“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 He asked only that I drive as his license had been revoked.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.