Wednesday, January 18, 2012

THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

ANDRE DÉRAIN
WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, 1906, oil on canvas
Several weeks ago a sober friend, Alan, and I went to visit another (elderly, sober) friend in the convalescent home. I drove. I  didn't know Alan well. I knew he worked as a janitor: the night shift at Pepperdine, a 45-minute commute. I asked if he had to work that night: Yes. I asked whether, when I dropped him off at his car, he’d go home and try to sleep for a bit.

“I actually don’t sleep that well,” he replied. “Ever since my son was a kid…they used to talk about crib death all the time. And I was so afraid the kid would stop breathing in the middle of the night that I’d wake up every fifteen minutes. I kept thinking, What if he dies and everyone knows I’m a horrible father and will never talk to me again and then I’d have to live with that for the rest of my life, that my kid died on my watch, that I didn't take good care of my kid. And ever since then I’ve never been able to sleep very soundly.

“How old’s the kid now?” I asked.

“Twenty-two,” Alan  replied.

I thought about that for a minute.

And then I said “You know how in a parade on earth there are…oh I don’t know, five-star generals, and beauty queens and grand marshals? Well I’m thinking after we die there’ll be a different kind of parade, when all the people who were good, who were kind, who God sees as important get to ride on their floats. So there’ll be Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. and...I don't know, the people who drowned trying to rescue someone else, and bringing up the rear, limping, staggering, inching along in broken wheelchairs with a dingy banner, there’ll be the alcoholics! Not just the ones who got sober, either, but all of us. Because we suffer so much and people think it’s our fault and we try, most of us, to be kind anyway…

I looked over. Alan was staring straight ahead, a set look on his face.

“A..alan?” 

“I can’t get as far as anything like that at all,” he said. “I’m just trying to train myself not to swear so my son will let me hang out with my grandkids.”  

Plus it turns out he doesn’t even have any grandkids yet. He's preparing for them. 

So there you have it. The heroism of ordinary people who walk the streets, our secret sorrows, the invisible burdens the better among us bear without complaining, never even knowing what they do is a huge, noble deal.

There you have Ordinary Time--and the extraordinary people who inhabit it...

KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF,
WAY TO EMMAUS, 1918, woodcut

15 comments:

  1. Powerful.

    I sometimes wonder how many future great saints sit next to me on the bus, or who walk by me in the market. Humbling, to ponder this possibility.

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  2. thank you for your blog. I admire you, as an alcoholic in recovery, which I am also. I especially like this one.
    I can't figure out if Alan is wasting his life worrying about what someone is going to think about him; or what.
    I see myself in him a bit. I always worried about what others thought or felt about me, even God. Only because I wanted to be in the limelight and get awards and notice.
    Ah, but those days are over. At least I work on it every day of my life now. Between God who is my higher power and AA; I have come a long way, of course God is the one who led me to AA.
    But then again; who am I to say this about Alan. Perhaps he is a future saint, perhaps you are, and perhaps I am! God Bless my friend

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  3. Hi Judy, thanks so much! I actually didn't say I'm an alcoholic in recovery, and for various reasons intensely dislike and studiously avoid identifying myself or my work with "recovery": I just describe myself as being a sober alcoholic-- and leave it at that. That's great you're sober as well...

    As for Alan, well, this is just the thin line between passion and pathology I love to ponder. Personally, I think that to care so much about being a a good father that you suffer without imposing the suffering on someone else--my sense is he would never in a million years actually tell his son of his sleep struggles and the reason for them, for example--IS a kind of sainthood.

    That he is also sober, trying to help another alcoholic, and holding down a job that is difficult to get to is further, ample evidence to me that he is neither wasting his life nor looking for accolades...When I asked him if I could use his story, he was like "What story? Unh..oh that? I dunno, if you want to, I guess"...

    What's most interesting to me is that whether our worry is neurotic or not, God uses even our neuroses...

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  4. The Lord better use my neuroses, Heather; they're the bulk of what I have to offer Him!

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  5. Amen amen to the post and your comment Heather. I'm so intrigued by people's 'hidden lives' and the more I reflect on them, the more God gives me the grace not to judge people's words and actions - you never know what's going on behind the scenes. We're surrounded by saints I think...

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  6. "God uses even our neuroses..."

    Amen to that Heather, nothing is wasted in God's economy

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  7. Thihttp://www.praying4henry.blogspot.com/s post is exactly what I posted about in my blog in the post titled On Hallowed Ground. I am the mother of a recovering addict and since that time have new eyes with regard to the great heros of our time. Thank you for the post.

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  8. Hi Heather:

    I thought you might enjoy this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IJymVGJ3Eag

    Gordie

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  9. In the parade are all the sober alcoholics,obsessive compulsives, neurotics, strungout, hectic, depressed people whom we have helped and who have helped us on our way to God. There is a maxim: Grace builds on nature. I think that means Grace works in and through the messed up human nature we have, not the ideal human nature we wish we had.

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  10. Exactly, Sal--if not, we're in trouble! Thank you everyone, again, Judy, I want to welcome you, and Gordie, the video! Check it out, folks--"I'm Human"--and weep...

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  11. Just finished Shirt of Flame....Thank You

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  12. It's all a day at a time.
    The woman I had as a sponsor for a few months, died suddenly Sunday night. It's one foot in front of the other and try-just try to do the right thing. And, that's not easy.

    I tend to catch up with your blog near the weekends.
    There a difference in your writing lately: it's a though you have plunged HEADLONG into all of life's emotions. Your writing is so honest. The blogs are not are easy to read (at first) because the emotions are like bullets flying right at me.

    Still, with all that is going on in this country and the world. your writings are refreshing.

    I believe you are one of the finest Catholic writers. Being Catholic isn't easy!

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  13. Put's me in mind of The Banquet At The World's End, a song by a band I have long and strangely loved.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHcAUNq397c

    Or if you don't dig the tune, please check out the lyrics http://www.danielamos.com/da/motorcycle/banquetattheworldsend.html

    God bless A..alan.

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  14. Nice, Owen, thanks--I am big on the image of the banquet table, and this is especially apropos as my mother, who has Alzheimer's, got moved downstairs at "the home" this week cause she can no longer navigate the stairs, and is having trouble keeping clean, and is finally being more or less forced to use a walker..."the lame are running"...I saw Alan the unsung saint today, too--

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  15. Heather, you're Mom's story, or this part of it, reminds me of an incident from when I was a pastor. I think I'll find my way to write about it for the blog. It's bitter sweet and I don't want it to be maudlin so I have to find right way to tell it. God bless you and you're Mom.

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