If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

No Lonely Stares

I published this some time ago. Its message remains current.
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will behold a far-distant land. (Isaiah 33:17)

I don’t know why he started talking with me. My wife and I had arrived early at the ship terminal for the Valentine’s Day harbor-cruise around San Diego.  At first I hadn’t noticed him sitting across from us at another table. Only when he began flicking his lighter did I turn and see him staring at the crowd milling around us. He must have sensed me looking in his direction.

“Did you make reservations?” he asked, turning in his seat to face me.

“For the cruise?”

He nodded, and as I prepared to answer, I quickly studied him. His thinning white hair was combed front to back across his head. His face sported a day-old stubble, his gray sweater and trousers were threadbare, but clean. He looked out-of-place among the men and women in evening attire and I wondered if he was homeless. He took another sip of cola from a paper cup and looked at us from soft blue eyes.

“Yeah,” I said. “You have to make reservations to get on the cruise.” I looked around and noticed how crowded the terminal had become.

“Last time I was on a ship,” he started, “I was in the navy. Stationed at Long Beach. I was 17.”

Not sure where the conversation was headed, I waited for him to continue. He then told me he had enlisted between the end of the Korean war and the beginning of Viet Nam. 

“It was a peace-time navy,” he said.  “Me and my buddies were excited about going to Hong Kong.”  He shifted in his seat and tried to smile at me. “I couldn’t drink because I was too young, but my friends bought some beer and we brought it back to the barracks.  First time I ever drank.  Got pretty drunk that night too.”  His eyes locked with mine, as if waiting for approval or disapproval. I simply nodded again, wondering why he was telling me his story.

“In time, I became an alcoholic,” he said after a while and his candor surprised me. “Ruined my life.” His eyes glazed for a moment as he looked again at the crowd around us.  “Lost my wife. My kids. My job. . .”  his voice trailed off.

“How long were you married?”

“Nine years.  Got three kids. All living up north in Orange County.”

I fingered my cola can and waited.          

"I been to AA,” he added.  “They helped for a while.  But then I went to Tijuana. Got some real bad liquor there.  Real bad. Had to go to the VA for medication.  Still taking it.”

“Do you ever hear from your wife?”

“Oh, no.  Not for years.  Kids neither. I was such a drunk, even my father took me to court to force me to pay child support when the kids were small.”

He told me his name. William. He turned 64 a few months earlier and slept in a flop house down town. Cost ninety-five dollars a month.  It’s a clean place, he assured me, but if not for his social security checks, he didn’t know how he’d survive.

“Drinking ruined my life.” His eyes drifted from the crowd to the street outside the terminal windows.  “No good for you. I been dry now for five months.  Gonna stay dry this time, too.”

For decades I had heard stories of men and women like William.  But that evening they all came into focus as I studied his eyes and the nearly imperceptible slump of his shoulders. He had been seventeen when it all started. Now, decades later, all William had was a ton of regrets and a history of wrong choices that had beat him into the ground.       

A few minutes later the loudspeaker broke into my thoughts, announcing our boarding. As Nancy and I stood, William held out his hand and I grasped it.  We left him alone at the table, staring again out the window.

Scripture often repeats the principle . . . . probably so we don’t miss it -- “Don’t be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Why? Because God loves us.

Sometimes, when we read those words too quickly -- “God loves us” -- we miss the depth, the breadth of that truth. We miss the point that God knows precisely what it is our hearts yearn for, and He has a wonderful plan, filled with hope and purpose, for all who commit themselves to Him.  The testimonies of millions of those who have gone before us confirm God’s pledge -- obeying Christ never ends in regret. Keeping His commandments never leads to broken hearts, shattered relationships -- or lonely stares out of windows.


kkollwitz said...

The world is awash in sadness, but it tends to stay hidden.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Beautifully written and I love the sentence, "-obeying Christ never ends in regret." Oh, if only we would learn that early in life.

Richard Maffeo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Maffeo said...

K -- Yes, I think you are right. Which is why we have the privilege of sharing the good news of Christ with others.

Richard Maffeo said...

Barb, early in life, or late, it's good to know.

Kathleen Basi said...

Wow, what a story. Those are hard moments and you never know what is the Christlike way to respond. Thanks for sharing your willingness to listen.

Richard Maffeo said...

Kathleen, I know what you mean. It was a somewhat difficult situation now that I think back on it.