The Strength of Weakness and the Myth of the American Alpha Male

I lost another friend last week, this time to ALS. This is what his life taught me.

This is, for the most part, a repost from Instagram. If you’ve already seen it there, please read it again here.

American Omega: Last Man Standing

Yesterday, I lost another friend, another American male. This time, though, I did not lose him to despair. It was a mean disease that finally did him in—ALS.

I never knew John Paine as anything but fragile. Muscles thinned by a two-decade battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a machine did most of his breathing. A team of caretakers fed him and bathed him and tended to his lesser movements. When the nerves on his feet, legs, arms, or backside flared—when there was pain—his people adjusted him. He was constantly being adjusted.

Before a disease poisoned every muscle, John had been the big-damned-man, the business success, the thought-leader of his community. He was the American Alpha, the man envied, the embodiment of power. Then: a ripple in his forearm. Next: a fasciculation in his shoulder, signs the muscles were dying. First one arm. Then the other. Then a leg. Then the other. All power below the neck drained from his body over the next decade, and for a decade after that, he was a prisoner locked inside the cell of his body.

American Alpha: When all this pain came, where did he go? To the forest in meditation, in imagination, he said. He knew a simple truth: There are quiet places in the mind where pain is not allowed. For years he retreated to those quiet places. There, he discovered the power of Divine Love, love that is undeserved, unreasonable, and, perhaps, unnerving. There, he found American Alpha is a myth created by lesser men. After all, no amount of strength will beat back ALS. ALS turns every Alpha toward death. And so, what’s truer, he might say, is found in omega, the last moments of weakness.

I spoke to John a couple of months ago, and he was troubled for the world. Put more precisely, he was troubled for the men of the world. Clowns. Jesters. Sound and fury signifying bullshit, though he’d ask me to say it with a bit more class. These men have lost their way, forgotten that the treasure of living is discovered in weakness, not one given as a birthright. Put another way, power is found in the most fragile moments of the last man standing. John was that man.

John died May 12, 2021. He is survived by a those he impacted, which is as many as the stars.

Subscriber Update: Changes Afoot

As some of you know, I’ve been releasing my novel Bears in the Yard serially to my monthly subscribers. The response has been tremendous, and I’m grateful for those of you who’ve been reading along.

And get ready, because some new content is coming your way!

I’ve decided to record a short video every 2 weeks (or so) about the craft of storytelling. I’ll focus primarily on writing but may venture into film and photography if it supports a critical point. In those videos, I’ll also make a fairly substantial announcement, one involving the lovely Amber Haines.

I’m inviting you to join the monthly subscribers. It’s a way of supporting my writing life and the content I offer. And of course, if times are tight, let me know and I’ll be happy to work something out. And for those of you who can pay a little extra to help out those who can’t, feel free.

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Grab a Drink and Pull Up a Chair

Have you been keeping up with A Drink With a Friend, my podcast with Tsh Oxenreider? This week we discussed how to go slower so you can go both farther and further (a critical but not inconsequential distinction). It’s not just about marathons or alpine skiing or whatever. It’s about life. I hope you’ll listen along.

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