Awakening to Courage
How many of y’all remember that Sixties adage, “Don’t trust anybody over thirty.”? Well, now that I’m half a century past that imaginary line of demarcation, I can look back and see that the Universe had plans for me other than following the path most travelled. When I agreed to share my prose at today’s celebration, I began to consider the theme—Awake to Courage—and how courage was not my strong suit during my 20s, 30s, and early 40s.
Yes, I stood up to the class bully in the 5th grade. And I took a stand for peace during the Vietnam War. But for the most part, I went along with the edicts of the dominant cultural paradigm, including the belief that being a real man meant being tough, stoic, and macho.
Throughout the first few decades of adulthood, however, I kept getting wakeup calls:
- Getting kicked off the University of Tennessee football team after a spring of partying, drunkenness, tomfoolery, and a 0.0 grade point average.
- Totaling my car in a one-car accident while inebriated and spending the night in the drunk tank
- Waking up hungover with no memory of the night before
But, time after time, I ignored the warning signs
More frequent, more intense the wakeup calls grew, until a rapid succession of events was so overwhelming that they could no longer be ignored. Out of my casual regard for dealing with money and my penchant for hellraising and strong drink, bankruptcy reared its ugly head. Now in my early forties, I lost my Knoxville construction business, my BMW, my snazzy condo, and ultimately, my marriage.
The message that something was gravely amiss in my life finally reached my inner consciousness. I hesitantly contacted a psychologist friend, who recommended a weekend personal growth workshop. The prospect of such an undertaking scared the holy crap out of me! However, in early September of 1986, I screwed up my courage and arrived in Houston for the More To Life workshop.
I participated in the workshop, but guardedly. However, during a meditation on the second day, the doorway to a portal to another dimension swung open. The illusion of the hypermasculine façade I’d hidden behind for decades peeled away, and I saw what has always been there—the authentic me. I was overcome by a powerful sense of being deeply loved and accepted by the men and women around me and, at long last, at peace with myself just as I was.
I stopped drinking cold turkey, and over the next few years, I gradually stepped into a more genuine, more openhearted, more mindful masculinity. And I began to engage in acts of courage that had previously eluded me:
- Leaving the comfort of home to seek locales that would serve my personal growth. I moved to Austin and became a part of the local More To Life community, whose members lovingly and intentionally supported me on my path. I then relocated to Asheville with Shonnie.
- Following my true calling. After five decades of denial, I finally acknowledged that I’m a writer who supports the evolution of our culture toward greater compassion, justice, and sustainability. Shortly after this, I landed a long-term writing gig with a national textbook publisher, later wrote a biweekly column for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and , more recently, had a personal essay published in the Washington Post.
- Cleaning up my past. I did my best to make amends with folks for my more egregious past behavior. And I paid off past debts, including my bar tab at the Roman Room.
- Seeking true love. I became clear about the attributes I wanted in my next mate. And, in a marathon training group, I recognized Shonnie—her compassion, honesty,
authenticity, commitment to personal/spiritual growth—as the woman with whom I was destined to be. In 1997, we chose to enter a committed relationship despite our 28-year age difference. Then, after marrying in 1999, in 2009 we decided to bring our lovely, loveable Gracelyn into the world.
- Finding a spiritual home. When Shonnie and I first participated in a Jubilee! celebration and experienced the inclusive and welcoming folks; the eclectic four-piece band; and the charismatic, playful, wise minister named Howard Hanger who led the uplifting, socially conscious, exuberant celebrations, we knew we’d come home.
And now, having just turned 80, I find that more courage is required, specifically the courage to confront and accept my aging, an undeniable process with which I’m not fully at peace. For example, I kept denying my hearing loss until . . .
Me (to Gracelyn): So what’s the best thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to Mom, you can’t hear me.
Me: OK, so what’s the worst thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to you, you can’t hear me.
And, yes, after that little interchange, as humorous as it was, I finally got the hearing aids.
There’s no denying that I have many more years behind me than in front of me. But I still have a lot of living to do—completing my work with Jubilee!, mountain trail runs with Shonnie and Michael, publishing my memoir, and lovingly supporting Gracelyn as she matures into adulthood.
And along the way, I’ll find the courage to accept death—the final stop on my mortal path. But afterlife or not, I do believe that my spirit will live on in the writings I’ve left behind, but most important to me, in the hearts of those who love me. And perhaps the ashes from my cremation can be placed in an hourglass so that I can continue participating in family game nights with Shonnie and Gracelyn.[Friday, April 28 was my 80th birthday, and as part of my celebratory weekend, I shared this personal essay at the 4/30 Jubilee! celebration. You can view the entire celebration by clicking here.]