In keeping with Zak's wish that these chronicles help you know a little more about me, I want this time to write about something I'm doing now instead of about long long ago. For a while now I have been spending Tuesday afternoons at the White County jail talking one on one with inmates who are looking for help in dealing with their alcohol and /or drug problems. I'm not a psychologist or licensed addictions counselor or anything like that, simply an alcoholic who has been in recovery for a long time. In the parlance of the recovery program that saved my life, I am trying to "share the experience, strength and hope" that I have found to help others. Talking with these, mostly young, men does a great deal for me. The feedback that I get from them and other people associated with the jail says they are benefiting as well. My hope, of course, is that I will play a part in their beginning a lifelong recovery from their addiction. What I know is happening is that I am getting the opportunity to give back something, no matter how small, in exchange for the multitude of blessings/gifts that recovery has granted to me.
Those blessings and gifts are the core of what I talk about in these sessions. I know it is useless to tell these guys, "You should do this," or "You should do that." Instead, I try to tell them what I have done to overcome my addiction to alcohol and what the rewards have been. Rewards such as: I am still married; your grandmother and I just celebrated our 38th anniversary. It is not possible that she would have continued to put up with me the way I was when I was drinking. Thanks to recovery, I have a positive relationship with your dad and his brothers. They even sometimes ask for my opinion or advice. I was able to finish a thirty year working career at Caterpillar so that I now have a comfortable retirement. Last but not least, I have not died of some alcohol related cause. I surely would have been dead years ago if I had not found recovery.
Talking about the benefits of recovery will, I hope, encourage the guys I'm talking with to continue their own efforts to recover. I know it helps me to appreciate the life that I now have. I embrace life the same way that someone who has survived a life threatening disease or near fatal accident does. Every day is a gift and every smile and friendly word a reward. I love the life I have now and am grateful every day for the blessings that I have been given.
Of course I hope that none of you ever have need of a recovery program. On the other hand, I would love for you to be able to see the world as I do.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
"Tell me I've been a good man."
In the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Ryan the old man, while visiting the graves of the men who fought alongside him, turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’ve been a good man.” It’s really a question. Face to face with the sacrifice represented by the grave markers of his fallen comrades , he is asking if he has been worthy of that sacrifice. What a profoundly brave question. The answer will sum up in one word whether his life has been a success or a failure. Success in life is not best measured by trophies in a case, certificates on a wall, money, property, or even how many “friends” we have on face book. “Have I been a good man?” Only if the answer is “Yes,” has our life been a success. I wish I was brave enough to ask that question out loud, and I fervently hope I would like the answer. Being too aware of my weaknesses and shortcomings makes me fear that I would not. When I am at my best, I can use this hope and fear to drive me to do more to earn that right answer. Asking myself the question is the first step.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
This quote, usually attributed to Edmund Burke, has long been a favorite of mine. I try to remember that while it will be up to others to decide if I have been “a good man,” whether or not I “do nothing” is up to me.
“God is love.”
I was probably introduced to this Bible verse from 1st John when I was in the Nursery class at the Reynolds Methodist Church Sunday school class. I have no memory of learning it, so I must have first heard it before my memories started to form. The thing is, I have known the words all my life but never thought about what they mean until I read them in a book by Andrew Greeley. He actually begins the book with them, “God is Love.” He then goes on to explain that his interpretation of this verse is that it requires no interpretation; it is simply a literal fact. Love is the substance of God, what He is made of. To me, this means that when we love we become part of God. Of course, there is a danger here because it also means that if we are unloving we are ungodly. When we hate, when we cause hurt, we separate ourselves from God. When we try to do good, when we try to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” we move closer to Him. A caveat here; “God” is a term I use because it is a convenient shorthand for a concept that I cannot really define. I know my human mind is not capable of framing an image of that concept. The ancient Jews expressed this inability by saying that no one could look upon the face of God and live, not a bad analogy. Nonetheless, if I know that “God is Love,” I know what I need to know about God. I have the ability and the obligation to have God in my life; in a sense, to be a part of God. All I have to do is love and act with love toward those I come in contact with. I am also vulnerable to separating myself from God, by refusing to love and by failing to act lovingly. When I am not good, when I am not kind, when I take when I should not take, when I do not give when I should give, I separate myself from what is good; I am no longer a part of God.