I inherited two things when my dad died:
A hooded sweatshirt. I asked his widow if I could have it because it smelled like him. That wonderful aroma that embraced me as soon as I arrived for a visit and again as I departed. The aroma that was always paired with the words, “I love you, gal.”
The sweatshirt hangs in the closet of my spare bedroom. It has lost its scent, but the hole made by one of his many cigarettes is still there – at the bottom of the left pocket. The cause of his sudden death: heart disease due to smoking.
The second thing I inherited was his Bible. His Full Life Study Bible. His name and address are stamped just inside the front cover, which gives a clue that he bought it when he was living in Jacksonville, FL.
There is a sticker right next to his stamped name and address which reads:
“LORD… I AM GOING TO LISTEN TO YOUR OPINION OF ME, AND LET YOU REPROGRAM ME UNTIL YOUR LOVING ESTIMATE OF ME BECOMES A PART OF MY LIFE…RIGHT DOWN TO MY INNERMOST FEELINGS.”
When we spent a few days together in a rented house on Fripp Island Memorial Day weekend 1991, he gave me a story he had written. One that recounted the tragic death of his best friend when he was eight years old, and the brokenhearted, cathartic weeping and grief that overwhelmed him 52 years later. I have tried and tried to find that tender story. I hope it isn’t lost forever.
But I do still have the story he mailed me sometime in the early 90’s, a few years after he moved to Florida. It came with this note:
While reading keep in mind that although the use and abuse of alcohol began in the teen years, its all out assault began about 1975, and culminated in 1977.
Something was really pushing me to put all of this down on paper. Having done it, I can see that the “having done it,” and not the four pages, was the important thing…
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:15
On the night of April 18, 1977, I was alone in my apartment, face down on the floor and immobilized. For years I had traveled the road of addiction. Alcohol was the propelling vehicle. At the end of this road is death, and death was to be found in the bathroom which was but a few yards ahead. One travels this road with companions who are faithful to the end. The fellowship includes perfectionism, a law giver demanding consummate tidiness even in a terminal act. Wrists slashed at the bottom of a filled tub preclude the washing of blood from walls and ceiling.
Born into a world of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, the cry of an infant brings response and gratification to his demands. Response and gratification instill a sense of power, and power promises hope. But hope circumscribed by the senses is counterfeit hope and bears within itself the seed of its own destruction. Despair is the short-lived child born to be the executioner of its father and he who gives sanctuary to the father. Born there on the floor, despair matured quickly and, like a lemming, yearned to dash across those last few yards to hurl itself into the water of the tub.
But despair was frustrated. Wanting to get moving, it found itself trapped within immobilized flesh. The delay made the last few yards ahead the turf of terror for consciousness. The road became clogged with figures which looked vaguely familiar – ghostly manifestations of unresolved issues, hit-and-run victims at various points during the long trip in the vehicle called alcohol. They were singing a song, my song; that seemingly immortal lyric which says, “I’ll do it my way.” They knew the tune well. I was singing it as they were victimized. For consciousness, the legacy of despair is the recognition that the last stanza is being sung. The song was inspired by counterfeit hope, but manipulation was the talent which penned its innumerable stanzas. Fueled by alcohol, years of practicing the art of manipulation had produced exhaustion and immobility. Peter had been robbed to pay Paul and Paul had been robbed to pay Peter so many times that both had resolved to make a trophy of my hide. Their breath was on my neck; I could see a noose suspended from the branch of a tree. There was no longer a will to pen new stanzas.
At this point a word presented itself to consciousness. The word was addressed: “You are said to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. If true, You are not light years away, but here with the prodigal. If there is a road that does not terminate at the tub, You will have to pick me up and put me on it. I give up. God help me!”
This appeal came as an ominous threat to my hope. A battle ensued in which consciousness was but a spectator. Hope drew its battle line as it addressed consciousness: “You don’t need help. Those ghostly manifestations out there need help. They are the problem.” Picking up the towel that I had thrown into the ring, the Word responded: “You are the problem.” Gravely wounded by the Word, but not yet dead, hope crawled from the field of battle.
In his book, Power of the Renewed Mind, Bill Bansky comments on this battle:
“God doesn’t speak through your mind, into your mind. He speaks into your spirit that’s born again. When God speaks to the spirit, the Spirit of God brings the thought into your mind, and then you know that God is speaking to you.”
Surrender gave birth to a new spirit which was to be followed by a renewed mind and a new hope.
Consciousness became aware that the telephone table was within reach. A pull on the cord brought the receiver to the floor. Names and numbers were beyond the grasp of both hand and mind. After a number of misadventures, a finger found the “0” button. My thickly muttered message to the responding voice was simply, “Alcohol!” She grasped the situation immediately. Learning that I was alone she asked if I could take down a phone number. The long established habit of keeping a ball point pen in my pocket proved useful. Laboriously and with much repetition, I labeled my arm with the phone number of a detoxification clinic. Consciousness ended at this point. During my long trip with alcohol, I had come to know periods of blackout. This is not to be confused with passing out. In a blackout one can act, but unconsciously.
With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks.
© The Reluctant Baptist, 2015