To begin, I will ask that if there is any part of you that is stigma-based; kindly leave your judgment someplace else. The following time and location is taken from a place where I was sent to rethink and reshape my life. Admittedly, my initial intentions were less than sincere. Then again, I was less than a sincere person back then and, in some cases, I was less than good.
I was a different person then. I was hateful as ever and angry, young and misled by the provocative arguments and social misleading which was brought up out of ignorance and simple misteachings. Plus, I was at the chippie station or, otherwise, I was in the young stages of teenage addictions.
Therefore, I was medicated and obligated to a life that was not in my best interest. I was living amongst hateful times with hateful people and to protect myself, I shielded myself with hateful ways (to keep me safe) and, additionally, I struggled with the chemical reactions from a life that was hinged upon emotional pain and chemical dependency.
Hence, I set this stage to blossom like a flower or act as a representation of my education – or, more poetically; I define this as my own personal genesis. This is where I arrived at the station of education. Or safer put, this is where I earned my pin and achieved a sense of knowledge, wisdom and understanding. This comes from a time of my biggest misguidance yet this is about a moment of awareness which I choose to celebrate.
I think of dinners and people with friends who gather at festive times. I think of holidays like Thanksgiving or otherwise, I think of people in their humble abodes and regardless of money or the lack thereof, I believe the sayings about love and family are true. You can have all the money in the world. You can have everything you want and all that you can ask for. But if you don’t have a family or if you don’t have anyone meaningful to share your life with, you might as well not have anything at all.
There was a time when I was making my way through the City on a Sunday afternoon. I noticed people who gathered together. I noticed how they set tables in front of their buildings and brownstones and prepared to eat together. I thought about them.
I thought about their world and me in mine. I thought about the misguidance of ignorance and the misunderstanding of race or racial difference.
More accurately, I thought about what I was taught or what I was told to think about.
However, in a twist of strangeness; I noticed that everything I was told or taught to see was inaccurate. I noticed people were happy to celebrate a day with each other. There were no fights or shame or reasons to be in-guard because of who you were or what you looked like.
In fact, I saw signs of acceptance and appreciation. Not to mention, I saw love and the generous extension of neighbors regardless of color or choice of lifestyle. I saw this and recognized an old coldness from my previous self.
I exhaled and realized the old version of me was gone and thankfully so. That person was no more and so were the different scripts of ignorance and hate. That was all one; and that life, rather than be hateful – I came to understand that life is made for living.
Wars are expensive and so is hate. The bridges that burn can only light our way, but for so long until the fires die out. Then what?
There we are; equally as ignorant and lost in the darkness of our worst decisions.
I thought about a man who I knew during a different sector of my life. I thought about the truest form of selflessness and how I failed in comparison. Then again, I was never much for being exposed by the light. In fact, I feared the lights of truth because this exposed my truths and dishonesties.
I went back to a time in my life –
I met a man who never owned a brand new pair of blue jeans in his life. He pulled me to the side and asked if I would allow him to do something for me. We were not close friends and aside from a moment in time and a geographical similarity; and in addition to a punitive decision that was placed upon me and mandated by the courts, I was placed with this person in a rehabilitation facility. I was there with people of all kinds. I was young. However, I was not only young; I was the youngest person in this facility which brought about an unneeded and unhelpful draw of attention. Then again, this place was not my first choice. However, the alternative was certainly less attractive. At the time, I was sick and frail. My hair was long and my skin was pasty green. I was “too light to fight and too thin to win” so rather than brave the cages and the dangers of correctional facilities, I submitted myself to treatment as a much safer option.
Among other greats, this is where I met the man who never owned a new pair of clothes. However, this is also where I met a man who offered me his new pair of jeans if it meant that I would stay the course and keep out of trouble. This was a great man.
This was a person who lived on the road. He picked apples in apple orchards and drank cheap wine in box cars. He had no family left. He had nothing but the old raggedy clothes that he wore when he came into our treatment facility. He had a few pairs of old hand-me-down clothes from other people and, of course, a brand new pair of blue jeans.
We lived together in a place that was far from the life which either of us were accustomed to. We were learning about this thing called recovery. He was looking to stay away from the bottle that robbed him of his life and I was looking to stay away from the different packages that kept me sick.
Decades have passed since then-
I have thought about this man throughout the years, frequently, and with all of my heart – I have to say that I’ve never seen a person show such a display of kindness.
I was young and lucky. Or, better yet, some people would call me privileged and to this I say; we are all privileged in some ways – and me, I have no right to declare my privileges or be judge nor jury on who can corner the market on privilege.
But me, I was fortunate.
I was fortunate to have a family. I was fortunate to come from a home. I was fortunate to be unscarred and still alive. I was fortunate that I did not have to endure the physical beatings, like my friend for example – he was a man who had taken beatings after beatings for reasons that I could never understand.
He was a man. And a great one at that.
He was a person of color with dark skin and in his humblest, most kindest gesture; this man offered me clothing and an apple.
I know what it feels like to not have anything, he told me.
That’s why I’m giving this to you, he said.
I don’t want you to have to feel the way I did. So, take these.
And you do what they tell you to.
I was so small at that moment yet there was something so big and bright about this man. And beautiful too.
I can see this in my head. I can recall and detail the entire scene and 32 years later, I am still around to tell this story.
I am around to tell about two people who came from different backgrounds, different cultures and, indeed, we were from two different parts of the world yet there was common bond of decency that went beyond the barriers of race or color.
The truth is I have sat in expensive restaurants and tasted food from the upscale menus. I have met with people who were both rich and wealthy or poor and without. At the same time, I have met people who have little and if you met them, you’d swear that they have it all.
Or, on the other hand, I have met miserable millionaires and people who could have anything they ask for. At the same time, with all of their wealth and all of their possessions, they had absolutely nothing.
I suppose an apple and a pair of brand new blue jeans is not a meal, per-se. Then again, what’s in a meal? What is the intention of a meal; other than a way for us to be nurtured?
An apple in itself is a symbol of knowledge, wisdom and education (or understanding).
I can recall the days before I left this treatment facility. I sat with my friend at dinner time. We shared a meal together at a place where the meal was not altogether tasty. Yet still, we enjoyed ourselves in a place of difficult times and hardships.
We were not in a special restaurant of any kind. No, we were in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center during the mid-month of September in 1989. I was just a kid who believed in the nonsense lessons that I was taught. At the time, I subscribed to the inaccurate version of a proposed life. In all sincerity and with all of my heart – I realized how wrong this was.
I learned that my subscription to hate was a mark of shame. I learned that my ignorance could no longer be a plea and now that I was aware and now that I could see clearly, I came to the honest realization that if I could learn mistruths as fact and that if I can hate without restriction; then I could love just as equally. I learned that the depth of my love can equal the span of my hate. I learned to question my assumptions as well as my teachers because not all lessons are facts.
It was here that I learned that the color of my skin or the wealth of my background, my privileges, or regardless of how fortunate I may be – I had to understand that life is life. Love is love. And that I have no Earthly right to anything more than anyone else. In fact, I must remain teachable – and not only that, I have to remain hungry – to learn the truth and be thirsty for more.
I learned that my appetite might be hungry and my tastes might be wealthy, but money or power is not the key ingredient to the meals of happiness.
No, it’s not on the menu at any five star restaurants. It’s here in my spirit.
I am older now and, of course, it would be a safe assumption to say that the man who offered me his brand new pair of jeans is no longer here in the flesh. I wish he was though. I wish he was around to share a meal with me. I wish this, not only because food is love. Instead, I wish this because I wish that I could break bread with this man and offer him a thank you.
I’d like to let him know that regardless of a few tremors and some setbacks, I’m still here. Still clean and sober with more than 31 years and although I am not as qualified, I have tried to return the wealth of my journey by trying to share the love which he showed me, a person who at the time was hateful and resistant. But not anymore.
Not after meeting him.
Sleep well, my old friend.
Wherever you are.
I did just like you told me to
I stayed the course.
All it took was the feeling of having a brand new pair of jeans and an apple.
Come to think of it, I could use the feeling of both those things right now.
(Know what I mean?)