A Ronin’s Journey: Chapter 8


It wasn’t a good month. It started going downhill in reminding me of how fragile life is and how unexpectedly it is lost. I had been dabbling in Stoic philosophy as a coping/preparation mechanism for all the bad that seems to come my way.

Stoics are not usually affected as much by negative emotions. I, on the other hand, was cut to the bone at the time. It started with a missing person, a birthday, and a lesson on leadership.

My wife and I attend an inclusive church. The motto is “Every Soul Matters To God,” and it has a good-sized Deaf congregation. The pastor over the Deaf church has helped us through a lot, meeting with us often. During the general counseling sessions, she usually encourages us towards a ministry. This time we said yes and took over a dormant ministry that picks up paper and coffee cups between services. It keeps the church presentable and makes the guests comfortable and hopefully returning. We didn’t expect what was going to happen hours later.

The pastor’s husband disappeared while looking for forest fires—one of the many things he did—and then radio silence. We couldn’t believe it. Simultaneously it seemed, squabbles began erupting among a few that were close to us. After one argument with a friend, my wife told me she just wanted to run away. I offered to babysit soon after and was turned down. That hurt me more than I thought it would.

Sleep was fleeting at the time. A lot of time was spent checking for updates on our missing friend. Casey was sick through it all. The weather refused to cooperate. Search crews couldn’t even look on some days. There was a massive multi-agency effort to find his plane and countless volunteers waiting in the wings for one word: “Go.” We tried to stay positive as the cold days passed, but every day narrowed the search area. My doubts started to creep in, and when a mutual friend texted me, I almost jumped out of my skin. No news, just asking if I learned anything new.

Closer to home, a birthday/memorial party was planned for my godson. They were going to have little cupcakes and homemade birthday cards. Then the plan was to attach the cards to helium balloons to launch towards Heaven. Symbolically speaking, of course. It’s an excellent idea. It can even help make someone feel better.

We all deal with things in our own way, and for me, it was hell. It didn’t take much to trigger a memory or a flashback, and being surrounded by all the reminders at the party, my mood quickly fell. Neither of us wanted to go. We didn’t want to offend either. Still, we delayed going for as long as we could. I had already had one flashback that morning when I walked out of the closet I found him by. 

At the party, his picture was everywhere. Memories were flooding me, washing me away, and I just stood there and ached. My appetite was gone. In light of a guilt trip, I begrudgingly ate a cupcake, enduring snarky comments. My wife noticed and asked if I was okay.

No. I was definitely not okay. We both felt alienated. Questioning to ourselves that, if they had forgiven us, why didn’t it feel like it? The scabs that had formed over our wounds were picked off, and salt was sprinkled over them. The anger was unexpected, yet understandable. Hurting people lash out and hurt other people. I left as soon as I could.

When I got home, I was close to tears. Going into my office, I pulled the autopsy report off my shelf. It had been there for months, but I dared not read it. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I was seeking closure or self-torture.

Sitting in my chair, slowly examining it all, occasionally looking up a medical term, I gained a deeper understanding of what his last minutes were like. The sights and sounds of that day washed over me. The party hadn’t been much of a party to me, certainly not feeling like the celebration of a life lived. I retreated into my head, running away from the reminders that stoke the fires of my personal hell. Where others see happy pictures, I only see how I found him. My curse is that I remember everything from it, the bad bleaching out the good memories.

Do not let anyone manipulate you with those negative feelings. Pushing you towards the brink, even if you think you deserve it. I live every day with the thought of him dying on my watch.

It comes with a deep well of regret, wearing on me so much I considered not living at all. Only two others knew of this, and it was after the fact, that I had considered killing myself.

I had sunk to that level in the abyss. I didn’t advertise. It wasn’t a cry for help. Just the cold consideration of if I deserved to be on this planet anymore. However, I couldn’t do that to my wife and others. Not with the constant reminders of what that would have done to those around me. No wonder the Stoic philosophy was so appealing to me. I just wanted the pain to stop.

The following days, I isolated myself, only going to church and being with Casey for human interaction. At work, I lost myself in my Anger Therapy playlist on my phone’s music app, and I occasionally hit things. Then, tired of being angry, I tried happier music. Searching for anything to lift my mood.

Then the news came down. Search and Rescue had found the plane. We anxiously awaited news of our friend’s condition. It wasn’t good. Another loss in the church. I couldn’t believe it. I guess I was just more sensitive now and could legitimately sympathize. I was hurting for his family. We weren’t close, only really spoken to him off and on over 5 years. His wife had helped us through so much, and now she was hurting. That hurt. Three gone in half a year, and the Deaf church came together again. I had wondered why I was getting more involved with them. It was loyalty, plain and simple.

Slowly I climbed out of my pit over the course of a week. I didn’t ever want to return to it. If it happened again, just let me dangle off the edge rather than falling in. It would be much easier to climb out of then. 

We awaited the day he was laid to rest and, when we arrived, shock hit us. So many cars that the police were directing traffic. A sanctuary filled to the brim, even with chairs brought in. Thousands had come.

What sort of man was he? Through the service, I learned exactly that. It was an eye-opening experience about a good life that had been lived fully. Just about everything he had done was either for others or to protect others.

Later, contemplating, I realized that, within the state’s borders, I only had three people that I could unload my baggage on. All related to me. I wondered if that was why I got jealous? Or was it insecurity?

Tensions started bubbling to the surface again. Like before the accident. I shared it with Casey and discussed it, ironing it out for the moment. Now we could move forward again. Dealing with my anger, impatience, jealousy, and the desire to manage every step left me emotionally exhausted. The lack of stability during my childhood left me clinging to whatever I could get of it. As is my habit, I picked up a couple of books.

The first one was on the embracing and harnessing of my introversion. It sounds terrible, but people exhaust me. It’s too much stimulation and, like a battery, it drains me. Extroverts feed off of others like a solar panel. A notable difference to make it less harsh.

The second was a modern look at the Stoic philosophy. It included the psychological methods used by them. Medication through education. I think I may have found a ladder out of my pit. The idea of cultivating mental tranquility and not being angry and impatient had great appeal. One of the reasons was that it was supposed to tell me how to flip the negative feelings into peace and joy. The book held many methods for it that dealt with my most significant issues.

I took vigorous notes as I read through the philosophy’s techniques, thinking it would make an excellent post as well. It had a way to deal with my control issues. Starting with the realization of how little control we actually have. In fact, there were only four areas we had a modicum of control: reason, principles, values, and our choices.

They come into play as we interact with others, their worldviews, and the ebb and flow of society. It develops into a realization that we can’t change the past, and not even the instant something happens. What we can do is learn from the former and make the most of the current. Using that, we apply it towards building a better future or risk falling into the pessimistic funk of “why bother?” 

Then it got to grief. The author said that the aim was not to bottle it up behind a brave face. Let it flow, especially immediately after the fact. His suggestion for later to help soothe the pain was to imagine a life without that person ever existing. In the time they were here, imagine that they were never there for the pictures, holidays, the life experiences together. Remember your life as it was before they entered the picture. Using it, I deepened my thankfulness for the time we had my godson.

One common cliche I heard was “Don’t cry, they wouldn’t want you to be sad.” The thing is, you’re going to be sad. The Stoics came up with a bit of proactive advice for the eventuality of losing a loved one. Occasionally think of losing that person (or object) and how it would hit you. Not to depress you insomuch as inoculate you to try to ease the pain. Like when a loved one is in hospice, you know it’s coming and is already grieving, so when they pass on, the impact of grief is less than an unexpected loss. It was drawn out beforehand. Except this is a moment here, or there, throughout the week. It also gives you a greater appreciation of them when you reflect on life without them. It enables you to live fuller lives with them and fewer regrets.

Then there is the issue of when someone picks the scab off of an internal healing wound. Personally, I’ve found just avoiding them works, saving everyone the grief. However, it’s not always possible, and there are those first times for everything. If we interact with them, consider this question in response to what they say: “How well informed are they?”

Most people only have a piece of the story. If it’s essential, then you can calmly correct them. The other part requires us to set our egos aside and consider if they have a valid reason. If they don’t have one, does that person’s opinion really matter? Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words only hurt if you let them. Think about it: is it what someone said or how you took it? This can eat us alive from my experience. I tend to carry grudges and, frankly, I’m tired of being impatient and angry. Anger can feed off of itself. It cycles until the underlying issues are resolved. Honestly, it’s not that cut and dried or else the techniques wouldn’t be necessary.

One way to combat this pessimistic tendency is not to jump to conclusions. I am the absolute worst about doing that. If I don’t catch myself, I’ll get angry about something that hasn’t even happened. It’s just the thought of it and the argument that may occur that will fan the flames.

Usually, it doesn’t even play out as I imagined in my head. How to work to stop this is to listen actively. Don’t even think of your response until the other person has finished speaking. This provides time to cool down, gather information, and deal with it rationally.

The things that anger us are more often than not annoyances that do more harm when we blow them out of proportion. For me, it’s when dealing with family. Look at the grand scheme of your annoyance as opposed to a lifetime, or just in a day. Is it that important that it requires an angry response? Remember this: we get on people’s nerves too.

One of the benefits I have found with this is that it puts the ego, the emotional side, in its place. Things that bothered us won’t have the same effect as before. That suits me just fine. I’ve taken power away from anyone wanting to control me. When we’re triggered into a highly emotional state, we become less rational and more malleable. It’s easier to manipulate someone in that state. Instead, enjoy the good and minimize the bad.

I began to put these into practice. On the one hand, avoid people who hate and want to hurt me. It’s better for all of us and keeps the negativity down. On the other hand, one of my “adopted” sisters made me cry. I can’t remember exactly what she said. However, as the happy tears filled my eyes, I replied, “Aww.” Another time was when I finished part of the draft for this book and started to get sad. I was really missing my godson. I thought to myself, He wouldn’t want me to be sad. He’d probably ask me “why,” a favorite question of his.

One day, I was getting impatient with someone. I had to dig up some more patience. Nagging doesn’t make them go faster. I can’t force them and if I left them, then WW3 would have erupted.

Then it got creepy. I awoke with a start at 4 AM from a nightmare. In it, I was dead, and later, I became undead. I was a zombie that still had its intelligence and a massive hole in my face. Stumbling throughout the dream, I was searching for my wife and avoiding being killed by humans. While doing that, I saw some weird things. At one point, I passed a room, or a street corner, to find my favorite author…and his duplicates? Along the way, an old woman crossed my path and confirmed that yes, I was, in fact, dead as a doornail. Continuing on, I came across a wedding picture with my godson in it, who was wearing a mask. That’s when I woke up. For a while, I sat there, wondering about a world without me in it and how it would affect my family. 

The next morning, I shared it with my best friend and another friend, who interprets dreams. I generally don’t put much into dream interpretation, but this was too weird. From my reading, I’ve seen where the mind is capable of a lot. Those dreams are your subconscious talking, though I don’t know how well it grasps symbols and meanings. While I waited for their response, I did my own research and found some eerie similarities.

The zombie with a hole in its face indicates that someone is wandering aimlessly trying to find themselves. The day my godson died, I died inside, the traumatic shock suppressing everything, even my personality. This book is the journey of grief from that.

The duplicates, and this is a far-fetched guess on my part, is the product of this author’s books I’ve read and the information I try to process from them. 

The mask is a symbol of duplicity in dreams. I can see how that is the case. One of my struggles is with how I remember him in those last moments and how he lived before that.

The humans that were trying to kill me the whole way? I believe they symbolize the various roadblocks in my way. That being the setbacks and personal feelings about if I should just stay in the pit. Some think I should. Usually, I join them in that feeling, except I’m not living solely for myself.

I have responsibilities and obligations. The most crucial being to my wife, who needs me to be her rock and shoulder. More than anyone realizes, she keeps me sane. Then there are the people who, for some reason, look up to me. Letting myself fall back into the darkness fails them all.


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