A friend of mine just e-mailed me and let me know Dan Fogelberg died from prostate cancer at age 56. I am stunned. I love his music, in particular a song named, “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler.” He died at 6 a.m. Sunday morning in his home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. I can’t stop the tears.
As I write these words through cloudy eyes I find myself thinking about people who rush through their lives driven by various arrays of fears and anxieties, needs and wants, some driven by believe systems driven by greed and or lust for power or the misguided belief that they can and must control and manage every aspect of their lives and thus miss so much of life itself.
I know I lived like this for years. And while the last few years have not always been easy, all in all, life is good. Even this year, despite some grueling times emotionally, physically and spiritually along with some hefty doses of the rugged terrain of change, has been a good one.
Though you might not think so at first (or, for that matter, second) glance.
Other than the year I was shot in the head, 2007 has been the worst year for my health. As I mentioned in an earlier essay I almost died in an ER in June. And while I am better, I am still not out of the woods. I am, however, still sober. And that, for me, is more important than anything else. As I heard a woman once say in the rooms of a 12-step program, “Anything you put before your sobriety you lose.” Truer words were never spoken.
This year I have had to step back from some people I love and care about deeply. This group includes my 30-year-old daughter and as a byproduct of this reality, my two grandsons. It also includes a truly remarkable woman and her two remarkable sons. But in sobriety I have come to learn (grumbling and griping all the way, mind you) that I cannot rescue everyone, even though when people you love are struggling it can be mind-splitting painful and heartbreaking to see. As I said in a previous essay, and learned from Michael, the person I am closest to in the world, a friend for well over 30 years, all you can do is keep the door open and food on the table. But in sobriety you don’t stay seated at the table staring at the door wondering what will happen. You remember to live and do so.
When I got sober on July 12, 2002, I remember being in 12-step meetings listening to people with many years of sobriety talking about some pretty rough things in their lives: cancer, the death if a loved one; I remember one man talking about how his son was killed by a drunk driver and how that driver was now out of prison and living just blocks away from him. Others talked about going through break-ups, losing jobs, struggling with children who were in the vice-grip of alcoholism and addiction, and still they were all sober and vocal about being damned glad they were. And, most baffling of all, they were happy!
I thought they were all nuts.
I mean how on earth could someone go through the kind of things these people were enduring and not fire up a joint or toss back a shot or two? I mean, my God! Wouldn’t those harsh realities, as I’d come to believe, erode your body, mind and spirit if you didn’t find some way of escaping them, some way of taking a break from them?
The internal fear driving my thought process being, if I don’t get high and lapse into my well-learned patterns of enabling and dishonesty, reality will wash me away into nothingness.
Not true. It might have felt like it was true, but was not.
In fact, sobriety has allowed me to be me again in the world around me. Now my life is my own. Like anyone else, I have my fair share of problems and struggles. But no longer do they drive my days or dominate my every waking moment. I am not missing life anymore. I am grateful for sunsets and sunrises. I am grateful for thunderstorms and snowstorms and sunny days and cloudy days. I am grateful and filled with paternal joy watching my six-month old puppy Charley disappear headlong into a snowdrift only to come bursting out of it seconds later, shake himself free of the snow, giving a loud yip that clearly signals he is having a blast. He then does what any upstanding six-month old puppy would do in the first snow storm of his life, he dives right back into the snowdrift. I am grateful for my love of books and writing and a home that is toasty warm.
I do not run or hide from life anymore. I can’t pretend to know what’s around the corner in life and I’ll be damned if I’m going to worry about it. I don’t have time. I have to go to the store and replenish my supply of Dan Fogelberg albums and listen to them and cry tears of sadness for his passing and tears of joy and gratitude for his being here in the first place.
Life is good. I’m glad I’m in it.