Monday, January 5, 2009

Costly Grace

Yesterday was my little brother’s 21st birthday, which he celebrated by (among other things) waiting at the grocery store check-out at midnight to buy a cart full of drinks. Somehow that is my excuse for posting this story.

An old college friend recently contacted me. I was delighted. She and I had had a rocky friendship toward the end of my college years, and I had always imagined that if our friendship survived beyond college, it would last the rest of our lives. Once she graduated, I lost contact with her for almost three years, and I had almost given up hope that I would find her.

But there she was on my computer screen, and over Christmas break on her trip down South she swung over to my city to visit me. I was delighted, and (truth be told) a bit nervous.

“So, what about you?” I asked after some introductory framework about my current life as a student. “How has grad school been for you?”

“It’s good now,” she began. “Three months ago I joined Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Over our brunch that gave way to a walk around campus that gave way to tea in my cottage, she painted some broad strokes of the lost time, getting me up to speed with the past three years that led to her joining AA. In all the years I had known her, she had never looked so beautiful to me.

I mean that quite honestly. I had recently used the same adjective to describe a visit with Benedict (my formerly-homeless friend I’ve mentioned again and again on this blog), when I noticed that there is a brightness in him that I don’t see in many others. I think there is a beauty that comes from reaching out with frail arms from the pit of ones lowness, a beauty that doesn’t come any cheaper way. Benedict has that beauty, and my college friend is beginning to as well.

“Alcohol is not the problem,” AA tells its members; “it was the solution, until it stopped working.” Thus when the members introduce themselves as alcoholics, they are really admitting to their failure to find a solution; they are admitting their brokenness in addressing problems that the rest of us may find less visibly destructive (but equally ineffective and perhaps equally destructive) means of dealing with. And in that brokenness, in that frailty and failure to fabricate healing, is the door for the Grace we all need. In those cases, to the people who say "Hi my name is Em and I'm an alcoholic" at the beginning of an AA meeting, Grace costs every shred of dignity they once had had.

So here on the twelfth day of Christmas, I want to raise a glass (of coffee) to my beautiful friend. May we all learn to receive Grace as she is learning, even if it likewise does not come cheaply.

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