I was taking an Uber over to my Tuesday 7:30am meeting. I had the set up commitment, which makes for an early morning, but I can get it all in before work and while I may occasionally grumble when the alarm goes off (fine, fine, grumble as in swear like a sailor) it’s a really nice way to start my day.
I like to have the place ready to go when people show up. Chairs set up, etc. I think it makes a nice impression for the new people.
My buddy who is secretary of the meeting was away this week so I was covering for him in addition to set up. With a double scoop of service on my AA cone I didn’t want to chance a bus running late; hence the Ubersplurge.
AA has taught me to view virtually any situation as a chance to be of service. I’ll never forget a friend in a meeting sharing about how when he was getting ready to go on a blind date (he was going through a phase of constantly being set up by well-intentioned friends), to combat his nerves he tried to approach it with a “how can I make this the best blind date they’ll ever have” mindset as he showered and shaved. He discovered that as soon as he thought about the experience that way his nerves pretty much vanished.
That share, heard years ago now, made a lasting impression on me and changed how I approach… well, pretty much, everything in my life: How can I be the nicest customer this grocery checker has all day? How can I be the most pleasant person on the bus? How can I be the kindest man this homeless person interacts with this afternoon? How can I be the best Uber passenger to sit in their backseat this morning?
The last half of the 12th Step suggests we “…practice these principles in all our affairs.” This is one concrete way in which I try to do that.
(I hasten to add that not far from that phrase in the text it follows with, “…no one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines…” I try to do this because as a result of this mindset, of these actions, I am transformed. I have a better day. It’s also worth noting that sometimes being helpful or kind in a particular situation means being calm or quiet. As a veteran of the service industry wars -- which I’ve cataloged extensively here over the years -- aggressive cheer is its own kind of hostage taking, I assure you. But the medicine is in the thinking of others, acting differently than my fear and ego would have me. Being of service, rather than walking through the world hyper-sensitive, self obsessed and so very ready to be wronged, as I do when my alcoholism is untreated, and I am dry, but not sober.)
My driver was a handsome, clean cut young fellow: Regular, standard-issue American mutt. Light blue button down shirt, close-trimmed curly hair, tortoise shell glasses. His hands rested loosely at 10 and 2 on the wheel, and from the backseat I admired his wristwatch.
“Thank you.” He said. “It was a present from my father.” We chatted about how maybe watches were making a comeback, even though we all use our cell phones to check the time. I ventured no strong opinion on the issue either way.
“How long have you been driving for Uber? Do you like it?”
“Oh, maybe like, three or four months. I do it in the mornings before I go to my regular job, and then sometimes after work and on the weekends, too.”
I drifted into silence, thinking about what he said, and admiring his resourcefulness and attitude. There was no rancor in his answer.
“Are you going to work?” he asked, naturally enough. The address I’d given him was in the back of a café, new home to meetings who’d had to relocate some few months ago.
“Actually, I’m going to an AA meeting.”
I never do this. I do not move through the world volunteering my AA membership as a factoid in unrelated conversations. While I try to be vigilant, listening for my “cue” to carry AA's message – though I double check my hearing when I believe I’ve heard it, just to be sure – and am willing to break my anonymity any time it might be helpful, I wear my AA medallion on my keychain, rather than my shirt collar, so to speak. But it popped out, just like that: “Actually, I’m going to an AA meeting.”
He visibly brightened. “Really? Wow that’s… I know William very well myself.”
(For the new kids, sometimes people will say they’re “A friend of Bill” -- as in Bill Wilson, one of AA’s founders -- when identifying themselves as a member of AA.)
“Really?” I laughed “That’s crazy. I never just kind of pop out with…”
“I love meetings. I always feel so much better when I go. But I haven’t been to one in something like… oh, maybe a couple of months.”
“A couple of months.” I said, with a well practiced lack of judgment in my tone. If he heard one, he put it there, I assure you. It didn’t start with me.
“Yeah. I love the speaker meetings the best.” He waxed enthusiastic about his meeting experiences, and some of the speakers he’d heard. It was refreshing, frankly, to hear such positivity, even if it had been a while since he'd been back in the rooms.
We were approaching my stop.
(Just for the sake of completion I will type out the end of this story, but you already know what it is, don’t you.)
“Why don’t you come to this one.” I suggested. “It’s only an hour.”
“That’s…” The navigation on his cell phone interrupted with the announcement that we had arrived at our destination.
There was a parking space right in front, and I almost said “Look! Doris Day parking! It’s meant to be!” but I kept silent because A) He was probably far, far too young to know what the phrase ‘Doris Day parking’ meant, and I make a concerted effort not to be reminded of my age before 9am, and B) As I’ve gotten older, I push less and wait more.
“You know what?” he laughed. “Why not. Picking you up and all… maybe it’s meant to be!”
I laughed as well. “Maybe.” I nodded. “It may be.”
He helped me set up the chairs.
I bought him a cup of coffee. (The meeting is in the back of a café, after all. They’re wonderful landlords but it’s understandable they request we don’t brew a pot of free coffee to offer around. It all works out.)
As the meeting filled he actually saw someone he’d known when he was new.
The format of this meeting calls for us to say the 3rd Step Prayer, and as we stood and formed a ring around the room, praying aloud together that frankly beautiful and sometimes terrifying prayer, when we came to the line "...do with me as Thou wilt...," watching my erstwhile Uber driver across the circle of joined hands I had a tiny emotional moment inside. Being part of something which can work so much potential good is rarely something I take for granted anymore. I was glad he came in with me. Who knows what lies along this young man's path? In my experience, AA can help, whatever it may be.
But then I had to suppress a giggle, since the wise ass in my head -- who's really never off duty -- mentally chimed in after "...do with me as Thou wilt..." with "Even in an Uber!"
It was a good meeting – most of them are, to me, even without a little cosmic synchronicity in the mix.
"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings."
- William Arthur Ward
"Conversely, when I don't feel gratitude, my perspective -- rather than being transformed -- is deformed, and my days are nightmares, my job is drudgery and ordinary opportunities are never enough. Seriously. It is that profound a difference in my life."
What is the difference Between your experience of Existence And that of a saint?
The saint knows That the spiritual path Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually Tripping over Joy And bursting out in Laughter And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear, I am afraid you still think You have a thousand serious moves.
I choose to believe that in the translations of these ancient, graceful, joyful poems, the term "saint" can be interpreted to mean "an enlightened one," as opposed to the perhaps more western idea of the term, that of a religious individual with strict adherence to a particular canon.
The Skateboard Pup -- who now resembles not at all the disaffected ragamuffin I first met almost three years ago -- was irate over a comment one of the Big Bosses at work made to him regarding when he arrives on the job. I let him go on for a while, as I had a good seat by the window of the cafe and the people watching was particularly fine. He's learned, to his chagrin, that I do not need to be looking at him to hear every word. As I've gotten older my ability to recall proper nouns as quickly as I want seems to have degraded a bit, but I find my auditory memory is as sharp as ever. Perhaps God will bench me on the sponsor front if that starts to go, but for now I've still got game.
Oh look, I started writing about someone else and within just a few sentences started talking about myself again. <sigh> (The ego is an implacable sparring partner.)
So the SBP and I were at a new cafe, having a hot cuppa on a blustery afternoon, as he quietly raged against the indignation of accountability.
And brother, if you want a sympathetic ear on that, I am simultaneously the very best and the very worst kind of coffee date - because oh! do I get it and oh! do I have no patience for it. (The ego is a complicated sparring partner.)
He was genuinely angry.
It's the little things that really bug, right?
We join his rant in progress...
Skateboard Pup: And I'm like, their Number One! Almost every month! Shouldn't that afford me some... I don't know... some kind of leeway? Or like a perk or something?
I looked at him and shrugged slightly. He chose to interpret this as "Oh, please do go on" rather than the "mmmaybe" it was a little closer to.
SBP: So you know they moved, right? It's twice as far as it was before. I get up like, a half hour earlier and I feel like that's fair.
This time I raised my eyebrows. "fair" is such a foolish thing to complain about past the age of about ten. The problem is, alcoholics are such a textbook case of (among other things) arrested development. He correctly interpreted my eyebrow raise as a flag on the field.
SBP: Okay, okay. Not fair exactly but... that's all I'm willing to do.
I kept looking at him.
SBP: Well, I mean that's all I'm willing to do right now. I'm not saying... it's just... I took the job based partly on the commute, and...
Mr. SponsorPants: Okay, let me stop you right there.
Mr. SP: You didn't "take this job based partly on the commute..." That's bullshit. Now you're just working yourself up because you feel wronged. As I remember it you hoped and prayed and did a lot of footwork to get this job, and when they offered it to you - at a wage which was, as you said at the time I believe "...sweet! It's like almost twice what I made before, and with commission it could be... I can't even..."
I stopped. For me, part of the challenge as a sponsor is not to interrupt someone else's self-righteous speechifying with my own self-righteous speechifying about their self-righteous speechifying. (The ego is a nimble sparring partner.)
Mr. SP: Look, if you want to talk to the Big Boss about extending you some flexibility on this issue, then do so. But bring them the sober man, not the petulant sneak and not the grandiose brat who thinks the rules don't apply to him, and in a professional manner make your case. But the issue is also very simple.
I paused. He waited.
Mr. SP: There are three ways to get to work: Early, on time, or late. Pick one. It really is that simple.
The SBP looked for a moment like he might argue the point, but shrugged and grinned.
SBP: Fair enough. I get that. But what about the fact that I already get up earlier, and that sometimes it takes longer to...
I held up my hand.
Mr. SP: Kiddo, that's all about your process. They don't care about your process. They're only interested in the result.
He ran his hand through his hair and laughed a little.
Mr. SP: I know. Believe me. I'm wired the same way. I always want to pay with the wrong coin, or measure with the other yardstick.
SBP: Doesn't it get easier? I mean, don't you catch yourself more and not do it as much?
Mr. SP: I guess. Though I think what has really happened for me is that I have a sense of humor about it now. I'm on to myself much more, yes, but I laugh at myself more too.
When I was drinking, and then when I was newly sober, I would hear about people doing kind things, being of service, etc., and I would think things like "Why would anyone want to do that?"
I certainly liked the idea of being well thought of, and I was always happy to position myself to look like a nice person, but internally I had no connection between the kind act and the transformation of the spirit.
But after the fog lifted, and I thawed (so, so slowly!) I took AA's advice to heart, that it didn't matter how I felt, or if the action made sense to me, that I would just do it anyway.
And it was then that I got it.
There is something... right... about being of service. On a very fundamental, nearly physical level, I got it.
I understand why people are puzzled or too afraid or shut down to be actively kind and helpful on a daily basis -- and certainly "no one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints." -- but when you do the work, the result will amaze.
In my experience, Rabbi Kushner is correct. Something inside responds.