For most of my life, I had few friends and those friendships were based on a shared intensity. We didn't always do the same kind of thing (I was cautioned early to keep as many friends as possible who didn't deal with the world of crime) but whatever they did it was intense. Usually dangerous. it allowed us to share a frame of reference that was rare with my other circles, largely people I met at the behest of my wife.
One circle seemed more real, more alive than the other. You can guess which.
Lately, though, a big percentage of the people I am connecting with are former bad guys. Some former good guys, too... but that word 'former' is popping up a lot.
They all talk about a moment when they realize that they will die if something doesn't change. In words it is so pale to say that. I've never felt that waking up in my own puke with another friend in the ground or locked up... but I have felt it in a short second when my tactics were failing and I was outmatched in strength. The taste of mortality doesn't really make it into such weak words: "I will die if something doesn't change." Maybe it's something you can never read or hear, but have to taste.
The realization and the decision aren't easy, but they aren't enough, either. You actually have to change. Move away from what and who you know, give up something you were good at (and that means a lot in places where good and bad is measured by breathing) and move to a world where you don't know the rules. Basic rules. How do you get angry like a civilized person? When force is not allowed (and you choose to follow that silly, arbitrary, civilized rule) what do you use instead? How do people negotiate when there are no guns involved?
At the VPPG the other day we were talking about students and instructors who romanticize this life. In the fullness of their pristine manhood they choose to believe that they are in full command of themselves and would dispatch that assassin with one of the "ten best techniques as taught to elite military units across the world" or make that swaggering bravo back down with the steely glance they taught in the "Fear No Man!" pamphlet.
I pencilled a note to write about this, about the differences between the wannabes and the ones who have already done been and don't wannabe no more. Not sure what else to write, except:
Thanks. To those of you who got out and kept breathing so you could share a little-- thanks. Just thanks.