Saturday, April 4, 2015

Decency, part II—Lord have Mercy

 This question of decency comes down to a matter of sin. The way that others are in this matter puzzles me; and yet perhaps it shouldn't. 

After all, I don't know who I am, and I don’t know what my life is. Why should others be different?

I remember when I got sober. It was in 1981; I was 26 years old. I stopped drinking in November; so a lot of the initial suffering and difficulty, the anguish, that I went through, took place in 1982.

My drinking was destroying my life and everything in it. I was destroying my relationships; and to this day, I still feel the deepest shame about the way I treated others while I was drinking. This is what disturbs me the most. I wasn't decent to anyone; I was, in my eyes, worse than an animal. One can't take these things back; decades later, long after it is all over, one sees what one was really like — and, those parts are still in one, they can't ever be taken out. One is forced to live with the filth and be honest about it. That's what sobriety is all about. I sometimes tell people that I'm not proud about my sobriety — I'm deeply ashamed it was ever even necessary. And this is why.

I remember lying awake in bed every night, waiting to fall asleep, realizing what a mess I had made of everything.  

I would lie there on those lonely nights in a cold sweat, on a mattress on the floor of my best friend's apartment in Sunnyside, New York. 


I didn’t know which way to turn; I didn’t know what to do. Everything I had assumed up until then revolved around alcohol; everything I did revolved around it. So I didn’t know a life that wasn’t centered on this. I didn't know anything about having a real job, I don’t think; I didn't have a plan for life. All I knew was that I was destroying myself, and I had to crawl out of the hole.

So I lay awake each night, waiting to fall asleep, saying the Lord’s prayer. It was the only place I could turn; I turned entirely to God, because there was nowhere on earth that could help me, I knew that. Everything that was wrong with me was of the earth; and I had known ever since I was quite young that the answers didn’t ultimately lie there.

 I still do that, you know. I still say Lord have mercy — Christ have mercy spontaneously during the day, sometimes many times during the day. I’m constantly turning in that direction, the direction of the heart, because I feel so utterly worthless and sinful. In some ways, one might say that being blessed with Grace has been the worst thing that ever happened to me, because the more Grace one is given, the more one sees one’s deepest sin. This is a penetrating matter, not a matter of the mind.

Christians talk about seeing their sin, but I don’t think anyone does it too often. It is so terribly painful. One feels destroyed; one feels worthless, and even more so in the light of God’s sight. This radiant love that creates me is so unconditional, I cannot bear it. I have to live with this inability, this sorrow, the impossible nature of my sin every day; and I see that I am utterly helpless to address it. 


People think there are remedies; they think there are prayers. But there is nothing that can really help. Only God’s love helps; and in helping, even it hurts. Gurdjieff’s Holy Planet Purgatory is not an allegory; it is a real place.

 I know it may seem distracting to digress into a soliloquy about Grace in the midst of two essays on decency; yet I don't know that any of us can be decent without Grace. It is the one higher force capable of penetrating directly into ordinary life, like a knife through soft butter, to fill the flesh and the blood, and strike into the marrow of the bone, with a humility that reminds me I ought to be decent. 

It isn't enough, in other words, to just listen to the angel that tells me so; there has to be an even greater power that motivates me, one that I accept — without resistance, one that I yield to unflinchingly, suffering what I am and suffering my own ego—in the light of God's Grace.

 This force ought to be concentrated in me and have its way with me: I ought to serve it. Yet I have to put myself aside in order to do that, and I cannot put myself aside just once. 

All of me has to be put aside, over and over.

Decency, somehow, begins with this action of putting myself aside, over and over. And it brings me back to Gurdjieff's adage that we must consider outwardly always, inwardly never.

 I don't remember this too well without help. I'm too small; and too weak. The only reason I even know I am like this is because of the struggle I went through to recover from my drinking. It seemed like an ordinary thing to do that; and indeed it was, it's just what any responsible man ought to do for those around him — realign himself so that his behavior is decent. 

Yet it turns out that the heroics of that one action were far from enough; because even after one gets rid of the drinks, one still has the drunkard.


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