Captain America

Yesterday, I shared a table at a coffee shop with a man who has no place to call home. Because I was covered in Badger gear, he struck up a conversation about the night’s bowl game. When I asked about his Oregon Ducks hat, he responded that like most of his outfit, he found it so therefore wears it.

With temperatures peaking just above zero, I took inventory. His hat seemed sufficient, and his jeans and boots looked warm. His jacket, though, barely reached his wrists and was small and left unzipped. Underneath, he wore a Captain America t-shirt.

Wanting for him a warm place for as long as possible, I purchased a gift card that would fill his mug until closing. His acceptance extended our conversation and before it turned personal, he introduced himself. “I’m Kirk,” he said, taking my right hand in his left.

I learned that Kirk is a poet. Pages of hand written notes were spread out before him, carefully ordered and neatly folded. When I eventually stood to leave, he asked if he could share something with me. I answered yes and listened while he read aloud his most recent work.

“An unsheltered life is beautiful,” he began. Preferring a roof of stars over the trappings of a warm home, Kirk concluded by asking me about what he could possibly complain. He is, after all, blessed.

Upon saying goodbye, I counted my own blessings. Family, friends and a roof over my head made the list. Once home, though, I shook them off and searched for bottles. Looking through closets and drawers, I found instead a journal I gave Swenny the Father’s Day before he moved to a sober house. Hoping to find it filled with his reflections, I discovered a diary chronicling just three days.

Like Kirk, Swenny made note of his blessings and titled them as such. Among them he listed the luxury of a private room for at least one night, going to bed with a full stomach, and a day that ended with a text from me that read, “I love you.”

That journal is from a time when we believed the worst was behind us; from a time when we expected that by now we’d have moved on to other things. And while I wish we could have made true our dream of a life free from alcoholism, there is comfort in some of what remains unchanged. Namely all that we continue to appreciate and the unexpected reminders to take nothing for granted.

Before returning the journal to its hiding place, I added a new blessing to my list: Captain America. The everyday hero whose superpower is the gift of perspective. And whose cape I will seek to earn in the New Year.





A Father’s Daughter

Swenny likes to say that I am the worst combination of my parents: I have my mom’s love of shopping and my dad’s love of cars. Mostly, though, I am my father’s daughter. To me, there is no higher compliment than to be told that I am like him.

Lately, I have been thinking about him a lot. Swenny and I share a wedding anniversary with his parents and my parents, making it easy to remember it also as the day my father got sick. Eighteen years ago last month marked the beginning of countless hospitalizations, surgeries, and close calls to which he always answered, “Not yet.”

Eventually, after nine years, he entered hospice early one morning in what I remember as an emergency. He died days later, with Swenny standing alone outside his room. I was at Macy’s.

Following his memorial service, a typo on his grave marker delayed his burial. Somehow, he never made it to the cemetery and remains today on a shelf at the funeral home down the street from my house. I have considered stopping to get him, but out of respect for my mother, and the fact that his cremains are not mine to get, I haven’t.

Swenny’s latest relapse has left me wanting my dad’s advice unlike ever before. With so much at stake, I sense the magnitude of my next step and the importance of taking it deliberately and without falter. But with love and consideration for all involved.

The other day, without a grave to visit, I nearly drove to the funeral home to see him…to hold him. I wanted to feel the weight of him in my hands while I asked him what to do. I wanted to ask his expectations for me in my marriage. I wanted to ask if he thought I had done enough.

Mostly, though, I wanted to ask him what happiness looks like. And to hear him answer that the time has come for me to find out for myself.

“Be deliriously happy or at least leave yourself open to be.”

                 William Parrish



If Only

There’s a part of all of us that longs to know that even what’s weakest about us can ultimately count for something good.

Fred Rogers

Swenny deserves better. Namely, a life free from alcoholism and someone with the courage to help him get there. In entry after entry, I have described his relapses with a focus on his part in them. What I think about lately, though, is my role in his inability to achieve sobriety lasting longer than a handful of months.

Too often, when he needed my strength, I brought weakness. When he needed my courage, I brought fear. And now, when he needs my assurance, I have none to give.

Understanding that Swenny’s sobriety rests with him, I still wonder how different things might be if I had handled his alcoholism any other way. If only I had followed through on my demands, been less tolerant of relapse, or less willing to accept the circumstances in which we both chose to exist.

If only…

Despite a preclusion to turn back time and undo any harm, I am grateful for the choice that remains: continue to be or live. If I choose the latter, what I want and what I fear most become one, establishing my inability to reconcile them as my biggest weakness. Leaving me longing to know how that can ultimately count for something good.







On Character

Weeks ago, Swenny and I made plans to celebrate our anniversary by sharing dinner with 13 men establishing sober lives in the recovery home where we volunteer. After they welcomed us at the door, we walked together to the dining room and joined hands in a circle for introductions.

The man on my left was celebrating his rite of passage tomorrow, preparing to move on after six months at the inn. At the table, he spoke about the hope he finally allows and invited his housemates to share the emotions they now permit. Joy and pride were mentioned again and again. Fear of complacency was also noted, followed by conversation about where that might lead.

Which is when I turned to catch a glimpse of Swenny. Last night, I listened as he denounced the effectiveness of the strategies the 13 other alcoholics and addicts around the table were deeming necessary. Necessary to lead lives free from the ransom of their addictions; necessary to remove the layer of shame they once wore; and necessary to be successful in the pursuits of happiness upon which they have finally embarked.

Tonight, I found myself surrounded not by addicts and alcoholics, but by men with choices. All but one of them has chosen sobriety. The other remains complacent.

During dinner, I thought about character as the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life. By the end of the evening, it was clear to me what makes the inn so special. It is a place where men of character go to secure the futures they always intended, and very unlike where Swenny chooses to exist. What remains unclear is why he can’t – or won’t – see the benefit of a community like the one that nourished us tonight.