The song soaring through my headphones for this month’s offering is “Given to Fly” from the 1998 release, Yield, by Seattle rockers Pearl Jam.
For me, this was my rediscovery of a band that I’d come very close to letting go completely. By this point in the 90’s, the alternative/grunge movement was close dying out completely.
That particular era in music I think of as the last major cultural shift in rock ‘n roll. My generation’s British Invasion.
The grunge movement came in like a thunderous wave and completely saturated radio, television, fashion and even film.
If you are Generation-X (born between 1965 and 1980), and you try to tell me you didn’t own a flannel shirt (probably tied around your waste), jeans with holes in the knees, or own a pair of Doc Martens, well, I’d have to say you may have partied a little too hard back then or you have serious issues with the truth.
Enjoy the tune, it’s worth the listen.
Around 1996, like everyone else, I was beginning to push that kind of music away. In my case, having cut my musical teeth on rockers from the late 70’s and all of the 80’s, there’s much more Van Halen life-of-the-party-rock’n roll-bombast in me than Nirvana I-swim-in-misery grunginess.
In short, my ability to hear someone sing about being miserable is extremely limited.
He could've tuned in tuned in
But he tuned out
A bad time nothing
could save him
Alone in a corridor
waiting locked out
It was also marked probably darkest periods in my life. I was miserable, and with the exception of playing music, very little made me pause to give thanks.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties I’d left the University of Mississippi on academic probation, managed to get my GPA up enough to get into nursing school at William Carey, failed, got into the A.D. nursing program at JCJC, and yes, fail there too.
I was d-o-n-e with school.
Why wouldn’t I be?
How long could you justify making someone do something they absolutely despise?
I was lost. I felt dejected, rejected, and completely hopeless.
You may be reading this thinking “c’mon man, that’s a little dramatic, isn’t it?” Well, let me provide some context.
My great-grandfather, Thomas J. Brooks, was a Tennessee State Senator, statesman, and published author.
My grandfather, Dr. Thomas J. Brooks, Jr., earned two Master’s degrees, a Ph.D., an M.D., authored textbooks, was integral in the establishment of the University of Mississippi’s Medical School in Jackson, and a noted expert in the fields of pathology and epidemiology.
My recently retired father, Dr. Michael P. Brooks, is very well-respected otolaryngologist (E.N.T.) and maxillo-facial plastic surgeon.
Yours truly, Michael Wesley Brooks, got one shot at college, two shots at nursing school, and bombed all three.
Way to go, Wes!
He got up outta there
ran for hundreds of miles
He made it to the ocean
had a smoke in a tree
The wind rose up set him
down on his knee
My life at that point mirrored the music of the time. I had no self-confidence, no focus, and zero motivation. I couldn’t get excited about anything because I knew that even if I could formulate a plan, the notion that I could stay focused and see it through was laughable.
I had some jobs that paid the bills but felt called to none of them, and I was in no way mature enough to maintain a romantic relationship.
Not that it mattered, I barely made enough money to sustain myself let alone a family.
I was going to be single forever, and I’d convinced myself I was okay with that.
Up until 1998 rolled around, the only place I’d really ever found clarity was my guitar.
It was reliable.
It was what I wanted to pick up when I was sad, it’s what I reached for to celebrate, and the first thing I grabbed when I was bored.
That was until I met the woman I knew I would marry.
And I really got a healthy dose when I found out I was going to be a daddy. Holding that little guy in my arms for the first time was the biggest “it ain’t about you anymore fella” moment I know I’ll ever experience.
Queue full-time job and night school because tending bar only pays well if you’re single.
A wave came crashing
like a fist to the jaw
Delivered him wings
"Hey look at me now"
Arms wide open with
the sea as his floor
Oh power oh
I realized why nothing ever works out for me. I had no idea how to listen. I don’t mean I was hard of hearing; I was incapable of listening.
When you can’t listen, you don’t hear the whole story, and you second guess everything—literally, everything. And when you’re second guessing everything, your whole life becomes about self-preservation.
However, the most frustrating thing remained not being able to ascertain why.
He floated back down 'cause he wanted to share
His key to the locks on the chains he saw everywhere
But first he was stripped and then he was stabbed
By faceless men, well, he still stands
Finally getting the ADHD-PI (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-Predominantly Inattentive) diagnosis, i.e. the “why,” and subsequent treatment, has been life-changing. I am forever grateful for the ability I now have to listen. (Most of the time. I mean, I am human, right?).
Being able to listen breeds confidence and promotes advancement and motivation.
Most importantly, it has allowed me to be there for others, and that is a true gift.
Before, I wouldn’t have allowed it. Be there for someone else?
No way. Heck, I couldn’t keep myself on the straight and narrow, I sure wasn’t going to allow someone else to drop their problems into my lap. I’m sure I came across as a real jerk. As a matter of fact, I know I did because people approached me years later and told me so. Again, it was self-preservation. That’s what I’m going to be thankful for this holiday—being able to be in the moment.
Being excited about my journey.
While my ancestors have had truly impressive lives and I couldn’t be prouder to call them Great-Grandfather, “Poppy,” and “Dad,” their journeys are theirs, not mine.
Eight years ago, I finally heeded what my father told me when I was in high school. “Son, I don’t care what you do as long as you give it 110%.”
Got it, Dad (finally).
And he still gives his love,
he just gives it away
The love he receives
is the love that is saved
And sometimes is seen
a strange spot in the sky
A human being that
was given to fly
I don’t mean to sound like I have it all figured out, because I sure don’t. I’m just happy to be in the game.
It’s opened the door for me to meet some pretty incredible people, find a pretty amazing calling, and a life I wouldn’t trade for anything. This holiday season I am thankful for my patient and loving family, my dear friends (you all know who you are) and, of course, you, the reader.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
When he’s not rocking his socks off, Wes Brooks spends his days as the Development Coordinator at the DuBard School for Language Disorders at The University of Southern Mississippi. A native of Laurel, Brooks is a husband, a father, and a guitarist for the local band, The 6550’s. Email him at: email@example.com