The Highway

Guest Writer: The following essay was written by my son, Jacob, for a college English class.

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s white Ford Taurus as he is dragged away by the police. My little brother whimpers in the back seat. We both wait, scared and lonely. What is going to happen to my brother and me? I try to stay strong and not shed tears in front of my brother who looks to me for answers, but I am only thirteen years old. I feel strangled by the moment. I take shallow 1002150_10200303406690762_1525833199_nbreaths. Everything has come to an abrupt halt like the car after the accident.

It started out as a relaxing Saturday afternoon in the spring as my dad, brother and I headed home from our soccer game. My brother and I had been waiting for this weekend for a long time because my mom and sisters were out of town for my sister’s basketball tournament and it would be just the guys at the house.

As we drove we talked about the game and what exciting things we were going to do this weekend. Then a group of four motorcyclists approached and circled the car. They slowed down and weaved in front of the car as my dad screamed in anger at them. Then one of the motorcyclists behind the car drove onto the shoulder and swerved in front of the car. My dad was livid at this point and he pushed the car around the motorcyclist. Suddenly the motorcyclist slammed on his breaks. His bike plummeted toward our car. My dad veered to the left, but it was too late. My dad’s right mirror hit the handle bars of the motorcyclist’s bike and caused him to lose control. I watched as the biker wobbled and worked to gain control. His bike scraped down the side of the car. Then he finally lost control and he tumbled off and slid down the highway. When my dad finally pulled over he jumped out of the car and ran toward the group of motorcyclists that followed us. They began to scream at each other but my dad wouldn’t let them close to our car in fear that they would do something to us. We later learned that they all were carrying licensed fire arms. When my dad got back to the car he didn’t say a word. It was silent until the Highway Patrol arrived. The officer came over to the car and asked to speak with my dad. As my dad got out I noticed him shoving a bottle under his seat.  My brother and I watched intently through the back window as they talked outside the car. In a brisk movement the officer spun my dad around and shoved him against the trunk of the car. The whole car jolted and we heard the officer grunt, “You have the right to remain silent….”

The next 45 minutes was filled with racing memories of many questions. I was paralyzed with fear until I saw the family of one of my teammates pull onto the shoulder of the highway behind us. As the officer ushered us out of the car and told us to grab the things we needed, we saw the long dark gray scrape down the side of the car from the handle bars, but all I could think was how much I hated him. I felt more anger then but I kept silent. We grabbed our things and the officer walked us to the passenger side of his patrol car where my dad was sitting in handcuffs, sobbing and apologizing. At this point the tears poured down my cheeks as I said to my dad, “It’s fine.” Seeing my dad cry was the hardest part of the whole day. It felt like everything went dark and I was by myself with no one to help me. I felt alone.

I kept quiet for the next 24 hours while I stayed the night with my teammate and his family. My teammate, a close friend to this day, tried hard to cheer me up by letting me win in video games. His mom cooked us whatever we wanted. The next day my dad’s brother and his best friend picked us up from my teammate’s house and took us home. I felt a little bit better once I saw them but both of them were strangely silent. I could tell they were angry but I couldn’t figure out why. I felt like I had done something wrong.

When we got home they told us to play some videos games and that they were going to get my dad out of jail. I remember they moved the couches for us so we would be right in front of the T.V. and turned on Halo 2.

We lost track of time while playing the video game but after a while we heard the car door slam outside. My dad came running through the doorway with tears running down his face. He hugged both of us around the neck, while we continued to play the video game so we wouldn’t have to look him in the eyes. He sobbed, “I’m sorry,” over and over again. He ended up making us turn off the video game so he could sit down and talk to us. He started out by apologizing but all we said was, “It’s fine.” He shook his head and said, “No it isn’t.” He was very angry with himself for letting us down and embarrassing us. He thought we were angry with him at the time but we both were just happy he was home. He kept trying to see how we were feeling but we didn’t want to talk, we just wanted to be with him.

I saw my dad at his lowest but I also saw him get back up and better himself because of it. Since that terrible weekend he has been sober five and a half years. In that time he has become a better man and more important a better father.

Watching my dad pick himself back up made me think about how I needed to do the same. I did it by not feeling sorry for myself and taking one of the biggest lessons from the situation and using it–forgiveness. I had to learn how to forgive many people–like my dad, the officer and the motorcyclists. Forgiving the officer and motorcyclists wasn’t necessarily for them but for me. I had to let go of the anger because it wasn’t doing me any good. The hardest part about forgiving my dad was acknowledging how angry I was at him and sorting through it so I could understand it and move on.  Working through this anger helped strengthen my relationship with my dad.

That day on the highway scared the hell out of me. Enough that I swore I would never drink alcohol. I haven’t touched liquor or drugs since that day — but not because I’m scared.

It’s knowledge, not fear anymore. I know that I want an education. I want to play college soccer. I want a career. Someday I want a family. I learned from my dad that these opportunities are more enduring than the risky pleasures of drugs and alcohol.

I would never wish for something like this to happen to anyone. And I sure wouldn’t want go to through it again. But I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned from this experience and the man I am for coming through it.

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Maryville: A High Tech Plague in the Bible Belt

The question that keeps going through my head is: what will happen the next time?

Will teenagers and adults think twice before bullying a young girl who claims she was raped? Will the “good people” make it their business when their friends and neighbors are acting badly? Will young men ever learn that it’s not about whether a girl says no-it’s about whether she says yes.

There will be another rape case in Maryville’s future. That is a tragic certainty. Too many boys grow up with a wink and a grin, seeing sex as ax240-3fr conquest rather than as a gift to be shared and treasured, until one day it is no longer about intimacy but power and dominance. When a lone girl steps forward to say she has been assaulted, how will the community of Maryville respond?

This week the fury of a social media movement led by the hackster group Anonymous descended on Maryville like a Biblical plague. It swept through the Northwest Missouri town with Old Testament judgment, asking how the resident of this community of 12,000 people slept at night.

I grew up in Northwest Missouri near Maryville. I have friends and relatives who live there. It pained me to see people who I knew had nothing to do with the alleged rape of Daisy Coleman crying out at the unfairness of national and international attacks on their quiet town. “Most of the people here are good people,” was the universal refrain.

And it’s true. Maryville is a town of  mostly good people. But maybe being good isn’t enough in any community. Demanding that our neighbors be good may be what is called for

I saw one woman on a Facebook note that there needs to be a cultural change. She is right. We need to be more intentional about the responsibilities of community.

I have heard in the past week many Maryville residents say they were unaware of the case until it was reported in the Kansas City Star. I find this disingenuous. I knew about it and I live outside the Maryville area. There were reports that Daisy and her family were bullied relentlessly by teenagers and perhaps even adults.

For every person engaged in this bad behavior there were at least five people who knew about it and did nothing to stop it.  A victim of violence should be able to turn to law enforcement for protection and solace, but more important she should be able to turn to her community.

As the English philosopher, Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

Research has shown that boys learn how to treat women from mothers who earn their respect, and from watching how their fathers treat women. And girls learn how they deserve to be treated from their fathers and the men in their lives.  It is a family, and a community, responsibility.

I read several comments from Maryville residents, including Sheriff Darren White, who were simply glad to see the case behind them.

The hacker group Anonymous set out to make sure that wouldn’t happen. The power of the Internet has been startling. Leaders at the top of Missouri government have joined the chorus and in a move that would have seemed impossible a week ago, a special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate the case.

Some in Maryville have admitted remorse over their community’s silence the first time this case made headlines. Many, on the other hand, are angry and hurt by the attacks that have swarmed like locusts in the past week.

Bibles in the homes of Maryville families recount the wrath of Old Testament justice. In those ancient stories entire populations suffered for the sins of the few.

The wrath of online attacks have been every bit as indiscriminate. While some have chosen to target the boys involved in the alleged rape and the officials who dropped the charges, many of the attacks have been scattershot and filled with vitriol for the entire community.

Many Maryville people are being judged and bullied for something they didn’t deserve. They feel violated.

Others feel a sense of self-blame, a feeling that they should have done something different. Shame is the natural response. Psychologists say that when people are shamed, it is normal to become angry, to make excuses, to cut themselves off from the outside world, or to strike out in vengeance.

The healthier choice is to learn about what is causing shame, to grow more empathetic. Avoid isolation and bitterness.

The people of Maryville will likely remember what has happened to them for some time. They have a choice to make about what they will do with this experience, what kind of community they want to be.

At least they have each other.

Getting past this ‘God shit’: Recovery of an agnostic

Lost-Highway-In-Blogging

I believe in prophecy. Some folks see things not everybody can see.
And once in a while they pass the secret along to you and me.
I believe in miracles, something sacred burning in every bush and tree.
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing.
I believe in God, and God ain’t me.

Steve Earle

I didn’t have much starch in me the night I went to my first meeting. I had publicly humiliated myself, and more important, lost my way as a father, the only true moral compass I had left.  Alan (not his name), a recovering alcoholic, was gentle with me as he picked me up in his car. I was talking rapidly, nervous and eager to do this thing right, afraid of looking foolish. As we approached the doors, I stiffened and found what little bit of defiance I had left. “I don’t want any of this God shit,” I said.

Alan grinned kindly and said, “That’s Ok, you don’t have to think about that right now.”

No one enters those rooms on a winning streak. It was a strange mixture of fear, anger and brokenness that led me to the tables after 23 years of very determined and passionate drinking. A looming court date, a waiting jail cell, and a brutally honest court-ordered drug and alcohol counselor left me little wiggle room.

At the time I thought my agnosticism was principled. But If I’m honest, I was probably still looking for a way out. I had known for some time that my drinking was a problem. I had said it aloud to myself late at night when I was alone and at my worst. But now, despite all the evidence to the contrary, my brain was telling me to run.

I stayed that night. I kept coming back for a variety of wrong reasons. I wanted to show people that I wasn’t that guy, the drunk fool. I wanted to prove to my kids that I could change. I had to get that damn sheet signed for my probation officer. Through it all I flinched at each mention of God.

Eventually–I’m not sure when it changed–I was coming for the right reasons. Not for other people, but for myself.  I realized that if I didn’t stop drinking I was going to lose everything–even my life.  Tolerating a little God talk seemed a small price to pay.

Today, five and a half years later, I am still sober. I’m still not sure about God.

Almost a year into sobriety, when I was on the pink cloud of recovery, a friend who is a Benedictine monk asked me to define God. I said, “Oh, no, I’m not touching that.”

I felt my heart pounding as he pressed me: “Come on, try!”

I insisted that I was perfectly comfortable not naming my higher power. I’m not superstitious but I was still pretty fragile. I didn’t want to mess with a good thing.

But my friend wasn’t letting me off easy.

I thought for a moment and then looked at him. “It works,” I said, “That’s my answer. Whatever is keeping me sober is not me and it’s working.”

He grinned broadly, like I’d passed a theology exam.

I remember when I struggled with the second and third  of the 12 steps, I considered returning to church. A Catholic priest, who had been in recovery for a long time, warned me, “Don’t let it interfere with your sobriety.”

His message was that my relationship with the Church and my relationship with a higher power were two entirely different things and I shouldn’t confuse them, especially when the most important thing in my life was on the line.

For those who are curious, alcoholics and addicts who have found a daily reprieve through the 12 steps have admitted, in Step 1, that we are “powerless over alcohol and that our lives are unmanageable.” In Step 2 “we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

The italics are mine. Frankly, I never have gotten past the possibility and mystery in the word “could.” And I never needed to. My first sponsor asked me if I could accept that it was possible, not even likely, that something greater than myself could restore sanity to my life. Of course, I admitted, there was the slightest possibility.

I’ve stayed sober for a lot of 24 hours on that slightest possibility. For a while, my God was a Group Of Drunks who didn’t judge me and expected better from me. Sometimes it was the Great Out Doors. It didn’t really matter what or even if I believed as long as knew God ain’t me. I learned that almost everything in my life is beyond my control. One thing I was certain of: what I had been doing wasn’t working. I had to change my entire way of thinking, let go of self-will and accept life on life’s terms.302811_3913001063340_2085956480_n.jpg

In Step 3, “we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

These days I meet people who want to stop drinking. But like me five years ago, they say they are turned of by all the God talk. My response is that perhaps the 12 steps isn’t for them. There are other options. Or maybe if a little God talk is too much of a burden, then perhaps their not ready to quit yet.

I grew up in a family that was certain about God and religion. I, however, have grown comfortable with doubt, with mystery and uncertainty. I have accepted the fact that I will probably go to my death unsure of God’s existence.

My higher power could be sobriety. Sobriety is not simply abstinence. It is knowing that each day is another chance to get it right. It is letting go of resentments and fear, trying to make amends where I can, and to live with gratitude. It is seeking not to judge lest I be judged.  I find it liberating to make decisions by asking whether I will be more sober. You could say it’s a form of prayer. I get into fewer conflicts. I’m a better husband, a more patient father. I’m even nicer to referees when I coach basketball. I’m more honest, more aware of my shortcomings and more willing to acknowledge my strengths. I tend to be more forgiving, less anxious about tomorrow and less likely to regret the past.

There have been times in the past couple of years, mostly during financial crisis, that sobriety was all that stood between me and the abyss, when sobriety seemed to be all that I had, when sobriety got me out of bed in the morning.  If that isn’t a higher power then I don’t know what is.

I told Alan I wasn’t having any of this God shit. But I endured, I tolerated, because my sanity and my life depended on it.

God isn’t necessarily the word I use, but a lot of people on this journey with me do. And they have convinced me that it is a miracle I’m sober today.

I guess you could call that faith.