Voices in Recovery

It is a thick Saturday night in Hollywood.  I am a desperate cynic
whose life has mysteriously disintegrated about my ankles.
Guess it’s only fair to mention that my friends think my
personality changes some when I drink.  So, I am checking out
this quasi-religious group.

This meeting takes place in the back of a church.  I am
alternately suspicious and fascinated by the testimonials of
what these people were like what happened and what they are
like now.  The premise seems to be that any  profound personal
change has to involve spiritual principles.  All my life I have
been deflecting Jesus lectures from blue-haired ladies in
support–hose who clearly have to settle for faith cause that’s all
they’re ever gonna get. So, I’m not real impressed.  Still, there’s
definitely something going on here.

Soft yellow light warms the room like music.  I am more
interested in checking out the guys than the spiritual principles.
The woman at the podium is an eensy bitsy blonde awash in
baby girl pink.  She is speaking about faith.  Ho hum, says I,
tuning out.

Then a swarthy man in a filthy overcoat fills the doorway, his
silhouette blocking the light.    He strolls in carrying the stench
of a week of nights under the overpass.   After surveying the
room he strides up past the podium to sit down behind the
speaker as though she weren’t even there.  Then he starts to

I tune back into the blonde.  She is going on exactly as she had
before he came in.  In the sweetest little voice, she explains how
hard it is to raise three kids when you’ve never worked before
but selling cars is a great gift because it teaches you to rely on
god’s grace.  With peculiar rapture she marvels that she has
hands and eyes and can work, because when her husband left
she felt sorry for herself.  I’m trying to figure out if she’s a
Moonie or something.

Then the swarthy guy in the filthy raincoat pulls out a long rusty
butcher knife and spears it into the table.  It sways back and
forth in seeming rhythm with gasps from the audience.  Without
flinching, the speaker gazes at the guy and says, “Looks like
you need a meeting.  I know exactly how you feel.”  Laughter
fills the room and she goes right on without breaking stride.

I look into the man’s eyes.  They are as flat as granite and his
skin has an unhealthy sheen the color of moist dough.  He is
gazing intently at the center of the ceiling and whispering.  I
begin to shiver with fear.  Now I begin to listen to the speaker.

“Courage is action. It is taking contrary action when you are
paralyzed by terror.  Courage is not ‘having no fear.’  It is
moving through the nightmare with love as your light.  Loving
requires a genuine interest in and concern for the welfare of
another human being.  It has nothing to do with romantic
emotion.”   She pauses, looks at the man and smiles.  “This is
what you have taught me.”

The man’s hands close around the handle of the knife.  When a
twitchy jock-type sitting next to me moves in an apparent
attempt to disarm him, the speaker shakes her head ever so
subtly, “no.”  He yanks the knife up and stabs it into the table
again.  And again. When the speaker does not react, he stops
as suddenly as he had begun.

“There’s a difference between reaction and response,” she
says.   “Reaction is easy.  Responsibility — the ability to
respond – is founded on courage and love.  It starts within
when we respond with compassion to our own inner demons,
because as the Big Book says, we cannot give away something
that we do not have.”

The man continues to stare ahead as though he hears
nothing.  Still, he has put down the knife.  As she goes on, he
puts his head down on the table and begins to sob quietly, his
whole body shuddering with grief.  Only then does she stop
speaking.  For the space of breath, all our agendas are tabled
while we just sit with him.

The moment passes and the meeting ends.

When I go up to thank the speaker, I feel as if I have been
transformed. I don’t recognize my own voice.  Then it snaps.
She’s wearing blue eye shadow.  How could I possibly be
respectful of, indeed, in awe of, someone wearing blue eye
shadow.  I go back out into the night.  Even so, as I fall asleep
that night, the odd sense of wonder returns to me.  I feel as if
something profound has occurred and I suspect I will never be
quite the same again.

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