You may have heard this expression before – “There but for the grace of God go I.” It feels worth talking about a bit today. Do what you will as far as the “God” thing. It barely matters, I think, how that is envisioned, you could say ‘dolled up’. For me it just as well might be Charles Bukowski, drunken bum writer long dead (self-proclaimed “Dirty old man”). Or possibly a waitress in a Mexican restaurant I ate at once on Rose Ave in Venice, California back in 1977. She was the God. Or Ms. Joan Jett. However you see it, a “God” will do. No care of mine. It is the “There” in the expression which concerns me this early morning.
Now, personal confession here and nearly breaking what can be called a ‘tradition’, I first heard this “Grace” statement early on when I started going to these ‘meetings’ with a whole bunch of people trying to give up and stay away from alcohol and drugs and/or both, and the context of its use was pretty clear, after hearing it enough times – The “There” could just as easily be a 6×9 cell in Concord State Prison, or under a winter bridge in Lowell hard by the icy Merrimack River, or in one looney bin or another. For starters. Versus sitting on a hard folding chair drinking fairly crappy coffee in a big room with about 88 previously drunk and still presently mostly defective people, and it don’t cost nothing (as Belushi said of his animal house), and if it’s winter it’s warm and , also, far from much of your previous life people actually express happiness to see you, and well, you probably get the picture. Folks are talking about gratitude. Folks are talking about blessings. Something for which we use the word “Grace” has saved our sorry ass, hauled out from a rat’s nest under a bridge and placed here in this warm room. With free coffee. A feel of love, even. And mostly through no doing of our own. Clearly through no doing of my own.
I’ve often thought over the years – in this “go I” context – about the concept of “deserving” something in or from life. Like “Am I getting what I deserve?” Now that’s a question, and for which I believe there is a big, wide spectrum of answers. Healthy people might say as humans we deserve care and love, respect and tenderness, as in “God” don’t make no junk, and even healthier humans might note that “What I deserve is a bullet in the head”, which was a fun little phrase I heard a guy mutter in a small room in a clubhouse in Daytona Beach, Florida on another Wednesday long, long ago. So pick your own poison. I tend to lean toward the latter, I mean come on, and remain forever blown away when I stop and consider all of what I have in my life today – whatever day I happen to be living in – all the stuff and the people and the love (often both deserved and undeserved). And as far as “There but for the grace of God go I” – All of this makes up my “There”.
Today, here Wednesday April 15, 2020, when I note an anniversary of 37 years gone by without a new drink of alcohol or swallowing or otherwise ingesting any mind-altering, illegal substance, I get to shelter in place in a house, with a yard, and a gazillion books I own – deserved or not I can’t really say – but that is my “There”. With a wife who loves me, cutting me a whole lot of slack in the process.
Meaning, all because of the ‘Grace’ of – say – “The Great Spirit”, “There” go I.