The Pony In The Dung Heap

“Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” – – Irish Proverb


I remember hearing a story once about a child celebrating his birthday, a child who badly wanted a pony. He had opened all of his presents and then disappeared into an old barn, and was found digging into a giant dung heap.  His astonished parents pulled him aside and asked him what in the world he was doing, to which he replied, “I know there’s just gotta be a pony in here somewhere.”

The recent worldwide events parallel what’s gone on in the world for centuries.  Media scrutiny, amazingly advancing technology, and a federal government more than happy to use world events as a diversion from more devious goings-on allow us to see these events for extended periods of time, and to look over and over again at the tragedy of it all.  At the expense of possibly being called crazy, I’d like to introduce the pony in the dung heap, the “silver lining.”

It was the day before Thanksgiving in 2006, and I was very alone and lonely.  I attended a few AA meetings in the days prior, and a gentleman I’ll call “Robert” suggested that I join him for Thanksgiving dinner at Pepito’s, a free event put on for anyone in recovery.  He asked only that I drive as his license had been revoked.  I agreed, still feeling heavy, but conjuring up some gratitude for having something to do on Thanksgiving.  So we went and had our meal and went our separate ways. In the years that followed I learned more about Robert.  I was amazed at his story, and also was delighted to find out what an accomplished pianist he was. The times we hung out together were few and far between, but I really got to enjoying his company, and though my AA meeting attendance was sparse, I always looked forward to seeing Robert as I knew he went to a lot of meetings at the same place I did, (they have about 40 per week) and the chance of seeing him was always greater than not.  At most AA meetings, we read “The Promises,” from the Big Book of AA.  The promises are what are supposed to happen after we work a thorough 8th and 9th Step (of the 12 Steps of AA), and they are truly wonderful sounding.  “We will know a new freedom and a new happiness . . . we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it . . . fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us,” among others.  Toward the end a line reads, “Are these extravagant promises?” and as soon as whoever is reading The Promises that day reads the line the entire group typically says with conviction and in unison, “We think not!” In the particular meeting room I’m thinking about, I will forever have the vivid memory of everyone stating “We think not!” and Robert instead opting for “No way!” or “Uh-uh!”  It usually made me laugh, and even if I was having a tough day, it would at least bring a smile to my face.

Robert entered treatment for alcoholism in 1984.  In 2007, for the very first time in his entire life, Robert reached one year of sobriety.  It took him 23 years of trying to do so.  I wasn’t there, but I heard that at the meeting in which he was presented his one year medallion, a meeting that was approximately two hundred people strong, he was given a standing ovation.  He certainly deserved it.

Robert went back to his homeland of Puerto Rico a few years ago and overdosed, leaving a gaping hole in my heart.  We were casual friends.  I can only imagine what it did to those who were close to him.  I heard over and over again about “Poor Robert,” after his death and I began to respond with what he meant to me and what he taught me, and after another year or two of hearing about “Poor Robert,” I finally threw in the towel.  He was anything but “Poor Robert” to me.  One of the core slogans in AA is “Keep coming back.”  Robert kept coming back.  For sure his death was tragic for all of us who knew him.  Many of us though,  missed the point of his life. Robert kept coming back.  He taught me something by example that I’ll never forget. Sometimes he went three days without a drink and here he was again at a meeting. Sometimes he’d stay sober for nine months, relapse, and here he was again at a meeting. He picked himself up over and over again.  Robert’s life proved a couple of things to me one of which I already knew all too well:  alcoholism is a disease, cunning, baffling, and powerful.  And I finally got to see, over and over again, someone modeling to perfection, not just saying the slogan “Keep coming back.”  No matter how far down the scale Robert had gone, he kept coming back.  Until he didn’t.  And nobody but the soul of Robert knows what his life path was supposed to be. Nobody knows how his life was supposed to end.  So I guess looking at him as “Poor Robert” is everyone’s prerogative.  I’d rather not.  Robert also proved to me a third thing in living color: nobody ever dies.  I’ll never forget him.  His body is just not here.

This past Saturday I attended an AA meeting that Robert and I both used to attend years ago.  As usual, someone read “The Promises.”  As usual, we all grouped together and stated “We think not!” in response to the aforementioned promises being extravagant.  And as usual, in the back of my mind, I heard him shout out “No way.”  I found the pony, Robert.  Thank you.




The War Inside

“For everything must serve the purpose you have given it, until you see a different purpose there.” – – Lesson 128 from A Course In Miracles


There is a miracle occurring in me right this second.  I’m missing the beginning of my usual autumn Sunday ritual in order to write, having been affected certainly by the worldwide happenings of the weekend.  Each weekend I sit in front of a screen and watch 22 grown men who have put on pads and helmets and miles and miles of tape, bash the living shit out of each other.  What a wonderful distraction, and free of charge!  I’m sure not about to give up the NFL.  It does provide a form of fun and entertainment for me, but if I’m truly within myself, can I admit that something else might be going on? Might I be seeing an outside picture of an inside condition?  Is it possible that those little figures on the TV screen are actually images of the violent thoughts contained in my own mind?

I’m not a bible scholar so I don’t remember what book it’s in, but I very clearly remember reading “there will always be wars,” in one of the books, so I know it’s in there.  I also know that the statement is a metaphor and it’s not only talking about wars in the world, but also in the mind. It also makes me think of Eckhart Tolle stating that “the need to be right is a form of violence.”  If that’s the case I’m in the same ballpark thought-wise as about any terrorist out there.  My point today is referencing the above quote: I think we miss one of the points these awful tragedies point us to – – the real war is inside and the event itself, as terrible as it is, is also a movie of what’s going on inside of us on a smaller (maybe) scale.  The purpose most of us give it is to shake our heads at the insanity of all of the violence in the world, a purpose that without question has merit.  My thought is that it has a dual purpose.  It can also serve to drive me back inside and look at a place unhealed.  Every outer disturbance is a reflection, a reminder if you will, that I have much more healing to do.

I have seen Facebook turned into a memorial for those lost in the last few days and in other wars.  One post after another notes the need for our prayers and thoughts, and sometimes also voices our exasperation at the endless stream of the senseless violence in the world.  I too have prayed, and hold the unfortunate losses in my heart, knowing at the same time that they’re also freed from the bondage and limitations of being human, and freed from a world in which we do these things to each other.  Coincidentally, a healing of my own war has occurred with my increasing awareness of it.  On Friday night a chance meeting led to me apologizing to a friend I had a rift with a couple of years ago.  The very second I saw her I knew what would happen between us that night, but what it had to be preceded by was an admission that I had done her wrong.  That had to be preceded by something pointing to the discomfort the incident I had pushed out of my awareness was causing.  There had to be something outside to remind me that the discomfort and identification were coming from inside. 

I will emphasize once again:  the recent world events are indeed tragic, horrific, and without excuse.  Wanna heal it?  Maybe withdraw a bit and remember there are wars of sorts going on in our own country.  How many people in the U.S. died last night from starvation, domestic abuse, or just plain slept outside under a bridge?  How many of them were veterans who fought in wars to protect us? How about if we get a little closer and look at Black Lives Matter and all of the views we had and what it did to us inside. Get a little closer and remember that homeless person you walked right by without acknowledging, or maybe you didn’t know that they were homeless.  Or get even a little closer to the toughest part: maybe think of the friend or family member you said something nasty to and hurt, or the person you’ve been neglecting, or the unawareness of this or that foible that may be causing grief to people around you.  Are these not wars too? Or maybe think of the things you didn’t do like tell someone how much you appreciate them, or contribute a couple of bucks to a local charity to feed the folks in our own backyard, or maybe preempted your own violence by venting a hostile viewpoint on a friend or family member to discharge another layer inside that might hurt someone or even many if it isn’t first admitted to, and then forgiven. What I’m saying is this: these immense, awful, terrible, tragedies also offer us yet another way to avoid ourselves, to say “the problems are out there,” and not inside.

So again, wanna do something to heal past tragedies and prevent future ones?  So we don’t have to watch this exasperating procession of tragedies happen over and over again?  Hug your child an extra time.  Tell your friends you care about them.  Admit that you’re human and that you maybe have some behaviors that need amending.  Pick up your phone and call, don’t text, that relative or friend you’ve had a grudge against for years.  Look honestly inside, deeply and often, for the “hungry dogs of fear” that instantly want to place responsibility for some deficiency you have on an outside event instead of the loveless places inside. As much as I want it to be, whatever crappy feeling inside is not someone else’s fault. I’ve been fortunate this weekend in that I’ve had opportunities to make amends dropped into my lap.  This is not always the case. Like anyone else, I need to be vigilant for my shortcomings, admit to them, and do whatever I need to in order to heal them.  If we all look at the most recent or any atrocity in history honestly, there is the imperative demand that it is making: it’s an outside picture of an inward condition.  If I’m not careful, the tragedy is also providing me with a way to avoid myself.  It is indeed possible to be compassionate and pray for all of those involved this weekend and also remember that the event is pointing us back inside.  The arrow pointing back at us changes the purpose of it.  So grieve.  Talk with friends and family about these awful things.  Remind your kids that they’re safe and loved.  Yet also remember that we’re never going to stop seeing wars outside until we fix the ones inside.




The Rope

“What’s sad is that we bring our own unhappiness with us into situations where it’s easiest to blame it on our surroundings and other people.” – – Tara Braveheart


It was a normal looking rope, really.  About six feet long, and just left laying in the lunch room of a busy workplace called The Garden Of Eden.  Nobody even noticed it until one day a young woman came in for her morning shift, muttering to herself – – problems on top of problems: the husband, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  She would give just about anything for a distraction.  Then out of the corner of her eye she saw it.  “Is that a snake in the lunch room?” she asked herself while she hurriedly passed through on her way to a meeting.  “It’s huge!” She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she’d best tell somebody right away.

The first person she saw was a co-worker from the same department as her.  He had come into work muttering to himself – – problems on top of problems: the wife, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  He would give just about anything for a distraction.  His co-worker grabbed him as soon as he came into view, excitedly saying, “Look! Look! It’s a snake in there! And it’s gotta be at least twelve feet long!”  The co-worker quickly obliged and looked in horror at the fourteen foot snake.  Soon, the two of them were talking about nothing else.  They hurried out of the lunch room to alert a few others in close proximity, the people they knew best first, about the sixteen foot snake.  Before they could call an exterminator, a short-term fix was needed.  As the group closest to the lunch room scurried about for boards and nails and hammers to shut in the eighteen foot snake, the rest of the room privy to the slithering nightmare went off to warn the remainder of the building not to go into the lunchroom.  The original two (as well as others) didn’t even notice that they were no longer thinking of their personal issues, and wouldn’t for the next eight hours.   Not until they left the building and headed for home again, anyway. We must keep our attention on getting rid of this twenty foot snake!

Finally, someone from the group closest to the lunch room said, “Hey, I know just who to call! Magic Man Exterminator!  I had rats in my house once and he got rid of them all.  He said he didn’t find anything, and that made me think he was nuts, but the thing was – after he left my house they never came back again.”  So the man went off to the front desk to call Magic Man to liberate them from their serpentine dilemma.

He did indeed look like a magic man.  Dressed in a tuxedo, complete with top hat and wand and white gloves, he looked so grand!  He strode in through the main entrance confidently, heading toward the lunch room to survey the problem.  As he removed a few of the boards,  he chuckled to himself and said to those just outside, “Ok, I’ll have this taken care of in no time.  You can just go about your day.  Are you sure you want this resolved though?  Are you sure you’re not too attached to the problem?”  Those around the Magic Man were floored by the question.  “Of course we want it resolved!” shot back one of the small crowd.  “Are you nuts? Who in blazes wants a forty foot snake in their lunch room?”  “Ok then,” replied the Magic Man.  “Done deal.”

He noted once again that the situation was always the same.  He laughed as he calmly picked up the six foot rope.  He’d been to places like The Garden Of Eden before. A few doves fluttered about him as he walked out the door, and those observing him noticed that he moved with such grace and had such a soothing feel about him.  The soothing aura the Magic Man emitted was so opposite the norm in the building it made everyone nervous.  Though the fifty foot snake was gone, they all had it in the back of their minds to keep an eye out for more, just in case. At least they would have something to talk about. The Magic Man easily picked up on the nervousness, then turned around and tipped his hat saying “Thank you for your business, and as with all of my clients, my service is free of charge.”  He exited through a side door and flipped the small rope into the back of his truck.  A few of the doves fluttered about in the back of the vehicle also, gliding into it on the trail of the Magic Man’s warmth.  The Magic Man fired up his truck and looked back at the entrance and smiled, then laughed the soft laugh of a Magic Man as he noticed a large yellow-lettered sign with a big arrow pointing toward the doorway, the same sign he noticed at all of the building’s entrances: “Volunteers Only.”  Then he started  singing a little Magic Man’s song and began waiting for his next call, knowing that it may be a long wait.