There is a story I tell about an encounter I had many years ago with a man we called Red Faced Paddy. It was this encounter that taught me that my presumed “superior” understanding or enlightenment never gives me the right to judge–it only gives me the responsibility to help.
Anyway, Red Faced Paddy and I would see each other at a support group I went to for people who abstained from alcohol and drugs. The group was on a Sunday night and it met at the Gay and Lesbian Center in the city of Liverpool, in England, where I used to live. We didn’t use last names so we all had nicknames. Mine was Colin The Yank. Paddy’s, because of his complexion, was Red Faced Paddy.
Anyway, even though this was a group for abstinent people, Paddy always showed up completely sauced. When it came his turn to share, he would always tell the same maudlin stories and even doze off mid-sentence.
It made me mad! We were supposed to be helping each other. Having to smell his beer breath certainly wasn’t helping me!
Well, one Sunday night, as the sharing went round the circle and it got closer to Paddy’s turn, I was getting agitated. But for some reason, this time, I thought to myself, I refuse to waste this time. I am going to listen closely and really get something from what he says.
So Paddy’s turn came. I listened hard. He was so incoherent! I thought, Poor man, all these other people are abstinent but he just can’t do it. Then, I wondered, how come I can do it but he can’t?
At first, I thought, it’s because I follow all the suggestions of the group and put the footwork in. Paddy should follow the suggestions!
Then, I thought, but he doesn’t seem to be able to. How come I follow the suggestions but he doesn’t? Because I have willingness. Paddy should start being willing!
Then I thought, but how did I get willingness? Where did it come from? Now, I was stumped. Did I do something to earn the willingness? No. I just had it. I was just gifted with it or graced with it.
And if it was a gift, how could I feel superior? I wasn’t abstinent because I was better than Paddy. I was abstinent just because I’d been lucky enough to have the lightning bolt of willingness strike me.
That’s when I realized, my lucky position doesn’t entitled me to judge. It obliges me to help.
This is a world where we are told we are supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But sometimes our births give us a better starting position or we were born with the type of brains that society values more. Or maybe, even, we follow the rules more or work harder.
But did I earn my work ethic or my birth position? No! So how can I say I deserve what I have more than others? I can’t. Literally, everything I have and am is a gift. I did not earn this existence.
It is confusing. Why are there starving children in the world? Why do people get shot by police? Why is there injustice? But there is a better question.
Why, of all people, have I been so blessed?
In order to help.
When I turn the “Why is the world this way?” question on its head this way, I understand myself and my place better.
As I read this over, it sounds a little pious or earnest to me. If it is, I apologize. But this story has been important to me for many years. Bella makes me tell her stories at bedtime and I told her this the other night. So I thought I’d share…
Thanks, Paddy, for your teaching. I hope you are still alive and that you are well. Or if not, that your energy thrives and is healed.