My job is in service to the elderly. Every day, I am enriched by their stories, their perspectives, and their experiences. When I visit with them, I study the deep lines of their faces for the features I see in the photographs from their younger days that flank them on tables arranged neatly in their apartments, and listen carefully as they recall the moments that have defined their families, their careers, their friendships. Their lives.
Sometimes, they cry about the things they could not – or did not – change. Things that have forced the consequences which they now, in their final years, accept. And I find myself wondering about the consequences of Swenny’s alcoholism, and when, if ever, we will accept them. Or if instead we will rage against them until our own good night.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The author of that famous poem from which this stanza was pulled, Dylan Thomas, did not rage. An alcoholic, he surrounded himself with others struggling with that same addiction, and together they enabled the very behavior that ended his life days before his 40th birthday. Why didn’t he take the same advice he was giving to his father, to rage against the dying of the light? To fight in order to be a part of the lives of those he loved, and who loved him?
I consider Swenny’s and my story a series of stanzas in a poem without a clear ending. Longterm recovery is the light we are seeking, and alcoholism the cover that continues to be pulled over, extinguishing it before our very eyes.
During his time away from home, we are learning how to nurture that light so we always see it clearly, even in times where it is dimmed by circumstances of our own making. Realizing that relapses and missteps don’t eliminate it completely unless we accept the consequence we are working so hard to avoid. I know now that one can make a fire from a flicker, and that the light, with careful handling, can rage, too.