A few weeks ago I attended a Sunday service at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Bedford, New York. It was a special day as a whole bunch of people, mostly teenagers, were being confirmed -- kind of like passing into adulthood in the eyes of the church -- so the Bishop was there and he was wearing a pretty spectacular outfit: layers of vestments, a tall mitre on his head, and a large cross around his neck with an amethyst in the center. He explained to the packed church that the word, "amethyst" is derived from the Latin: a - without and methystus - drunken...not drunk. This is why the gemstone is often associated with those in recovery. Bishop Shin didn't tell us anything about his connection to his amethyst cross, but his explanation sent me into a daydream of memories of my own journey toward not drunken. I'm not a fan of the amethyst; I don't much like the color purple, but I certainly like what it stands for. Decades ago, in the aftermath of an accident I was in, my friend, Ladd, gave me a beautiful amethyst vase that remains one of my favorite objects today. There is no way Ladd could have known, back then, what my story into and out of Boozeville would be, but when my eyes rest on that vase today, it reminds me not only of my enduring love for Ladd, but also for the gratitude I carry that I am amethystus today.
Three years today, actually. It was three years ago today that I stopped drinking and started facing all the truths of my life. Funny that June holds both of those markers for me: the bike accident and the threshold into sobriety -- my little rebirth moments, as I like to think of them.
Funny, funny, funny, this life.
Last night, at midnight, I was driving home from Stowe. The fates had aligned just perfectly to place an old and amazing friend of mine there for a week of tennis camp, and we were able to connect for dinner before I leave for Maine today. Three hours of conversation went by in a flash; we picked up right where we left off many years ago. I thought, on the drive home, how funny it was that we shared photos of our kids who are now the ages we were when we were scurrying up mountains in the Adirondacks together, drinking crappy wine at the student center at Skidmore and dreaming our way into the future. Now we're there and our kids are becoming better, smarter, maybe even wiser versions of us. Where did three decades go?
So yes, the drive. It was a spectacular summer night, and, yes, I was up way past my bedtime, but I wouldn't have traded it even for the most inviting of duvets and pillows. With the moonroof on my little TDI rolled all the way back, I reveled in the gratitude I felt for a friendship that has withstood the test of time. As the hour on the clock turned from Sunday into Monday, I thought about who I was three years ago, before I stopped drinking. I thought about the journey of faith and love I've been on since then. I thought a lot about the magnificent humans who have appeared, and some who have disappeared, during this time. I felt, looking up at the millions of stars, both insignificant and important; I saw how my little life is woven into the fabric of the whole world at this infinitesimal dot on the timeline of existence.
Life has taught me, in sobriety, the very same lesson it taught me after the car hit me: I matter; it is no accident that I am right here, right now. And that it is my responsibility to take that seriously, but not too seriously. Sobriety works for me. It is only with this clarity that I am able to appreciate the people and things that show up to point me in the direction I need to go. Becoming sober brought me to my senses, literally: with a clear head and heart, I experience the smells and the tastes and tender, loving touch of life in a way that is that much richer, that much more rewarding. Painful, too, for certain. But today I welcome the pain; I don't try to mask it or dilute it. I ask the pain and the struggles to teach me what I need to learn.
I didn't know it then, but on June 23, 2011, the timely and patient grace of God wrapped around me and moved me from a place of self-destruction to one of purpose and joy, and in that shift I fell out of love with wine and deeply, deeply in love with life. Pulling into my driveway late last night, the celestial DJ in charge of my iPhone once again chose just the right song: U2, Beautiful Day..."what you don't have, you don't need it now."