Reflection on Denver Trip
By Cass Midgley
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer
“I get by with a little help from my friends.” –The Beatles
All place settings at the little Denver Sushi Bar consisted of napkins and chopsticks only, implying that nothing on the menu would require a fork. But after several attempts to pick up the same goddamned piece of iceberg lettuce, I interrupted the busy Itamae chefs to request a fork–apparently the only person in the restaurant needing one. “That was a walk of shame,”I jokingly told Ed. In a way, my entire trip to Denver was a walk of shame. Especially when trying to answer the innocent question, “what brings you to Denver?” The plane ticket to Denver was all that was left of the rubble of a recent implosion of a dream opportunity. I would’ve been attending a certification course for a job had I not been fired after one month. Even though I cancelled the training, I decided to go ahead and visit Denver anyway. A shot in the dark. After a life of self-sabotage, many firings, and misguided choices, here was a fresh reminder of my propensity to repel people and not fit-in. What the fuck is wrong with me? A valid question. And what is right with me? Both coexist. Self-awareness is a life’s work, huh.
I met Ed Cleaver, my chopstick competent lunchmate, circa 1986 as a fellow resident of Kerr Dormitory, 11th floor, Oklahoma State University–he was one of about a half dozen guys who ended up forming movie-magical friendships that have sparked and spattered back to life over 35 years. Ed and I are probably the most unlikely bedfellows of the bunch and yet the evolved versions of ourselves find an immediate “get” of each other. Rampant and rapid fire conversation ensued at the first embrace at the airport and didn’t let up until we made ourselves go to bed at 3am. That effortless energy continued until we’d exhausted all subjects a few days in, which morphed easily into shared silence sharing oxygen and space in the lovely house I call “Balm” for its healing effect.
Ed’s partner, Colleen, a highly successful professional interior decorator, doesn’t believe in “feng shui” but their home brings an inexplicable comfort to my soul and mind. Their human kindness and hospitality might also have something to do with it.
Much like religious people eventually realize that doubt is a part of faith, I’ve come to believe that feeling lost is a part of being human–a cockroach with a conscience on a giant dirt clod hurling through space. Feeling lost is befitting, I suppose, but unpleasant nonetheless. The task of that cockroach forming a healthy, realistic self-awareness is complicated, right? Where is she to look? Inward? Outward? Both? Many voices, both within and without, seem to be trying to help me answer the question, “Who am I?” And often they talk over each other, contradict each other. Some are shouting, some are whispering. It can be crazy-making.
I don’t recommend out-sourcing one’s self-image unless and until one has a robust informed self-acceptance. Without a solid base of immutable facts defining one’s core-self, one is merely a reed swayed by the wind–tossed around by the torrent of all the aforementioned voices. But with a strong, healthy self-love in place, I find that the people who have chosen to be in my life serve as living concrete statues symbolizing the attributes in me that originally attracted them to me. When I begin to doubt that I’m a [adjective; ie. good, smart, fun, etc.] person, I remind myself that [same adjective] people are in my life by choice. What they value in their own life they find in me and we mirror it back and forth to infinity. I interpret their friendship as proof that I bear that thing.
Conversely, I’m also encouraged to discover that they too get “lost” sometimes; that I’m not alone or crazy in my self-doubts or temporary lapse in self-acceptance. Of course these seasons of smallness serve as necessary occasional checks against arrogance or narcissism.
I went to Denver to engage with my community there, my friends–a hall of mirrors to remind me who I am so I can re-enter the real world with some confidence. When people feel small, they’re more likely to make decisions inconsistent with their best self. They take jobs that don’t fit, date people they don’t trust, try too hard to be liked, etc. Small, lost people see the world through the lens of fear, inferiority, and insecurity and thus make choices that aren’t in their best interest.
In Denver I met one-on-one with four friends and twice with groups of friends–some I’ve known for decades, some I’d never met face-to-face, only online. I entered these engagements with no agenda, pretense or expectation. In each case, their stories built upon what I already knew–that they are each genuine human beings with integrity, living out their truth with courage and humility. Like all of us, their time and attention are valuable commodities and yet here they are meeting with me. I’m drawn to them and they’re drawn to me. Perhaps in finding each other, we find a little more of ourselves. We find our true selves by being true to each other. We make the path by walking it. In these encounters, the vulnerability was palatable.
Before leaving Nashville for Denver, I decided to read a novel beginning to end during the week there. Several friends had listed “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens as their fave fiction in 2019. It centers around an abandoned child, Kya, raising herself in the wild marshes of North Carolina. Wild and unkempt, she becomes a feared and ridiculed persona non grata to all but a few of the townspeople. Despite being abandoned one-by-one by all the people she trusted and seen as a monster by her enemies, she nevertheless established a solid and sound sense of identity–defined, owned and accepted by and as her ‘self.’ As I read the book intermittently throughout the week, you can imagine how that narrative was weaving its strength into my weakness and enhancing my visits with friends.
The people who supported Kya’s plight came to know her and were drawn in. They saw the truth and moved in closer. They wanted more of her. Those who settled for gossip-lies and superstition grew more and more afraid of her until eventually wanting her dead. The torrent voices of hundreds of naysayers and mockers seemed to only make the bones of Kya’s identity stronger. Perhaps the integrity of our allies and the cowardliness of our foes says something about us. I like to think so.
My little 4-day soul-searching excursion started out as a walk of shame, but I returned home equipped to say yes to what it means to be authentically Cass Midgley and what that may look like as an active contributor in the world. My amazing friends around the world see the value of my skills and gifts and are calling them forth. My work is to listen, envision, and act. Now I return to my goal of generating a million dollar savings account over the next 15 years–a walk of pride.