Jesse Millner: The Bus Driver's Book of the Dead

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  MEMOIR by Jesse Millner
Polish Wedding  Devolution  Aliens Among Us  Eddie Jones  Dave   Tom MarionStarved Rock State Park  The Alcoholic Point of View   My Lost Season 
Listening for God  I Remember a Pet Peeve  Hair Salon Panic Attack!  
Please Don't Bury Me in that Cold, Cold Ground

Listening for God: January, 1987

When I first stopped drinking, I went to a silent retreat in Palatine, Illinois, and for a whole weekend I left speaking behind and read AA’s Big Book and wrote down the details of all my offenses against my ex-wife, family, and friends. A portrait of Jesus looked down as I sat at a simple desk and scribbled page after page of misery until a strange lightness came to me, as though the winter sky had whistled through my ears and for just a moment, I felt the guilt of my drinking years slip away.

The only time we could speak was at the meeting on Saturday night where we told our alcoholic stories and thanked God for AA. There was a man who held a life-sized doll of a young boy in his lap as he talked. There was a holy man from Detroit who’d lived with a woman and drank every night of his priesthood, who said he never found God in the church, never knew spirituality until he went to his first meeting. And there I was, newly sober, thinking the doll reminded me of Howdy Doody, wondering about the wayward priest who was so different from the Baptist preachers of my childhood.

After the meeting I walked in the darkness of whispering snow beneath occasional glimpses of a three-quarters moon peeking through the clouds. I passed a statue of the Virgin holding her famous child, both frozen and silent. Bare trees curled black branches skyward in supplication, and it seemed to me the whole world was cold and sullen, and I thought back to the AA meeting, how after two days of silence, our voices sounded strange, how when I spoke, it was hard at first to summon language from my belly, to move my tongue in the dance that produces syllables and words. I said I was grateful, and I was, but beneath my gratitude was a fear no fallen priest or father of Howdy Doody was going to scare away.

The next day I marched to the retreat’s small chapel, praying that God might reveal himself to me, and thus fortify my sobriety, but I found instead only the silence of that small space, listened to the voices of my childhood, heard again the old hymns, felt the old futility that came when I asked for vision and revelation, when I begged for the flash of light or the Savior’s whisper. There was only silence and more silence, and cold light gathering in stained glass windows, illuminating the lives of saints and the specks of dust that floated in the chapel air.

All these years later, I do remember and honor the blessed silence of that place. I no longer go to AA because there is no god to admit my powerlessness to; there is only the fragile, beautiful world I wander through, and my sobriety is not the single preoccupation of the universe. All these years later, I humbly accept responsibility for myself, for my conduct in this world of dead virgins, children whose wooden mouths speak the words of others, priests who sin, a savior who wasn’t, and an almighty god who isn’t.


© 2010, Jesse Millner

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