An Eternal Thank You
I lost a dear friend and mentor to COVID-19 on Thursday. It has been a tough thing to wrestle with for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the inability to hug him and his wife for the last year. I've been angry that the same disease that stole him from this world also robbed us of that connection. And I say “us” because he was a pillar in the sober community.
Jim taught me more than he will ever even know. There were direct lessons, like the importance of meditation and that no matter how patient, tolerant, loving or kindness I might be, people can still be assholes. I wore my "Be Kind, not a jack wagon" shirt on Friday. It wasn't a conscious choice related to his grim prognosis, but I thought later that he would have appreciated that brand of humor.
What I never had a chance to tell him was how much he taught me about letting go of old ideas before we even became friends.
Throughout my entire life, I fought hard to ensure I was liked by everyone. It came in the form of kind words, gestures, extra credit, inserting myself into situations, anything to ensure I was in everyone’s good graces. If someone didn’t like me, it meant I was doing something wrong. It was always personal.
When I first joined the sober community, I thought we would all be in it together. I quickly realized that the dynamics of the outside world were just as apparent in the rooms. Not everyone appreciated my eternal optimism. I’d also learn that some people didn’t bother to get to know newcomers because they didn’t expect them to stick around.
Maybe that is what Jim thought at first when he would pass out hugs to everyone but me. I was convinced I had done something to offend him. I even made a comment about my Arizona hat one time in an attempt to bridge the divide, knowing he had lived in Tucson for many years. I received what I thought was a sarcastic rebuttal in return. I didn’t know Jim’s brand of humor at the time.
Soon after, I reached a milestone in my sobriety. I knew I would be asked to share some wisdom as was customary for celebrants. The hour passed and Jim never called my name. Unfortunately, I was tucked in the back of the room for a quick exit for work. I’d come to realize later that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his eyesight. Every time he sat up front, he would remind us that he couldn’t see past ten feet in front of him.
I drove to Target after that meeting in tears and called a friend. “Jim hates me”, I wailed. I wanted so desperately to earn everyone’s respect, not just his. He just happened to be sitting at the front of the room that day. In hindsight it seems so ridiculous, but it was just part of my emotional immaturity, stunted by long-term use of alcohol to cope instead of adulting.
I would grow emotionally over the next year and so would my friendship with Jim and Joan. I visited their house once so that Jim could teach us about meditation. He typed up several practices and mantras and led our small circle through them. It was one of the first times, even with my growing reliance on yoga, that I focused on counting my breath. I still hear Jim’s voice when my mind wanders during a session: “always come back to your breath”.
The fact that Jim injected Buddhism and other Eastern philosophy into his guidance helped me expand my own ideas about spirituality. He offered up prayers and even recommended I read the Tao te Ching. It was a little bit over my head, but I gave it my best shot. In turn, I don't think he ever understood my profound love of yoga.
In addition to all of the words of wisdom, he shared his beautiful talent for jewelry making. He gave me a turquoise necklace when I reached nine months sober, personalized with my initials. Most of the gifts were reserved for annual milestones, so I was stunned. The fact that someone believed in me so strongly, especially while I questioned my belief in myself, meant the world to me.
When I would start my blog shortly after celebrating one year sober, Jim and Joan were two of the first people to subscribe. Their support of my life beyond our community was priceless. I had learned so much from each of them and could give back to others only by sharing concepts they had instilled in me.
That initial blog has led me down the path of writing a book. It is about my sobriety and my grandmothers, but above all, it is about leaving a legacy. I can only hope to leave a mark on others like Jim left on me.
"Life is hard. It's harder if you're stupid." -John Wayne