The note with my handwritten name on the envelope arrived at the firehouse, an event unusual enough. We rarely receive personal mail there outside of the obligatory thank-you note from grade school kids after a tour or event. The hand writing caught my eye, as I did not recognize it. No return address, no town of cancellation of postage. Someone had begun to tear it open, perhaps the sender had had second thoughts. My suspicions immediately fell to my coworkers who would never miss an opportunity to lord something over me or any among us.

“For all of your suffering/
No one gives a good goddamn/
It’s all about the money, son/
We doubt you understand”

I finished the job of the opener and found a simple plain note. Inside, these words were scribbled: “I’m not looking to take; I’m looking for the opportunity to give.”

No signature. Nothing further, save a an envelope from a local bank. Inside, crisp as the day it was printed, lay a one hundred dollar bill. What the hell; I mean, WHAT. IN. THE. HELL?!?

No one in my world has a one-hundred dollar quibble with me, save for an old, old inside joke between the Passionate Woman and myself. She assured me in no uncertain terms that it was not her. I’ve waited a couple of weeks to even bring it up here, in the hopes that my anonymous donor might come forward, perhaps with an explanation. For this person cannot possibly know how fortuitous and symbolic their gift is to me. Why?

“Sometimes at night/
I look upon the stars above/
They never shine as bright/
As my diamond in the rough”

If you’d read any previous essays, you know this has been beyond the winter of my discontent. This has been the winter of a death of sorts for me, a necessary one, but death nonetheless. To shed so many former insecure hangups, those which will not go quietly into the night, but rather, attempt to drag and drown me has been a taxing endeavor to say the least. To have the realization that love has gone away for a while, that our journeys through our darkest hours are so very often solo descents into the depths. To look around and see the very best of the people in your world struggling to help you buoy up from the oceanic tides of sorrow and depression. To know that from thousands of miles away your family and friends are pulling for you to pull through this madness. To never sleep more than three hours at a time, waking up in terrors and sweating enough to make you wonder if you’ve hit some sort of male menopause at age forty. To find yourself alone at night, drinking coffee in the quiet and dark, weeping like a fool into your sink in the only time of day your kids won’t see you falling apart, again. To shiver in hot rooms and sit on your porch in shorts as the snow falls as you wonder how to make it through the next round of chaos…..these are the moments that challenge our spirit and soul. To endure it is not a measure of toughness, but rather, a matter of survival. Some of us don’t make it back from such dark places, and my heart cries a bit for them, for I know the depths of the lonely soul. But we all have reason to make the journey back up the rabbit hole; your kids, those who love you despite yourself, and mostly just that which you owe your OWN soul….to more than survive, but to thrive in the eye of the storms of life, to give of yourself for no reason than that is what we’re born to do. 

“People they tell me/
Just to give up and go on home/
But to have no home to go to/
Is something they’ll never know”

“Sometimes I feel/
Like I ain’t getting nowhere/
I’m walking down this road/
With a burden I can’t bear”

And then one day Spring begins to knock on your door softly. And you surrender yourself to the notion that bad shit will, indeed, occur in this life regularly. And the choice we have before us is to let the bad shit bury us as would a pile of snow, or do we turn within and display the very best of us in the hopes that our own smiling hearts will bring about the best in those around us? So we force smiles and fake an upbeat tone until one day we’re not faking it anymore. When I began to be grateful as opposed to gloomy, for real, it’s as though the snow melted off my shoulders.

And one by one, little, beautiful things began to reveal themselves in my world. From a thousand cups of coffee with my dear friends, a small business has been born, The Reconciled Salvage Co., a place where our passion for wood and metal projects can come to life; before the first table saw has been turned on, we have people asking to get on our calendar. I got word from the Chief of the Fire Department that I would be getting promoted to Lieutenant in May. An opportunity to move into a new-to-us house across the street in May as well became a reality, thereby relieving a little the cramped feeling three stinky guys can generate, while letting us stay in our ‘hood. I expect nothing, and am grateful for every thing that comes across my path; not the least of which was a random, anonymous note from someone who sensed that my bank account had dropped to about as low as my spirits this past winter. Their gift was kindness embodied, and I owe it to pay it forward.

“I never let this world/

Get too heavy on my shoulders/

‘Cause my diamond always will
Pull the weight that I’m under”

Spring is here. A life anew awaits us all. The sun wants to drench our faces in hope, and I think my days of sitting on the porch steps as the snow hits my bare knees may be past for now. How we find the push to go forward remains a mystery, but the efforts of those in our world are not. I am so grateful for them, for you, for every single reason I’m given to smile.

And when I thought that I could bear no more good and my cautious optimism was beginning to look a little more like I was just having another dream, I heard her softly singing that song. The song that only my soul can hear, the one that whispers on the wind, whispers my name and makes my heart begin to believe, again. Life is good, maybe even better than that.

*watch it here: My Diamond Is Too Rough by Ryan Bingham