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All his life Kevin McKenzie was told to rely on his bootstraps. Only when he became down and out, did he find just where those bootstraps are.

During the winter of 1968 when I was 10, my mother took her own life. I understood that real men don’t cry and I stuck to that creed for many years.

My grandfather was a stereotypical German. He had a physically commanding presence, a stern demeanor which covered up his unusual appreciation for abject beauty. Throughout my teenage years, he stressed two things. The first was that I should learn a trade, that way I would always be able to put food on the table. And secondly, he would tell me to pull myself up by the bootstraps if I was down. It was a notion that seemed cold, until I was older and became aware of the enormous amounts of tragedy and surreal violence he had experienced as a member of the German resistance, during WWII.

I did what he asked. I became a classically trained chef and always seemed to find a way to pull myself up by the bootstraps, participating in everything from multiple quests for vision, 12-step programs and a stint as a formal Zen Buddhist monk. Suddenly, I could no longer hold up those straps and was forced to let them drop in spectacular fashion. It was as a result of literally becoming disabled and homeless in a matter of days. But I refused to give in. I did not want to pass the legacy of suicide, down to my four daughters.

During a very long decade , what I expected to happen did not. I assumed that there would be a comprehensive safety net for me to rely on. There wasn’t. I figured that the benevolence of our local non-profit organizations would help. Not much. I believed that there would be empathy and compassion in the general community for my plight. Not at all.


Instead, the gift of healing came from my peers. Compassion, love, empathy, and the fostering of hope, were all given to me freely by those who could barely afford to give it. In effect, we helped each other up as a group. I now believe that if those of us who are marginalized, could gather together in organized unity, towards the common goal of loving resurrection. We would completely eradicate the awful stigma of disenfranchisement and rise to the occasion, bootstraps and all.

With a Perspective, I’m Kevin McKenzie.

Kevin McKenzie is a writer, chef and activist in the North Bay.