Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Prayer That Saved My Ass

I spent most of the first 38 years of my life not wanting to look in the rear view mirror.  Even though the mirrors on the cars I was driving didn't warn me that "objects in the rear view mirror appear closer than they are",  I knew better than to look back very far or for very long. I just looked ahead, hoping to outrun or outwit the consequences of the life I had created it.

Run, hide, deny, deflect, reset, land on your feet, start all over again. It got tired. And discouraging. Two steps forward and one step back turned into one step forward and three steps back. You do the math-I was getting no where in a hurry. It was time to give up, surrender and admit defeat. My way wasn't working anymore.

On October 28, 1990, I took the exit ramp off the road I was on and asked for help. I was lost and I needed directions. They say to be careful what you pray for, but I prayed to a God I didn't understand, wasn't sure I believed in and rarely relied on, if ever. I remember asking God to "take everything I have,  just give me some peace."

The God of my understanding has a wicked sense of humor. Instead of taking everything, this God let me keep my stuff, all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly, but instead directed me to a fellowship called AA. And it was there that I learned the prayer that would save my ass.

The first time I ever said the "Serenity Prayer" was at the end of my first night in the part-time evening treatment program I had signed up for. It was awkward, holding hands with a group of people I had just met, reciting a corny prayer and capping it off with a rousing version of "keep coming back, it works!" as the coda.The next time was later that week in a smoke filled hall in Ralston, Nebraska at the end of the first AA meeting I ever attended. Same prayer, same coda, different people.

Over the years, I 've come to cherish and rely on the Serenity Prayer. The simplicity of its words along with the depth of it's meaning have become the most powerful resource in my modest spiritual toolkit.

 In those early days of learning to live without drinking and to live "life on life's terms", the mere act of asking for serenity bought me time. A day, an hour, at times even a moment or two.

"God, grant me the serenity....."

God, Buddha, Yahweh, Mother Nature, whatever, whoever,  I'm not the higher power anymore and I need help. Can you help me find some serenity? The mere act of asking for help, along with admitting that I didn't have the answers, was the first step towards a better life.

And I don't think it matters that much if you believe in a god or not. Just ask for serenity. A couple of my atheist friends say this works for them. They don't believe in God, but they also know that they are not the Higher Power. So they ask.

"To accept the things I cannot change,"

Oh, I'm beginning to get it. I can't find acceptance if I'm not serene. Calm down, let go, relax. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Quit staring at the problem.

And just what is it that I cannot change? It would be oversimplifying it a bit to quote the typical "people, places and things" line. However, what I quickly came to realize was how much I had tried to control "people, places and things" and how little control I actually had. That will blow your serenity right out of the door in a hurry.

Today, I can control my intentions and actions in pursuit of doing the next right thing. People and the rest of the world are going to do what they are going to do and I can fight it or I can accept it.

Just do the next right thing. Mind your own business. This too shall pass. Seems pretty simple. It's not, and that's why the prayer saved my ass.

"the courage to change the things I can,"

 As I grew in my sobriety journey, I became much more aware of how much I had to learn about becoming the person I wanted to be. Learning to be humble, to confront one's own character flaws and to make amends for those I had harmed took courage and patience. The "one day at a time" slogan is part of the courage I had to borrow from others when things couldn't get better fast enough.

Even today, 24 years later, I still need the patience and courage to face life on life's terms. When am I going to retire? How will I deal with aging? What if we run out of money? I may be in a different place than I was 24 years ago, but I need the wisdom and guidance of the Serenity Prayer as much now as I did then.

And speaking of wisdom.....

"and the wisdom to know the difference."

I'd like to think that I'm old enough now to know better, but that isn't always the case. The wisdom I needed to acquire came slowly and largely from other's experiences. So in spite of being somewhat wiser, life has a way of throwing curve balls at me that seem  like a Mariano Rivera fastball in the bottom of the ninth that is  almost un-hittable. At those times, if I remember to pray for serenity, acceptance and courage, I will find the answers I need in the form of the collective wisdom of the fellowship.

Even today, the Serenity Prayer can save my ass. It's almost a perfect prayer. Short, simple, deep, profound. I would only make one small change to it if I could. I would add a tag line to the end:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.......

And a sense of humor for when I don't!

With any luck, on Oct. 28th, I will once again say the Serenity Prayer and ask for another 24.......hours not years.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Change of Seasons on a Post-It Note


I had just sat down in the office and was downloading the pictures taken on our trip to Colorado into our I-Mac when I saw the Post-It note sitting on the desk. I'm not quite sure why it got my attention, but it did.

I've long ago let go of any paranoia about the likelihood that there would be a "to-do" item with my name next to it on Georgette's lists and as is usually the case, this note had items for her to do, not me. 

"Christmas Carol date/tickets" was at the top of the list, a reminder that it won't be long and we will be through with fall and into winter. 

We returned from our annual trip to the Colorado Rockies the previous night where the change of seasons was in full force. It sleeted and snowed several times when we were in the mountains, making one of our hikes around Bear Lake (at 9500 ft) a bit more treacherous than we are used to. We had to chuckle though when we came across the tiny snowman that someone had made on one of the benches that adorn the trail.

I'm reminded that seasons come and go and bring both the expected and the unexpected. As expected, the golden Aspen juxtaposed against the pines and the antics of the bull elk in the yearly rut did not disappoint. Coming across the holiday adorned cartons of eggnog at the Estes Park Safeway was both unexpected and a reminder that in some instances the seasons are changing earlier than we would prefer.

Back to that Post-It note. The next two items on the list gave me pause and reminded me of the change in seasons going on in Georgette's life......her retirement.

"Sign up for SS"
"Sign up for Medicare"

After going to work nearly everyday since she was a very young woman and mother, she is retiring December 19th from her career work and transitioning into the next season of her life. 

If anyone deserves a retirement, she does. I've watched her rise and go off to work without a complaint for the past 19 years, the last 11 of those years with an hour long commute from Omaha to Lincoln. Never a complaint. She will have been in her current role for 26 years when it is all said and done. 

We've been having dinner conversations like these the past several months.

"Did you check anything off your retirement transition list today?"
"I did. I wrote my resignation letter and turned it in."
"What was that like?"
"It was weird. I've never done that before."

If she is anything, and she is a lot, she is steady, dependable and consistent. Where I've had many jobs and several major shifts in my work focus ( thus a folder full of resignation letters), Georgette essentially has had 2 jobs in the past 40 years. She has worked as a office manager for an oral surgeon and as a counselor and program manager for an employee assistance program. Somehow she managed to avoid writing a resignation letter when she transitioned into her current role. She told me how that happened but I forgot. Ironically, her first resignation letter is her last resignation letter.

Along the way she raised 2 children into adults, took care of her home and earned the respect and trust of her peers, clients, friends and family, say nothing for the love and care she provided to me every day we have been together. As I write this on a relaxing Sunday afternoon, I can smell the roast for our dinner tonight cooking in the oven while the remainder of tonight's supper is staged and ready to come together, resulting into another of the thousands of wonderful meals we've shared in our home life. With all the changes that her retirement might bring, I'm pretty sure this one will only get richer.

I generally don't make Georgette the primary subject of my writing and this is probably more public attention than she is comfortable with (sorry, Hun) but this is a story that I must tell. From where I sit, she has had a remarkable work life and has done it with grace, perseverance, and sacrifice. And because of the intensely human nature of her work, she has helped many people lead better lives, both in their jobs and In their personal lives. I am in awe of what she has accomplished.

"How does December 16th work?"
"For what?"
"For my retirement reception. Gail e-mailed me and wanted to make sure it works for both of us"
"Yep, that will work fine"

Wouldn't miss it for the world. She would prefer to skip this part of the retirement thing, but knows that there are many who want to come and share their gratitude.

In the meantime, we are figuring out how we are going live on a budget, one of the changes we need to make that comes along with a reduced household income.

And she has a few items on her Post-It note to do.

And the seasons are changing, in more ways than one.

And I hear the sounds of the table being set. And vegetables being steamed.

Tonight, we will dine with the memories of the Rocky Mountains and the hopes of what the seasons will bring.