with compassion and growing fruits of understanding.

Pappy, Steve, I can definitely say, our paths will cross again my friends. Your histories are rich and your transformations are inspiring.