Life was tough for our little family, I was the oldest of 22 children and Pop ran away from home when I was 6. This left me with the burden of looking after old Ma. There was no time for school for me. By the time I helped my siblings get off to school it was time to go to work to support the family.
The only job I could get was in a mercury mine and because I was so small and nimble I had the job of lighting the fuses on the gelignite sticks and running like hell before they blew up.
I never complained because if I did I would have to do all the washing up for the whole family. I never cried either, because Uncle Reg, who moved in after Pop left, said he would send me to a Gulag in Russia.
Uncle Reg was a hard man, his idea of a good time was dangling us kids from the 3-story windows on spider webs to test how strong they were.
Reg, would hang us down, on the webs he collected from old houses and say:
“Don’t worry kids, spider web is 5 times stronger than steel!”
I hated Reg, but I never said so. I held it in. That’s how I became a master Stoic.
The modern Stoic, you read about — as if it’s a new religion — is never a true Stoic. They are a sort of faux-stoics, poseur-stoics even hipster-stoics. They think it is somehow connected with a successful life.
You get your cred as a Stoic from a tough life. It’s never something you would choose. I digress, back to my hard luck story.
Anyway uncle Reg ended up doing jail time, old Ma said he was better than Pop but worse than John the Butcher, who moved in 2 days after the SWAT team came for Reg.
JB as we called him, was a touchy, brute of a man. Me and the other kids would get some small revenge on him by putting ball bearings in his muesli and tying his shoe laces together.
I couldn’t count the number of times JB would get up from the table after we sent little Jimmy under the table to tie them up, and fall over, cussing something foul.
I believe after searching family records, JB only stayed 2 months.
JB was no Stoic, he ran from the house barefoot on a Friday evening, off into the night, never to be seen or heard from again. Old Ma, said he became terrified of putting shoes on.
As you can imagine life got harder for me, not easier, and I remain both grateful and cheerful about this. The old saying “through suffering comes wisdom” did not prove itself in my case, either. I believe, in my case it is more, “through suffering comes more misery”, that’s really the essence of the true Stoic.
In my next chapter, if you enjoyed this one, I will be telling the story of how I mastered self-mastery, including quotes that have inspired me to great heights, from great depths.