I have admissions. I was once (a) a Republican who drank a lot of kool-aid, (b) a hat-wearing member of the NRA, and (c) someone who adamantly believed that every person was equal, and had the equal responsibility to lift themselves up, unless they were too lazy and entitled. That no one should ask for, nor provide help to those who should help themselves.
The only thing missing from making me a Perfect American was that I lacked a belief in God. Other than that … I was red through and through.
And then one day, I wasn’t.
Now this wasn’t switching sides because of a better sponsorship deal. Nor for the love of a woman. Not even because of … hell, the reason was simple. I lost everything. And I apologize now, but we’re going to get into some scary nitty-gritty. And while many people know some of this, I need to put it out there in complete context. Not just for you, but also for me. Because to overuse a metaphor, I still feel kinda stuck in a cocoon, and maybe this will help break me out.
I once worked for a company called Worldcom. I was making serious money, and I had SERIOUS stock options. I was putting away every penny I could in a company-stock-fueled 401k (because it was being matched at an astronomical rate). I was on the fast track to riches. At the same time, I had finally found the courage to leave an unhealthy marriage, and I was living with a woman I loved deeply. A new home, a great job, a happy personal life, and two kids I adored. I was living the dream.
And then Bernie got caught.
You probably know the history of Worldcom. Serious mismanagement of accounting. In one day my fortunes went to near nothing. Stock prices that had previously been split several times were now worth less than ten cents a share. Financially, I had zip.
As the months went by, I was forced to layoff more and more of my staff, until a day just weeks before Christmas I was forced to finish them all off, and then myself. Unemployed in the middle of the dot-com bubble bust.
I’ll skip through the next few months (which were actually most of a year), but basically the savings and severance went quickly. Then all of the credit cards maxed. And no jobs were to be had anywhere. I had two houses to support, two kids, a new live-in girlfriend (who was also unemployed and in school at that point), and I was about to hit a wall at 100mph. Oh … and I also had so much pride in my ignorance that the notion of asking for, or accepting help was not an option.
Looking back, I was clinically depressed. And I also had a life insurance policy that would pay out in the event of suicide. (I checked). And so I spent weeks working on a plan. How and where I would do it. Who would find me. Every detail, right down to the doubled-wrapped plastic baggies I would hang around my neck so someone could identify me without blood stains blocking any part of my name. I wrote goodbye notes. And I picked a date.
The good (and obvious) news was that I got called for a contracting opportunity just five days before ‘The Day’. Now the gig was doing something that was way outside of what I was doing, and for far less money. Plus it was 100 miles away, so my morning and evening commutes were not going to be enjoyable. But I was employed … even if temporarily. It was enough to get my head around possibility. And to skip to a moment a year later … I had been able to regroup, move, lose the girlfriend, and I was trying to figure out what had gone right and wrong.
Here’s the point … I had to hit absolute rock bottom before I could understand some of the very basics of life.
During that year of downfall, I had joined a volunteer fire department as an EMT and ambulance driver. Mostly for something to do with my unemployed days and evenings. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but it was the start of discovering something hidden within myself. As life went on, I discovered more and more. Like understanding how someone “like me” could have come so close to the ultimate-worst ending. Which led to the knowledge that someone already closer to that wall was that much more likely to hit it. I just had the luxury of a longer time to fall.
I learned that people don’t ask for help for a lot of reasons. That the stigma of doing so is so strong that only the desperate will do it. Those that simply have no other choice. They want to live, where I was willing to die to keep my privileged lifestyle. They had more strength than I ever could. And thus I finally started seeing humanity from all angles, not just from the top. I started changing because I started learning again from Grade One.
Skip ahead with me many years into that future, after another broken marriage, and I’m living in Miami Florida. I have been progressively moving away from the selfish. I am becoming a good person who cares. Who still carries around learned baggage, sure, but a near-changed man nonetheless.
Then Hurricane Irma hit, and that bitch hit hard.
We lost everything, basically. The entirety of our little trailer homestead in Key Largo was destroyed. A tree went through Nikki’s house in Miami and caused it to be unlivable. And yet, there were so many around us that were worse off. So we did what we could to help. My truck still worked, so we delivered food, water, and supplies to those who couldn’t get it for themselves. Delivered mattresses. Up and down the Keys. We met up with other folks closer to ground zero who had really lost everything, and even they were helping out others. We set up and ran food kitchens. We cleaned out canals and mangroves. Even co-founded a non-profit to do more marine cleanup and restoration. Always surrounded by people who put others on the same level as their own recovery.
For the next year, I felt pride at what we were doing. And we were indeed doing good. I had started realizing that I had a volunteer streak inside me, that had started with my time at Station 25, running EMT calls. And I was lulled into believing that I had found a great and happy place.
Then Hurricane Michael struck, and that fucker hit even harder.
It didn’t hit us, it came through the panhandle of Florida, a day’s drive away. So we volunteered to go up and help, completely unaware of what awaited us. Up until now, there was an almost casualness to my life. Work, help, drink, repeat. The people I was reaching out to needed me, and I was able to help them get a leg up. But Mexico Beach and Panama City were on a completely different scale.
Mexico Beach didn’t exist anymore. I mean seriously. It wasn’t wrecked, it was removed. Every single tree for miles around was snapped in half. Every. Single. One. People didn’t just need to rebuild … there was nothing to rebuild. These people had NOTHING. So we found a family that was trying to do something for their community and we helped run a food kitchen. We set up tents for donations. I went and tried to salvage roofs. No power anywhere. The smell of death lingering in the air, because they were still searching for bodies. The faces of the people that came for something warm to eat was … there are no words. And still we toiled. We later hooked up with a group called Third Wave Volunteers, run by a lady named Alison Thompson, who had been providing relief everywhere since 9-11. And I mean EVERYWHERE around the world.
Suddenly I was in the midst of the true volunteers. And the true victims. Whatever I had changed within myself suddenly needed to be reviewed, because here was a level that I couldn’t have imagined.
After several missions, things got back to semi-normal for me. Or at least, my new normal. My mind was grappling with what I had experienced. And honestly, what had burned me out so quickly. I went back to working, helping out locally, and drinking. I got a hobby in YouTube, and tried to lose myself in building something useful … but not emotionally draining. It didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I learned much, but it wasn’t quite right.
It occured to me after a conversation with a new friend (thank you Silke!) that I needed to share what I knew. And what I had yet to learn. The world had become so tribal. So extreme. That we as a species only seemed to be able to complain and point fingers. We didn’t want to solve problems as much as we wanted “the other side” to lose first. And while I had no power to change that, I did have the power to change small things in my own life that might make a small, but incremental difference. And perhaps THAT was what I needed to showcase. On YouTube, and on all of my other social media outlets.
I have no idea if my new “media empire” will amount to anything. And honestly, that bothers me. I do want to be recognized. I do want to be uber-social and in the middle of things. But I suppose that if I have to trade that for being able to reach a single person and helping to make a small change in their world, then I can find my notoriety elsewhere. There are more important things than me.
And that is both the story of why I’m doing what I’m going to be doing with The Pirate Wanderer … and how a selfish conservative with incorrect values was able to see the correct path. I’m sad that it has taken me so many decades to get here, and I’m sure that there are even higher levels I cannot yet envision, but I’m really starting to feel that the cocoon I mentioned earlier is opening a little more each day. And hopefully soon, I will be able to fly forth into a more beautiful and purposeful world. Without fear. And hopefully this article (and the new YouTube Channel!) may be the start of something for you too.