Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.)

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“People who want to believe something will do so despite any and all evidence to the contrary.”

Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, February 3, 2018

 

“Everything happens on God’s schedule, not mine.”

A.A. meeting, Washington, D.C.

These are two quotes I’ve come to appreciate over the past two weeks. I’ve been away dealing with a crazy family drama that I’d not wish on my worst enemy.

I’ll start by saying as of today, February 4, everyone involved in this story is fine. We all may be a little grayer, a little more frayed at the edges for having the experience, but there’s always a blessing to be gained for weathering a tragedy: Our family has grown closer, and I don’t think my Dad will put off following Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.) again in the future.

On Saturday, January 20, 2:30 in the afternoon, I received a text from my first cousin Mike, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was unusual because Mike and I (although close) don’t really talk that much via text or telephone — only on birthdays and holidays, and during football season when Mississippi State is playing well.

Mike: “When’s the last time you spoke to your Dad?”

“Thursday night.”

At first, I wasn’t overly concerned; but when two hours passed and he still hadn’t called us back, I was uneasy. Mike couldn’t simply drive over to check on Dad; he takes care of his 90-year-old mother full-time.

I told Mike: “I can’t stand waiting anymore. I’ll ask my friend Helen to knock on his door.”

Thank God I did.

When Helen arrived at my Dad’s apartment, she had me on her cell phone as she banged loudly on his door. No answer.

“He’s in there,” she said to me. “Something’s not right.”

“Call 911,” I said.

It was the worst 30 minutes of my life, as I waited 850 miles away, my friend standing by, awaiting EMTs and the police. My heart felt like it was beating 1000 times a minute. I knew it wasn’t good — I thought my heart was going to break right then.

When the EMTs broke down my Dad’s door, they found him on the floor, dehydrated. The apartment was 85 degrees, he’d not been drinking water.

“He’s alive!” Helen said to me, “but he’s insisting on not going to the hospital. He says it’s inconvenient for him! Can you believe it?”

Helen put me on the phone with the EMTs. I told them that I had  Power of Attorney, and to take him to the hospital. My friend stayed with my Dad until he was admitted and stabilized; I got on the next plane out.

When I finally got to Dad’s hospital, the doctors told me he was in renal failure, and would have probably died if the EMTs had gotten to him any later.

===

Right now, Dad is in a nursing/rehab facility. And he’s damn lucky: His doctor told him his kidneys will heal, but he’ll need dialysis for several weeks. And he’ll move into assisted living. I insisted.

And yes, he agreed.

I hate that it took something like this to get my Dad to agree to necessary changes for the sake of his health and well being. For so long, he wanted to believe he was fine on his own, even when the signs were there that he needed help.

But the reality is that Dad wasn’t ready to hear the message until it took something dramatic to get his attention.

He’s doing fine — he’s actually making slow, steady progress with physical therapy. He’s cooperating with folks who want to help him.

And, he’s complaining, which my sister and I know is a good sign.

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The Process

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The posts are fewer and further between this month. Don’t worry. It’s all good. I’ve had my head down in the notes, charts, and multiple rough drafts as I try to close out the first book sometime before the end of December.

That’s my latest and most reasonable deadline. Thing is, life and teaching have tripped me up in this, the busiest month of the year for me.

It’s been write-edit-draft, write-edit-draft. A repetitive and sometimes irritating process, but it works. It is hard for me to push back against a routine that has proven itself reliable to me for years, but I’m not a patient person.

Did I mention I’m teaching three writing classes too? I toil with my writing projects alongside my students, and I share my writing angst. That gives some of them pause; but there are those students (particularly in the evening classes) who complain and curse me under their caffeine- and sometimes beer-scented breaths about my detailed feedback on their rough drafts, and the ongoing draft process. It never ends, they say. We just want it done, they say.

I get it. But all I can do is shake my head at them, and say:

“I curse it too. But one day, you’ll thank the process. Trust me.”


One of the keys to sticking with Emmett’s biography (now in its third year) is to enjoy the process.

What’s not to enjoy? I’ve made great friends, discovered new family connections; I’ve become a more thorough researcher.

Like my students, I’m impatient. Writing is mentally, emotionally, sometimes physically eviscerating. There are days when I just want to be done with the damn thing.

Three years, you know?

My 77-year-old dad kicked cancer’s ass in three years, and I’m still diddling around this book. What’s up with that? Right?

 

When I first started his project, I thought about six months would be enough time to find out everything I could about Emmett, then I could devote about six month to the manuscript.

The problem with that assumption was my attitude and ignorance. I’ve done research for years, but this was the first time I attempted another human being’s story. Sure, I can tell you anything about training and education, and wrap it in about a year.

But another human being’s story? How could I be so ignorant, and think I could sum up the facts and spit out the manuscript that way, you know, like a bullet-point list or something?

Writing-as-process. Over time, as you sit with the data, and do deep background work (such as, reading about how alcoholism was diagnosed and treated 100 years ago), I understand the man so much more than in the first two years. None of this process can be forced. That’s hard to convey to my students when we only have an eight-week or 16-week term. They’re under deadline pressure. I am too, although mine has been mostly self-imposed.

When I look at my notes from the first year, I notice a commonality: I was trying to force the research and the writing, and trying to force Emmett’s story along. What I needed to do was to let go, and live the discovery and writing process.

In the margins of my notes is this note to my higher power:

“Help.”

Funny thing. When I let go, and surrendered the process, the chapters started to come together; fall into place.

The book is coming together. There is light. It is getting done. Mostly I just have to stay out of my own way.


Before I close, I saw this quote yesterday from one of my favorite writers (and fellow friend of Bill Wilson’s) Anne Lamott:

“I’ve heard that if it’s my will, things get better first, and then harder. If it’s God’s will, it gets harder first, and then better.”

I tried enforcing my will on this writing/research process, and it just got harder and harder. But when I decided to accept and trust the process (which I attribute to my higher power), it has gotten better.

I’ll be back up for air in a few days. I really do have some interesting finds from the research that I’ll share.

 

Happy Founder’s Day

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Eighty years ago today, AA was founded. You can read about it, here. Also, here.

I’m lucky to have found AA. It works for me. AA isn’t for everyone; there are also no guarantees when you come into the program. But somehow, I have found that it works for me when nothing else would, and for this alcoholic, it was a miracle. Trust me on that one.

The original Big Book. Source: AA General Services

The original Big Book. Source: AA General Services

I count my blessings that I found AA when I did. Many don’t ever find it. Unfortunately for Emmett Wilson, it didn’t exist yet.

I wonder, sometimes, if AA would have worked for Emmett. I know there was at least two interventions with family members and friends; I know he tried to stop drinking more than once, but, none of the strategies worked for him.

What seems to keep me coming back, as we say in the rooms, is going to meetings and talking to my fellows there. There is something about publicly owning it, this illness, this helplessness, in a room where others empathize, that stifled the desire to take another drink over eight years ago.

Source: Mashable.

Source: Mashable.

Knowing Emmett as well as I think I do, I believe he would have owned it, too, in a room of like minded AAs. Why? Because almost exactly one year to the date of Emmett’s death, he sat down and wrote his amends. He knew he was dying at that point, according to the document. He knew he had to clear his side of the street as best he could, and he did. He tried, anyway.

But, in the end, he still couldn’t stop drinking.

I believe that if he had had AA sometime in his life, it would have made a difference. But of course, we’ll never know for sure.

Regardless. Thank you, Bill Wilson (no relation to Emmett).