Life comes at us first in threes then in thirties. A minor bump turns into a major ridge and before we know it, we are flat on our backs bedeviled by life’s bad luck. This is a theme that is universal, no matter the station we are born into or the level of success we attain, in time the kiss of misfortune pecks us all on the cheek. For some of us though, the peck turns into a deep smooch as bad breaks devolves into soul breaking distress. Schmidty’s story is one that fits the latter narrative as a lifetime of giving to others eventually bestowed to him a season of barrenness.
Who I refer to as Schmidty is actually Steve Schmidt, a peer of mine who resides at the same mission I have called home and who I had the honor and privilege to cook with. For close to six months, Schmidty and I worked in the kitchen preparing food for over seventy people. Schmidty and I could not be more dissimilar, he of German decent and I of Ethiopian lineage, our stories—as well as our cooking styles—could not be more divergent. Yet we were bonded by one theme, both of us landed in a season of hardship and barrenness through a mixture of bad habits, hard luck and unrequited love.
Schmidty grew up in the prototypical American family. He was raised by a stern father who ran the household like a drill sergeant. Schmidty recounted how his father was just caring enough to let him know he was loved but tough enough never let him rest on his laurels. As the first born, Schmidty took on the role of the third parent as he acted the part of at times father and other times mother to his sister. His narrative growing up was that of a care giver; most first born children will probably understand this, the eldest is supposed to lead by example and is expected to tend to those behind him/her.
This role, of caring for others and loving by default, is one that never left Schmidty. As he entered adulthood, he retained the “giver” role and eventually wound up in a marriage where giving was second nature. I don’t know if it’s possible to love to a fault or to love too much—perhaps love is taken for granted the minute love is given without limit. But love without limit is precisely what Schmidty did as he gave all of himself to his wife and her son. His happiness became dependent on the happiness of his wife and in the process, Schmidty lost his voice as his identity became inseparable apart from his wife.
In time the love that was given freely became expendable. When his wife chose another venue away from the path of marriage, all the sudden the hits started to come by the dozens. Nothing can crater a man’s world like a woman that chooses to exit stage left. Because us men are so unused to dealing with the affairs of the heart and tending to a broken heart, Schmidty found solace at the bottom of a bottle. What starts at first with a sip in order to fit in, a drink in order to unwind and a bottle to chase the blues away becomes a deluge that drowns in a sea of booze and shattered lives.
The year 2007 became the dividing line between ordinary and a new normal of cyclical strife. For ten years, Schmidty endured a lost decade of hope followed by malaise. Time and time again, each fall was followed up by a new round of bottles and hazed memories. We all do this in a way, some of us are just honest enough to say “I have a problem” while too many choose bravado and pretense to cover up their distress. Schmidty was brave enough to seek help, but the one thing he could never find in the ten year odyssey was a community that gave to him as much as he gave to others.
Until, through God’s grace and personal tenacity, Schmidy finally found a place of solace after years searching for a place to salve his wounded soul and his broken spirit. It was at the most wondrous mission that Schmidty found rest and in the process found a community among fellow broken men. A once accountant, guitarist and an aspiring painter shortly thereafter found himself assigned to the kitchen. A man who enjoyed success in the past all the sudden found himself washing dishes and moping bathrooms. Instead of giving up though, Schmidty stuck it out and refused to give in. It was this humbling work that gave therapy to both his ego and his soul. In time, he moved up to chef of the kitchen where Schmidty found a new passion.
This is where our paths crossed; I too was a chef at the same time that Schmidty cooking. It was comical actually, I loved to cook with reckless abandon and Schmidty loved to cook with precision. Yet in our divergent styles we found synergy; he respected my ad hoc cooking and I admired his scientific measurements. If only the whole world could find the harmony that Schmidty and I found in the kitchen! Instead of judging one another or trying to impose our styles on each other, we found a space to co-exist and cook in serenity. Serendipity! He cooks his way and I cooked mine and between the two of us we fed many.
Because we were able to respect each other, a friendship was built that seems unlikely on its face. I would joke often that the friendship was unbalanced for I talked most of the time and he put up with my endless stories. But we laughed through it all and in the process both of us shared testimonies of past hardship, pains and heartbreak. Nothing cures the heart more than knowing that the thorny paths we sauntered on was traveled by a fellow sojourner. Come to find out that two polar opposite souls like Schmidty and I actually walked similar journeys. This is I know to be true; those you think could not be any more different than you most likely share your story if only you could take time to listen to someone who does not sing to the same music sheet as you.
One day, Schmidty showed me some of his paintings and I was instantly captivated. I was writing “Soul to Soil” at the time and was looking for someone to design the cover for me. The same week, Schmidty showed me his work and I did not hesitate to ask if Schmidty would draw the cover. Without thinking twice, Schmidty drew the design as I outlined and his work is what graces the front of my second book. The synergy that started in the kitchen carried over into other parts of my life—Schmidty gave of his kindness by imparting his talent and in the process became a permanent part of my journey. If only more people could be kind like Schmidty; there is a windfall to altruism for kindness begets more kindness that blesses all involved in the process.
Two days ago, as Schmidty was excitedly telling me about a new sourdough bread recipe he came up with, a thought crossed my mind. I realized that Schmidty’s giving nature could not only help him but could help others within the context of a community based business. My old conniption to think business at all times, I pitched the idea to him that was based of using his baking acumen to start a communal bakery. In this bakery, people could come eat in a place that nurtures art and music. Likewise fellow artists would have a place to show their artwork and aspiring musicians could have a place to strum their melody. Through it all, Schmidty could apply the skills he learned in the kitchen to continue feeding customers and fellow artists alike.
A small seed of an idea in time blossomed to a full bloom concept as Schmidty fully embraced a conversation in passing and turned it into a viable vision. Just like our cooking styles; where I threw out big picture idea, Schmidty started to apply precision and started to fill in the details of a future communal bakery. We bandied about names for the bakery even though a name has not been settled upon yet. Spore to Creation has a ring to it since the idea was spurned by Schmidty’s creation of a new spore that he used to make his own style of sourdough bread. Kind of poetic isn’t it? From sour dough to manna from heaven—life comes full circle as bitter in time gives way to the very blessings that nourish us.
So this journey of starting a communal bakery shall start with a community. It was after all a community that salvaged the souls of both Schmidty and me. Since we live in an age of crowd funding and social activism, Schmidty’s aspiration shall be nurtured through a communal yeast that will give rise to Schmidty’s future bakery. In life, we go through our struggles, we emerge from the shadows, then do our part to chase our dreams once we realize the nightmares end the minute we seize a new day. Check back on this article, soon you will see an Indiegogo fundraising picture below once the account has been set up. Click on it and you will be redirected where you can contribute as you are able. Let us empower those who travel similar journeys as ours instead of throwing our money to corporate entities.
Regardless of the outcome though, whether or not Schmidty opens his future bakery, the most important part is that Schmidty broke out of a decade doldrums and is now facing tomorrow imbued with hope and surrounded by community. No longer does he use bottles to hide from his pains. Schmidty now uses his God given talents to paint, strum and bake a future that nourishes him as he nourishes others. This is the blessing of life; seasons of barrenness eventually gives way to seasons of harvest. Where we are once broken we eventually are made whole when we are able to receive love from community as we give to back to others. Full circle, this is #SchmidtysStory
Mangled roots and warped branches yet these things bear fruit.
Click below to visit Schmidty’s profile on IndeoGoGo, fund site will be up tomorrow.
Click HERE or the picture below to say hello! to Schmidty
The picture below is the cover Schmidty designed for Soul to Soil. Click on the picture to be redirected to Amazon’s page for Soul to Soil, a book about my journey from despondency to discovery. #Soul2Soil
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.