At Norm’s Memorial

At my friend Norm’s memorial a couple of months ago, his son Matt got up to speak. Norm died at 94, so Matt was closing in on his own seventies. Here’s a story he told about his father.

Norm Stahl, who taught me the Foolscap Method. Photo by Sys Trier Morch.

“This was back in the ’80s. My Dad got a frantic phone call from his cousin. The cousin said, ‘Norm, I need 15 grand and I need it now. Today.’ Apparently he was in trouble from gambling.

“Dad came through, got him the money. This was when $15,000 was a fortune. Of course his cousin never paid him back. Years went by. They would see each other from time to time at family functions. It was always excruciating because everybody knew the story.

“Finally at one get-together … Christmas, Thanksgiving, I can’t remember … they were both there and the tension was terrible because they hadn’t spoken since forever. My Dad started across the floor toward his cousin. Everyone in the house was watching. Dad walked up, didn’t say a word. Just put his arms around his cousin and hugged him. Everybody started bawling. The spell was broken.

 “That was the kind of man my father was.”

Remember, as you hear this story, that this was a son summing up his Dad’s life. Matt could have talked about success, achievement, family, whatever. But instead he chose this one story.

And it was perfect.

Here’s what I take from this. I’m sure that, over the years, Norm had many thoughts like these: “That deadbeat cousin of mine! We grew up together, played ball, chased girls. I came through for him when he was in desperate trouble, when it broke my own household bank. And he totally blew me off. He hasn’t paid me back and he’ll never pay me back. That sonofabitch!”

But then something changed. Norm must have thought something like this:

“What’s really important here? On my deathbed, am I gonna begrudge my cousin a few lousy bucks or a bad moment he once had under pressure? What counts is I love the guy. He’s my flesh and blood. Forget what he did. It’s nothing.”

In story-principle terms, Norm had an All is Lost Moment, followed by an Epiphanal Moment.

The change in Norm was he shifted from the ego to the soul. This is monumental. It’s the equivalent, if you ask me, of what the Buddha would call Enlightenment.

The ego holds grudges. The ego sees only its own self-interest. The ego hoards slights and grievances. The ego hates.

But the higher self sees soul-to-soul. It pierces the Little Picture and perceives what’s really important. It loves. It forgives.

All this is a long-winded way of getting to this question:

How does a Wilderness Passage end? How do you and I come out of a period of exile-from-Self and get our feet back on the ground?

I think we make the same transition Norm did, only instead of the shift happening in relation to another person, it happens within ourselves.

We perceive at last our own crimes and failings. We can say of ourselves, “What you did was unforgivable. It was a betrayal of all that you love and honor and hold dear. You failed yourself and your calling, grievously hurt those who love you, etc. But ya know what? It’s okay. It’s all right. I put my arms around you and hug you to my breast.”

An All is Lost Moment comes when our ego hits the wall. We cannot find a way around on that level. We must upshift to the plane of the Self, of the soul. This can mean resolving to change our lives, to make good on what we have previously crapped out on. Or it can mean a simple acceptance (as in the final scene of the movie, Big Night) of a reality that we cannot change but that, with love, we can live with and muddle through.

So I take my hat off to the son, Matt, for telling that story about his Dad. And I stand in even greater awe of Norm for how he resolved the issue with his cousin.

That was the kind of man he was.


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  1. Gregory A Dinkin on June 28, 2023 at 1:58 am

    Tremendous! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tim Wigham on June 28, 2023 at 1:58 am

    Superb article. Thanks Steve.

  3. Because on June 28, 2023 at 2:20 am

    As always, you hit the spot and touched me deeply. My beloved sister ripped me off of $100,000 inheritance money. I stop ped talking to her. I think about it everyday, several times. Ii am angry and I miss her.

    And now, a way out. Rise above my ego and hang on to my Soul.

    Thank you.

    Now if I can only do itt!


    • Carllie on June 28, 2023 at 7:48 am

      The fact that this article has melted you some… it’s not about IF you’re gonna do it… it’s WHEN. Also please know that HIS HUG… might be your invitation to something that you once shared together… or a phone call… or whatever that speaks to how you express love. I’m happy for you. The brothers healing was a bonus just like your sisters if she receives the forgiveness… this entire gesture is to free you. Proud of ya

    • Paula Brown on July 2, 2023 at 10:17 pm

      You got this B. Your soul is your higher-self. Ask and trust.

  4. Will on June 28, 2023 at 2:32 am

    Thank you Steven. I loved this reading and got a lot out of it personally! Even the smallest interactions can sometimes fill us with deep shame and regret. Living in past resentments takes us away from the great reality of our present.
    Conversely, I’d love to hear your opinions on enablement and accountability which I believe also have a place in stories like this. I find that the real challenge sometimes is discerning between the forgiveness for self and others while also upholding principles of responsibility and consequence.

  5. Jim Gant on June 28, 2023 at 2:45 am


    Love THIS. LOVE YOU. Love Norm and Matt too.


    Say IT again.



    • Brian Nelson on June 28, 2023 at 6:18 am

      “…Love is patient, love is kind…it keeps no record of wrongs…”
      It is what I immediately thought as well.

  6. Carol Holland March on June 28, 2023 at 2:54 am

    This is perfect and at the perfect time. I tell my students about your books on writing, and always say, this guy has done the work and knows the map. Follow him. I love how you bring the difficult subject of spiritual growth to the earth plane and make it easy to understand. You have a gift. I honor and treasure your words.

  7. brian staveley on June 28, 2023 at 3:03 am

    Thank You, Steven, That was Beautiful!

    You are my high-dollar therapist…and I have only paid you with a few nickles & my time:) I hear you & am trying = get out of your ego & onto a higher self, do the damn work, Turn Pro, Nobody wants to read your shit:) It’s like you know what I need…You have a beautiful Mind & Soul…keep grinding & challenging yourself!

    I learned about you from Brian Johnson / Optimize / Heroic…hope to meet you in person soon

  8. Reji Varghese on June 28, 2023 at 3:10 am

    When I read this post, I was thinking about 1 Corinthians 13. Coincidentally, I see Jim Grant has already referred 1 Corinthians in his comment. Narm’s gesture was a classic example of Love overpowering ego. For, as 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “… it (Love) keeps no record of wrongs”.
    Hope we all get enough inspiration from Narm and practice Love with others and within ourselves.

    Love and Peace to all.

    • Brian Nelson on June 28, 2023 at 6:35 am

      I was struck with the same thought. Paul’s standard for love is a high bar, especially when I’m stuck in the low frequency ego world.

      Listening to a podcast last year, a guest has a son with Down syndrome. He talks about how people would ask him, “..uh, didn’t you know?” They were not so gently implying that if he knew prior to birth, the responsible thing was an abortion.

      Further on in the interview, he says, “You know, I honestly do not even see his down syndrome. I only see this beautiful boy whose future is ripe with possibility.” (I cannot remember exact quote, but he did say that he did not see, or doesn’t notice his son’s disability.

      The host said, “Maybe that is what love allows us to do, to see the person for who they really are.”

      I think of this often, and often I relate it to people I see at the dog park. We all know that our dogs are just the most perfect, beautiful, funny, lovely, gorgeous, animals of all time–and expect others to see our dogs like we do.

      it is easier to see my dog without blemish than people, dogs do not betray us.

      Maybe that is what Christ & Paul are saying. When you see the world filtered through love first, you cannot see the speck in others’ eyes, you only see the vulnerable soul. When we se people like Norm saw his cousin, then the prescription in 1 COR 13 isn’t so demanding, it is more descriptive of how you behave.

  9. john mitchell on June 28, 2023 at 3:14 am

    Awesome Steven! Thank you.

  10. Yanina Choroszczucha on June 28, 2023 at 3:16 am

    Wow! It’s so deep this story, a profound message. Thank you for sharing

  11. Jim Flynn on June 28, 2023 at 3:50 am

    good story–I’m hoping my cousin Guido lets me off the hook!

  12. Tolis on June 28, 2023 at 3:53 am

    Thank you very much dear Steve,

    The same thing happened to me a few years ago, in about 2020. One friend, one of those friends who support you when people accuse you and who are always ready like fighters, needed money because she got seperated from her boyfriend and was trying to make her appartment liveable. So I gave her about 1000 euros. Ii wasn’t much but it was all I had. Then she dissapeared; never gave me a sign of life again, although I accidentaly saw a photo of her one or two years later, where she was getting engaged with somebody.

    In the back of my mind, when I gave her the money, I had already welcomed and accepted the fact that maybe she would not give those money back -and one who helps a friend/relative should keep that in mind or they’ll find ugly situations in their heart. That saved me too. But the distressing fact was that I completely and unknowingly lost touch with a good friend because of that. Money have power, and when they get between two people, if those people are weak on that and other matters, they vanish relations. I can also feel them ruling over some people near me who found a way to have more of them, too -but I may be wrong (my note on Plato’s cave below is the answer). I can feel their (money, do you use it in singular in english?) lack expecting to rule over me, too. It did for these months leading me to the shadow work/career although my dream is other, but -by the way- now I started working on it again.

    On the other hand money are so important. I think they are as important as our breath, aren’t they? It is a very interesting state, where we must value them but we must also keep them chained. One easily clings only to the one of these sides I guess. It’s not that we can’t live without them -that is a kind of great freedom. But we chose to have them/it in our “Polis”, so we should have a good relation with them/it. Actually freedom, like Resistance, are inside us and not on those imprinted papers or anywhere else for that matter. It seems many times as if we talk about the shadows that others create in Plato’s cave while the light and thus the real thing is elsewhere.

    I love that All is Lost moment, where a hug dissolved the darkness of so many years. If I ever find her, I just want to be friends again. Like you said, the dark thoughts want to rise in my mind, but I can stop them almost at their starting point. One of the tricks is to dissolve to not make bad thoughts for other people, even though they failed you. That is not easy to do if you do not have self mastery (Remember? He who does not govern himself is condemned to be governed by others -and by their poisonous/dark side for sure), and your environment plays a crucial role on that as I found out. I started stopping my negative thoughts towards others after I read many years ago the “7 habbits of Higly Succesful People”, there was a point on that. It is a life-time journey but I think it’s easily achievable.

    So the self must be well protected. It seems that it can’t just walk about because there are the traps of Resistance that will crash it. Can we be generous if not self governed?

    • Tolis on June 28, 2023 at 4:05 am

      P.s. I’ll be in Sparta this weekend, in the territory of your great book. This time in the car I’ll be hearing Seth Godin together with that historian that I told you about in the past. Can’t wait to go to the Mycaenaen palace, the Kings are calling!

      • Kate Stanton on June 28, 2023 at 6:20 am

        Tolis, that sounds wonderful! Have a nice trip.

        • Tolis on June 28, 2023 at 11:15 am

          Thank you dear Kate! I will. All of you will be there with me.

  13. Lion on June 28, 2023 at 3:58 am


  14. Peter Brockwell on June 28, 2023 at 4:26 am

    Gosh, this post conveys a truly transformative message. And we all need to make that switch right now, the sooner the better. I know the truth of this, of shifting from the ego to the self (left brain to right brain?) but always feel that it’s the left brain or ego that is considering this and of course the ego doesn’t want to consign itself to irrelevance. Perhaps this is where it’s helpful to shock it by getting outside language and concepts, by some physical activity like exercise (knock out a few chin ups on my garage bar) or reading or trying to write a little poetry. I find it helpful to compose a haiku sometimes. And of course meditation. Or take a walk and try to calm the monkey mind.

    Perhaps Norm could make that shift in relation to this relationship with this cousin, but was he able to be thus throughout all his relationships? And did he have relapses into the ego? I’d guess he probably did. It’s very difficult not to keep score, since the metaphorical water we swim in seems to be so egoic nowadays.

    Anyway, thank you Steve.

    • Peter Brockwell on June 28, 2023 at 4:37 am

      Actually, I just realised that one means I often use to ground myself is in going to my cat and petting her. She can bring me out of a toxic egoic state because she doesn’t care about my bank account, injustices at work, or my grievances. All she wants is attention, snacks, or to be left in peace. If I can put her wellbeing foremost, which is easy to do, then I find that takes the wind out of the ego’s sails.

      • Brian Nelson on June 28, 2023 at 6:54 am

        My animals are often the fastest way back to sanity as well. In fact, just thinking of them in some of their cutest memories lowers my BP by at least 10 pts. I’ve tested it. Another reminder of how our material world is not as true as it so often appears.

        • Peter Brockwell on June 28, 2023 at 7:16 am

          Brian, thanks for sharing. I’m glad to know that. Animals are closer to the ground state so contact with them grounds us too.

        • Nom de Plume on June 28, 2023 at 9:14 am

          My chiropractor once said she could tell who had just had a real vacation versus those who had brought their laptop, because those who brought their work still had tension in their shoulders. And the thing about animals lowering blood pressure is absolutely true.
          So I say: if you must take your laptop with you on vacation — bring your dog too!

  15. Fred Fleisher on June 28, 2023 at 4:38 am

    Really hits the nail on the head. Seemingly needing to be reminded of this at stages in life is important. Usually those stages will have wilderness moments and paths to tread.
    Thank you!

  16. Craig Colquitt on June 28, 2023 at 4:46 am

    Reminded me of ‘The Shift’, documentary and book by Dr. Dwayne Dyer. We shift when we go from ambition to purpose.

  17. Tracy Burger on June 28, 2023 at 5:34 am

    Love this. We also need to do this to ourselves. Forgive ourselves. Put our arm around our psyche and remember that we love ourselves (or should). Thanks, Steven.

  18. Bruce on June 28, 2023 at 5:54 am

    Thank you for this beautiful honouring of your friend, Norm.

  19. Kate Stanton on June 28, 2023 at 6:20 am

    I just wanted to say thank you for this message, Steve. Beautiful and so moving.

  20. Debbie on June 28, 2023 at 6:50 am

    Really beautiful. Thank you.

  21. Jerry on June 28, 2023 at 7:30 am

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  22. Vitus on June 28, 2023 at 7:39 am


  23. Sharon on June 28, 2023 at 7:51 am

    Thank you Steve and your freind Norm and his son for such a touching story today.

    I can see the glimmer at the edge of the woods.

  24. Nancy on June 28, 2023 at 8:03 am

    Thank you.

  25. Brian Nelson on June 28, 2023 at 8:21 am

    Thank you for such an endearing story, and then for the tutorial about how Norm lived out the story of arcs of All is Lost Moment and Epiphanal Moment in real life.

    I spent a long decade plus only reading/listening to non-fiction. Facts, facts, facts. Science, science, science. At some point, not long after spending a year in Afghanistan, I realized no one will every ‘fact me’ into changing my mind. In come the humanities in their sneaky approach, opening our hearts & minds to engage with a story–then BAM! Truth Bomb!

    In 2015 we find over 2/3 of all psychology experiments fail to replicate…meaning all those TED talks I listened to, those Gladwell insights I clung onto, the ‘factness’ of the material world were likely BS.

    The fiction world is at least as real, and likely more important than the non-fiction world. Maybe this life is so darn confusing that we are constantly trying to figure out ourselves and others–making a complicated mess of it all–then we hear the simply story of love and forgiveness. We are again reminded of the bigger Truths. And we are all acting these out, mostly subconsciously, seeking Truths, seeking love & forgiveness in ourselves and in others, without ever truly knowing what we are doing. We are masking our true motivations/efforts by ‘making a living’ or some other distraction.

    Part of me wonders if Norm even had consciously forgave his cousin, or if in an impulsive act led by his higher self, his better angels–he gave him a hug and the forgiveness and love all happened in one moment.

    We act before we understand.

  26. Ed Hinman on June 28, 2023 at 8:33 am

    Another great story, Steve. This resonated: “he change in Norm was he shifted from the ego to the soul.” Thanks for the positive reminder!

  27. Bing on June 28, 2023 at 9:09 am

    Great post today! I’m in my eighties, I totally get it! There is an old saying I learned in AA, “I am to keep my side of the street clean”. My mantra today is too, Let Go & Let God. It is all about Love! Amen & Amen!
    Love you all

  28. Kathy on June 28, 2023 at 9:22 am

    Norm was a good man. Good to let that financial burden go.

    It’s hard to say on forgiveness at times though. Sometimes that expectation from others is like gaslighting. I don’t always agree that it is necessary in order to improve my being. Sometimes, I feel, it’s important to create boundaries. The whole forgiveness concept can cause a person to back down from that.

    Before my husband passed he made PEACE with many but with some, he left things as they were. He was indeed a good man, one who believed in standing up for PEACE, but he was not without convictions.

  29. Bill Honnold on June 28, 2023 at 9:43 am

    I recently attended the funeral of my ex son-in-law’s father, who was also a close friend.

    My ex son-in-law, let’s call him Joe, has chosen to not speak to me since my daughter and him divorced 12 years ago. I’ve known Joe since he was a child. And despite the divorce, I still love him for giving me two beautiful grandsons.

    At the reception following the service, I gave Joe a hug and told him I loved him. I felt we both needed kindness more than hatred and icy stairs.

    Like Mort, this one simple yet difficult gesture healed my soul and put the past behind me.

    Thanks for your story, Steve.

  30. Frank Gugino on June 28, 2023 at 12:12 pm

    A valuable reminder of life’s priorities that will undoubtedly be useful, as families everywhere struggle with numerous relationship problems and are divided by America’s toxic politics. People have simply ghosted each other, not even bothering to retain a modicum of communication. As the years pass, the harder it gets to breakthrough the impasses to mend the wounds, real and imagined. This scenario will be replayed many times and such an uplifting story, Steve, is precisely what we all need to sustain the hope that we can write our own family reconciliation stories. Thank you.

  31. Christopher Sunyata on June 28, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    “So I take my hat off to the son, Matt, for telling that story about his Dad. And I stand in even greater awe of Norm for how he resolved the issue with his cousin.”

    Gratitude. Awe. Seeing truth shine out amidst so much delusion and shame.

    Words that awaken visceral contact with our estranged hearts heal the world.

    Steven, thank you for being a heart warrior.

  32. Nick Dennen on June 28, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    Great story with another powerful message! Thank you, Mr. Pressfield, for helping us improve our lives. One story, one message, one relationship, at a time!!!

  33. Meredith on June 28, 2023 at 3:19 pm

    A beautiful story about human grace.

  34. Jesse Passmore on June 28, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you.

  35. John C and Mary Thomson on June 28, 2023 at 6:07 pm

    Wow, what timing…I can’t read all the comments for the tears streaming down my face. Yes, we too faced the same scenario of loaning family funds when they were desperate, and we’ve known that they would never be able to repay. We, in our hearts have forgiven the debt and forgiven them. That is so powerful a story. Thank you for sharing.

  36. Susie on June 28, 2023 at 6:29 pm

    Completely caught my attention from the first sentence. Wow! a whole journey in just a few short paragraphs. I was left wanting to know more about the characters and each of their stories. Thank you for sharing.


  37. Jill Pearson on June 28, 2023 at 11:55 pm

    Love this story.. such a reset and reminder. ❤️
    Also strangely. I loved hearing your voice (your writing ) again. I’m always just re-reading the War of Art ! Lol
    I randomly was reading one of your emails when I could not sleep. Thank you for sharing !!!

  38. Jerry Ellis on June 29, 2023 at 2:25 am

    Such a breakthrough is sacred and tends to come with age, maturity. Oh, that we might learn to do it more often and even in our youth.

  39. Joe Jansen on June 29, 2023 at 7:44 pm

    I’d love to have been in the room when it happened. To witness the grace and be part of that welling-up of emotion. There’s something transcendent there. “We must upshift…” to where “the higher self sees soul-to-soul.” You’re hitting bullseyes.

    I’m reading through comments. It’s quiet around here so I can read without distraction. Reading and having the experience of being in Brian’s mind. Being in the mind of Apostolos. The minds of Kate, Peter, Jim. All a y’all’s.

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  41. SK on July 19, 2023 at 3:28 am

    Every single thing about this is perfection:
    The story itself.
    The choices: Norm’s choice of who to be and how to act in that moment. Matt’s choice, to share this one story as the example to sum up his father as a person. And yours, Mr. Pressfield, to use this one story to convey a most imperative point.
    And, of course, the way in which you did convey it.
    All of it. Perfection.
    The perfect way to start a day. Thank you.

  42. Foreign Exchange on August 1, 2023 at 3:58 am

    Steven Pressfield is widely regarded as a talented and accomplished writer with a unique and engaging writing style. His works often focus on historical fiction, military history, and self-help, and he is known for blending these genres seamlessly. The way he has portrayed his friend’s norms is absolutely phenomenal.

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    your post was very helpful to me.

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