I begin with this story:-
A lovely little boy one day decided to go out and look for God. So he packed his little back pack with fairy bread sandwiches (tiny crystals of coloured sugar) and Popper Drinks (little packets of juice you puncture with a straw to drink).
As he walked out the door, his mother asked him “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to look for God.” he replied.
He hadn’t gone more than three of four blocks when he came to a park. In the park was a seat and sitting on the seat was a little old lady just watching the pigeons.
The little boy sat beside her.
And the both sat there watching the pigeons.
After a while, the little boy felt thirsty so he punctured a popper drink and began drinking the juice through the straw. After another short while he noticed how thin the little old lady was and offered her a fairy bread sandwich.
The little old lady accepted it with the most beautiful smile the little boy thought he had ever seen. A little later, wanting to see that smile again, the little boy offered her a popper drink and was duly rewarded.
And they sat and they sat watching the pigeons.
As time passed, the little boy realised it was time to go home. So he got off the seat and began to walk home. After he’d gone a few steps, he stopped, turned and ran back to the little old lady and gave her the biggest hug imaginable and she again rewarded him with her most beautiful smile.
Both walked home walking on air.
As the little boy walked through his door, his mother asked “What did you do today?”
The little boy told her “I found God and she’s got a beautiful smile.”
As she walked in through her door, the little old lady was asked by her bossy daughter, “What did you do today?”
“I found God,” she said “And he’s younger than you think”
That story seems to sum up my life at the moment.
This current phase began with a phone call from a Jessica.
“There is a film I feel should be shown in Sydney, but I can’t get anyone to show it” she said.
“Will you? I’ve seen the trailer on YouTube. It’s about people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction”.
I’ve learned the hard way to say “Yes” to everything because most things fall away and never eventuate, but those that don’t, often open up a whole new world for me.
So “Yes” I answered.
Ever since I began at The Wayside Chapel over 40 years ago I had been aware of the 12 Step movement but in a way didn’t associate it much with me at all. It was something for people with addiction problems. People, other than me. Perhaps the time it influenced me the most was one Saturday morning almost 30 years ago, when there was a knock at my door and I opened it to find a young woman, Barbara there. “I’m doing step four of AA” she said “and step four is a fearless moral inventory. I have to choose someone to do it with and I’ve chosen you.” For the next three hours, Barbara forensically examined her life. Nothing was spared. She told everything as it was and as it happened. Barbara had lived, up till then a pretty chaotic life. Life had not been kind to her and she had participated in some lousy stuff, too. All this was shared with me. She didn’t judge anything. She just said it as it was.
“Boy” I remember thinking, “this is bravery!”
In the events leading up to and the showing of and the aftermath to the showing of that film, I sat with many former addicts fighting a return to their addiction and I realised that part of their defence against recidivism was to be totally honest about themselves, their relationships, their world and their lifestyle.
“It’s a pretty good way to live” I realised and began to try it for myself.
As time passed, I realised how hard it was to live like that. It’s hard to be totally honest with yourself. Openly sharing your past and present hurts, mistakes, childhood, relationships, etc. It’s painful to tear away all those little and big self-delusions we perpetuate to avoid facing the truth about ourselves or our relationships. But I’ve found it’s the only way to really live. In the sharing and re sharing of the stories, particularly the stuff I feel guilty about or ashamed of, I find they slowly lose their hold over me and after a while I wonder why I hid them in the first place. After a while I then found myself in the present owning up to mistakes, obfuscations, slyness’s etc. I make every day count, so that by the end of the day I found my relationships with people were/are a lot cleaner and I’m not avoiding people where once I would have because I hadn’t owned up to something I should have. It takes two to participate in a grudge.
These were my first lessons.
Then, it was through a survey I discovered the next lot. The survey revealed that the number one regret people on their death bed had was all that they had not said to others and would now never be able to say. In other words all the “I love you’s”, all the special things they wished they had said and shared and the negative things, too. In other words, all the “Unfinished Business”.
Slowly and progressively over time, whenever I was with someone I began to think to myself, “If I was to die in the next little while, what would I die regretting I had not said to this person?”
And I’d say it.
Often I have found the result of that simple act is extraordinary, both in the deepening of the relationship and the amount of love and feeling that is released.
When I first began to realise this I found myself in the presence of a homeless man I had known for years. All attempts at rehabilitation had failed. He’d had a terrible childhood and was seriously into drugs and stuff. “You know I love you” I said as I gave him a huge hug, with no purpose in mind other than to just hug him. The effect was instantaneous. “I love you too Bill” he joyfully said with the biggest smile on his face and then went on to talk and talk about him, me, his life, my life and a whole new relationship opened up for both of us.
I remember talking once to a very old man, well into his centenary year. He was so loving and he talked in such a loving way about the people he knew and the world, I couldn’t help but comment on it. “When you reach my age” he said “All you have is love and you realise love is the only thing that is important in this world, I haven’t got all that much longer to go and that really sharpens the mind. All the unimportant falls away and all that is left and all I have time for is love. There is no room for anything else. Everything else falls away and you realise a lot of what we worry about and spend time and effort on, really is of no consequence and most of what we do in life is game playing anyway.”
So, from this I have learned to try to live as if every moment I have is my last.
To live and act as if every moment I have is my last, I found has been turned around to ‘living in the moment. To living in the now”.
This has led me to the realisation that all we have is now.
My father never bonded with me as a child and was forever saying to me “Billy, don’t be this -be that”, so I was constantly trying to be the type of person my father wanted me to be and failing completely. Consequently much of my life was taken up with trying to be what I thought he wanted me to be and failing completely, every time. The rejection of me as who I was meant I spent lots of time looking for role models which didn’t help either. In fact in the end I felt betrayed by them as I found them to be fallible human beings rather than the idealised individuals I had constructed in my mind. Similarly, I looked for the sense of security I lacked from being within institutions, only to find that same sense of betrayal as I painfully discovered their fallibilities, fragilities, arrogances, self-righteousnesses, and the back-stabbing behaviour of their members. These organisations weren’t perfect, either. So, slowly, painfully, I began to realise as I really wasn’t happy with the fearful, anxiety ridden, plastic person that I was then, if I wanted to become the best person I could be, the only pathway there was, was to work on me. So I found myself a good Psycho-therapist and off I started on a journey that never ends.
I learned too, that in order to find this new me I had to share the new me with others who were on that path too. There is a story I heard somewhere that a tree growing in sandy unfertile soil will always be weak and sickly. To be strong and healthy it needs to be uprooted and replanted in rich, fertile soil. The fertile soil I found was in this “Recovery Movement”. People in their own way seeking to overcome the temptation to slide back to the hellish life of addiction. As one former addict said to me “Recovery is the loneliest place to be”. Our sharing with each other is the fertile soil in which we grow tall and strong with healthy branches and thick shady canopies of leaves.
Gradually, I am beginning to realise that the only power I have in the world to change anything is the power to change myself. That means I have the power in myself to become the best person I can be. I can only do this by constant self- reflection.
I have been very moved by a story in The Gospels of Jesus in the Synagogue. In there he is confronting the religious leaders. This is the way I tell it…”You’re all a pack of poseurs.” I hear him saying. “You hide behind your robes, your learning, your rules and regulations. Yet you are not free. Come out of hiding”, I hear him saying, “It’s scary but it’s where true life is to be found”.
I read that last year and as I was reading it I thought to myself, “I hide behind the church, behind the word/title Reverend.” It was a very sobering moment. I heard Jesus saying “Come out Bill. Be free”. It’s scary but it’s where true life is to be found”.
I can tell you, it is a scary place, but in attempting to live it out, I now know it IS where true life is to be found.
From this I have learned that the only power that I have is my own internal individual power. What I am trying to say is that in life all I can really change is myself and if that change in me is profound enough, it may be a source of inspiration to others to try and change, too. But that is not the intent even though it may be the outcome.
I have learned that any other sort of power is illusory. I have learned that if I let other people “give” me power or I ask other people to give it to me, or I take it from others, then those very others hold the power really, as those very others can take it away and/or take it away and give it to others. That sort of power is illusory power because it really rests in the hands of others. Tell me one dictator who isn’t paranoid. One political leader who isn’t afraid of being voted out?
I suppose what I am saying is that so many of us want to change “out there” or for change to come from “out there” and that is the mistake. All I can really change is “in here and from in here”.
So I ask myself faced with all the strife in the world and looking at all the iniquity and inequality, what can I do to change things? I was asking myself that very question a couple of months ago in Darwin. There, amongst other cities and towns, we run Literacy Programs in schools for deprived, Aboriginal kids. As each child came forward to accept a Graduation Certificate the teacher told me the family story which was one of alcoholism, family breakdown, hardship and neglect.
“God”, I thought, “This is just in one class in one school in one State in one country in this whole world of four plus billion people. “The task” I thought “is endless”. But, I’ve learned, if I change the life of one child, for that child the whole world changes. So the answer is clear, we change the world one person at a time.
I was in a taxi heading for the airport this morning. The driver was African. We were discussing the world scene. A pretty awful picture was starting to emerge. “You know”, he said, “if we all treated each other the way we would like to be treated, there would be none of this mess”.
Everywhere I go in this world I come across people, men and women, “Saints” I like to call them, who are working their guts out for change. They may be working with trafficked and abandoned kids in Cambodia, working with refugees in Europe, trying to help battered women, saving lives in ravaged lands and all of them feel they are not doing enough. It’s something everyone on this earth needs to do. Until then, these people (I hate calling them people they are “Saints”, each and every one of them) are “signs”. They are signs that the world could be a better place. That we can do it if we want. It’s up to us and until then the suffering will continue.
All of what I have written is as old as the hills. There is nothing new here, it’s been said over and over again throughout the ages. It’s to be found in all the Holy Books and books of wisdom.
Yet it’s forever new.
These writings and their teachers also talk about how all that is and the littlest, tiniest event and feeling are inextricably linked. They talk of how the moral and the physical affect each other. I see this every time we have a graduation in our Literacy Tutorial Centres. Child after child comes forward and gives a speech. These are 11 year old children, who until they came to our centre couldn’t read. In other words, they were looking towards High School with an inability to read and all that that meant. In their schools they felt failures. They felt they were dumb, stupid and acted as such. They felt they were failures. Then, slowly, gradually, under expert tutelage they began to master the art of reading. For them, the whole world started to open up. As each child read their Graduation speech they told of the heartbreak of not being able to read in a class of readers. How they acted out, played up, became the class clown, got into trouble, were confused about life, the list is endless. Now they could read, each child felt they had a future. Many went on to become school captain and more. Reading was a pleasure now, books their friend, an opening to a whole new world. A world of opportunities. Often they would remind me of third world children who realised they could rise up out of their plight and they grabbed at it.
Often, when that penny dropped, when they first realised they could read or at the graduation reading their speech (“I was the school bully, now I don’t want to bash kids anymore”) it would appear as if time would stand still and all Heaven would be singing.
A change in one child, in billions of children, could have all that effect!
Kris Kristofferson put it this way in “Here comes that Rainbow again”:-
The scene was a small roadside cafe
The waitress was sweepin’ the floor
Two truck-drivers drinkin’ their coffee
And two okie-kids by the door
How much are them candies, they asked her
How much have you got, she replied
We’ve only a penny between us
Them’s two for a penny, she lied
And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
And the smell of the rain on the wind
Ain’t it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again
One truckdriver called to the waitress
After the kids went outside
Them candies ain’t two for a penny
So what’s it to you, she replied
In silence they finished their coffee
Got up and nodded godbye
She called, hey, you left too much money
So what’s it to you, they replied
And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
And the smell of the rain on the wind
Ain’t it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again
Somewhere in my travels I came across this saying. “First you have to hear it, then you have to learn it, then you have to realise it. Then, finally you have to become it. It’s the becoming it that most people shy away from,”
So, I go back to that story, the story of the little boy looking for God and ask “What does that have to do with all of this”? The answer, of course is that the little boy is me and God or the meaning of life is not to be found where we expect to find it, where we’re told to find it, or even where we look for it. It begins with working on ourselves and then morphs into being found in the now in our deepest interactions with each other and if we go out looking, it finds us.
It’s ever changing and it’s ever the same. We never find it but we are continually discovering it.
And then the whole world is never the same again.