I wrote the following piece three years ago, shortly after making a career change from unemployed ex-drummer to hawker of organic produce. I don’t do that any more; I sit behind a desk now, like I should. But a friend of mine had a run-in with a sharp object last week (hey: it’s one of the hazards of her occupation), so I thought I’d dedicate this repost (which originally ran over at Luxuria Music) to her. Consider it part of the retraining she is now obliged to receive.
When I was young, nothing could touch me. Drink, drugs, bad food, no sleep and other poor choices were not a problem. But as I got older, I discovered dark forces — germs, viruses, toxins and other agents of chaos — all designed to leave me vulnerable. As I became older still, I realized that evil was not just “out there;” it was within me as well. Laziness, carelessness, selfishness, rage — these too had the power to put me in the ground.
Over time, I learned to tip the balance in my favor. I modified my lifestyle. I gave up substance abuse; I put more thought into my diet, I even grudgingly made time for exercise. I designed strategies to help me avoid and eventually eliminate certain unhealthy human associations. I got into the habit of decreasing my speed when behind the wheel of an automobile. And for a while, I was able to harbor my energy and channel it into more life-affirming efforts and experiences.
But the law of averages caught up with me. Without warning, I dropped my guard and slipped accidentally over the line. I got a JOB, an actual position of menial labor and minimal compensation. And in the process of trading the fear and uncertainty of financial instability for the self-loathing of exhaustion and potential unrealized, I placed myself in physical danger.
“Careful! You’ll hurt yourself!” But it was too late; I was already handling sharp objects unsafely. Suddenly, there was blood everywhere. I was surrounded by my associates; one of them called a supervisor. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in her office filling out forms. “Hey!” she said suddenly as she entered my birth date onto one of them, “I didn’t realize you were a twenty-three!” A lot of good that had done me.
I wound up with a laceration across the middle joint of my left hand index finger. Lashed to a crooked metal brace, my finger was held immobile, the wound threaded with an ugly length of black nylon. The joint itself was swollen to twice its normal size. Unable to use my hand, I raged at my coworkers, my wife and myself. When I was a drummer, protecting my hands from injury was one of my preoccupations, a practical necessity. My hands were my livelihood. Now, my injury was a grim metaphor for a new reality: my body was no longer an instrument trained to make concrete the gifts of my inspiration; it was a shoddy vessel for my masters to use and discard as they saw fit. Back at the job, they asked not, “how’s your finger,” but “how soon do you think you’ll be able to return to full duty?”
It’s been about a month now, and my finger has healed. First the stitches came out; then the swelling went down. Then the crack filled in. Soon, I could make a fist again. And I remembered something that in my fear and anger I had forgotten: residing within me alongside of my capacity for self-destruction is also the capacity for self-repair. Rather than diminishing them, my injury has actually made my hands more beautiful. Like a little pink smile, a crescent of scar tissue sits atop my knuckle, reminding me of my service not just to the hard forces of scarcity, but also to the life-giving power of abundance. I may be just another corporate slave, but I’m a cog in nature’s machine as well.