The very act of asking the questions implies an uncertainty. The baby discovers its fingers, its toes, the mother’s breast, her eyes, a rattle. Feels wet, cold, warm, safe. One baby grows to accept these strange things, these variations in physical comfort, and another baby questions. When does the baby begin to question?
I am still the baby, still fascinated by each new discovery in the world around me, still full of questions about their origin, my origin. The Indigo Girls sing, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” I sing along, though the picture I have in my mind when I come to that line is that of a woman (is it sometimes me?) who responds to the question, “How are you doing?” through clenched teeth: “I’m FINE.”
That simple three-degree shift.
G.K. came up a bit ago with the binoculars and told me to look out at Cassady in the yard. She had a baby robin, alive and unhurt (must have fallen out of the nest) between her paws, dancing around it, trying to entice it to play. Two adult robins were trying to distract her without success. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I put my shoes on and opened the door—only to have her grab the bird and take off towards the willow tree. She probably thought I came to take the bird from her (and she'd be right). I let her go. I don't feel good about it, but I just let her go. George comforted me, told me, "It's nature. You couldn't have gotten it back to the nest, anyway." And he's right. To rescue the baby bird may have eased my conscience for the moment, but in another way, it's a sort of denial of the cycle of nature. Turn, turn, turn.
My prayers are often wordless. My concept of a Higher Power shifts as my consciousness shifts. There are times when I need an anthropomorphic god, a parent figure, though I do shy away from using pronouns. Occasionally, I’ll slip into the masculine pronoun, primarily out of habit. The masculine is all that’s used in my Big Book and I grew up in the Christian church, so the idea of a Heavenly Father is easy, though not always comfortable. The feminine pronoun makes sense—a Mother that’s given birth to All. But mostly, I think in dualities, and with the exception of some microscopic organisms and, I think, some worms, that which has a heartbeat needs both mother and father to join together in its creation. I don’t like It, as “It” is not specific, though…how can I be specific about something beyond the reaches of my human comprehension? I can’t be specific on the process of getting gas from the pump into the tank of my car, but I still swipe my card and manage to get the needle to read “full” again.
My prayers are often wordless because, most of the time, I’m trying merely to align myself with something. I really don’t see accidents in the world, so I assume that I’m not one, that I have a Purpose, and also that I have a will that can stomp its feet and refuse to fulfill that Purpose. Aligning myself is Harmony, vibrating at just the right frequency meant for me, and when I come upon others vibrating at their proper frequency, cool stuff happens. I follow signs. I find the right human words. I sense peace that may or may not be reflected in the world around me.
So, wordless prayer can be as simple as taking a full cup of coffee to the porch, sitting down in my rocking chair, and allowing myself to breathe for a while. Meditation follows. I open myself to that which is before me, inside me, and around me. At times, I’m inspired to get up and move, and at other times, company comes to call, and I’m encouraged to sit, to be still.
A couple of summers ago, my cats caught and killed a cardinal in my front yard. I was devastated. I put out seed for the birds, luring them in so that I could enjoy them, and my cats, my pets, killed one of them. Only months before, I’d given up meat in protest that everything lives to eat or be eaten, and here I was, providing the bait and the instrument of death. I wrote an essay about wanting to put bells around my cats’ necks. In the end, I didn’t do it. The reasons were several. First of all, my cats aren’t that great when it comes to hunting birds. I feed them too well and their predatory nature is dulled, I think, because of it. Secondly, just because I have altered my place in the food chain doesn’t mean that I should dictate the place of others under my influence. There’s also the fact that I live surrounded by both farmlands and woodlands, and if my cats want to wander and hunt, they don’t need me to lure in their prey. Maybe bells would make them less efficient, but as I said, they don’t do so hot without the bells anyway. That sounds like a cop-out, but…
There were more reasons, but I don’t remember them anymore. The point is, I only ever saw my domesticated cats as having the potential to harm those other creatures in the wild. My dog? This harmless Border collie? I really don’t think Cassady meant to harm the bird. She tries herding them all the time, which is hilarious to watch. She will watch a bird and follow, jumping all the way, when it takes flight. She’ll follow it from the evergreens in the front yard to the fruit trees in the back yard. Until a couple of days ago, she’d never caught one. And once she had it, just like her plastic Folgers can that she chases around the yard, catching it on the tip of her nose and flipping it up in the air, she wouldn’t let anyone take her toy.
I can watch a news report about lives lost in a hurricane or a tornado and accept that some things just happen. I feel badly, and I say a prayer for the families and friends left behind to grieve. I pray that if energy continues to exist once a living thing dies that the energy gets a better break next time around. I don’t blame it on God. I believe somehow it will become part of the Plan, that there is a Purpose in the action and in the consequences.
I’ll think about that baby robin again, and again, I’m sure, just as I thought about the cardinal of several summers ago. Maybe I’ll even come to some sort of understanding, or I’ll write a poem in its honor. To everything, there is a season.
Through step eleven, I get the privilege of remaining in a childlike state of wonder and, some would say, childlike faith. I don’t have to be jaded and cynical anymore because I don’t have to insist that I know the truth—though I’ve discovered many truths. One of those truths is that there isn’t—or needn’t be—any waste in the human experience. I pray only for God’s will for me and the power to carry it out, and sometimes, I’m totally clueless when I take a look at what’s before me. I can spend a whole lot of energy fighting against it, throwing tantrums, or I can use that power—that god-given power—to put one foot in front of the other. It’s much easier to accept God’s will when the result of the action is “success,” and not always so easy to accept when the result is not so easily categorized. Harder still when I slap a “failure” label on it. Wasted? No. If, down the road, the reason doesn’t become clear, then I have a lesson, something more for the experience bag.
Up next: “Bad isn’t always bad.”
Peace & Love,
I’ve accomplished a lot of things in the short time (six and a half years) that I’ve been sober. I learned to walk again, I learned to be a good mom again, I met a man, fell in love and got married again. I’ve participated in the family garden and slowly and steadily preserved more and more of the yield each year. I went back to school and earned a baccalaureate degree. I’ve been accepted to graduate studies, earned a “full ride,” found a part-time home in a city two hours from home, have become a college instructor, have seen a number of my essays published. Each year, I’ve looked back in amazement at the changes, the forward progress I can see and wonder – how’d that happen?
In recent conversation with a lovely woman named Maryanne, we discussed the concept of following the signs. The twelve steps provide the path to recovery, and the text of Alcoholics Anonymous provides clear-cut directions to following that path. We came to the conclusion that in following those directions, our primary job is being conscious of the signs along the way. I can plan to visit a town a few hours from here and have an address in front of me, but without directions, I’m likely to have some difficulty getting there – even if, say, I know the town is to the southwest. I can head in that general direction, though I’m likely to find myself frustrated, taking wrong turns, backtracking, and not making near the forward progress that I would if I had directions in hand.
But even with directions, I’m going to have to stay alert to road signs. I once heard Father Joe Martin talk about putting God in the driver’s seat. He said, “Don’t do that! You’ll crash!” Instead, he suggested, let God provide the map!
During my active addiction, everything seemed so hard. I was the quintessential quitter. I’d get so far along in something, find myself at what appeared to be a dead end, and I’d quit. I wouldn’t ask for help. I definitely wouldn’t pray for help. If I couldn’t bulldoze my way through something, I just quit. Working the twelve steps with a sponsor is truly the first action that I’ve begun and saw through to the end. Each time I would complete “formal” step work, my sponsor would say to me, “Now, put that step into your life.”
Somewhere along the line, I began praying a very simple prayer in the mornings. “God, guide my thoughts and actions. Please make me useful today.” And up pop the signs. All I really have to do is to follow along. Like what happened this past week when I took my car in for service.
I took a book along because I was told when I made the appointment that it would take an hour for the repairs. When I got there, I was told it would be more likely a two-hour wait. The service manager gave me directions to a nearby trendy coffee shop – plush sofas, classical music piped in, and over-priced but very good fare. While I sat curled on one of the sofas, reading my book, nibbling my berry-mango coffee cake and sipping my caramel latte, a young man and woman came in and set up a chess board on a table nearby. The young woman was very soft spoken. Her voice didn’t carry to where I was sitting, but the young man’s did. He took out a cell phone, and over the course of the next few minutes, I couldn’t help but hear him talking to someone at the Salvation Army. It quickly became clear that he was calling asking to be admitted to their drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. I started to pray. Was I to stop and talk with him? I wasn’t sure. I did overhear him say, “Yes, I tried AA, but it didn’t work out.” What did that mean? Would my presence be intrusive? Again, I prayed, and when I got up to leave, he and his companion were in deep conversation. It seemed intrusive to interrupt, so I said another prayer for him and I left…
…just in time to see an AA friend, Sam, sitting at the café tables outside the coffee shop. I caught him just as he was getting up to leave, and when he saw me, he sat back down and we visited for a bit – mostly small talk. We discussed fancy coffee drinks, and I told him that my husband really liked the Dairy Queen Mocha Moolatte, though he hated ordering it because he felt it was such a frivolous, juvenile sort of name. He felt undignified asking for it. Sam told me about his new scooter that gets upwards of ninety miles per gallon. I looked at my watch, realized my car was probably finished, and we said goodbye.
I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten out of a doctor’s office or a car dealership in what I’d consider a reasonable amount of time (patience is a virtue I have only sporadically), though this day, I was pleasantly surprised to find my car finished just a few minutes after I walked in. I kept thinking about the young man in the coffee shop and meeting my friend, Sam, outside. I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, so for the first ten minutes of my hour drive, I was meditating on the significance. I recalled the last time I’d seen Sam, a little over a week before. I traveled to a meeting that was along my route home to see a young woman I’d recently begun sponsoring. She’s been through some struggles. After the meeting, I followed her part-way home and remembered where she’d turned. When she came to visit me at my house so we could do some step work, she mentioned the name of the road she lived on—five miles, did she say, off the main road? I hadn’t heard from her in a few days, and there wasn’t much cell phone reception along that country road (and, besides, I don’t like to make calls when I’m driving). Could I stop in? Supposing, of course, that I could find her?
That little voice was whispering in my ear, telling me she was a country girl like me and wouldn’t stand on ceremony when it came to a drop-in visit, so I decided to give it a shot. I passed a lot of side roads, all marked, and none with the name of her road. Finally, nearly five miles out, I thought I saw her truck along the road next to a field with some horses. She has horses. I slowed. A blonde came around the back of the truck. She’s blonde! But…the woman was much too young to be her. I drove several more miles, looking for a place to turn around, and there it was – her road. Go left or go right? I chose right. I passed one house, then another, then another, and then – there she was. Standing beside a ’69 Chevelle (she told me she was looking to buy one) was my sponsee and another fellow from the rooms, a guy tattooed up both arms and known for his mechanical skills. She turned her head when she saw me pull off the road, and her eyes were big as saucers.
Now, she didn’t know I was coming. Turns out she’d called our mutual mechanic friend a few days ago, and he, too, stopped on a whim to look over her new purchase. When I got out of the car, she said, “Okay, okay. I slipped!” She assumed that I’d conspired with the mechanic to show up and 12th step her—and of course, that’s what we did once she fessed up.
There’s more to the story, but it’s that sequence of events that’s important to this little essay. I wake up most mornings having no idea what God has in store for me, though I’ve come to the conclusion that if I listen and follow signs, I’ll fall in step with God’s will for me. And I’ll be given the power to carry it out – in time, resources, inspiration, or whatever else I might need. I’ve come to count on that.
Oh – there is one teensy little thing I have to add. When I got home, my husband’s vehicle was missing, as was the “kid car” that my middle son uses for work. I found no note, which was unusual. I put on a pot of coffee and sat down to wait, and within a few minutes, my husband pulled in with our son in the passenger’s seat. The young one had somehow broken the key to the car, and the spares had mysteriously disappeared. But, my husband was in a jovial mood—which was also a little strange, as we’d been having responsibility issues with all of the kids (not just this one). After telling me what had happened, he turned to our son and said, “This is what saved you from my wrath today,” and he played a saved message on the answering machine. It was our friend, Sam, calling just to let my husband know he was sitting at Dairy Queen drinking a MOO latte. “I was in such a good mood after I heard that, I couldn’t be angry with you.”
I don’t ask, “Is it odd, or is it God?” anymore. I know :-D
Peace & Love,
My sobriety began the morning of October 28th, 2002, when the nurse tore the fentanyl patch from my arm. I had spent twenty-three of the previous forty-eight hours under suicide watch in a wing of a local hospital which refused my requests to help me detox. They were not equipped, nor did they have the staff, to detoxify a broken body like mine. I had been wheelchair bound for almost two years. Although the patch was not keeping me from being sick, it continued to tease my addiction by delivering a slow and steady dose of poison to my system. I am an alcoholic and a drug addict, both one and the same in cause, though some still make a distinction because of the presenting symptoms. Whatever the symptoms of alcoholism, whatever the symptoms of drug addiction, I had them all and I was dying.
When my moment of clarity arrived, I wanted so desperately for release, and at every turn, I encountered resistance. I was told that there was not a handicapped-accessible detox facility in my entire state. I finally threatened to kill myself if someone wouldn’t help me. I could no longer live with the symptoms of my addiction, and I could find no one who was willing to help me try to live without them. The nurse who removed the patch from my arm was a psychiatric nurse. I was involuntarily committed to a behavioral health ward. My journey had begun.
Seven days later, I was transferred to a twenty-eight day facility where I was immersed in Twelve Step philosophy. At my very first meeting, I was given the directive to pray. A woman knelt down to my level and told me, “All you need to begin prayer are five words: please help me and thank you.”
By my third week of rehab, my fourth clean and sober, my emotions were as raw as my injured nervous system. I was in pain, emotionally, mentally and physically. I prayed the words but felt nothing. Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, after sharing a meal with my rehab cohort, the nurses and aides on the floor, and the remainder of the bare-bones staff who had drawn the short straw for the holiday, I returned to my room to feel sorry for myself. I had asked that my family not come to see me, in part because it was winter and so far away from my home, but more so because I wanted them to see a dramatic difference between my departure and my return, not dribs and drabs of progress from week to week. I beat myself up for not begging them to come to see me, and I beat myself up more for wanting to inconvenience them for my actions. Just for good measure, I also beat myself for not making more rapid progress.
I sat in my room, facing the institutional gray wall, talking to a God I wasn’t sure existed and if he/she/it did, would be interested in anything I had to say. I had no conception of God and I needed one. I recalled someone saying, almost in jest, that a HP can be a tree if that’s what worked. Slumped, I began to think about it. I thought of the giant sequoias that had entire ecosystems growing high up in their branches, far from sight, but there nonetheless. I wheeled around to my lone window searching the skyline, but all I could see were the brick walls of the wing across from me. In desperation, I pulled myself closer to the window, to the far right side and craned my neck. There above the concrete buildings was the very tip of an evergreen swaying slightly in the breeze. My eyes were wet for the first time since the morning that fentanyl patch was removed. My heart, hardened by the pain, softened just enough to let the miracle of nature in, and I felt something. The tree was not my Higher Power, but the Creator of the tree was. The Creator of the tree created me as well, and if that tree had a Purpose for being there, then I, too, must have a reason for Being. That’s all I needed.
That night, the topic at the meeting was Gratitude. I raised my hand to share, wheeled my way in front of the podium, and said, for the first time, I’m grateful to be alive. I meant it.