“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. ” Marcel Proust
This is the story of rebirth and redemption, how hope can be revived. It is more personal than I would like, but that is part of the telling.
Later this year, I will be celebrating an important 10th anniversary. It was on December 23, 2003 that I reached a turning point in my life. As our company campus was quiet in anticipation of the Christmas holiday, I asked a friend if she wanted to walk across the street to grab some lunch. I hadn’t anticipated we would talk of anything of much importance that day, but I was wrong. The topic of our families came up, one thing leading to another, and it turned out we had in common the fact that we each had a parent who was an alcoholic. (Actually, both my parents struggled with addictions.) She said she had found much wisdom and love in attending Al-Anon meetings. After listening, I told her I’d give it a try, though it would be a month or so before I made good on that promise. She also recommended to me a book, Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics. In what had to be a providential arrangement, I stopped by Barnes and Noble on the way home and found they had one copy of the small book.
In reading that book over the next couple of days, it became a catalyst for my world to change. I realized that so many of the thoughts I had were not unique to me. I also found the book described many of my feelings and behaviors to the letter. Surely, I thought, anything this accurate has to be important.
I have to believe, though, the book itself was just the beginning, just the start of an avalanche of change. I had spent the previous few years lost in what seemed like a dark room. Though I still maintained a deep faith of sorts, life had ceased to be much fun. My most important role, that of a father to two teenagers, was rapidly coming to an end in many ways, as they were growing more independent.
During those holidays in 2003, as I grew in a spiritual and psychological awakening, I experienced an earthquake in my life. There were many manifestations, some downright humorous. For example, I had the most uncontrollable laughing fit ever during our extended family’s white elephant gift exchange. I’m quite certain they thought I was cracking up. I also developed a rapport with various workers at restaurants and stores, as I found a desire to talk with pretty much anyone who had the time.
There were many changes, large and small:
- After twenty-five years at a particular church, I stopped attending and found another that nourished my soul. In fact, I had never been to a liturgical church before and somehow wandered in to an Epsicopal church. I was lost with the use of the prayer book, the kneeling, the standing, but it spoke to me, and the practices felt entirely comfortable.
- I lost about forty pounds as I realized the folly of eating for emotional reasons. (I purposefully gained back about 20 lbs since I had become too thin.)
- I began a practice of having some silence every day. Before, I wouldn’t let a minute go by without the radio or television. I learned that keeping myself company wasn’t so bad.
- I discovered contemporary music, especially independent and alternative bands which have since become a staple of my iPod.
- I took up reading classics, something I’d neglected, and also listening to classical music.
- I renewed my boyhood love for auto racing.
It wasn’t all roses and sunshine during this time. In fact, this would not have been the same had I not experienced the full range of emotions. There were days when the tears outnumbered the laughs, and my wife had to put up with much uncertainty about her husband.
One other important book during this time, which I read a half-dozen times and marked-up considerably, was Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis. A quote which I’ve thought about often sums up what I found to be true during this time:
“The world is more magical, less predictable, more autonomous, less controllable, more varied, less simple, more infinite, less knowable, more wonderfully troubling than we could have imagined being able to tolerate when we were young.”
Here’s the best part about what happened to me: Right before this epiphany, I really wasn’t sure that life was worth living. I could not have committed suicide, but I had little enthusiasm for what lay ahead. Now, though, as you might have read in my last blog post, I have my goal set on 100 years old. Each day brings a challenge to meet, another friend to make, a race to run, a laugh to be had.
If you find yourself going through the motions, or living with a vague sense on ennui, don’t settle for a life less than you want. If you need an epiphany, believe it will come; it might be as near as your next lunch with a friend.