Over the past two years, I’ve been an open book in terms of detailing my struggles with homelessness and how I fell from grace only to be swallowed by the whale of depression and loneliness. As a pretty famous rapper used to recite often in his hit single, there are levels to my story. I have no problem recounting level one, how my own bad decisions led to my tribulation. Other levels of my journey, I’ve given to a higher power. However, today, after being moved by a recent development, I am detailing level two of my story.
My destiny with hardship began after I lost my job in 2014. After searching high and wide to find a job for three months, I made the mistake of looking at my Booz Allen Hamilton retirement savings. Seeing a lump sum I never realized I accumulated, I decided to take a break from my job hunt and chill out. Two decades of working without barely taking a vacation, I decided to take a “sabbatical” and party like a rock star.
I withdrew my IRA and went full Kardashian, every day that ended with a letter Y was an occasion to pop bottles. YOLO! That foolish saying became my mantra. If only I stopped at partying, instead my affliction of trying to “save people” made me invite seven people into my home and my house became a destination spot for all who wanted to party and feast at no cost. I invited seven people into my home and turned my house into a penthouse Larry Flynt would have been proud of. 2014 was me at my enabling peak; instead of befriending strangers, I made it my purpose to redeem hooligans.
My quest to be a god to others felt good for a while; I found meaning in lowering my standards and letting people disrespect me as long as I could validate myself by tending to broken souls. Back then, I thought my actions were pure and that my aim was noble. Now I see what I was doing, instead of saving myself and facing my own demons, I self-medicated by trying to deliver strangers. It is always easier warring without than it is to battle within.
The audacity of Teddy had no bounds; I went from partying with thugs to trying to turn criminals into entrepreneurs. After blowing through my IRA as if I was Usain Bolt running from a cheetah, I decided to open up a shisha lounge in DC with what remained of my reserves. Instead of doing my due diligence and finding business partners based on competence and merit, I went back to my savior mode and turned two hustlers into equal partners. One person “invested” less than a thousand dollars, another one invested $3,000 and I invested $40,000—I made us all equal partners. How do think that decision worked out for me?
Around the same time, I made the decision to publicly announce my accomplishments in 2008. My ego inflated by savior mode, I went on social media and broadcast to the world that I wrote a part of Obama’s 2008 South Carolina primary victory speech. I never thought through the repercussions, I was like a child who acted without assessing the implications. Warned to back down by a trusted friend, I blew off his counsel and proceeded to thump my chest. My life fell apart in the ensuing days, weeks and months. I lost my home, my relationship with my family was severed and shortly thereafter I found myself on the streets of Greenville, South Carolina.
I could write books about what happened to me between 2014 and 2017, how I went from an Associate at one of the world’s preeminent consulting company with an MBA from Johns Hopkins to being a resident of the modern day leper colonies that are homeless shelters. In fact, my immediate reaction in 2015 was to don my warrior uniform; I bought a military backpack from Walmart right when I was leaving Virginia, I took my favorite bible and headed to South Carolina to start a political revolution.
The ego unchecked can become a monster that destroys all. I had the temerity to believe that a homeless man in the streets of South Carolina could start an uprising through sheer determination and by way of my words. I doubled down on my narcissism, instead of saving people, I was now on a quest to save America. This quest lasted six months, after I expended all my energies and nearly lost my leg due to a knee infection that deteriorate to the point where I was two days from death, depression came knocking at my door.
Laying in a hospital bed on my own, I realized that I was a man without a nation. The book I always wanted to write title “the Invisible Ethiopian”—inspired by Ralph Ellison’s “the Invisible Man”—all the sudden became my script. I went from fighting the system to being on the verge of ending it all. I could not see a way out of my predicament—the vindication I sought could not be attained. The vengeance I desired was but a path to destruction. Without a friend in the world, I turned to the one angel who was there for me throughout the entire ordeal.
I called this angel up and asked her to take me in; she flew me to New York and turned her home into my palace. Except I knew that her kindness was only a reprieve, my pride would not let me be a project to anyone. Even though she did what she did out of friendship, I refused to accept her kindness because I wanted to be the one who did for others what she did for me. After a few months of staying with her in Manhattan, New York, I told her that I could not continue living with her.
I was not sure where to go, so I plopped down on the computer one day—in between sips of cognac and tokes of herbs—and Googled “bible, mountain, farm + mission”. When I was a child in Ethiopia, I loved reading the bible, the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Abeba, is in the mountains, I wanted to a farmer when I grew up and the mission part was because I had to find a place that was free to live at. Unable to see a hopeful future, I went backwards in order to find a solution. Day after day, I repeated that patter: sips and tokes followed up by searches on the web and social media based on those four key words.
I am not sure how I ran into Harvest Farm’s website but the moment I found it and read their testimonials, I realized that was going to be my future home. I made the most important decision of my life based on my memories of Ethiopia and through the eyes of a child before I was corrupted by this world’s impositions. My friend fought me at first, she could not understand why I would purposely put myself back into a life of homelessness and hardship when I had other options. My mind was made up. Instead of telling me to leave, my friend paid for my airplane ticket to Denver, Colorado and gave me $100 as a road allowance.
Kindness doesn’t ransom or demand payback, true charity is giving even when we get nothing in return and even when we disagree with people’s decisions.
I arrived in Colorado completely broken. Though I stepped out in faith, I touched down in the mile high city surrounded by a million yards of sadness. In all honesty, I did not travel to Colorado to find redemption, I journeyed to Fort Collins as my final destination. This is how subsumed I was in ennui, each night I went to sleep on blue plastic mattresses with my mistress melancholy only to wake up dreading her kiss in the morning. Unable to find a way out, I sought an exit strategy only to be paralyzed by fear and the thought of what comes after.
As much as I wanted to end it all, God had other plans for me. My friend in New York was not the only angel God sent me, each day I was greeted with kind souls who kept seeing the light in me where I saw only darkness. Each day, I would run into a soul who insisted on sparking hope in my heart where I only harbored resentment and anger. Like Germans taking a hammer to the Berlin Wall, one sojourner after another kept using hammers of love to bash at my wall of indifference. Until one day, a most random act of kindness made me smile after being awash in tears for more than two years.
My daily routines at Harvest Farm consisted of cooking in the community kitchen for eight hours a day only to bike back to the dorm room and go to sleep the rest of the day. My only other routine, other than being mandated to go to church every Sunday and attending morning devotionals, was to wash the few clothes I had to my name on Saturdays. On a couple of occasions I made the mistake of leaving my clothes in the dryer only to find my attires strewn all over the floor. Knowing this, instead of standing by and watching over my possessions, I would leave my clothes in the dryer and come back a few hours later only to be met with the same outcome. Each time this happened, my anger would multiply. I did not want solutions, I only wanted to validate my wrath. Sound familiar?
After five weeks of repeating the same pattern, on the sixth day I stormed into the laundry room ready to find the culprit and level the asshole. Except this time around my clothes were not tossed about the floor; someone actually took the time to fold my pants, shirts, underwear, sox and towels and left them neatly stacked on the table. My wrath melted like Parkay in the Mohave Desert. Instead of anger, I cried for the first time. My tear ducts opened up like Hoover Dam; alone in the laundry room, I sobbed openly because I realized that I was finally broken.
In my brokenness, I found my redemption. I finally realized that I became homeless and invited hell into my world because I kept insisting that I do things my way. Humility was a cursed word, my ego was my idol. I took a dance with indigence and a stint of homelessness for me to realize that my ego was the virus and that humility was the elixir. The minute I accepted God’s will and decided to give to Him what happened on a cold February in 2015 and instead use my pen to write about my journey from brokenness to redemption is when my life turned around.
Alas, the ego is a bedeviling friend. Pride is like Freddie Kruger that comes back to live no matter how much you try to kill it. After my biggest blessing and my greatest angel was sent into my life and I fell in love with my future wife in a most inexplicable connection, Bethlehem inspired me to stop writing on Facebook to start my own website. Bethlehem was my real life angel investor; we decided to call our new website “the Ghion Journal”. We co-founded a publication based on nothing but $30 that Betty spent to reserve the domain and host it on GoDaddy.
The Ghion Journal was supposed to be a publication based on five pillars: politics, history, culture, faith and love. I initially focused on faith and love and occasionally dabbled in politics as I started writing about Trump and Democrats. But then I noticed something that fed into my ego, the articles I wrote about faith and love would get a fraction of the hits and shares compared to the articles I wrote about politics. I made a business decision, nay I made an ego driven decision, to focus on politics almost exclusively.
I went back to war with the world. This time around, I had just enough wisdom to not make it only about me. After witnessing the statistics of the status quo and the broken souls who were chewed up and spit out by corporatism, I made it my goal to use my pen to bash the establishment and to “expose” the malfeasance of the media-politico and the military-financial complexes. From an anonymous writer, I garnered a pretty substantial following. The Ghion Journal transformed from a blog into a serious news source that thousands of people visited on a daily basis to unravel media narratives.
The more people retweeted my tweets, the more people lauded me as a brave truth teller and the more shares my articles earned, the more my ego kept growing. 2017 Teodrose who was humbled through homelessness was about to revert to 2015 Teddy who thought I could demolish the establishment. Each time news broke, I would get triggered to pick up my pen and punch back at propagandists who were getting paid to confuse the public. I did not have a solutions, all I had were my ego and my tenacity to shred media narratives apart.
I succeeded in my quest, I failed in my mission. This realization only hit me right around the time Julian Assange was arrested. That day, the number of visits at Ghion Journal cratered and the reach of my social media posts dwindled from a gush to a trickle. I contacted some of my fellow independent journalists and they too noted that they noticed a perceptible shift and that traffic to their website decreased for no reason. Except we all knew the reason. Independent media sources went from being a nuisance to being an enemy of the state; for our sins of questioning media narratives and wanting to keep public officials accountable, we were met with a coordinated campaign to marginalize us on social media and to elbow us out of the public square.
That is when I realized that being a journalist was no longer an option for me. This awakening was not just about clicks and shares, even before Julian Assange was arrested, I realized that the establishment thrive by inverting our powers and turning us into reactors. Though my articles were getting read by many and my reflections were being heard by many more, I knew all along that I was only doing the job of the status quo. As long as I kept my focus on the lunacy of Trump, the fraudulence of Democrats and the deception of mainstream media, all I was doing was agitating my followers instead of giving people solutions.
Less than a week after Assange was frog marched out of the Ecuadorian embassy, I decided to renounce journalism. As I detailed in my write up announcing my exit from journalism, I realized that fighting the establishment as an individual was a fool’s errand. The same way I looked back to find a solution during my time of hardship, I yet again looked back to the history of Ethiopia to find an alternative to the status quo. I joined Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy and eventually became the Chairman of the organization because I see it as a vehicle to effect the change I wanted to see for birth land Ethiopia and my new home America.
Two days ago, I noticed a quirk that made me react. Let’s just say we live in an age where privacy is non-existent. The minute I realized that something was amiss, I decided to go into countermeasure mode and to write about the security state we live in. But I was met with an immediate conflict in my mind; am I about to use the trust I’ve earned with thousands of people to press my own agenda? Am I renouncing my renouncement of journalism in order to start a public relations campaign on my own behalf? Am I about to relive the past and lose everything because I want to be proven right and to loosen hell upon unprovable foes?
Before writing an article titled “Pay Chains”, a missive that would have recounted how paychecks have enslaved humanity and indentured us into a life of continuous compliance, I prayed and asked God to lead me instead of being led by my ego. The next morning, I woke up to go on a jog. The whole time I was running, the words “God’s will” kept echoing in my mind. And then magic happened again, when I opened the door for an old lady, she said “God bless you”. As we were riding the elevator up, she noted to me that my kindness in opening to her and talking to her with a smile on my face helped her out because she has been through a rough patch.
Damn! Why must I keep repeating the same bullshit even though I know what the answer is? That elderly lady who said thank you in real time is worth more than 10,000 shares and likes on Facebook and a million retweets on Twitter. As I’m writing this sentence, the song “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Elenyi and Sarah Young came only for my keyboard to be drenched by my tears and my heart to be renewed in this truth. This was the same song that made me cry when I was homeless and wrote this article titled “Ebenezer: Feeding Puppies; Ignoring the Broken” about my encounter with a fellow homeless man.
If we want to make a change in this world, if we want to make a difference, we can’t do so through anger and ego, the only way we can bend the arc of history towards justice is by way of love and kindness. When we impart love to others, we must do so without looking back for validation or without expecting payback. Even if our love is returned with indifference or malice, we must find the fortitude to say “God’s will” and keep being love no matter the outcome.
I’ve traveled a long road; from a life of privilege in Ethiopia to a life of hardship as immigrants to a life of upper-middle class amenities in my 20s and 30s to a life of poverty in my 40s. What happens next only God knows. I am not going to go silently into the night because some in power want us to keep our mouths shut, I am a direct descendant of Atse (Emperor) Tewodros who defied Queen Victoria and paid with his life for his refusal to submit to imperialists. I am also the grandson of Million Tedla who likewise refused to submit to Emperor Haile Selassie and paid with his life for it. Moreover, we Ethiopians don’t like to be pushed around, I submit to no one but God.
However, going forward, I refuse to fight for justice. As George Carlin brilliantly noted, fighting for freedom is like having sex on behalf of virginity—he used a more colorful verb. I fight no more, I will stand up for justice by being love as much as I can and trying my hardest to put away my need to get vengeance. What happens tomorrow is all God’s will. I leave to Him vengeance and trust that all will work out according to His will. Though let me revert to my old ways for a minute and speak from a place of ego mixed with sagacity.
Those who think they can run this world through manipulation and imposition, woe to those who act like they are gods of this world. The same way I went through the fire not too long ago, a day of reckoning is coming where the invisible hands who bleed this planet will cry in regret when the fires they keep starting consume their homes. One day soon, the sons of Maia (Masons) will be the bastards of hubris and the illuminated shall be darkened by unending lamentation.
With that last act of hubris on my part—old habits die hard—let me turn to humility. What I realize now is that the seven people who lived in my house for free and the two business partners who stole from me, they were not culprits. I did everything to myself, I can’t call other people who take advantage of me swine because I chose to disrespect my pearls by freely giving them away to people who never asked for them. Going forward, I shall give to those who truly need it instead of enabling people who could otherwise do for themselves.
My next journey is to humble myself to my father and my creator God who is in heaven and observes all. I fight no more, I turn my life to Yeshua and ask for forgiveness for all my sins and pray that the wounds that I carry be lifted from me and that I only exude love going forward. As I work to restore the monarchy in Ethiopia, I plead to God that He makes me a leader that serves through humility instead of a dictator who rules through decree or manipulations. I ask you to pray my wife, my son who will be entering this world in a few weeks and for me to heal so that I can help others who are hurting too. The good and the bad, whatever happens next, I accept it all as God’s will.
Let me end this article with one last reflection. We truly are names. My first name Teodrose, named after my forefathers Atse Tewodros who was a legendary Emperor of Ethiopia, means “God’s gift” and my last name means “my love” in Amharic. My gift is not my legacy but the love my parents instilled in my heart. My baptismal name is Araya Selassie, Araya means example and Selassie means trinity; the example I pray that I become—no matter what evils form against me going forward—is to be an example of love which is what the trinity is about.I am no longer a fighter for justice; I am a soldier of love. #Memo6831 Click To Tweet
“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” Psalm 68:31
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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.
Latest posts by Lij Teodrose Fikremariam (see all)
- Who is there for Us? When Suffering and Hopelessness Give Way to Tribalism and Hatred - May 26, 2019
- Judge Not… - May 16, 2019
- Why I No Longer Fight for Justice - May 9, 2019