Occasionally in life we have periods that just plain suck. As a sponsor of mine was fond of saying, “When I got sober, life didn’t get better right away, but it got real clear!” The difference is, in sobriety we’re able to feel our pain, work our way through it, and come out the other side in a healthy way, instead of stuffing all those feelings and having to deal with them later when they start squishing through the cracks in our mental armor.
One of my oldest friends passed away last Friday. I’ve known Ed since I was about 10 years old. He was one of the first kids I met when I moved to a new town, and his friendship made a huge difference in my adjustment to an environment that I was in no way prepared to deal with. Over the next six or so years we weren’t inseparable, by any means, but most of the time each knew where the other was and pretty much what he was doing.
Ed and I studied, worried about the things teenage boys do, hung out, camped and hunted, and did all the usual high school stuff — most of it together. We even had a singing act that we were known to inflict on folks occasionally. (Neither of us ended up in show biz.) Along with a couple of other guys, we almost literally dragged each other out of the confusion of adolescence into whatever state you’re in when you graduate from high school. My girlfriend and I set him up on a double-date with Judy, the girl he was eventually married to for nearly 50 years. Ed and I were tight.
After high school and college we had only occasional contact for the next thirty years or so. I, of course, became a drunk — some other things, true, but still a drunk and addict. About to get drafted into the Army after college, Ed joined the Air Force instead. In typical all-or-nothing fashion, he went on to become a highly-decorated officer. As head of the White House communications unit, he accompanied Presidents Ford and Carter everywhere they went. As a lieutenant colonel, he headed the communications team that travels with Delta Force. As a full colonel he was boss of an outfit so secret I don’t even know what it was. Then, although he was being groomed for general, he retired. He told me he did so because he decided his family needed some stability after being dragged all over the world. So he put down the sword and took up the plow as a teacher, dean, contributor to the community we grew up in, and as a man of god.
To say that I “miss” Ed would devalue our relationship, which was the kind where you just take up the conversation you didn’t finish the last time you were together — however many years ago that may have been. I didn’t have to be around him during those years. I just knew that he was wherever, and I was wherever, that our friendship stretched between, and I had faith that it might stretch but that it would never break.
If I’d still been drinking and drugging I would have missed the last years of that friendship, of getting to know Ed as “elder statesman.” I would have missed the bittersweet pleasure of meeting his grown kids and grandkids this week. I would have missed the grace and poise of the Colonel’s Lady, putting guests and old friends at ease while her heart was breaking. I would have missed my own grief, and my appreciation for the man Ed was and for what he gave to his country, his god, the thousands of other friends he accumulated over his nearly 69 years — and to me.
Ed’s life reminded me, once again, that it ain’t over until it’s over. If I’d ended mine with booze and drugs all those years ago, there’s so much I would have missed, a lot more than just Ed. I would have accomplished virtually none of the things that I consider important in my own life. I wouldn’t be writing this, and I think the message is pretty important:
Sobriety is worth a little pain now and then.
So are you.