I’ve spent the better part of the past year coming to terms with the fact that, despite all I have slogged through in the name of finally becoming healthy again, I am disabled. It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you. Disability, especially one where your disability isn’t visual, isn’t chock-a-block with benefits. Life isn’t all motorized scooters and closer parking. There is the baker’s dozen of pills I take each day to normalize and prolong my good spells. There’s the medical procedures that I have to do in order to stabilize my condition. And, if all that fails…there is the pain. Pain from which there is no escape, no relief. It is a pain akin to being a crucible in which steel is smelted; a white hot and volatile pain that is unceasing. But,despite how horrendous that sounds, that’s not the worst part. The worst part…is time. When you’re disabled (especially if you’re depressed), you have a lot of time. Time that others would spend working or playing or pursuing hobbies or love. When you’re disabled, all of those things collapse into a minuscule singularity that leaves time wide open for thought. For toxic contemplation. The thing that hurts the most is the time spent staring into the middle distance wondering what could have been, what should have been, and what could you have done differently. In the obsidian hours of the morning, a million lives play out on the silver screen of your skull, all of them where you’re healthy and capable and functional.
So, you try to fill your days. While away hours doing nothing but drowning out the “what ifs” and “could haves” that ricochet off your brain pan. And, eventually, you work through it. Therapy helps. A lot, honestly. Drugs help, too. Meditation is good if you can still your mind long enough to do it. Breathing exercises, yoga, anything that can allow your mind to both be simultaneously occupied on a basic level while also being free enough to process the roll of the bones that is your life.
As I’ve previously discussed, my method of meditation comes from video games. I play a game that doesn’t require much mental investment (MMOs are good for that) and I listen to podcasts. Funny podcasts, preferably. It’s important to eke out as much joy as you can when you can. So I started listening to The Adventure Zone, a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons podcast helmed by the McElroy family in all of their glorious splendor. And it has been a strange but hilarious adventure. Until…
Until one episode hit upon the very nerve I had been, frankly, trying to avoid.
HEAVY ADVENTURE ZONE SPOILERS AHEAD. I ENCOURAGE YOU TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST IN FULL IF YOU HAVEN’T.
Chapter Eight of The Eleventh Hour arc, from what I gathered from social media, hit everyone especially hard. I won’t, and can’t, explain the entire premise to you here so, if you haven’t listened to it, listen to it. But the gist of the arc is that the boys Magnus (Travis McElroy), Taako (Justin McElroy), and Merle (Clint “Big Pappa” McElroy) are tasked with retrieving a Grand Relic (a very powerful artifact with the capability to significantly alter the world) called the Temporal Chalice. The Temporal Chalice allows the user to alter time upon whim, with some stipulations. At this point in the arc, the Tres Horny Boys are faced with overcoming the thrall of the relic, which has claimed and consumed so many before it and has caused untold chaos, destruction, and death. Chapter Eight goes through the individual back-stories of the characters, vivisecting their lives to find their failures and hoping to convince them to take up the reigns of the Relic from it’s current host, six year old June.
It is heartbreaking to not just hear the tragic stories as they unfold but to hear Clint, Justin, and Travis react to the stories. They are nigh physically wounded by the revisitations and the revelations that come to light. Loss, grief, jealousy, and hubris are just some of the fates they met before their cooperative adventure. It is painful, gut-wrenching storytelling. But…
After each has been tempted by the Chalice, they meet once again to discuss their course of actions and what their characters want to do. Their decisions are as follows:
“…my offer, the ability to go back and change that thing, it was everything I’ve wanted for a really long time. And it would mean that, like, I wouldn’t be there to help people who really needed help and save many, many, many lives…and I don’t care. Because it’s what I want. But it’s not what Julia would want. So I’m going to have to pass.“ – Magnus
“I’m not a big one for regrets. I figure you make your best choices with the information at hand and you live with the consequences. That’s kinda a Merle Pearl to throw out to everybody. So I’m gonna say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ strange little girl with a chalice.“ – Merle
“Here’s the thing for me; here’s where I’m at: the vision revealed to me was chill as hell. Here’s how it shook out for Taako and we can get into this a bit more if you guys want but as it turns out remember the thing the thing I’ve spent so long feeling kinda bad about? Not super bad but like pretty darn bad? Get this: not my fault! Like I have nothing to change. I didn’t do anything wrong. It was a very chill vision for me. I’m feeling, like, amazing. And I feel no obligation to go back and change anything.“ – Taako
They are offered the ability to warp time and space to right the wrongs of their past, a gift so precious and unimaginable…and they decline it. They decline the opportunity that, for the longest time, I would have given so much to obtain myself. Granted, it’s taking place in a fantasy setting to people that only exist on paper…but still…why would they give up that chance? It astounded me.
At this point, June shows them yet ANOTHER instance in which their errors caused untold pain to themselves and the wholesale slaughter of an entire city. Once again, they are presented with the opportunity to fix things.
They decline again. In their words:
“Yeah, but at the same time…can you show us Rockport if we didn’t stop the train? Can you show us the world if we didn’t stop the pink tourmaline from taking over? Can you show us all of that? – Magnus
This is the only offer I can make to you. – Julie
Yeah, but, like, you’re showing us the one thing we can change and not the stuff we did change.“ – Magnus
“Y’know fellas, I know this is big and there’s been a lot of death and destruction and other crap but…y’know, we’ve had some laughs. We’ve had some good times. Crashing trains, getting arms chopped off, poisoning a lot of folks…and…I’d hate to lose the good times we had. I’m still not tempted. I’m still happy with the Merle life.“ – Merle
And then, Travis McElroy, that beautiful bearded baby boy, says something that, after holding out for an entire hour…made me cry:
“I spent a lot of time living my life living in regret and I don’t do that anymore. We gotta keep moving forwards towards good; not looking back at the bad.” – Magnus
It is hard to let go of the past. To categorically say to yourself “yes, those things happened and they do not affect me anymore.” A tumultuous, traumatic past is like a wound that won’t heal. It is infected with malice and weeps rivulets of anguish. I’ve been in therapy for almost ten years, off and on, and I still have trouble dealing with it. And with the recent disability diagnosis, those wounds had been opened once more. But, after listening to this episode, I strangely felt…hopeful. To hear those words is a balm, an ointment to help heal. To rid oneself of the shackles that garrote and pin you to what once happened. To stop thinking about what you would change in the past to what you can change for the future.
Your past defines you, true…but it ISN’T you. You aren’t a summary of what has happened to you up until this moment, you are a work in progress. A scarf isn’t finished until the last stitch is in place. You may look back at the fabric of time and see things that you marred: a yarn-over hole, a discoloration, a too tight weave. You can’t go back and fix it without undoing all the work you have done. So you must shift the problem from the irreparable physical to the repairable mental. You can’t physically go back and fix things but you can learn not just to keep your faults from affecting you, nor even to just accept them…but to appreciate and learn from them.
It will, however, take time. Which I have in spades.