the real trouble is when



Today I braved the rain out early and sat through a lunchtime meeting of recovered (and trying-to-recover, and forced-to-be-there-by-legal-authorities) alcoholics. As always I was reminded of how hard it is to get a respite from these compulsions, these addictions. Many of us never even try, in a serious way, to sober up. And of those who do, most drink again – to their astonishment. Then try to sober up, then drink again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe die young. Or maybe just live a long son-of-a-bitching life of misery.

At going-on-four-years I’m a medical miracle and anomaly. It’s easy to forget it until I hang out with those who are trying to do something about the problem.

At the family party last week I was offered alcohol and drugs several times. One aunt had, at her hand, either a margarita blender or a bottle of champagne, offering liquid hospitality to all. A 90-year-old friend of the family drank bourbon in a glass, drink after drink, and shook his ice cubes when empty – prompting the women in my family to rush over to fill it.

I hope when I’m an Elder I’m not an ass. I really, really do hope.

But today I’m thinking not of my family so much but of another Elder, my friend D. He got sober (finally!) in the treatment center I volunteered at. He remembered me about half a year later- this was a few years ago – when we next crossed paths. He told me I’d helped him, and as is usual in these cases I wondered what it was I said, or how I’d acted, that invoked some hope.

D.’s story was unique in that shortly after he sobered up, he found himself ill with, incredibly, double lymphoma. He handled this setback, as far as I could tell, with courage and humor. I remember listening to him talk about his struggles and thinking that, well, sometimes we sober to some incredibly unpleasant realities. That’s Life, no? We drink, or drug, or chase something – money, reputation, material things, usually – all to blot out the pain of our own awareness. Cancer’s an extreme example but is one of those obvious, slap-in-the-face kinds of illness we are ready to recognize and discuss publicly.

And this cancer is what I presume that is what took his life six days ago. He’s in my heart, today. He was a courageous, beautiful man. The last time I saw him we greeted one another with a great deal of warmth. It’s funny, maybe spooky, how often I get that memory of the last goodbye. A blessing, really.


Tonight Nels hands me a picture he’s painstakingly constructed on a piece of paper – his “dream house”:

stained diamond glass
oak dock
mahogany wood interior
birtch door

(maybe someone’s interested in different kinds of wood all of a sudden?)

My daughter seeks my help, in the evening: social troubles between a group of close friends. Misunderstandings via text. Hurt feelings and harsh words.

My heart feels that pang because of course I re-live all my past painful episodes in this vein: all of mistakes, all the ways I was hurt or hurt others. It would be easy to let those experiences overwhelm me, and inform my response to my daughter in an unhelpful way. But those things happened then, and they aren’t all happening to her right this minute. I have a chance for my past to help make a better Right Now, a better future. I talk to my daughter. One of the girls in question privately texts me, in duress. I am grateful these young women are involving a grownup they trust. I am glad to be there and be a soft place, a kind place.

Home from California a few days, and we’re in for rains again – record-level rains if the predictions are correct. It is cold, and desolate, and foggy. Winter has not passed us by just yet.

It’s cold, and wet. But inside maybe it’s a little safe. Maybe things can be okay after all.

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