Thursday, December 24, 2009

Salvation Diary 13

"Salvation" Artist, Amanda Milke

February 23 Saturday Day 164

I made a dreadful error this morning. I got out of bed.
I got up because I wanted to eat breakfast and maybe do a little writing. But after I ate I got sucked into the office like a whirlpool.
One of the men had left last night without bothering to tell anyone. One of his fellow dorm mates asked what had happened to him, thus alerting us to his absence. Since Robert was no where around I needed to write a termination report on this fellow. When I was finished with that I walked out of the office, just looking around, right when a former resident walked in and demanded that I take him to the baggage room to retrieve some of his possessions. I took him down to the storage room. He had five bags, and wanted to browse through each one, take whatever he thought he would need the most (and could carry), and leave the rest.
He took his sweet time about it too.
As he was doing it I noticed that Dwight Hibbler had just sat down in the barber chair to get a nice haircut. Very commendable, but it did strike me as odd when I remembered that Dwight should have been upstairs at the time doing some Saturday morning extra work (for some slight previous misconduct). I reminded Dwight that he needed to be upstairs. He assured me he would return upstairs right after he was finished.
After my friend was done collecting his clothes I returned to the office and wrote Hibbler up for being A.W.O.L. from his extra work assignment, and one other person who I had seen leaving the building, skipping out on his work altogether.
When I finished all this I dashed up to my room, thoroughly exasperated that I hadn't gotten anything written. I was in such a lousy mood I decided to take a nap and begin the day all over again.
Having learned my lesson, when I woke I wrote in my room until it was time to get ready for work. I hardly ever write in my room, one reason being that there is no place to sit comfortably while writing. When in my room I almost always lie or sit on my bed. Today I felt I had no choice, so I wrote while laying on my stomach, still very stressed out.
Work went well though. After writing the notice revealing what the V.C.R. movie was for tonight ("The Quick and the Dead," a love story), and for tomorrow night ("Navy Seals," animal antics), I had the entire evening to read.
I delved into Frankl with enthusiasm. And I came across this passage:

Temporality and Mortality: An Ontological Essay

Viktor E. Frankl

Let me cite a taped-recorded interview I had with a patient of mine. She was suffering from a terminal cancer, and she knew that she was. When I demonstrated the case in class the following dialogue developed:

Frankl: What do you think of when you look back on your life? Has life been worth living?

Patient: Well doctor, I must say that I had a good life. Life was nice, indeed. And I must thank the Lord for what it held for me: I went to theaters, I attended concerts, and so forth. You see doctor, I went the with the family in whose house I served for many decades as a maid, in Prague at first, and afterward in Vienna. And for the grace of all these experiences I am grateful to the Lord.

F: You are speaking of some wonderful experiences; but all this will have an end now, won't it?
P: (thoughtfully) Yes, everything ends...
F: Well, do you think now that all the wonderful things in your life might be annihilated?
P: (still more thoughtfully) All those wonderful things...
F: But tell me--do you think that anyone can undo the happiness that you have experienced? Can anyone blot it out?
P: No doctor, nobody can blot it out!
F: Or can anyone blot out the goodness you have met in your life?
P: becoming increasingly emotionally involved) Nobody can blot it out!
F: What you have achieved and accomplished-
P: Nobody can blot it out!
F: Or what you have bravely and honestly suffered: can anyone remove it from the world- remove it from the past where you have stored it, as it were?
P: (now moved to tears) No one can remove it! (pause) It is true, I have had a great deal to suffer; but I also tried to be courageous and steadfast in enduring what I must. You see, doctor, I regard my suffering as a punishment. I believe in God.
F: (trying to put himself in place of the patient) But cannot suffering sometimes also be a challenge? Is it not conceivable that God wanted to see how Anastasia Kotek would bear it? And perhaps he had to admit, "Yes, she did so very bravely." And now tell me: can anyone remove such an achievement and accomplishment from the world, Frau Kotek?
P: Certainly no one can do it!
F: This remains, doesn't it?
P: It does!
F: What matters in life is to achieve something. And this is precisely what you have done. You have become an example for our patients because of the way you take your suffering upon yourself. You have made the best of your suffering. I congratulate you for for this achievement, and I also congratulate the other patients who have the opportunity to witness such an example. (to the audience) Ecce homo! (the audience bursts into spontaneous applause) This applause is for you, Frau Kotek. (she is weeping now) It concerns your life, which has been a great achievement. You may be proud of it, Frau Kotek. And how few people have been proud of their lives. I should say, your life is a monument, and no one can remove it from the world.
P: (regaining her self control) What you have said, Professor Frankl, is a consolation. It comforts me. Indeed, I never had an opportunity to hear anything like this... (slowly and quietly she leaves the lecture hall).

A week later she died. During the last week of her life, however, she was no longer depressed but, on the contrary, full of faith and pride. Prior to this, she had felt agonized, ridden by anxiety that she was useless. Our interview had made her aware that her life was meaningful and that even her suffering was not in vain. Her last words were: "My life is a monument. So Professor Frankl said, to the whole audience, to all the students in the lecture hall. My life was not in

It is true, everything is transitory-everything and everybody, be it say a child we have produced, or the great love from which the child was sprung, or a great thought-they are transitory altogether. Man's life lasts threescore years and ten, possibly fourscore years, and if it is a good life it will have been worth the trouble. A thought may last perhaps seven seconds, and if it is a good thought it will contain truth. But even the great thought is as transitory as the child and the great love. They are transitory altogether. Everything is transitory.
Yet, on the other hand, everything is eternal. More than that: it becomes eternal of itself. We don't have to do anything about it. Once we have brought something about, eternity will take care of it. But we have to take the responsibility for what we have elected into eternity!
Everything is written into the eternal record-our whole life, all our creations and actions, encounters and experiences, all our loving and suffering. All this is contained, and remains in the eternal record. The world is not, as the great existential philosopher Karl Jaspers intimated, a manuscript written in a code we have to decipher: no the world is rather a record that we have to dictate.

This passage had a great impact upon me, producing a quiet feeling of peace and hope within my aching soul. Rarely am I affected in this way by such a short demonstration, a haiku poem from Basho perhaps, or some insight provided by Goethe or Montaigne. And even rarer will those inspirations detail some practical meaning, light a path in which one may direct and live with one's life. For so long a time my views concerning death had been disparaging, and I could find no intellectual escape from what I thought must surely be a painful and ignoble end. The above interview, like much that I find appealing and helpful in Zen literature, can help guide me on a day to day basis towards the goal of a fulfilling and meaningful existence, and better prepare me for the inevitable end of such.
This conversation between a doctor and patient, for me, is surely worth remembering.
In the Middle East, the President's deadline passed with no withdrawal being made by the Iraqi forces. One hour later Allied forces began their advance into Kuwait. The death and destruction will intensify now I imagine.
This is my 164th day of sobriety. I made it to this point once before, now that I think about it almost two years ago exactly. Two years ago, in or around this date, on the 165th day, I would come home from work with a pint bottle of tequila. I would drink the tequila while watching a pornographic movie (further delving into escape and fantasy), while smoking cigarettes. I would be drinking the tequila because I had run out of marijuana the day before. I would make sure the bottle was finished before Jan came home from her evening shift at AT&T. (it was funny how we always managed to work different shifts so that our time together would be minimal).
I would continue to bring home bottles of tequila and drink until one day Jan told me that she would be leaving me, that she had in fact already secured an apartment for herself, and our two tabby cats, Darla and Spanky. I would continue to drink for a while after she had left me, then sober up for as long as it took me to move into another apartment, one that I could afford.
So tomorrow at around three in the afternoon I shall break my record for not drinking, this time not using anything more psychoactive than nicotine and coffee.
That makes me feel pretty good I have to admit. It's new territory now. I'll have to watch my step.
Once again I finished another shift feeling much better than when I started. This work must agree with me.
I patted myself on the back three times, then went to bed.

February 24 Sunday Day 165

A Captain and Mrs. Hood showed us some slides taken in India this morning in chapel. They had just returned from a twelve year missionary assignment there, and the slides showed some of the work they had done, establishing a hospital in the village where they lived. Apparently Mrs. Hood is a physician.
The slide show was very interesting, not to mention a much needed break in our Sunday chapel routine.
I myself have never felt a desire to visit India. I'm a little tired of going to countries where English is used only as a second language, if at all.
I want to hear what they're saying about me.
In many ways though I envy the Hoods their experience.
I'm almost as sure that Mr. Vasquez would have enjoyed the show as well if only he had remained awake.
After the service ended I asked Dennis Smith if he would like to go to the movies with me. I had wanted to see the new film, "The Silence of the Lambs," starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Dennis had seen the trailers on TV, and also wanted to go.
We arrived at the theater twenty minutes before the box office opened, so we decided to spend some time at the bagel shop across from the movie house.
The inside of the small shop smelled suspiciously of bagels. Dennis ordered one toasted (twenty cents for toasting) with cream cheese and jelly. I had a cafe au la.
As he ate his bagel I asked Dennis about himself because he interests me. I asked him how long he had been in Southern California.
"About fourteen years now," he answered. "Almost never came back."
"Back from where?"
"Northern California. The job situation is better around here though, and I thought I could handle it... drugs I mean."
I nodded, letting him know that I knew what he meant.
"I told myself that I would only party on the weekends," he continued. "Unfortunately I came down on a Friday."
We both laughed. Other bagel eaters looked us over.
"That was the longest weekend I ever had. It lasted six months."
The movie was excellent. A fine part for Hopkins who has needed one for a while.
When I got back I took a little nap until four, dinner time. Tamales, and cold chile. Then back upstairs for a technically inadequate episode of "Star Trek, the Next Generation," entitled "First Contact." The first Star Trek film (in which I had always enjoyed for its large scope, despite the critical panning) was on afterwards, so I watched that as well.
I did some writing while listening to the news on TV. We seem to be winning the ground war fairly easily, taking 10,000 prisoners on the first day.
"Married with Children," then I finished the Frankl book, and began another of his. "The Unconscious God."
Then I went to bed and dreamt I went to bed.

February 25 Monday Day 166

My old non-drinking record is now officially broken now.
So I go to court and try to do something constructive today.
The weather doesn't change all that much around here. Again it's a beautiful day in Southern California, and I enjoyed the walk to the court house thoroughly. Lot's of people running around Pasadena today.
I passed the blanket lady, and old friend from my days in the Park. She was just doing what I had always seen her do before, pushing her shopping cart filled with blankets and sleeping bags down the street, seemingly with no destination in mind. She is a heavy set black woman, not old, no not old, maybe thrityish, and what she does with all of her blankets, besides lying down on one or two of them occasionally on the sparse grass of the park, I can't imagine. She must have at least twenty blankets and quilts of different shapes and colors. Once, not too long ago really, I asked her if she would sell me one of her blankets to use to keep from shivering awake at night. She told me no, that she needed every one of her blankets. I made do.
At the court house, at eight thirty, I saw the same video with the same big, fat, bald judge, explaining my rights to me.
At nine I entered the court room of Division 3, in the Pasadena Municipal Court Building. The cast included an attractive brunette type lady, with short hair: the court reporter. An older black lady with graying hair: the clerk. A tall, distinguished, white honky type, male individual: the D.A. man. An unprepossessing, longish haired man with dark features: the public defender... my attorney.
And the bailiff, an older Chicano sheriffs deputy. He brought everybody to order when the judge walked in, a man who looked remarkably like Judge Harry Stone of television's "Night Court."
He got right to work, case by case.
It was really fascinating. I like to watch this kind of stuff. Justice in action. Though usually I don't care to be so personally involved.
I began to feel a little queasy when at one point the judge remarked, "I can't seem to get my head together." And when the public defender took off, stating he was needed in another court.
When no more cases could be heard because there was no public defender the judge called for a recess.
You have to understand my state of mind. I, like most alcoholics (like most people generally, I guess), like to be in control of things around us. Or like to believe we're in control at least. By coming to this court I was relinquishing control to it. If the judge went all crazy on me (which is not without precedent), I might wind up in jail. No matter how briefly I may be incarcerated I would be listed as A.W.O.L. from the center at 11:00 tonight. I would probably lose my job, and be forced to reenter the program from the beginning, if they elected to have me back at all.
I was a little anxious.
But as the court proceedings resumed I could tell that this particular judge was okay. I was here to deal with one count of drunk in public, and one count of failure to appear for the drunk in public charge. I was not overly concerned with the initial charge. It was my first offense of this nature, deserving a mild slap on the hand at best. The failure to appear bothered me a bit more. One never knows how a judge will react to a failure to appear charge. They tend not to like it when you don't come when you say you will.
This judge had been handing out sentences of 4 days of community service for each failure to appear brought before him. I could live with that. Especially since the Salvation Army was listed as a community work area, and I could do my 4 days working at my regular job using the 17 hours of overtime I usually work each week.
So I began to relax a little.
The judge called for another recess. "No more than ten minutes," he said.
He came back 45 minutes later, about half an hour before lunch time. He directed all of us with bench warrants (me) to come back at 2:00.
I went back to the residence and asked Harold Eversley for an emergency bag lunch. After writing a little in the lobby, I was back in court b y 1:55.
At 2:50, the judge returned and resumed his duties.
I was called at 3:00 exactly.
I had talked to the public defender just before lunch, going over the charges against me.
"It says here," he said, "that the police were called to the Exxon station, and that they observed you asleep on the floor of the restroom. When they asked you to get up, you did so... then fell down again, after which they arrested you, helping you into the back of the police cruiser. They found a half empty bottle of Jack Danials on the toilet stand, and you had a strong odor of alcohol about you. Does this sound like what happened?"
"Yeah, that sums it up pretty well."
I showed him the letter that Clarence Orion had provided stating how conscientious I was, and all. The P.D. said he would bring it to the judge's attention.
"Alright," the judge said, "drunk in public. Pretty straight forward. Two days time served. We'll credit him with that. How do you plead?"
"Guilty." No doubt about it, I was guilty as hell.
"Mr. Joyce has brought a letter, your honor," my P.D. volunteered. "He has been in a treatment program with the..." looking at the letter head, "Salvation Army, in case you were concerned..."
"Is that right?" the judge asked.
I nodded my head up and down.
The judge looked at me. "Well how's it going?"
"Pretty well, sir. I have one hundred and sixty five days sober today."
"Are you kidding!?" he asked. "That's fantastic. For that I forgive the warrant."
I melted.
"Had to hit your bottom, huh. A lot of creative, otherwise responsible, outstanding people are alcoholics, and will be for the rest of their lives."
Profound insight.
"Well, keep up the good work, and good luck. That's it. You can go now."
I mumbled thank you, and skedaddled.
I felt very good about this, to say the least. This was the first instance of my sobriety, my decision to stay sober, working for me in any materialistic way. It just goes to show that it pays to be an alcoholic and drug addict. I felt so good that I thought about getting drunk to celebrate. Instead, I ran back to the residence where I thought I might be reasonably safe.
When I got back I told everyone what had happened. They seemed happy for me. Mr. Vasquez let me know that if he had been the judge he would have given me 5 years.
I had a nice spaghetti diner, then disappeared into my room. I watched the news (still winning the war rather easily, although the Iraqi's did manage to get one of their Scud missiles through. It landed on top of a barracks housing a quartermasters unit from Pennsylvania. Someone must have been asleep at the Patriot missile defense system switch. The Scud killed at least 25 of our men, and was the most devastating Iraqi attack of the war. So far), while finishing the Frankl book.
Knowing that I had to get up early for work in the morning, I went to sleep near midnight.

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