Being of service

I haven’t posted any new material for well over a year. Apologies. My goal is to create at least two blog posts per month and strive towards two new podcasts per month. I’ve suffered from horrible writer’s block, and until today I couldn’t move past my current ‘block’

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any length of time you know that 1) my grandparents survived Auschwitz, 2) my grandmother was my first sponsor, 3) I revere my grandparents and 4) I strive to embrace their model of recovery which includes me being both useful and kind.

I have been sober for over 35 years and have worked as a mental health and addictions counselor for over 31 years. While I have not provided direct clinical services for over a year, I have worked as a consultant with various orgs in the Seattle area the last 18 months. To earn a living and pay my bills I drive limo. I’ve been driving limo on and off for the last 30 years.

Driving limo has provided me with ample opportunity to be of service to others. I’d like to tell you about one interaction which has affected in a huge way and created an immense sense of gratitude for my passenger.

Over a year ago I picked up a woman from a local cancer center. ‘Denise’ was a lovely woman with porcelain skin, a slight build, and red hair. I’d guess she was about 55 years old. Initially I didn’t think she was a patient, rather, an executive working for the organization as her fare was paid through a company account. Seven weeks after our initial meeting, I met her again and understood she was undergoing her fourth round of Chemo. During the ride home she let me know that she had been sober for four months and was certain this was to be her last attempt at saving her life. My sense is that many times treatment for cancer often extends the quantity and not the quality of life. My thoughts about cancer seemed to comfort Denise and she came to understand that I understood her point-of-view.

I didn’t see Denise for a few months and was pleased when the call sheet for the day included transporting her from the center to her home, over two hours away. I wanted to catch up and ask her if there was anything I could do for her. I am seldom surprised by my limo clients but her request was a bit jarring. Denise let me know that she had been given a “timeline” by her doctor who suggested that she had less than five months to live. Denise asked me if I would be willing to capture her life and chronicle significant events so as to create a legacy for her family and friends. We agreed to meet in three weeks.

I met her at Denny’s on a Tuesday afternoon. I spent six hours asking her over 125 questions and gently prodding for more information when I needed clarification. When we departed I was emotionally spent and very sad that this lovely human being would succumb to what her doctors termed as ‘mangled DNA”. I let her know I would type up my notes within two weeks.

I called her as promised and we met at a copy shop. I was able to generate 18 pages of prepared copy from my notes and responses to the questions and recorded interview. Denise showed me 54 addressed and stamped manilla envelopes, addressed to family and friends. We made the copies and placed the parcels in the mail.

She cried as she she hugged me goodbye.

I haven’t see Denise since the encounter at the copy shop. I often wondered what happened to her. This afternoon I received a letter she typed that was sent to me by her daughter:

Dear Todd,

In the event of my passing I asked my daughter to send this letter to your supervisor. I wanted to thank you for your time and your willingness and your sincerity. I understood that you were a decent man when I met you and you were far more concerned with my comfort than you were with your work timetable. Thank you for stopping at Subway to buy me lunch. I hope you weren’t disappointed that I didn’t eat the whole thing- chemo you know.

I’m sorry we won’t get to be friends. I’m sorry I won’t get to learn more about your grandmother. I’m sorry that I left a friend. I’m sorry that I left my family and friends. Cancer sucks balls. FUCK YOU CANCER!

I didn’t realize that when I met you you would have 12th stepped me, but you shared your ESH (experience, strength and hope). I’m not sure you knew you helped me stay sober. But you did.

Thanks for your patience and willingness to spend so much time to ask me all of those questions. Thank you for spending your time to type up my responses in a cogent form. Thank you for helping me send on my ‘living legacy’ to my family and friends.

During one of our initial meetings you told me that you aspired to be useful and kind, something your grandmother laid at your feet when you got sober. I can assure you that without question, your grandmother would be proud of how you have handled yourself. There’s no reason to worry so much: you have been both useful and kind.

I will miss you

Denise

I attend meetings on a regular basis and would often lament that I seldom get to affect change driving limo. What I have come to understand is that how I affect change looks different than what a regular 12-step call might look like, or volunteering, or working with people in the program or acting as a sponsor. My grandmother used to say that when you want to develop a certain quality, you don’t get to decide how the lesson manifests.

Yep, useful and kind….

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