Ishmael, the narrator of Melville’s Moby Dick, mentions early in the book that a whale ship was “my Harvard and my Yale.” Like many of us, he was a student at the University of Life. An example of a Life University honors student in my experience was our African American housekeeper (AKA “the colored maid”), Florine, who, despite a seventh-grade education, was among the brightest and best people in my 83 ½ years of living. As a triple Yale graduate myself (B.A., M.A., & Ph.D.), I have enough life experience to know that formal education isn’t the be-all and end-all of personal development. One way I know this is, courtesy of an alcoholic family member, my decades’ long membership in Al-Anon, the Twelve-Step Program for friends and families of substance-, food-, or sex-abusers....
Besides the better-known Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, there are the Twelve Slogans, short tips for how to live better lives. In this blog I’d like to talk about three of them that have been especially helpful to me over the years: Easy does it; Have an attitude of gratitude; and Let go and let God. In our rat-race culture, taking it easy is a tall order. Moreover, we are often racing around like rats just to secure the cheese we need to survive—for the necessities, not the luxuries. Socialism, God-forbid, would make securing the basics easier as in places like Germany or Scandinavian. But the American way seems to require folks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they have no boots. Blessed by being born a white male in a supportive, middle-class Jewish family that prioritized education, I was well positioned to get and keep satisfying, well-paid work. In other words, I was fortunate to have been given boots and the will and ability to pull up on their straps. Not all Americans are so lucky. Still, American through and through, I constantly rushed around, worried that if I didn’t, all would be lost. Gratefully, Easy Does It helped me slow down and realize that despite doing so, I could still get just as much done. Having an attitude of gratitude, meantime, helped me to regularly see my cup as half full, not half empty. I learned—and followed—Meister Eckhardt’s saying that if the only prayer one ever uttered were “Thank You,” it would be enough. I made it my daily practice to be grateful for everything, even setbacks, which I began to see as springboards to a better future, one I could relax into even as events proved me right.
Probably the most helpful slogan for me was the third: Let Go and Let God. Faith, as the Catholics say, is a charism, a gift from on high. In Twelve Steps we often refer to our “Higher Power” or the “God of our understanding.” This letting-go is like letting go of our parent or the side of the pool and swimming free when we are first learning to swim. It’s scary but necessary. My life became like the World War II novel God Is My Co-Pilot, although at some point I realized that I , not God, was the co-pilot and increasing let the Divine Hand work the control stick. It was a matter, like Oz’s Dorothy, of learning to follow the yellow-brick road. In conclusion, I hope, dear reader, that you have your own words to live by—those that enable you to grow into your biggest and best self and become the person the Creator had in mind for you. Amen, Awomen, and Acats.