(Taken from the Grapevine, Reprinted with permission of the A.A. Grapevine, Inc.)
How a World War II vet taught this member about unconditional love.
“As the years went by and I stayed sober, I recognized the priceless gift that I had received.”
When I came to Alcoholics Anonymous, in June 1988, I was in a world of pain and paralyzed by fear. When I read the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, I knew that you folks knew what you were talking about and that I had the disease of alcoholism too. I went to meetings and listened to the old-timers discuss the program of recovery and tried to apply it to my life.
As the years went by and I stayed sober, I recognized the priceless gift that I had received. So many times during troubles of my own making I felt as if a Higher Power was holding me up. I also began to realize the effort on the part of my fellow AAs to carry and continue to carry the AA message to me. I am extremely grateful today to my maker and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for the gift of sobriety.
Having said all that, I must confess that at times I have found the people of the fellowship to be … well, human! Although I have been the great beneficiary at times of the kind of love that has no price tag, I have also found that sometimes you people get on my nerves. Many times I have been taught patience, love and tolerance, through gritted teeth!
Early on in sobriety I met a man who helped me and changed my life forever. He was a cantankerous old World War II vet who made me laugh and helped me stay sober. Although sometimes I felt like he was holding me hostage when we would talk, he was always friendly and encouraging in our conversations. Also, I noticed that he went to meetings all over the city and gave away AA medallions from a deodorant container to perfect strangers. In short he was always good to me and appeared to be a good AA member, but our paths crossed only when attending meetings or in giving him a ride home a few times.
As the years went by and Harold and I got closer, I began to notice that he was getting more and more direct with others at AA meetings. He was certainly old school and wasn’t afraid to direct a comment at what he thought was inappropriate. He would often quote his sponsor who told him, “If you want sobriety, kid, then do what you’re told!” He had a deep ragged voice and always hammered home his point with it.
About five or so years ago, Harold began attending meetings that I was going to and the relationship deepened. He was in his late 70s by then and had lost his wife and was living alone. I felt for him as his health began to fail him. It started when he was hit by a car and his walking became strained. He then took a fall and his walking grew worse.
I began giving him rides more and more to meetings or even to run errands. When he had trouble walking, I would lean my shoulder under his arm and jack him up to help him around. He told me and others, who might have tried to help, that I was the perfect size to fit under his arm. And so it went for a few years until I could no longer hold him up as his other leg started to give out. I went and bought him a wheelchair and eventually we were able to convince him to move to a nursing home, but certainly not without a fight! At times he was an impossible human being to be around and it took all the AA training I had gotten to show him the unconditional love that I have received so freely.
My friendship with Harold taught me to be patient, loving and forgiving. It also taught me that the love that I have been given and that I still receive today on a daily basis is to pass on. Sometimes to try to carry the message is to carry the messenger! There is no substitute for one drunk talking to another and I have found by helping my friend Harold who died this month, that I was offering a little bit of humanity back to a man who had helped so many others. Being a human crutch has helped me to see the power of this human touch.
In closing, let me add that sometimes I have heard it said in meetings when asking for a moment of silence for the still sick and suffering alcoholic, that you might find them in or outside of these rooms. I have found them in both places and have been taught well that my only hope is to be of maximum service. Therefore, I close with yet another suggestion to anyone who is looking to find serenity: Adopt an old-timer or let one adopt you! Either way, you find a wealth of experience strength and hope. One of the sayings that Harold taught me in recent years is: “Even a broken watch is right twice a day!”
—Tom C., Evanston, IL.