There was a guy who was my teacher. He was a spiritual guy. He was a guy who did tons of service for suffering people. He was infinitely kind to me.
He used to send me letters. He always said the same thing. "You've got to love alcoholics. If you want to be happily sober, you've got to learn to love alcoholics".
I kind of thought he didn't know what he was talking about. He was a retired small business man who lived in his old hometown. He lived quietly with his wife of almost 50 years. I was a bus driver. I talked to alcoholics all the time. They were whiny. They wanted something for nothing. They thought they were better than everyone else. They would fly into a rage unless you gave them what they wanted. They'd abuse and insult you if you gave them what they wanted. My friend just didn't know what it was like.
It took me a long time to realize that the reason why he always had a good answer for me was because he had made every stupid mistake I was making. He wasn't super humanly wise and he wasn't isolated from the real world in some little bubble of serenity. In addition to doing wonderful things that lifted my heart he had done stupid, greedy, fearful things, just like everyone else.
So, he died about ten years ago. I stopped driving a bus about three years ago. I've never stopped thinking about the things he told me. I started to wonder what would happen if I tried loving alcoholics. I would be nice to drunk guys who came to meetings. It didn't seem to make much difference one way or another but it felt okay. I tried listening to people who mostly didn't make much sense. I would sit and listen to people who talked and talked about themselves. They always said the same thing. They would cry on cue about some hurt they had suffered twenty, thirty, forty years before. They cried every time they told the story, even though they'd told me the story before.
It was starting to work. I started to realize that these awful people were struggling with pain and fear. The more I looked, the more I saw that everybody was struggling with pain and fear. Yep, me too.
Look, I know there are assholes out there. I know that there are people whose needs and interests are not the same as mine. I can tolerate being in an adversarial relationship. Jesus didn't say, "Don't have enemies". He said, "Love your enemies". I don't tolerate bullies. I don't like being manipulated. The only difference is that I can see my enemies struggling and yearning and talking shit and trying to con me, all at the same time.
This change didn't happen in a monastery or anything. It happened while I was watching TV and hanging out with friends and taking little walks and wanting to get laid, or eat dinner, or take a nap. Just regular stuff.
So then I got this job. Driving drunks and drug addicts from one Starbucks to the next. I like Starbucks because they are everywhere and they have bathrooms. I like seeing that green sign and knowing that I can piss should the need arise.
I get to meet these people who are in some kind of crisis. Their lives are falling apart and they say the most wonderfully foolish things to me. Kids like to tell me that they are scary gangsters. Now, the people who come to the center are mostly people who work in grocery stores, or family members of grocery store workers. But they're scary gangster grocery store clerks when they talk. Or older folks like to try and tell me that their problems are far, far worse than mine. They drink because their children don't understand them or because they got sick or because their bosses are assholes.
There they are and I listen to them and I mumble something back at them and they seem satisfied but a couple of weeks later, they've started to get their brains back and so many of them want to know what I thought of them when they were so fucked up, when we first met.
I tell them I liked them. I tell them funny stories about the way they behaved. If they behaved very badly I tell them that I figured we were not meeting on their best day. I tell them how awful my life seemed and how it still seems to be too much sometimes but that we are God's hands now and we don't have to run the world any more.
Some of them get it. Most of them are going to die fucked up. It doesn't matter. I love all of them. If only a little bit.