The Stoic Approach To Broken

“And then I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can’t ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it’s already happened. “–Douglas Coupland

Everyone has a pivotal moment, a retrospective stand-still, in which growing becomes hard; innocence lost.  It’s like being punched for the first time, doubled-over in perplexing pain, trying to catch your breath.  After that–the first time–it becomes easier to take a beating.  Maybe you self-protect or maybe you’re scared or maybe you’re stronger, but you’re never where you were before.  Moments of truth awaken reflexes within you that were either conditioned or innate, but either way the reaction defines you.

Everyone also has an ostensibly innocuous moment, a seemingly irrelevant event, in which a choice or decision is entered into the dynamic mindstream of another; karma.   Sending and banishing another into Samsara–cyclic suffering–until noble virtue, noble concentration, noble discernment, and noble release is understood.  Sounds like a disproportionate amount of spirit work for one versus the other, right?  Not really, it’s all in the give and take.

One midday Saturday in the early 80’s, I watched out the screen door as a trio of teenagers walked down our mostly desolate road in Divide Community.  No rock was left unturned by my family in our Podunk community and it was the first and perhaps only time strangers afoot passed through.  The details between my curiosity as a screen lurker and why those orphans or hippies or serial killers were devouring the Hamburger Helper at our dinner table may have been misplaced.  Nevertheless, the youngest of the ambiguous sibling tribe became a squatter in our hamlet.  Squatters get all the benefits of home without the responsibility, and by their very nature live in survival mode so everything is a threat.  He was the first broken person I knew, and a catalyst for the demise of  my family unit.

Several months after my parent’s divorce, we were in the grocery store when a familiar but faceless lady mentioned seeing my father buying beer.  This information would have been a fairly normal adult activity, however my father spent my whole life up to that point judging and preaching about the sins of the sinner.

“You must have meant my Uncle Donnie,” I interjected.  “People think they’re twins, but they aren’t. MY dad doesn’t drink.  Drinking beer is a sin.”

Ironically, I will never forget her expression.  She quickly withdrew her tongue from idle talk and looked down.

“Oh.”  She glanced at my mom and then back to me.  “Maybe you’re right.”

I placed my hands on my hips and curtly replied, “I am.”

I was afraid of what it meant; my father drinking.   Was this how stoic people did things?

I didn’t have a penchant for bad things during my teenage years like my friends did during their era of rebellion.  I coughed and  complained too much for my friends to truly get me addicted to cigarettes (like most of them eventually did).  Not a smoker.  It wasn’t an easy feat, either, to get me drinking alcohol.  I hated the taste of liquor, wine, and beer.  One particularly weighty morning, I snatched a beer from my stepfather’s refrigerated stash and took it with me to school.  I got in my car and pushed in the single cassette tape of TLC’s “Waterfalls” and drove toward school–beer between legs and sobbing.

(WAIVER:  I DO NOT CONDONE DRINKING & DRIVING, NOR DO I CONDONE DRINKING LOW-POINT BEER.) 

7:30am, football field parking lot, sobbing and gagging as I forced down my first beer, alone.  After all, this is how stoic people do it.

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