I was visiting an orphanage in Africa, a place where children afflicted with AIDS had found sanctuary from their troubled circumstances. They now partook of food, shelter, medicine, and most all, love. From toddlers to teens, they welcomed me with smiles and physical warmth. I’m an indiscriminate hugger, one who enjoys embracing others. These little ambassadors gave me my fill.
As the facility’s director and I shared lunch, we discovered a serendipitous truth: we were born the same year of radically different tribes, but on opposite sides of the globe. Our paths couldn’t have been more divergent. I grew up in relative privilege; she struggled in poverty. But the Creator of both our races led us to serve others.
Our conversation grew more vulnerable. We discussed our families, our triumphs and losses. We talked of our current trials. Inevitably, I shared my long struggle with alcoholism. It turned out that she, too, had suffered seismic effects from this reality. Both her husband and her youngest son were actively addicted.
She looked at me and said, “Would you be willing to talk to my boy?”
“Of course,” I said, humbled by the open door.
I met him the next day. He was in his 20s – the same age as one of my sons – and the disease was already trouncing him. His desperation stirred my heartfelt empathy.
Since he still understood alcoholism as a weakness of will, I asked basic questions. Had he developed tolerance? Yes. Once he started, did he find it nearly impossible to stop? Yes. Had he progressed to the point of blackouts? Yes, he answered, instinctively rubbing a scar on his head, evidence of a lost night that ended in violence.
I shared my journey. I urged him to seek treatment. I found an AA meeting in that city, which he attended the following day.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read “The Healing of the 10 Lepers” (17:11-19). Jesus is traveling along the border of Samaria, like walking the fault line between Palestine and Israel. He encounters a group of lepers that includes both Samaritans and Israelites. The classic scholar, William Barclay, said a beautiful thing about this scene.
If flood water surges over a piece of country and the wild animals gather for safety on some little bit of higher ground, you will find standing peacefully together animals who are natural enemies who at any other time would do their best to kill each other. Shouldn’t it be the same for all of us in our common need for God, seeking the high ground of his presence?
12 Step participants realize a fundamental truth. The condition that brings us to our knees is no respecter of race, creed, or educational level. We share a common adversity, common dreams, and we find strength in our fellowship with God and others.
Great Creator, help us ALL learn this truth about our human condition! Strip away overlays of color, caste and culture, and every one of us craves meaning in this short life. We long for love, we face death and deal with tragedy. Amnesia over our underlying unity is the bitterest root of conflict.
The day I left, I stood on the airport tarmac as jet engines idled. My new friend was there to say goodbye.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave,” he said.
We embraced, holding each other for a long time. I whispered, “We can both get better with the help of God and others.”
As my plane rolled away, I waved through the window at my son by a different mother.