You know how sometimes people drone on and on about stuff and you only sort of listen? Some days it’s easier depending on how centered you are or what else is going on around you.
Some days everyone stops in rapt attention and care.
I am part of a sort of secret club of people who band together regularly to help each other live happy, joyous and free lives without alcohol and drugs. We are a motley crew of weirdos from all different pasts. But the common thread of sobriety keeps us tight. And somehow, the whole thing works really well. We get together and talk about various things.
Sometimes people talk about their crappy jobs and how they “should” be grateful, but aren’t.
Or they’ve only been sober a little while and they talk about how difficult it is and how much they’re learning about themselves.
Maybe they bitch about their grown daughter who still hasn’t forgiven them for a lifetime of drunken selfishness.
At the beginning of the hour there’s a lot of shuffling and squirming as we try to settle in to sitting still after a morning of go-go-going. Visit the coffee pot, rattle keys, turn off cell phone. Breathe, dear God, just take a breath.
On a Tuesday in January, 20 of us sat around a long wooden table in a back room at the Episcopal church. William sat at the head of the table. People get together in this room every day. We talk about what’s good, what’s not and what works to keep us sane and connected. This is how peace and connection becomes the center of our lives instead of alcohol.
William read from a small prayer book we use as a discussion starter. As if everything were normal. Then his voice became quiet and careful. He looked off while he told us about his daughter. He had just found out that she had been hurt badly in the past and he hadn’t known about it. When his voice cracked, this Presence came over the room. That is the primal reverence we crave. Instead of the usual squirm, a heavy and reverent silence settled over the room. Even the most ADD among us stopped.
When people struggle, it’s so tempting to try to fix it. To step in with a fist swinging swagger focused on fixing it at all costs.
You know the well worn metaphor of the butterfly fighting to escape the cocoon. The caterpillar turns to goo in the cocoon and slowly becomes the beautiful winged insect so many of us revere enough to tattoo it on our soft bellies.
It has to fight its own fight to break free. It’s so tempting to reach out and peel back the cocoon to help. Peeling the cocoon ensures the butterfly’s death. Sometimes it’s harder to watch someone else struggle than to go through it ourselves. Watching feels so powerless. Sometimes the best thing we can do to help is be still and listen. Sometimes if we just stop squirming and send prayers to a dad with a broken heart, it is the holiest thing we can do.