I'm sitting in Panera, where I often come to write, whether it's a new book or a blog post. Listening to some music (at the moment it's Bowie, "Young American" but it's on shuffle...Springsteen is next) and thinking about life.
My life has most definitely not been tidy and neat.
In December 1999 I went through a terrible divorce that broke my heart. It made me feel very different from other guys my age.
In January 2007 I lost my home when the mortgage industry started to collapse. It hurt like crazy to lose that place of mine. I had five acres and a big vegetable garden and a 750 square foot detached garage where I built furniture and worked on my cars. Losing my home made me feel very different from other guys.
In March of 2008, The company I worked so hard for closed their doors and I was without a job. Not only that, but the whole industry collapsed and I couldn't find a job at all. I was now homeless and I had a daughter to worry about. I was crushed and embarrassed and humiliated. And again I felt very very different from other guys my age.
I spent 4 years...from May 2008 until January 2012 living in my car. I completed my Bachelors degree online while living in a Volvo 850, until that died and I scraped together enough money for a used 1996 Yukon. I hid from view for the most part, because homelessness embarrassed me and made me feel very different from everyone else.
I graduated in May 2012. I started a carpentry business to try to pay the bills while figuring out my next move. I wrote a Christmas book. But I am still struggling. Work is infrequent and my landlord sold the house last month. I am afraid of the future for the first time in my life. I am going to be fifty this fall, and I can hear the time whistling past my ears. I don't have anything like the life other guys my age have. And it makes me feel very different from them all.
The truth is I don't fit here and I never did. 15 years and I feel like I am still living from a suitcase. I wish I could go home.
I had a talk this afternoon with an older man whom I know and respect. He filled in a few gaps for me. I had labored under the impression that the group of people who essentially turned their backs on me during that horrible time were right and that I was a lazy, ne'er do well. I had such respect for them that when they turned their backs on me I thought I deserved that, and I worked hard to try to change some perception of me they'd had. It turns out that they treat everyone that way...everyone who isn't someone famous or wealthy or powerful. I lived in my car for four years so that I could remain in my daughter's life and not vanish like my father did from mine. I worked on my degree and graduated, I wrote two books. I also built chicken coops, pressure washed driveways and did a hundred other things to keep gas in the tank. And never once in all that time did they call me and ask how I was. They never checked on my daughter or offered me a job or bought me a cup of coffee. They did complain once that I wasn't suffering the right way and I should stop complaining, on the few occasions that it was all overwhelming. Meanwhile I had to give away our two beautiful Springer Spaniels and our cat. Try doing that when your daughter is ten and loves them like family.
The people I needed to lean on only made me feel very different from everyone else.
They have never tasted failure or shivered in the dark in a car hidden behind a church, or showered in the rec center or washed in a public bathroom. I kept my clothes clean and my hair cut and tried not to "look" homeless and yet I was treated like a vagabond because they had no comprehension of how it hurt being in that situation. And I wasted four years trying to prove myself to them.
I thought I had brothers...
I watch the Laffing Devils and to be honest...I am a little envious. They are rough and edgy and certainly not like the folks I looked to for a little comfort and support. But had I been one of them and gone through what I went through, they would have helped me along. Because I am like them.
Tonight it dawned on me what it is that forges their brotherhood more than anything else. What it is that makes them take the Cut so very seriously and defend each other against all intruders. It's because they all have something or many things in their souls that makes them wince a little. They all have a memory or a lot of memories that they wish they could forget. They have all made mistakes and they all have scars that make them feel like they aren't like anyone else...anyone else except their brothers.
And there it is...
The real secret to the brotherhood these guys share and the bond that beats in all their hearts is that maybe the rest of the world sees someone rough and edgy and broken and not exactly a perfect fit in the mainstream, but the brothers all see another brother. They see themselves looking back and maybe this is the only place on earth where they don't feel awkward and out of sync with everyone else.
They might never admit it out loud, but I think every man in the LDMC needs the others. Just because it's safe with them. They are different from the white breads of the world...but they are all different together.
I have some very very good Christian friends. It's just that only one or two live here.
To be honest...I've been a little beaten up by the saints. I wish I had a couple of devils around me right now.
This might be my final chapter about the Laffing Devils. I think this post really captures what they are about. I'm not sure yet but if it is...Bonez, Sancho, Danny Boy, Sandman, and the rest of you guys...you have something that the "regular" people only wish they had. It's rough around the edges but the heart is pure. It's a lot more like what Jesus had in mind for His brothers than we church folk might admit.
Stay safe and keep the shiny side up. And guard that brotherhood.