“You know I am a really good looking guy,” he said to my wife with nary a smile on his face. He was in his fifties with short, thinning hair and a belly that had taken him a lifetime to cultivate. This was his life story: always looking for affirmation while acting as cocksure as he could. He never noticed the glance and raised eyebrow of my wife to me asking, “Is he for real?” He grew up in an old, established South Carolina family. He was raised with a “black nanny” on a huge plantation whom he was sure loved her job of tending him. He was part of a privileged class who were convinced they were hard-working people. His father belonged to the right social clubs where deals were made and fortunes grew. Everyone knew and respected his family. But Matthew was a soul trying to find something that was missing in his upbringing.
He could be confident as hell: the eternal frat boy chasing tail or the adolescent who used bravado to hide his insecurities. He loved to hunt and fish and even developed symptoms of an environmentalist. He prided himself of being a man of the people who could relate to anybody, no matter race or ethnicity, yet insisted on flying a Confederate flag. His only black friends worked for him in some capacity. He was proud of his southern heritage. But it was a heritage that saw the antebellum\slave period as the renaissance of the South. His spirituality rejected the fundamentalism of the region, in favor of Native American beliefs and Alcoholics Anonymous—religions he could preach and believe as only a true evangelist could.
He attended college and roomed with an Arab, which of course made him an expert on Middle Eastern affairs. They became friends and Matthew would take him home where his parents treated him as family. His roommate would never forget their kindness and generosity to him while he was miles from home. He belonged to a very rich family in Yemen and would become Matthew’s benefactor whenever he was experiencing hard financial times. His roommate believed that charity was a necessary part of his Islamic faith.
Matthew would take on the “not proud yet boasting” facade of inheriting a million dollars and drinking and spending it all in a short period. He even had his moment of fame when he started an international expo in Charleston, South Carolina that became the biggest wildlife festival in the southeast. But his money ran out and his alcoholism kept on. He would have five wives and three beautiful children. His marriages did not work because he was always looking for the next best thing and often that was a new woman. He loved to hunt and had his own hunting club for a while. He was a good ole boy who, as long as he had money, people were proud to be his friends. He was a grand charismatic storyteller who could tell tales and make friends who were fascinated by these stories.
But the money ran out and his health paid a price for the heavy drinking. He needed healthcare and he had no insurance. He couldn’t hold a job because he was the only boss he could ever take orders from. I met him in a short-term health center for the homeless. He was on oxygen and penniless. He was attracted to me because I taught meditation classes for the homeless. This intrigued him and I was intrigued by this homeless man who claimed to have been a millionaire. The homeless usually were from the poorer classes, having spent a lifetime of work living from paycheck to paycheck until addiction, health, divorce, loss of a job, or some other tragedy had pushed them down the next rung of the economic ladder.
He was not like the other homeless, he repeatedly told me. He was the greatest marketing genius I would ever meet. He was confident, even arrogant, and he did have a magic. He convinced people that he would have another million any day now. He was working hard on it.
But he surely had doubts inside of himself while living at a homeless shelter. He had been sober for over twenty years but he was a sober drunk for most of that time. He still had the same mentality that had led him to drink. He wanted to be free of all the things that kept him as a drunk. But every shiny object led him on another dead-end journey.
It was only after his body stopped, his heart begin to be cultivated. He slowly learned the difference between living large and living. He had always thought he led the grand life but life had been misleading him. Now for the first time the quiet claimed and calmed his soul. In the calmness reality set in. His children were alienated from him, his friends were few, and he was sick. He had lived as though his life was full of meaning and import but now he discovered his life was one of loss after loss and not grand meanings.
He wanted a relationship with his daughters. He wanted someone to hold him when he wasn’t feeling well. And he wanted most of all to be able to impart some of the wisdom he had learned. He wanted to have meaning and purpose. So he slowly contacted his daughters on Facebook. One was receptive, one was indifferent, and one hated him. He tried to be involved in their lives but their lives were filled with other things and people. When they visited, it was to see their mother, who had been there all along for them, and a short side trip to see their wayward father was tacked on. Occasionally the receptive one came just to see him. The others, after the original fascination of who might be this man who claimed to be their father, seldom contacted him. He came to realize there were no magic words or deeds that could help him reclaim his lost daughters.
He charmed the women he met. Even moved in with one but they all presented more problems than solutions. He also had to come to the realization that he was not a good mate. He had spent a lifetime absorbed with himself and though he tried his self-absorption was not disappearing. He knew now he would never be in a permanent relationship.
He became the guru of the Facebook page. He offered advice and platitudes and developed a following. But somewhere inside he realized he was a sham guru. He had explored all sorts of spiritualties but had not spent enough time in any one of them to have any depth of understanding. He could look good spiritually but living it was hard.
It took him a while but he had to come to grips with the fact he would never be rich again. His luck, youth and health were gone. He could attract clients but he could not hold them anymore. He lived his life on a small fixed income with yearly gifts of money from his old roommate. He no longer could play all day; one event a day exhausted him. His life was becoming small and contained.
But slowly he began to change inside. He understood what he had not before. He no longer was chasing the next best thing but stayed with the things he had. He was happier although he would be the first to say poverty sucks. Being sick sucks. Being alienated from a daughter sucks. But he took what life gave him and learned to appreciate that.
He found a small cheap houseboat and lived there. It gave him the sense of adventure and uniqueness he craved to present to the world. His receptive daughter came to visit with his grandchild and he slowly learned to be a grandfather, although space and time made it difficult.
Today, he can be found on his houseboat. He writes his Facebook offerings. He drives his blind friend to appointments. He meets with some of his friends for dinner. Life is no longer grand, it just is. And he is learning to be content with that. And maybe one day the wisdom he wishes to impart to others will be his and he will not have to say, “I am a good-looking man.” It will be obvious.