Living with Passion and Purpose – the Catalyst for Change.
It was the end of August 2013, and the final angry burst of a winter storm covered the city of Sydney. I had been walking to work for a few months to try to clear my head and save some money.
As I walked across George Street in the early evening’s driving rain, something terrible happened.
As the world froze and I watched in horror, my life changed. It changed for a number of people. Life can take years to step in, or it can take seconds. Change can be chosen or forced. Life forced this change, and my life force was shocked.
For the previous eight years, I had worked in the finance industry for Australia’s two largest banks.
After the breakup of my first marriage and the closure of our beloved family business, I needed a job to pay the bills and look after my three sons.
I was not a great banker.
I was a respected leader and a skilled businessman, and fellow bankers enjoyed my open spirit, but I lacked the reverent rigidity that makes a good corporate citizen.
However, I am a good Dad, and that’s why I joined the bank. It was definitely not a career choice.
I love my sons unconditionally, and they love me the same way. We are extremely tight.
Let me now step back into that windy and wet August winter evening. I headed out of the heated comfort but strangely cold foyer of the bank and into the rain.
I did have an excellent corporate umbrella. The umbrella was as unbending as the policies and procedures of the bank.
I started the long, uphill walk to my car. What I did not realize was that I had started walking back into my life.
As I crossed George and Bathurst streets in peak hour traffic, a tow truck ran the red light at sixty kilometres an hour and smashed into the woman walking behind me. The truck missed me by inches, and as I became aware of the developing mayhem, something clipped the back of my head as I turned. I believe it was the woman’s umbrella still in her hand.
What I saw, I will never forget.
This beautiful, healthy woman in mid-air, her hair flying out and up. Her head struck the asphalt with a sickening crack. The tow truck went over her, the silence creased, and all hell broke loose.
Two young men were also hit by the tow truck.
Screams and cries and groans were muffled by the wind and the rain, but nothing could muffle the loss.
The crowd pushed me to the other side of the street, and in minutes, paramedics arrived to treat the victims.
There was nothing I could do to help. The experts had arrived.
As I stumbled up Bathurst Street in the wind and the rain, my thoughts were with the woman. I had gone through another near-death experience, but I was not thinking how lucky I had been. What struck me immediately was the moment-to-moment power of life. We can be doing a mundane, innocent task like walking home from work. We can be thinking about what we want for dinner, how much homework the kids have, whether your partner has paid the phone bill, and then bang—the joker card comes out, and we are literally gone. Dead!
I started sobbing.
I rang my parents.
I needed to connect to the love of my family.
This life we all have is a moment-to-moment proposition. Life exists in those moments. If we are not connected, if we are not living our truth, we miss out on those moments.
We miss out on life.
Who decided to take her and not me? What divine force had chosen me to live and let her life force flow out onto the road?
I did not have any amazing out-of-body experience and I was not stuck by a lightning bolt sent from the heavens.
I just had a strong, powerful thought.
There was no divine force or guiding hand that chose life and death. No almighty power pointed to people as in a schoolyard cricket game.
It just was. It just is.
One day. One life.
You have to live each day. Live each moment, because the next moment could be your last.
Possibly, when we are connected, when we are living with congruence and purpose, our choices are clearer, and we avoid situations that may compromise our safety.
As I say, in those first minutes after the accident, these ideas were just atoms of thoughts, but they stuck deep down in my gullet and heart and came out like a tsunami days later.
I cried for the woman in the shower that winter night. I cried, I sobbed, and snot dribbled down my face during a hot shower that gushed till the water ran out.
For the next two days, I was fine. I didn’t even talk about it much. I went to work, did my job, smiled, and reached out to people.
On the morning of day three, though, things changed. I’m an early starter and often get to work at seven after an early gym session. When I arrived, it was usually me, the cleaners, and the executive general managers (EGMs). Those guys work hard. The EGMs, I mean. And iPhones and laptops turn their kitchen tables into offices. They never rest. The banks get every last drop of their vitality and energy. To me, it’s akin to corporate incarceration, but if they falter there is always another hungry up-and-comer to take their place. It’s the system.
Anyways, the executive manager of the EGMs sat down beside me, and I asked how she was. This woman was amazing. Always looked immaculate. Operated above and beyond normal human endurance yet appeared to be within herself. An amazing gift. She smiled and said she was well, and I believed her.
Then, she asked how I was, and the dam broke. The pent-up energy and hurt and dirt and mess flowed through the fracture of steel and concrete.
My face broke, and my eyes broke, and I broke. I shattered. Like cement, I cracked and shattered. The façade and the crap and the shell that people saw as David Stewart fell off me like discarded snakeskin. Old, dry, used-up leather.
This man broke like an egg.
My heart gave way. It went away. I cried for that beautiful, healthy woman, and I cried for my years of shame and alcohol and drug abuse up at Kings Cross. I cried for my wives, my mum and dad, my sisters, and my sons. I cried for all the alcoholics and addicts who had died when I had lived. I cried for the people working in this bank, who like me, were doing jobs they tolerated just to pay a mortgage or put their kids through school. I cried until this amazing woman next to me told me to go home. And for the next three days, I curled up on a lounge under a doona and watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy until I could quote Gollum like the ASX share price index. I could not get off that lounge. I couldn’t move because there was no body to carry me. David Stewart did not exist anymore. I had shed that old snakeskin in the big, bright room of the bank. There was nothing to hide behind. No curtain to draw. No mask to wear. No baubles or pretty glass to distract people. I was completely exposed, and when people saw the real me, they would see the venom, the lies, and the shame.
I hated my own guts. Why would anyone accept me as I really was?
The charade was finished. The show was over. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to exist either. I was not worthy.
When I had chosen to dig a hole and crawl into oblivion, another amazing woman changed my attitude.
My mother. My mum. The sweetest, kindest human being I have ever met.
My mother. Strong as teak but soft as sun-kissed butter.
See the commonality? Women?
Women experience possibility. Women see life.
Men project loss. Men see death.
Mum told me to get off the lounge and go for a walk.
As any errant son does, I did what I was told.
I obeyed my mum. I went for a walk. A long walk.
The walk of ultimate shame, and after ninety minutes, with my head down and the study of dirt and grass completed, I came to a simple decision.
I was stuffed, and I needed help.
I saw a brief glimpse of the animal inside.
He smiled at me, and the cold, hard light caught the gleam of his fangs. It blinded me again.
But it also reminded me.
Inside of me. Deep inside of me, I am dark. Very dark. Pitch black.
It’s only five percent of me, but it is a hell of a percentage.
It comes of its own accord. It doesn’t need prompting nor does it need an invitation.
It just comes. When life can get no better, and when people are loving me and telling me I am a good man, it comes even harder. It rises like a storm in my soul and my gut, and it washes over me like a dirty wave of sewerage.
It calls, “Come play with me. You know you want to. Taste my wrath. My need.”
But this day, after the kindness and love of my mother and the cathartic calm of a long walk I told damage to ‘fuck off.’
Unfortunately, the ‘fuck off’ had reservations.
It was a ‘fuck off’ with caveats.
After all the loss, after all the pain, I still held onto the damage.
It was personal.
It was in my gut as a dirty, greasy ball of string.
Damage has a name and I call him Fester.
Fetid, funky Fester.
Fester appears as a knot of anxiety and pain but pain can be terribly attractive.
Loss can be a comfortable lament for anyone who has embraced damage.
Damage confirms our low self-esteem and ironically, it can briefly calm the storm.
It’s like careening into a pitch black tunnel on a train.
You know the darkness is coming.
It’s almost like being covered by a warm, thick blanket but the fear kicks in as you hit the edge of the abyss.
The noise muffles and you are alone.
You know the silence has jagged edges and you know you will bleed but you lap at your own blood like a kitten tasting cream for the first time.
The warm, viscous liquid cools and coats your throat but it starts to dampen your humanity.
So the senses submerge as you charge deeper into the tunnel.
You will lose your sight and a perspective of time but the darkness will wrap you like a burrito.
Then as the clock stops ticking your need starts tickling and that is your addiction.
Just for a bit, a wee little bit, but damn that tickle feels good.
So fucking good.
Yes, oh lordy I need help.
When your addiction vibrates you know that help is not just an option.
It is essential.
It is life and death.
So you make the decision to seek help.
Again and again.
Family help. Recovery help. Friend help.
And professional help.
And it does help.
So suddenly, after an apparent eternity, you feel the train take a bend in the tunnel and a pin point of light grows bigger ahead.
And as the light grows and the darkness fades you embrace life.
It can be that sudden and simple.
We choose life.
Living and loving.
Owning past mistakes and admitting fault.
But the doubt remains every day before dawn.
As you shake off the tentacles of sleep the questions begin.
Dear God, do I have the energy?
Do I have the fight?
Can I take the self-examination?
Do I want to live?
And the answer is yes.
There is no other choice.
Of course it is yes.
You choose freedom of choice on a daily basis.
Freedom of choice is a life well led, so once again you commence the task of peeling the onion.
Layer after layer.
And after one such morning of self-examination, exposure, recovery and psychotherapy I chose to walk home from the city, up past David Jones on Elizabeth Street, to my special spot.
Special spot I here you ask.
Well, would you like to know about my special spot? I’ve had it for years.
Ok, I’ll let you in on a closely held secret and tell you.
It’s on a park bench, second from the right.
Between the Archibald Memorial Fountain and St Mary’s Cathedral at the north end of Hyde Park.
Right in the middle of the old part of the city of Sydney.
You can feel the ghosts of convicts, chipping at the blocks of sandstone running around the base of the fountain.
When I go, the sun is always shining.
There is always a light zephyr of a breeze blowing.
I feel neither hot nor cold, but just right.
Lots of tourists and newlywed couples take pictures next to the fountain.
Memories of happiness and light.
Light catches the drops of water floating on the breeze, creating translucent rainbows floating on the slowly moving air.
Office workers sit around the fountain and eat their takeaway sushi in the sun.
Young lovers kiss and canoodle on the grass verges.
Parents walk their children down the wide path to David Jones and Centrepoint.
Love and light.
Even the homeless and rough sleepers appear to gain some serenity in the surrounds.
It is peaceful.
When I sit on my bench, in my spot, I throw my head back, close my eyes, and bask in the sun like a lion fully fed.
I take a couple of deep breaths.
Three really deep breaths, right from my diaphragm and not from my chest.
Way down deep.
I drop my shoulders and pretend my legs and arms are bits of liquorice or pieces of string, and as I slowly breathe in and out, I roll my legs and arms up and down.
I go to my chest, and with my eyes still closed and my breath slow and deep, I imagine that my ribs can fold in and out, in and out, in and out, and my torso relaxes and lets go of all the pent-up energy and regret.
Finally, my head becomes a balloon, and three times, I slowly blow it up as large as it will go. All the resentment and anger floats away.
I am free in my spot.
And my spot says to me, “Take this with you, my son, and every night this is my meditation.”
The string of my limbs.
The cantilever of my chest.
And the balloon of my head.
And the slow, slow expansion of my tummy and heart.
And I am free.
Every night, I am free.
Thanks to my spot.
I feel safe.
Safe and present.
The clouds part just a little bit more, and the sun shines just that much stronger. I feel part of who I was and who I am, and my Koori heritage becomes a legacy of light and love and peace. The Earth wraps its loving arms around me, and I am one.
The grass under my rubbery, liquorice feet grows longer and caresses my weary toes, and I let go further.
Letting go to live.
To live and laugh and love.
All because of my spot.
The magic of my special spot reminds me that all we have is today.
And when I embrace each day I step into freedom of choice.
And when I step into freedom of choice I step out of damage.
Freedom of choice is the light.
Damage is the dark.
They are both a part of me but is my decision where I choose to exist.