Near the end of last summer, after clumping around the city in Da Boot for about a month, I got the results of my MRI. I was not even a little bit interested in having surgery, and sick to death of that goddamn boot.
So I wasn’t in the greatest state of mind, thumping slowly to the E train underground at 42nd street, when someone flew by me.
I mean, this guy flies the fuck past me. One arm and one leg, riding backwards in a manual wheelchair. He’s simultaneously propelling himself with his leg, pulling a suitcase with his arm, steering perfectly with his torso. Going somewhere. His skin looked like it had melted and been reformed. It looked like it still hurt.
It looked like it didn’t matter.
You never know someone’s story simply by looking at them, but I’m guessing IED, near something liquid and flammable. I’ve thought of that guy so many times since that night. Not in a nauseating bravely-succeeding-in-the-face-of-obstacles kind of way, but in a shit-okay-what’s-next kind of way.
My friend wrote an essay about having bipolar disorder and presented it in a workshop. All the feedback she got was like oh my God, I can’t believe you’ve succeeded despite all these hardships and handicaps weighing you down. The point she intended was entirely different: That her successes and failures in life were neither in spite of nor because of bipolar. It does not define her; it simply accompanies her as she goes about the business of living her life.
That’s not a perspective you’re born with. It’s not one that comes easily to most people. I think most who can consistently pull off that attitude have fought for it quite fiercely. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.
When I think of that guy in the subway, I wonder if that could ever be me. If that were my life, could I ever get out of my own way enough to still go somewhere. When I think of him, I remind myself to try. I remind myself to quit whining and get on with the business of living my life.
I was listening to Jocko Willink being interviewed by Tim Ferriss. Jocko is a former Navy SEAL officer, instrumental in securing Ramadi. He’s an early riser because he wants that advantage over the enemy. In Ramadi, there was always a guy somewhere in a cave, rocking back and forth with a machine gun in one hand and a grenade in the other, waiting for him. He wants to be ready for that guy.
My enemy is my head. Some days it’s my friend, some days it talks shit to me, and some days it’s got explosives. What can I do to be ready for that guy? I ask myself this a lot. I have a lot of operational theories. Periodically, I get to test them out.
Responding to the question of who he thinks of when he hears successful, Jocko instantly named three guys he had served with, all of whom were dead. They were bright points of light to him in the darkness of war. . . success measured not in achievements, but by the degree to which you can light up the darkness for someone.
I like that.
Here’s to light.