Life

The Practice of Survival

You may not need this post right now. Everything may just be going along swimmingly for you, with no stresses and no problems and nothing to worry about at all.

Lucky sumbitch…

But for the rest of us, I’m wanting to talk about inching towards daylight. I want to talk about the ragged edge. I want to talk about survival.

It Gets Worse

I’m a big fan of the “It Gets Better” campaign. Dan Savage’s championing of the cause has probably helped many people get through the very difficult time of being ostracized for a part of your identity you have no control over.

However, I almost think there is another movement that needs to be started: It Gets Worse. Because the fact is, it can, and it does, and from what I see of current economic trends, it will. Things are going to get harder before they get easier, from what I can see. Denying that with a false sense of optimism is just setting people up for crushing defeat after crushing defeat. How many times can your hopes be dashed before it doesn’t even seem worth it to try again?

Inching Towards Daylight

Instead, I think of a character named Caine from a book called “Blade of Tyshalle”. It’s a science fiction/fantasy piece, and if that’s not your thing, that’s ok. You don’t need it to be in order to benefit from the idea. I’ll try to describe it to you without spoiling too much.

In a particularly harrowing part of the novel, things are going badly for the protagonist, as things often do. In fact, the author, Matthew Stover, does a fine job of making everything look damn impossible. Friends, family, even his own body is betraying our hero Caine. He is flung into the equivalent of the Pit of Despair (to reference another great novel) and all seems lost.

So he starts crawling up. And I do mean crawling, through muck and slime. There’s no point to it; from what he knows, and from what we’ve read, his enemies have won. He lost. There’s no way he can do anything beyond what he’s done.

But still, he crawls. Inch by inch, ever so slowly, he crawls up from the pit. Because he knows that’s all it is: a collection of dirty, slimy, putrid inches, and as he eats those inches up, regardless of how slowly, he will eventually reach daylight.

I’m not saying he does, by the way. That would be giving it away. But at that point in the book, he certainly thinks he will. That’s what I took away from that story. When everything is going wrong and all seems lost, I just hunker down, and look for that inch I can take. Just an inch, but it’s enough.

Except when it isn’t.

The Ragged Edge

Some times are rougher than others. For example, I spent a few years as a single father on welfare and food stamps, part of the working poor. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a job – I had three – it was that none of them provided benefits or paid enough to support my four daughters and myself. Those were some pretty bad ramen-eatin’ candle-burnin’ sweater-wearin’ times in the Wisconsin winter. My younger three daughters were pretty much too young to realize it, but the older one, Ashlei, knew times were hard. She felt and saw the stress and the struggle.

Ashlei & my grandson Harvey Thrivin’ on the Beach

We talked about it a lot. I explained to her that yeah, we were close to the edge…but we were hanging on by our fingernails. Hanging on to what we began calling “the Ragged Edge.” It was a keyword that we’d use to give encouragement and solace to each other. I’d get a new client and a nice check and say “Hey, that’s one step back from the ragged edge.” Or when our house was robbed and I lost my computer and all its data, she said “I know you’re on the Ragged Edge, Dad. Just keep hangin’ on.”

And I did. I hung on, and she hung on with me, and eventually the Ragged Edge – well, that particular Ragged Edge – became less so, and we survived and even thrived, eventually.

Survive to Thrive

That’s the thing: sometimes you do everything you can – literally everything – to make your life better, to get out of whatever trouble you’re in – and yet you’re still there in the Pit, still hanging by your metaphorical fingernails over the abyss.

That’s when you start inching towards daylight. Or, failing that, just hold on by your fingernails to the Ragged Edge. Either way, you have one tremendous ally on your side: Time. Time keeps passing, and that means circumstances keep changing. Which means if you’ve done everything you could to fix things, you just have to wait for the universe to catch up. Think about it: even if you just stay where you are, the world is moving, inch by inch, towards daylight. You just have to hang on long enough.

This is a concept I’ll be coming back to often. I think it’s a key to getting past the hard times of now and the immediate future into that place where the Great Recession is a chapter in the history books read by much happier people. Hang on to the Ragged Edge, even if that’s all you can do, and when you see that inch you can take, take it!

Daylight is coming, regardless

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