““Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience. — To realize that it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not a catastrophe, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.““ (Bruce Lee)
I’m not typically one that pushes life to the brink. I lived a charmed life for a long time, and forgot what the edge looked like.
I went from six figure lifestyle with stability and upward mobility, to a skin of my teeth scrape for survival, bouncing off social programs and onto roads I never expected to traverse again.
This blog is a thank you to those people in my orbit that have kept me from sliding over the edge over the course of the last year and into an abyss. For privacy purposes, I won’t reveal names, and since these amazing, gracious, selfless humans aided the human behind this artistic mask, I will keep the specifics of individual help secret.
But you know who you are. The empowering comments, cards, and messages of belief and encouragement as I struggled to stand. Reaching out when I seemed to have drifted away for too long. The active displays of genuine concern, like long distance hugs, offering me work or a loan to get by during this difficult time, or checking in on how I’m doing. The compassion. The trust. The love.
Love keeps us from reaching the cliff; care keeps our lives from careening out of control into a freefall with an inevitable crash.
All around me, I see the survivors of such a fall. Broken, irreparable lives. Doomed finances and futures.
Diminished and regressed existence.
Squalor and compromise.
The decay of the present day is palpable. Millions of people have been pushed to the edge by circumstances beyond their control, by choices that had catastrophic outcomes, and by breaks and fractures that don’t heal without focused help, support and patience. Millions go to work every day while sick in order to maintain financial survival – not just stability, but income that keeps their lives from sliding into tragic decisions. Millions have put survival over proper health discipline due to lack of insurance, stability options, and/or healthy opportunities (including me). Millions sacrifice more than we can ever truly understand, and stress more than we can comprehend.
2020 has brought me as close to the edge as I have in the last two decades.
At the end of June, I suffered an accident while on the job that brought me centimeters away from tragedy. While using a table saw to rip trim for a new flooring job, the glove of my right thumb got pulled into a spinning saw blade. Before I knew it, the teeth ripped through my right glove and into my flesh, almost severing the tip of my primary thumb. The cut was deep enough that I could see the tip of my right thumb bone, though the angle of the cut kept the tip of my thumb from coming off completely.
See the photos at the end of this blog for graphic detail. I apologize for the quality of some of the images; it was difficult to do anything with my right hand for a few months, including take photos with my left hand. One-handed phone use proved difficult.
Given that it was my first major injury since I was a kid, I think I handled it as well as someone could without health insurance. I was calm, cool, collected, and focused to heal my own wound, even though my co-worker said what followed from my injury “looked like a murder scene“. I took a dive from champion for worker safety into the bloody pool of those injured on the job.
Accidents happen, and my injury was truly an accident. I was watching what I was doing, and I wasn’t distracted. I just happened to miss when the blade caught my glove and pulled it into the blade. Life is like that – you feel safe until that quick second that chaos pulls you into the saw. My quick reaction saved the tip of my thumb from being completely severed off.
It was not the first time I cut wood with a saw, and it won’t be the last. I don’t fear the edge of the blade, but I am more respectful of the power of chaos, of the possibility of doing everything you can to protect yourself from the edge of the cliff or the apex of the spinning blade and still falling victim to the unexpected. Precaution and focus are always necessary when dancing with danger, and any slip can lead you faltering off the precipice and into tragedy.
Today’s danger will bleed you dry faster than you can properly transfuse. I suppose my previous experience with the edge gave me the confidence and patience to live through my present turbulence while maintaining my sanity.
I can only hope the rest of those helpless people on the edge right now have a chance at and the strength for stability like I have.
Four months later, my chopped thumb is mostly healed (by my own attention to healing), and the bloody event served as a pivot in my professional direction and artistic legacy. Instead of focusing on finding a vocation where I can use my hands and stay active, I’ve returned to my Marketer roots and am exploring what can grow out of those dismissed skills. Instead of working in an industry that varies based on the season and on your ability to survive the elements, I’m working from home and with my head. Instead of facing a future as an artist (and human) without an operable right thumb, I have a second chance to breathe life into my art.
Instead of disabled, I have become refreshingly enabled.
But I was lucky.
In order to survive over the last few months, I took jobs that put me out in the public and into the thick of the decay. Out of social distance and isolation and into the faces of people that couldn’t be bothered with masks. Out of protective spaces and into covid-possible crowds. As an Uber and Domino’s driver, I’ve visited abandoned houses, destitute families, places strained by lack of resources, and burned husks of buildings trashed by riots and protesters. I’ve smiled through hundreds of rides and deliveries that resulted in zero tips. I have seen the diversity of the urban landscape around me like no time in my life before.
I exchanged a charmed life for a complex, complicated road. I swapped upward mobility and unshakeable stability for struggle and wisdom. I traded an existence of suburban, closed comfort for brutal reality and recognition of the edge.
Backing away from the brink is a constant work in progress. It has taken me swallowing my pride and asking for help in ways that I’ve never done in my past. It has been humbling and tear-jerking. It has been difficult and stressful. It has been inspirational and empowering.
But most of all, it has been renewing. What doesn’t kill you truly does makes you stronger.
As long as you don’t tumble completely off the edge. To those of you who have helped me from discovering what that fall looks like,