“I’d say that I’ve just about outlived my usefulness to this world.” Jim spoke just above a whisper and sighed into his whiskey glass. “It’s all been downhill for the last three years, and I can’t see anything rising back up to where it used to be.”
“You sound like a man who has given up. What…already? At thirty-eight?” The Bartender spoke in an impassive voice, yet still compassionate.
“Well, why not give up? I have fought hard every day of my adult life, and to what end? A dead-end job, a mountain of debt, and a string of failed relationships to my credits. I’m losing my house, you know?”
“Yes. You’ve told me already.”
“And for every step I take to move forward, I get pushed back three.”
“It’s a familiar story”, the Bartender replied in his fatherly way. “I hear this same tragic tale everyday, not that yours is not noteworthy. It’s like a plague ravaging the streets, and it is tearing down too many good men and women.”
“Exactly! So why should I be any different?” Jim had already resigned to this fate of failure. His story had gone too far, and he felt that there was no way to retrieve it. He owed too many people and too many banks to ever come out on top again.
“Well”, started the Bartender, “I suppose you aren’t any different, not in the grand scheme of things. But your story is significantly different to Hannah.”
Jim recoiled at the mention of his daughter. Every decision he has ever made in the past seven years has revolved around Hannah.
“Do you believe in Fate? Or God? Or some All-Powerful Universal Entity?” Jim never learned the Bartender’s name, but he spoke to him with a familiarity reserved for close family members.
“As a matter of fact, I do”, the Bartender replied. His countenance changed as if the conversation had turned toward his real specialty.
“Well, I don’t. Never have understood the reasoning behind putting faith in some unseen, unknown, deity.”
“Faith is the key word…”
“Right, of which I have none. But if there is a god, then isn’t this all part of his great plan? Anything I do, and everything I lose, is all part of God’s great plan, right?”
“He did give us free will to create our own destinies”, assured the Bartender.
“Then why bother caring”, Jim’s exasperation rising. “Why bother caring at all if we are all free to screw each other over. And how does free will affect a person like me who has worked hard, gone to school, stayed honest, and is still losing everything? Are you saying that is what I chose?”
“I am only saying that I am listening to your story.” The Bartender started to pour Jim another whiskey, but Jim waved him off.
“Thanks, but no more for me. Once I start talking about God and some great Universal Plan, I’d say I’ve about had enough.”
“Jim”, started the Bartender in his most soothing voice, “what gives you comfort?”
“Right now? Nothing. Nothing I can think of.”
“What about Hannah? What brings her comfort?”
“Well, me, I suppose. Her mother, as well. I don’t think she thinks about things like comfort; she just takes them for granted.”
“So, she doesn’t worry about whether or not you will pay the bills, or keep your house?”
Jim thought about this. “I suppose on some subconscious level she picks up on my anxiety, but…”
“And don’t you think that no matter where you land, no matter how you come out of this mess you are in, that you will do everything within your power to make sure that she is safe, warm, and fed?”
“Well, of course I will.”
“Tell me”, the Bartender’s eyes were dark and serious, but his mouth betrayed a faint grin. “Why can’t you do the same for yourself?”
“Why can’t you take yourself and give the same assurances that you give to Hannah? Why can’t you hold yourself with the same comfort that you give your little girl?”
“Because I know what’s out there waiting for me”, yelled Jim.
“You are scared, right?”
“Yeah, I’m scared!” Jim’s eyes were getting weepy, and he motioned to the Bartender that he wanted another shot. The Bartender poured him a double.
“Then who is going to assure you that everything is going to be okay?”
“Nothing is going to be okay!”, shouted Jim.
The room got even quieter as the dozen or so other patrons turned to see the commotion coming from the otherwise quiet end of the bar. There was something desperate in the man gulping a large shot of whiskey down his throat before slamming the glass on the rich mahogany of the counter.
The Bartender continued his deep stare into Jim’s eyes, holding the slight smile that betrayed a hint of assurance.
“Life will only fail you when you give up”, the Bartender spoke with profound gravitas. “Otherwise, there is always hope. There will always be opportunities for you to improve. There will always be a chance for life to get better. You need to give yourself some of the comfort that you give Hannah. You need to give yourself the same kindness and love. Instead of sitting alone in a dark saloon, you need to surround yourself with people who love you and can give you the encouragement that you need right now.”
Jim wiped the tears from his eyes, grabbed a napkin, and blew his nose.
“You have shut yourself away from people who love you because you feel ashamed of your current status”, the Bartender continued. “Tell me, how much love and comfort do you think you are giving Hannah when you don’t feel any compassion for yourself?”
Jim had never thought of it this way.
“Jim, I want you to call a friend and go to their home and tell them that you are scared. I want you to tell them everything that you have told me about your so-called failed life, and I want you to be open and honest. If they turn you away, then I want you to come back here, and I’ll pour you all the whiskey you want. I’m willing to bet you all the booze in this bar that they will not turn you away. They can’t help you get out of trouble, but they will give you all the friendly support they can.”
“You’re right, you know. I don’t know what makes me hide, but I know it doesn’t help me.”
“You are just mixed up right now–depressed. Talk to your friends and family. Once you start to feel better you’ll see everything turn around, I just know it.”
Jim stood up from his stool, shook the Bartender’s hand, and put twenty bucks on the counter for the drinks. As Jim turned toward the door, the Bartender, using impressive sleight-of-hand, put the twenty dollars back into Jim’s coat without him noticing.
Jim turned back around. “Thanks, man. I guess I needed that talk.”
“What you need is out there, not in here.”
Jim nodded in silent understanding and turned to face the world that now felt a little smaller, and a little less intimidating.