As I sit here looking at my one-week old tattoo still covered in Saniderm (comes off tomorrow!) and re-watching James Hinchcliffe’s dance with Sharna Burgess on DWTS’ YouTube channel, I can’t help but wonder which tragic events in my life were actually hidden blessings and how my life would be different today had it not been for them.
Before I go any further, I urge you to watch the YouTube video referenced above. Hinch and his surgeon talk about his accident and his remarkable recovery, then followed by the dance. Have some tissues handy, you might need them.
In 18 months, James went from an accident that would have killed any of us to tearing it up on DWTS. I don’t care who you are, that’s just absolutely incredible, but what really shocked me is his claim that the accident was the best thing that’s ever happened to him. When I first heard that I thought “dude, you’re crazy,” but then I got to thinking about that statement and the implications of it.
Would he have even agreed to do the show if he hadn’t have gone through that? Would he really have had anything to prove? How would his life have been different if not for the accident? Apparently he thinks it changed his life for the better, and if that’s the case then who am I to question what he thinks?
That’s when I got to thinking his words and trying to apply them to my own life. How would my life be different today if not for the tragic events that happened in my own life? What would my life look like now? Would it be truly better as I often claim it would be or would I be just totally miserable? There is a chain of events of my life within about the last 5 years or so that I went through that probably have shaped me and probably made me a better person and put me in a better place.
This goes back to when I first got the rejection letter from the FAA stating that they did not deem me airworthy. At the time, I thought my whole life was totally ruined. Needless to say the years immediately after that were sheer torment. I went through life wondering “why me?” and feeling just incredibly sorry for myself. I pursued an alternate life course, went to grad school and found a girlfriend but it didn’t help. I was still miserable and when I caught my then-girlfriend having an affair I just fell completely apart. I just wanted to die. I sat at home or in a bar drinking my pain almost all the time. Just anything to numb the pain. All while concealing my pain from my students and professors (I was in grad school) in what little time I actually spent in that environment.
After grad school I was unable to find employment and had to move back home. Things had gotten so point that I basically I became completely non-functioning. I was so miserable that I set up a fantasy life for myself on a different blogging site as an outlet. It helped to sort of fantasize about living out my dream, but even then I knew that wasn’t a healthy coping strategy. It was there I met the girl who eventually wound up my best friend, but it wasn’t always like that.
We bonded to the point where we started a long-distance relationship. I had found love and thought “hey, my luck is finally turning!” I stopped binge drinking and actually started cleaning my life up somewhat. However, my personal problems combined with her desire to want children led to us mutually parting ways and that just totally broke me. I went right back to where I was but then I also started popping Xanax like candy. I was a complete and total mess. I attempted suicide multiple times. I had all but given up and, truth be told, so had my family.
Then 2015 came along and things finally started to turn around. Though it was just a menial job, I was given a permanent part-time job maintaining the tower bells where I ring. It wasn’t enough to make a living off of, but it at least kept me from going completely bankrupt. I started to finally get better, got off the pills and cut my drinking back to moderate levels. Then in August another door opened and got me into my current job. Though I frequently do complain about how mundane it is, it pays alright and the benefits are unbelievable. That November I re-connected with my long-distance lover and, although we have differing life goals with regards to children and therefore can’t be together, we have re-kindled a deep and powerful friendship and we’re closer than ever.
And here we are in December and here I am toying with an idea that I always swore I never would toy with: of getting a tattoo. I figured with what I’d been through getting a semicolon was appropriate and that I would be one and done with the tattoos. I was hesitant at first, but I was convinced to go through with it. I did, and that little thing was all it took to start a tattoo obsession.The rest is history
Now here I am with five tattoos and having played a role in getting two apprentice artists promotions. Knowing I’ve helped them in their journey is an indescribable feeling of pride, and when I think about that, I think about what Hinch said. “That accident was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” When I think about his words, I realize that “wow, maybe the tragic events I’ve endured have been blessings in disguise.”
Paint the alternative picture: at this point I’d likely be a senior Captain at a regional airline and in the market to move up to a First Officer position at a major carrier. I might have a dream career but I’d still likely be an entirely blank canvas. I’d still probably be very anti-tattoo and probably somewhat judgmental toward those who do have them. I would be a selfish jerk without a care in the world about anyone and wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about helping others out. I would never have met my best friend. I would never have played a role in those two artists achieving their dreams.
I realize now that I am a better person for what I’ve gone through. No, I don’t believe in the old adage “everything happens for a reason,” nor do I believe in the existence of god, nor do I believe in fate. All that said, perhaps my life is in fact better the way it has panned out and it just took me many years to realize it.
No, I’m not an airline pilot. That’ll never happen. I do maintain some ray of hope that the FAA will eventually wise up and give those in my tribe a chance, and though it’s too late for me to make a career out of perhaps I can fly for pleasure someday. One way or another, I wouldn’t trade my love of ink nor my best friend for anything, even a dream career. Those two things mean more to me than a job ever could.
Thanks, Hinch, for sharing your story. It has given me a kick in the pants. Even if nobody else says this, please know you have helped me in ways you can’t imagine. I hope you get your Indy 500 win and IndyCar Series championship sometime. You deserve it.