Tuesday, February 7, 2012

AA (Appreciate All)

Last night I went with Rusty to do a show, a free show at a recovery center for it's workers and the folks who are...well, recovering. As usual, it was nothing like I thought and you know what? If I could afford to do that sort of thing (and man, I'm glad Rusty can) I'd do it every single night of the week, free.

Firstly, I didn't expect to walk into a room full of addicts and ex-addicts that look like, um, regular people. I could have been walking into any old room, Cousin Amy's baby shower, a cafe', a PTA meeting, whatever. I saw men in ties, elderly ladies with Scottie dog sweaters, kids (literally KIDS, like 14 years old), cops, farmers, young women, construction workers with mud still on their boots, CEOs. A whole room full of them. If you had just plunked me down in this room and made me guess what these people had in common, I wouldn't figure out their connection. Huh. Dumb of me, but I tend to be slow about things like that. Of course my brain knows perfectly well that drug addicts and alcoholics don't have to look like homeless people, it's that stupid, old, snap judgement rearing it's ugly head. You just assume they'll look a LITTLE different at least. Or if you are as naive as I am, you do.

Anyway, after I got over thinking "Hey hold on, I could be here as a performer, employee OR addict, and nobody'd be able to tell the difference", The second thing I started to wonder was: "What on earth is Rusty - a man who's never been drunk or high in his life, comes from an incredibly supportive, loving family, leads a charmed life, and doesn't even like COFFEE for God's sake - what can he possibly say to these people, people who deal with terrible things he knows nothing of, WHAT is he gonna say to them that could be meaningful?"

Surprise number two. I underestimated compassion. I've never been so proud. Out of his mouth came humor certainly, (he IS a comedian, after all) but also the understanding that we are all 99.9 percent EXACTLY the same. Me...the construction worker in the next seat...the high school English teacher...the millionaire...him. And all we have to do is to believe that. And TREAT ourselves as if we believe that. The roofer is the same as Bill Gates. Rusty is the same as the drug dealer in the back row. It just takes wanting something bad enough, and any one of us can have it. ANY of us. We can make something of our lives.

I helped set up and clean up and mingle afterward to answer questions. One woman quietly thanked me for coming (I don't know why since all I did was carry the guitar and be the butt of several jokes) before she hesitantly asked: "Is....is he for real? Is it an act or is he truly that positive?" I had to laugh as I replied, "Well, he just threw up his hands in a restaurant and yelled "This parsnip puree is GODDAMN FANTASTIC people!!!"

Another man, an ex cop who, at his lowest point, apparently traded valuable pieces of court evidence for drugs, was a guy that Rusty knows from the gym. He spoke to me at length. That's when I got a bit teary eyed, because he said: "You know what your friend does for me? I'll tell you. My wife left, my kids wouldn't speak to me, I've been to jail. When I think about all that I've struggled with, and what I've lost because of it, I get to feelin' pretty low. But THAT man comes up to me while I'm finishing up my squats in the morning and says: "Hey there Bud! Ain't you glad to be alive on a day like this? Jeezum Crow, can you believe we're lucky enough cusses to be walkin' outta here on our own two great-workin' legs, feelin' the sun, and all we got to do is BE?" And then this red-faced muscle man with a military buzz cut shook my hand vigorously between both of his meaty ones for a long time, as if he was somehow grateful for my support as well as Rusty's, and Lordy, I wished I could do this for people.

I understand how he felt because that's what Russ does for me too. I don't know anything about substance abuse, but I do know plenty about feeling sorry for myself lately. He's the kind of friend that WILL NOT allow you to wallow in misery or fall into the darkness. He doesn't know it...(or probably he does, actually)...but dragging me along to AA meetings and nursing homes has reminded me that pitying myself is just as much of a handicap in life as addiction, or dementia and old age. I've got a choice. I've got life ahead of me, beckoning, to waste or live, as I choose. I'm well and alive, I'm LUCKY.

Oh, he's very sly about it. I'll be going on about my week's frustrations or hardships and he'll interrupt me politely with: "No disrespect, I'm listenin' ya know, but quick, look at that before it goes!" and he'll point to the sunset, or the way shadows are stretched out across a field, or a child skipping on the sidewalk, or he'll rush to grab the door for a loaded down UPS man, and that's all it takes. I'll turn back to him sheepishly as he he gestures for me to finish my story, but my tone, my perspective, it will be different when I start again, and he knows it, the sneaky bugger.

And that's the secret. His much sought after Top Secret Meaning Of Life. One of the most valuable things I've ever learned from someone. You want to be happy? Forget YOU. Make other people happy and you're home free. And life IS beautiful, people need to be interrupted and reminded once in a while. Quick! Before it goes!

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