Every Memorial Day weekend there is an enormous AA roundup (“with Al-Anon participation”) here in the Twin Cities. Literally thousands upon thousands of AAs and Al-Anons and Alateens pack into a local Sheraton from Friday night until Sunday morning. Speakers come from all over the country to tell their stories, and meetings go on pretty much all day and all night. There’s a lot of food, mobs of people, literature and tapes for sale, and program speak at every turn. It’s kind of a three-ring circus of twelve-step recovery.
The first time I went to this roundup was in 1997. I’d been doing the Al-Anon thing for not quite a year at the time, and I was completely blown away by what I saw and heard there. By Sunday morning, I was physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted (in a good way). I picked up several speaker tapes that weekend (this was back before I had a CD player in the car), including one, totally at random, of an Al-Anon who had spoken at the roundup a couple of years before. Her name was Blanche, she was from Texas, and her story was so smart and sassy, so touching and funny and wise, that I ended up listening to her tape over and over again. Every year after that I would attend the annual roundup, secretly hoping that she’d be on the schedule so I could meet her in person. I heard lots of fantastic speakers, but Blanche never appeared. Somewhere along the line, I heard that she had passed away.
Lately, my Al-Anon program has become pretty halfhearted, for a number of reasons. My main focus this past Memorial Day weekend was to finally get the doors back on my kitchen cabinets, and on how I was going to work that in around the barbecues the DemiGoddesses and I were invited to. When a friend called to see if I wanted to meet up with her at this year’s roundup, I couldn’t believe I had forgotten all about it. I said I’d meet her for the Al-Anon speaker on Saturday afternoon.
The speaker’s name turned out to be Stephanie. She was from Texas, and like most people who get invited to speak at these events, she had been in Al-Anon for a long, long time. Her story was smart and sassy, touching and tragic, funny and wise. As she talked about her background, her family of origin, her marriage and her children, I identified with many of the things she said. She talked about how she got to her first Al-Anon meeting, and the ways in which the twelve steps had made life better for her. And she talked about finding her Al-Anon sponsor, whose name… was Blanche. The very same. Stephanie had been at the hospital holding Blanche’s hand when she died.
I don’t usually go out of my way to meet speakers, but afterwards I waited in line to meet Stephanie. I wanted to tell her how glad I was that I’d come to the roundup to hear her speak. How much I appreciated her telling her story, and how even though I’d never met Blanche in person, that I’ve often thought of her and many of the things she said. That Blanche had impacted more people than she knew. I yammered on and on, trying to spit out the words to express what I wanted to say, but there were people waiting in line behind me, and so finally I just said, “Thank you so much for being here.” Which, really, didn’t even come close.
I don’t know if I’ll ever attend regular meetings again, or if I’ll ever get back to working a 12-step program the way I used to. I can’t even say for sure why I stopped. I’d never claim to be completely “cured” of the things that got me there in the first place, although, certainly, a lot of them are much, much better. I guess, deep down, I suspect that someday life is going to serve me up a curveball that will get me back in with both feet. And when that happens, I’ll know where to go.
Because that kind of thing? Those chance encounters that maybe aren’t so random after all? I used to call those “love notes from God.” And they seem to happen a lot around those crazy 12-step people.