09.23.18 – “Hold the Line” – Hokus Grey
“You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Isn’t that a fact. Human beings are like crazy seeds. Our potential is a complete mystery until we get planted in the right soil. Get us some water, a little sunlight, and who the fuck knows what’s going to spring up from the ground. We’re walking miracles. I make no secret about my history with hatred, drugs, and bad decisions. At one point in my life, I saw no future for myself, so I chose to live accordingly. I entered a deep darkness. A place that I will not describe here, nor will I delve into how I was saved from that place, but rest assured, I was.
On the other side of destruction, we encounter a vast emptiness of unknown potential. You can think about it like surviving a plane crash in the desert; sure you’re alive, and Blessed be, but you have no idea in what direction lies safety, and which is certain death. It was in this vast wasteland of unknown vectors that I found myself in my late 20’s.
I was off drugs, mostly. It took a bit of time to totally cut that cord. The final tentacle around my mind that allowed temptation in was insidiously thick. As any recovering addict knows, you have to completely change your friend circle to get clean. Your social life has to change, almost totally, in order to get out of the cycles of influence and abuse that lead to using. It’s no easy task. For me, the saving grace I encountered, and I will write further on this topic in the future, was something I guess you could call “Gun Culture.”
When my wife and I were dating, we went through a lot of ups and downs, mainly because of my lifestyle choices. Neither of us were in what I would call a “good place”, but despite that, we found each other, and for some reason or other this sparked a path of recovery and renewal for both of us. We started going to church again, eating right, exercising. I was on a path that was totally new to me. I had hope in my life for what may have been the first time. After a while, I proposed and she accepted.
We had been living in my one-bedroom, third floor walk-up for four or five years and with a wedding in the works dreams of home ownership were soon to come. Both of us had good jobs, little debt, and with the 2008 housing crash, properties were on the market for relatively low prices. I’m not sure when it occurred to me, but at some point I realized that for the first time in my life, I was going to have something in my life that required defending and I had neither the means, nor the knowledge to do so.
My initial consideration, like many others in my position, was firearm ownership. In Canada, this is a very restrictive and arduous process which I again won’t get into here, but I jumped through the hoops, took the courses, waited a few months for my license, and eventually I purchased my first pistol. It was a used Norinco 1911. A Chinese knock-off of the American classic. I paid $350 for it. It was rattle-can tan and the previous owner had dumped a Wilson Combat hammer and trigger group into it, which was probably worth more than the gun itself. In Canada, in order to own the “Restricted” class of firearms, one of the “requirements” is that you hold an active range membership, so I bought a year membership at the only range in town and started asking around on their website about training, as I had never really done much pistol shooting.
Oh, the introduction to online gun culture. Good times. You want to talk about a pathway to knowledge beset with trolls, liars, and gatekeepers? Just go on any online firearms forum and start asking questions. Fortunately for me, I was able to navigate the pitfalls of online jackassery quite quickly and find a local group of shooters who hosted a “Defensive Pistol” night at the local range. The group was not affiliated with the “International Defensive Pistol Association” (IDPA), so they just called it “Defensive Pistol.” I showed up having never fired my new-to-me handgun. I was nervous and anxious, but by the end of the night I knew I had made the right decision, and it turned out to be one that would change my life forever.
Through that group that initiated me into pistol shooting, I spent the next several years shooting and learning. I took courses with some of the best shooters in the country. I competed a bit and ran middle of the pack most times, but I shot respectably. I met some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met, and while every sub-culture has its bad apples, I eventually gained a new circle of positive, successful, driven, talented and encouraging men. Real men. Men with families, and jobs, and businesses. Men with careers in the arts, tech, industry, and from all levels of society. There were none of the types of people that I had chosen to surround myself with in my past. For the first time in my life, I had positive role models.
By now, I’m guessing that you’re wondering how this all ties back to the poem. How does this get to “Hold The Line”. Well, I’ll sum it up as concisely as I can for you. Shooting is a martial art. However, what I learned after a few years in the shooting culture, is that an individual’s responsibility to their personal security does not rest on the foundation of the gun. As a popular saying goes, “Owning a gun does not make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” I learned that the most relevant threats to my newfound “joie de vivre” were going to be of a more physical nature. This led me to seek out martial arts training. As it turned out, a sub-group of the guys I shot with trained at a small martial arts dojo, so I was set down that path. Martial Arts requires discipline and physical fitness, so I adopted a routine of regular work outs, and better diet. The group I trained with at the time placed a high value on knowledge and reading, so that led me to read many fantastic books about strength, perseverance, and struggle. There are many books with tridents on my bookshelf from those days. Make of that what you will.
One of my instructors asked me one day, “Have you ever heard of Jocko Willink?” I had not. The instructor was a close friend, and we shared a lot of similar interests. “You should check out ‘The Jocko Podcast.” he told me. So, I did, and another page turned in the book of my life. If you don’t know who Jocko is, ten seconds on Google will catch you up pretty quick, but suffice it to say he’s got a unique philosophy on life. “Discipline Equals Freedom,” is one of his more popular catch phrases. I have a t-shirt with those words on it. Jocko has authored many books on leadership and how to be a better human being. With his producer “Echo Charles”, he has put out hundreds of podcasts featuring books about war, and struggle, and the human condition, as well as interviews with dozens of people who I would only call “Heroes”, because I can find no better descriptive. Through teachers like Jocko, and others like him, I began to construct my own set of rules for how I wanted to live my life. A real, positive framework.
Just because life leads you to knowledge, doesn’t mean it gets easier. Sure, you might learn a technique, or a strategy, or have some new tool, but life is life and life is not easy. Discipline is hard, but with discipline, the hard parts of life become easier. Over time, another one of Jocko’s phrases became a sort of mantra for me. “Hold the line.” A decade had passed since I had chosen to change my life and walk away from the darkness I had once nihilistically accepted as my fate. A thousand choices had led me to a life that I couldn’t have imagined ten years prior. Of course, not all of them were good choices, but enough of them were that I was in a better place, and I owed all of that to not giving up.
God knows, I am not a strong person. The flaws in me sometimes seem like uncrossable canyons, but every time that weak part of me wants to give up, I have somehow managed to find the strength to keep going. I’m not special. I didn’t survive the hardest trials a person could ever face. I just went through what I went through and by the Grace of God, I came out the other side and was able to make something out of what was left. Did I have help? Yes. Lots of it. Did I continue to fail? Yes. I fail every day. The only thing that I can credit to myself, is that I did not give up. I did not quit. I have not, and I will not.
We all struggle. We all suffer. We are all susceptible to the darkness in our minds and the evil of the world. We will all be tested, some more than others. For me, now that I’m in my forties, I feel that much of my die has been cast. I think I have managed to find a way to live in this world. The only question now is what I will do with the time I have left? How will I make an impact on this world? How can I give back? Can I leave this place a little better than when I go here? I came into this world in one state, and I am leaving in another. My demons are here, but I know who I can call on to help me do battle with them when the situation requires. I am Blessed and fortunate beyond measure, but I would never have even had a chance at any of this if I had given up at the start, in the middle, or at any time along this pathway. Even now.
A few years ago, I ran down to a local tattoo shop on a whilm and had one of their apprentices ink “HOLD THE LINE” along my left forearm in Jocko’s favorite font, OCR-A. The ink work isn’t great. It looks like an apprentice did it, but it’s there. I see it every day. It’s a reminder that there are people in my life who depend on me now. I’m not holding the line for me anymore. I must hold it for them. For those I love and for those reading this who I have never met. How much better off would we be as a society if we all just held on a little tighter to each other? To what’s right? To what’s good? Who knows? I’m no expert, but I’m still here and that must mean something. That’s what this poem is about. Holding the line. For yourself. For your loved ones. For the world.
Thank you for reading and for putting up with me.
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“Hold the line” – Jocko Willink
One thought on “ReBlog Wednesday – “09.23.18 – Hold the Line””
You know I love these words