Two messages, both given to me by the same person about a week apart, have been responsible for most of the growth and success (at staying sober) that I’ve enjoyed in A.A.
I was probably 6 months sober — feeling my oats — sitting at the table whispering back and forth with Shelley. She thought I was Cool, and I desperately needed someone to think I was Cool. My wife didn’t think so — and neither did I — so I was damn sure gonna pay attention to someone who did.
Edgar T. was chairing the meeting. He looks and sounds like Al Pacino. Maybe what he did wouldn’t have been as effective if he didn’t look like someone who would whack his Brother for disappointing him. He looked at me, raised his index finger to his lips, and tapped them twice: “Quiet”.
Anyone else could have jumped up and down, pulled a switch blade and yelled for me to shut up and I probably would have just dug my heels in for life. Talked at every meeting after that. After all, I’ve heard a thousand people with their cutesy clichés like: “Take your side conversations outside” and it never moved me. Nothing would have been as effective a delivery as that simple gesture.
Since that moment I have not had a side conversation in A.A.
A week later, maybe 2, he’s chairing another meeting. I’m sitting there — nice and quiet this time, but not paying attention — while some moron rambles on and on about some useless drivel that no one gives a shit about and Edgar caught my eye again. He lifted his index finger to his ear, and tapped it twice: “Listen”.
Once a month for years I’ve heard someone say: “Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn”. I’ve heard: “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” a hundred times. Nothing delivered the message — such a simple, non-judgemental delivery — quite as well as that simple gesture.
Most of the people I admired in early Sobriety are gone. Some — like Edgar — are still Sober. Most are drunk. More than a few are dead. If I had listened to only the people I admired when I came into A.A. — when my mind was so screwed up — I wouldn’t have learned the many lessons that have kept me sober through hardships.
Since that moment I have tried to listen to every speaker, no matter what I think of them personally. As a reward I have received pearls from the most unlikely of sources: Lesbians — 20 years older than I — who didn’t drink like me and Psychotics who were off their medication and Newcomers who knew nothing of the program and Chronic Relapsers who would die drunk. Each one of them I had wanted to look down on — and tune out — moments before the revelation. I think God tries to keep me humble by delivering world-shattering information through unlikely mediums.
If it doesn’t make me humble, at least it keeps me on my toes.
I have just now learned a third valuable lesson from Edgar. He hasn’t been to a meeting since about a year after he passed his messages on to me. He found God and religion and a beautiful wife and has what he needs now without meetings. Moved by how much he helped me — saved my life, in fact — I looked him up online. I called him and told him what I’d written. I let him know that his message — and above all his compassionate delivery — saved a life.
I learned that letting someone know how much they helped you means the world to them. We walk through life much like Johnny Appleseed; planting seeds and moving on before they grow. At times we will all question our value to the world. “Have I truly been of Maximum Service to God and my Fellow Man?” we wonder, “or have I just been talking to myself?”. What if when you got home tonight there were 20 messages on your voicemail telling you that you had made a positive difference in someone’s life? That you had changed their course for the better? If you knew there were Fruits to your Labor, would it give you the energy to go out and help one more person?
Wouldn’t you like to feel like George Bailey for a moment?
You have the power to give that feeling to someone else.