There is a cost to alcoholism that is unnoticed by anyone except the person paying its price. Even those with whom we surround ourselves closely are unaware of what we let go when loss is the only way forward.
When Swenny was released from his job two years ago, it cost him a position he enjoyed and colleagues he loved. In the after-hours meeting in which he was terminated, he looked around the table and stated that he had finally hit bottom. His rebound was so immediate, though, he barely touched the ground. Within days he started a new job, satisfied ever since to have restored his balance.
For me, though, the loss has lingered. His job was as a custodian at a church that was long part of my family. The sanctuary he cleaned was the one in which my parents took their vows before my dad held open the large arched door for my mom as they stepped into their life as husband and wife. The carpet he vacuumed covered the room where our son sat with his great grandmother while visitors paid their respects before her funeral. He kept clean the spaces where our children learned the prayers they no longer say.
Where we once attended church regularly, after Swenny’s termination, it became increasingly difficult to return. Weeks turned into months and then into seasons before we eventually stopped prioritizing going at all. The last time we attended church as a family was Christmas Eve.
And I miss it. Which is how I found myself, on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, sitting in a church not of my faith, trying to reconcile the price I paid when Swenny let down the one that felt like home.
The irony of my position in a pew surrounded by strangers was not lost on me. As people came in, I watched closely the rituals that were unusual to me, and justified my being there by reaching deep for my Catholic heritage. I wondered why churches willingly welcome 12-step meetings in their basements, but when an addict approaches street level, their struggle becomes grounds for termination or, according to the homily to which I listened, a justification for the null and void of a marriage. I thought about my kids who have lost faith in the community of church and the beauty of fellowship. And I cried.
In a service embellished by its surroundings, I wondered about the standings of those in the line that inched past me toward communion while I stayed put. I wondered if somewhere in that line there was a place for me. Before I could answer, I slid out a side door and returned home to Swenny questioning my need to go out on a rainy Sunday night.
I crossed over puddles to worship. In the company of strangers, at a church in the neighborhood that was home more than four decades ago. Where the service is beautiful in part because it is unfamiliar despite words spoken in a voice I recognize. Where reverence is abundant.
I needed to go out on a rainy Sunday night to begin replenishing the account I nearly closed when I followed him out the door of the church that once felt like home.