Longfellow wrote, Into each life a little rain must fall. When rain falls into your life, what do you do? Do you complain and change nothing? Or do you learn what you can, purposing to thrive and survive? And once you come out the other side, do you look back with passion and compassion to help others on their journey?
Wes had a problem. For years Wes had held down a job and spent time loving and nurturing his family. But in 1981, Wes had to admit to himself that he had a problem: Wes was a binge drinker. Wes didn’t come quickly to the truth. He considered himself a “doormat drunk.” That approach meant that Wes wouldn’t get belligerent or mean when he drank. He would simply pass out.
But sometimes after a bender, concerned friends would talk to him about his drinking. He developed a standard defensive position:
“Thanks for your concern. But do you know the definition of an alcoholic? It’s someone who has one more drink than you! You just happened to catch me on one of those rare times that I had one or two more than you. So thank you. But I’m fine, really!”
Other people couldn’t drive Wes to confront his reality. But once Wes confronted himself with the truth, he decided to get help. Like millions before him, Wes turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for support.
AA uses simple but inspirational phrases and slogans to aid alcoholics seeking sobriety. The one that meant the most to Wes was, “It gets better.”
Several years into his sobriety, Wes was upset at a meeting to hear a counselor speak dismissively about the slogans he so relied upon for support and encouragement. Wes’s personal journey had not been easy or quick, and he wanted to give back and help others understand the power of those slogans.
Wes returned home determined to write an article about the value of the AA slogans. After about two months and six drafts, Wes was finally satisfied that he had purged his writing of any of the frustration he felt during the meeting when the counselor dismissed the values of the slogans. He sent an article titled, “The Slogans—They Don’t Get Any Respect.” A week later, Wes was thrilled to learn that AA Grapevine would publish his entry in the October 1988 issue!
Fast-forward to June, 2010, 400 miles north of Wes’s hometown of Chicago. Wes was visiting with a friend, Joe, a friend he had made in AA years before. Wes and Joe attended a meeting in Minnesota with about 50 other participants. A young man got up to share with the group. The man had a passion for the AA slogans, and he began his talk by saying he had found an old article in the AA Grapevine that meant the most to him during his early days of sober living.
“The article,” the young man said, “is called ‘The Slogans–They Don’t Get Any Respect’ by Wes W. from Chicago…”
Four hundred miles away, something that Wes had penned 22 years before was read by a young man who wasn’t even born when the article had been printed.
More recently, Wes introduced himself to a man at a local AA meeting they were both attending. His new friend, Tony, said, “Yeah, I know who you are. You’re the reason my buddy John is still in the program. John was instrumental in helping me join AA.”
Tony relayed a story that Wes hadn’t heard. Some years before, Wes was attending an afternoon meeting that met on the second floor of an old building. The elevator was out. The only way to get to or from the meeting was to use the long staircase.
As Wes was leaving his meeting, he saw a very tall man at the bottom of the stairs, preparing to attend the next meeting. The man wore a scowl on his face as he stared up the stairs, and he had a cast on his leg. In his hands, the man held two crutches.
Immediately assessing the need, Wes spoke: “Tell you what. Hand me your crutches. Then put your arm around me. I’ll help you upstairs.”
At the top of the stairs, Wes extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Wes.”
“John,” the other man returned. “Thanks,” he said weakly.
Wes told Tony that he vaguely remembered a situation like that, but Wes said that helping someone in need was something that he would do for anyone, so the story didn’t stick out clearly.
Tony responded, “Well, it stuck out for John. John had already decided that AA was a load of crap. He told me that when he saw the long staircase in front of him, he was ready to turn around and say ‘%^$#&@ AA!’ But when you offered to help him, a complete stranger, he decided to go to one more meeting. And that’s the meeting that helped John reach a break through. So,” Tony concluded, “You’re the reason that John stuck with AA. And indirectly, you’re the reason that I’m here today.”
Into each life a little rain must fall. When Wes realized that he didn’t want to continue getting soaked, he took charge of his life. He stopped being a doormat drunk and began living intentionally to help others. His commitment to taking what he’s learned has touched the lives of countless others, many of whom Wes has never met directly.
How many lives have you touched directly or indirectly with your random acts of kindness? If you’re like Wes, the equation is exponential. Don’t stop just because you don’t see immediate or direct results. It’s just a matter of time before those acts will come back to you…