I was baffled. Totally lost at sea, without a clue about what was happening.
They kept saying, Keep coming back.
So, I did.
I had nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, no people to be with. It was at the bottom, my bottom, all that I thought of as My Life was dissolving. Unraveling. Yes, I was teaching. But somehow, God-forgive me, that didn’t count as something I was doing. It didn’t count—as anything.
I went to as many meetings as I was able.
Those first few sober months were a blur of wild and wacky, and painful, so painful. And peculiar.
Here’s a memory:
Teaching in Malcolm X,
An endless day.
School bell ringing at 2:32.
Somewhat aggressively, navigating my way toward the door.
Dodging kids for access.
Thankful for the first-floor classroom.
Dashing across the street to Ruby the VW.
Famous and delightful RUBY.
How she takes care of me.
Off to the highway,
To the Tunnel.
Navigating more obstacles in Manhattan traffic,
People leaving, as usual, I go the opposite direction.
Parking on my block, a tad after 3:00.
Parking and running up Second Avenue.
Arriving in the dingy clubhouse on St. Mark’s Place
Thankfully only three blocks up.
Sweating from the September heat.
Stop my pounding heart, I beg.
It doesn’t listen.
Finding a rickety wooden folding chair
Way in the back,
Always in the back.
Not with breath.
What are they talking about, I wonder.
I don’t have a clue.
But—I don’t drink.
I don’t drug.
Here is a piece from my first book, Recovering My Voice, written in 2008, describing an experience from 1986:
I’m sitting in the meeting, half-listening to the speaker talk about “praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.” I was tired. The school day had been long and crazy, filled with unending fire drills and a boring, meaningless faculty meeting. The meeting room was full and hot. I was there because I told Molly, my sponsor, I would go. Left to my own devices, watching television alone would be living the best life I knew.
I was struggling with this idea of God’s will. I didn’t really understand—what is God? God’s will? I was trying really hard to get God’s will RIGHT, damn it. It was pretty exhausting.
Her voice was clear, strangely clear in my ears and shook me, woke me from my stupor.
“The important thing in this Step is the word ‘improve’. It’s not about getting it right, it’s about improving,” she said.
It was Tina talking. She came to these meetings at St. Mark’s Place often. She had been sober, she said, for two years, a concept that seemed to me incredible, inconceivable. She was small and thin, with soft brown hair. She seemed to hang out with some beefy biker guys that frightened me. She had soft blue eyes, I could see across the room. I had listened to her shares the past few months and attended her anniversary meeting. I was learning to listen when she spoke.
She continued, “When I try to out-think God and make my will happen, I am in pain. When I accept God’s will, I am comfortable and free.”
Her quiet, calm voice rang with some obvious truth.
I didn’t understand anything that she said. She could have been speaking a foreign language. Yet something in me responded to her, to her words. Something in me—woke up?
A radical thought entered my mind: Maybe I should talk to her after the meeting, an impossible thought. Me, The Queen of Bolters, (MEETING OVER, I AM GONE). And talk to a straight woman? I continued to see myself as a lesbian separatist, stranger to this new world. I didn’t know how to talk to people, to her. Truly, come to think of it, I hadn’t talked to anybody in the meetings before.
The meeting ended, chairs scraped the floor, a fumble of hand grabbing for the Serenity Prayer.
After the prayer, without thinking about it, courage simply available, I took a gulp and walked up to her, where she stood talking.
“Tina?” I said, my voice sounded young and tin-like. “Hi.”
She looked my way. I found myself bathed in the blueness of her eyes.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” she said, “of course.”
“How do you know what God’s will is? I felt swept, overwhelmed with embarrassment. Surely everybody on the planet knew this but me.
She smiled a quiet, tiny smile and softened. She said, “God’s will is what’s happening.”
She faded away talking to the next person. I stood stunned, truly touched by her words.
God’s will is what’s happening?
I repeated that over and over again. I didn’t really understand what it meant, but I knew it was profound and important, and I could hang on to it. I realized something anew, delivered to me via a very heterosexual woman—this idea was already changing me, and I didn’t have to understand it.
In that moment, I knew that I would never forget her words, the look in her blue eyes. Her response that night opened my world. Some of my struggle softened, as I walked slowly down Second Avenue toward home.
God’s will is what’s happening.
(By the way, dear readers, fill in the blank. Put in whatever word works for you, in your world view.)
I have been living into Tina’s words, one day at a time, one moment at a time, one nanosecond, one breath at a time.
I agree. I believe. I know.
When I let reality happen
Without trying to alter it
Even for an instance,
I am free.
Here is this Zen master, Masahide’s explanation:
I can see the moon.
Most importanty, this is not to take away our feelings about what’s happening.
This teaching is about giving us the courage, the willingness, to keep breathing,
To keep going,
To keep embracing life
How does this land for you?
Did you lose something precious and, as you made your way through the feelings, something remarkable awaited you?
What did you discover?
Let’s end with music! Celebration! Indeed, there is much to celebrate, no matter what is happening around us.
From Playing for Change, here is their Highest Ground:
May our time together
Benefit all beings.
May those on our planet
Most afraid, most alone, most at risk,
Be held in the arms of our prayers.
Bless Mother Maui,
* English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
Original Language Japanese