Will buses and taxis materialize when I want them, and will my novel be a best seller?
LET’S say it’s summer and that storm warnings have been posted all along the coast where I live. A hurricane is on its way. Already the ten-foot tides and hundred-mile winds have brought havoc all along the Eastern seaboard.
The hurricane may blow out to sea and miss my area. It may not. I keep the radio on, listening to reports of the storm’s speed and its path. As I listen, I make orderly plans to evacuate my home, should it become necessary. In former years I would have tossed clothes into a suitcase at the last moment, stuffed frightened cats into carriers, and scurried to a rescue boat which would carry me to the mainland and safety.
Now, I do not believe that the hurricane will miss my area or my town or my house just because I happen to be residing there. I believe that I am as subject to the laws of nature as any other living creature. In my opinion, to believe otherwise would be the cruelest of delusions.
I knew a woman once who believed that no matter where she went the sun would shine just because she was there. When I met this woman I was very new in AA. She had been sober in the program for many years. She lived alone; she worked at some sort of clerical job that gave her a minimal wage, yet she seemed radiantly happy. She did more Twelfth Step work than anyone I had met. She had protegés all over the place. They were young, old, men as well as women. She told me she rose each morning at six o’clock so that she would have a full two hours to spend in meditation and prayer before she had to go to work. She belonged to no church, but she had a Higher Power of her own and she believed totally that she was so special to that Power that nothing bad could ever befall her.
This simple and absolute faith made me envious. I hoped that one day, if I worked hard enough on the Steps, and meditated and prayed often enough, I might gain this sort of belief.
My mind, however, was not very tractable as yet. Or perhaps, having embraced no religion nor spiritual practice since my teens, I was rusty. Anyhow, even though I meditated arduously one day, I might forget all about meditating for the next three days. Or if I prayed fervidly for faith and enlightenment for two days straight, I might forget to pray at all for the next two days (with the exception of my morning request for strength to stay sober that day).
After such lack of persistence, and berating of self, I had concluded gloomily that I would never attain even minor sainthood. I was far too earthbound; much too pragmatic.
Nevertheless, during this time of spiritual effort, I did establish my own conception of my Higher Power. And believe me I was just as special to my Higher Power as my friend was to hers. Then, having arrived at this conclusion, I went on to suppose that I was also pretty special to my AA friends, to my group and to the world at large. I enjoyed quite a long, lovely, ego-warming period of feeling that I was the cherished pet of my Higher Power. At times I had marvelous feelings of omnipotence, almost as powerful as I once used to get from a bottle.
In my group I was always an officer. I spoke often. I did everything by the book, to the best of my ability. I was convinced that I was practicing the greatest humility, honesty, unselfishness and love. I took on sponsorship of several new members, confident that I would keep them sober and show them how to work the program. When it didn’t work out that way I gave up sponsorship, saying that I was obviously not intended for that branch of AA activity. To salve my conscience, I worked harder than ever for the group. Then lo and behold, the group had elections and for the first time I held no office.
I felt like a bustling executive who had been abruptly retired. As a layman I didn’t know what to do with myself at meetings. I had always been so busy with group affairs I had spent little time talking to newcomers and now I found it almost impossible to do so. The old shyness and fear of rejection returned. I hid behind the coffee table, filling cups and passing cake–and incidentally showing the group what wonderful humility I had.
More undermining things began to happen. By profession I am a writer and I had written a novel about a man who, against his will, had been moved to do good works by his Higher Power. The book did not sell, anywhere. I could not understand it. In my mind it had topped the best-seller list, and the truth was that nobody at all wanted it.
That same fall, when I returned to my group after a summer away, no one seemed overly excited by my return. There were several new members who had never seen me nor heard of me. My friends had new proteges they talked to instead of talking to me. The new officers were getting all the attention.
Facing the truth wasn’t easy or pleasant, but I did face it. I was no longer special, no longer anybody’s pet. Not even, I decided sadly, was I special to my Higher Power or He would have seen to it that my inspired novel would have sold.
In the next few months several more things happened to shake me up. My ‘always sunshine’ friend was running into rain squalls. She kept changing jobs–losing jobs, really. She had bouts with various viruses. Some of her proteges were flouting her advice and seeking other advisers. Some had gotten drunk.
It was a cold, hard winter and the sun shone little. She came less and less to meetings. When she did come, late, she didn’t seem to be listening. I spoke to her on the telephone a few times; she would never admit that anything was amiss.
During the next summer, while I was away, she died. I heard that she had been ill again and despondent. Apparently, she had no really close friends, for her death was not discovered for several days after it occurred. Natural causes, the doctor said. What did that mean? Malnutrition? Loneliness? Self-neglect? Or bitter disillusion?
For months I was haunted by her death. How could it happen to one who seemed so dedicated, so spiritual, so special?
That same winter several AA people I knew suffered adversity, in various forms. They were devoted, sober members. Also, in that winter, I often heard speakers make statements such as: “Since I joined AA I never have to wait for a bus. I always make perfect connections and I never have to wait”; or, “I’ve had one promotion after another since I joined AA”; or “I was so unhappy in my job, the boss was terrible, but today he’s gone and the new boss is wonderful.”
How to reconcile the bad happenings and the good happenings? I was puzzled until it occurred to me that good things can happen to drunks just because they are sober and functioning on all five senses, and bad things can happen to AAs just as bad things happen to honest decent people who are not AAs.
So I finally decided that my Higher Power would not get me a bus or taxi or a job or a million dollars any more than He would knock a drink out of my hand if I were stupid enough to pick one up.
Quite a lot of twenty-four hours have passed since I decided this. I am older and, I hope, wiser. I try to be useful to my group in any capacity whatever. After the meetings I seek out people standing alone and speak to them. I urge the newer members to speak, to be officers. I don’t offer gratuitous advice, or criticism. I don’t have to be a Bleeding Deacon or a Know-it-all Old-Timer.
I no longer believe that I am any more special than anyone else, either to AA or to my Higher Power. For me to believe this would be dangerous. I would expect privilege; I would expect favors; and if they did not materialize I might, just might, perish of the disappointment. For even in the Bible it states plainly that the sun rises on the evil as well as the good, that the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust.
Since I am not a theologian, nor do I subscribe to any formal dogma, my spiritual conclusions are my own, based solely on my own experience. I have sound reason to believe that a sincere request for help from my Higher Power is always granted. Many times I ask for strength to cope with difficult situations. I receive it. I have asked for guidance, for wisdom and very very often for courage, and I am given as much of these as I am able to accept.
If I am special nowadays, it is only to myself, and it is because I am sober. I am happy most of the time. I have become a giver rather than a taker. But the best of all is that I no longer need to be special. Perhaps I have grown up at last, for is it not the child in us that demands to be everyone’s pet?