I live in resilient times. Examples of being tough, flexible, and determined to move on with one’s life are all around me, and I am heartened by their courage, their stubbornness, and their ability to realize their dreams.
I’ve only known one man through a mutual friend, and we’ve exchanged letters for several years now, talking about books and sharing our writing, and our lives. He’s been in prison for 21 years in another state, so we’ve never met face to face. Yet, we’ve connected and I’ve been a cheerleader for him, as he’s been preparing himself for a challenging parole hearing.
It was an uphill battle for him, and he’s had to work through feelings of worthlessness and lack of confidence in his talents and how he’s grown in prison, that he’s not the enraged, frustrated teenager living on city streets, acting out, in a drug induced haze. Others have supported him, too, yet the real work was his to do. Meeting the parole board, it came down to what he had to say for himself. It was about how he presented the work that he’s done to change his thinking and to demonstrate that he’s ready for life on the “outside”, ready to make some contributions to society.
And, at the end of the day, he was found “worthy of parole”. After all that time, he can now move on, into a first-class drug rehab facility, where he will also learn the skills to be a drug and alcohol counselor. He’s overcome his fears, or at least has been able to use that energy to fuel his rehabilitation and self-actualization of who he really is, inside. He’s open to learn more about himself and the demons that have shaped his life, and to build himself into an even healthier, balanced man.
He’s changed, and it’s not because of those who have supported him, but because of his own work, and his own determination and self-esteem.
Another friend gets out of prison this summer, nearly finishing his graduate degree on line. He’s done his undergrad and grad school work on line from a cubicle in prison, diligently studying, writing, and even doing group projects with other students. Prison isn’t the ideal college campus, yet he has persisted. Already, the college has employed him to improve the program and help other students.
Even more astonishing, he has grown and matured into a well-adjusted socially delightful young man, who knows the importance of a well-rounded and balanced life with others. His attitude and his intentions are the total opposite of his childhood life, and he has made the transition with a great deal of grit and determination.
Yet another man has navigated a tough childhood and several years of incarceration, to getting off parole and moving into the work force. No job was beneath him, and he worked hard, always moving ahead, improving his skills and not being afraid of hard work, long hours, and changing himself into a healthy, cheerful young man with solid values and meaningful dreams.
Today, he’s transitioning into yet another job, with more responsibility, better pay, and stability. He knows where he is going and knows who he is and wants to be.
Some of what I’ve gained in these friendships is to experience their honesty and forthrightness. They are open to who they are, where they’ve come from, what they’ve experienced, and the mistakes they’ve made. They freely share their lessons and their wisdom. They have taught me that one’s intentions and one’s determination makes all the difference in the world. And, with that drive in their gut, there is no stopping them in what they want to accomplish.
They’ve made mistakes, but then, haven’t we all? Regrets, even shame and guilt are there, but when one decides to learn from that experience, and to change what needs to be changed, and focus on where one needs to go, the past becomes a teacher, and not a label.
They remind me to examine my own life, the experiences I have had, the choices I’ve made, and the directions I have taken in my life. They have taught me to accept the lessons to be taught, and to move forward, gathering my skills and my ambition, and to move ahead. It is hard work, and challenging. Yet, if one wants to change and to realize one’s dreams, you have to step forward and do the hard work.
In that process, you have to also love yourself, and to respect yourself for who you are, and who you are becoming. Labels don’t really matter, and one’s past is simply that. It doesn’t compel you to repeat poor choices, or to accept the situation you are in, and simply feel that you are doomed to a certain direction or destiny.
What others may think of you doesn’t really matter, unless you think it does.
These men are speakers of Truth, an increasingly scarce commodity in our society. They don’t dance around the facts, the reality of life. Instead, they focus themselves, grab onto their dreams and the direction they have decided to take, and then put their heart and soul into working towards their goals and dreams. They are honest, and don’t pull any punches when it comes to being real and direct.
They get real, and they keep me real, and focused on doing something meaningful and productive in my life.
Our conversations are deep and purposeful. And, I wish I had more friends like them, and more conversations with substance and depth.
Game playing, lying, manipulating others, and not dealing with the elephant in the living room aren’t who they are about. They know what they want and they know how to get there. They are brutally honest with themselves, and can spot the old “stinking thinking” a mile away.
They don’t suffer fools easily, and steer away from the naysayers and the idlers they come across in their lives. Their BS meters are finely tuned and always powered up. Their respect is not easily earned, yet they are fiercely loyal to their own dreams, and to those in their lives who have become their close friends and family.
Others in our lives can easily dance around the truth, and are prone to manipulate us with propaganda, half-truths, fake news, and false thinking. They waste my time and clutter up my thinking with their blather. I find myself repulsed by their disrespect for the truth and for their own warped values. I resent how they waste my time, and detract all of us from improving our world and enriching lives.
The better society is being built by the likes of these men who are self-actualized truth seekers. They are constructing decent, purposeful lives, and are worthy role models for the rest of us.
I’d rather hang out with the likes of these men, who are straightforward and focused. I have much to learn from them, the resilient ones.
–Neal Lemery 5/9/2018