I was thinking about my world today, the world today where there is a new normal that I am not very fond of, and yet I am powerless against the forces it brings to bear on my world. This set of external circumstances made me recall a book that I read many years ago that highlighted the utter frustration of one man’s life for just one twenty-four hour period. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a novel by the late Russian writer and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, first published in November 1962 in the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir (New World). The story is set in a Soviet camp in the 1950s and describes a single day in the life of ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov who was sentenced to a camp in the soviet gulag system. In a prime example of life imitating art, Solzhenitsyn himself after serving in the Soviet Army during World War II, he was sentenced to spend eight years in a labor camp and then internally exiled for criticizing Josef Stalin in a private letter. For him, the novel was personal. For me, like millions of others, COVID-19 is personal.

This is not a BITCH blog. I only know two people who are existentially connected to me who have succumbed to this virus, so personally I am unscathed by it while over 150,000 Americans have perished so for that I am grateful. For the most part, like millions around the world I have been sheltered in place, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Whenever I get a little bite on the pity pot because we didn’t get to go on a three week vacation to Montreal and New York City, or attend the Seattle Opera to see Puccini’s  La Bohème, not to mention my beloved New York Yankee’s coming to town, I am reminded that those losses are first world problems. Then my brain moves quickly to Anne Frank who was also shuttered in place for a total of twenty-five months without the benefit or a computer, TV, Netflix or Amazon Prime and knowing that making any noise or betrayal from others would lead to certain death, and all that while going through puberty. I HAVE GUCCI PROBLEMS!

Up exceedingly early yesterday for me at 6 am to drive with my wife to get a rescue dog coming in on a transport from Texas. This “dog thing” came together in just under two weeks. It started with a conversation that sounded like “if not now when”. Since our old dog died in 2008, we have talked about what was missing in our lives and yet even against that void we could never see our way clear to move forward, until COVID-19. Truth be told, travel for 2020 is not going to happen and since work is relegated to zoom, being away from the house has also become a non-issue. No excuses, time to cast a wide net. We got a one-year old male Fox Hound/Grey Hound Mix. He is even tempered and seems to be adjusting well. This is a gift of COVID-19 for sure.

Since the onset of the virus in March I have written about No More Secrets (NMS) going Zoom. We have had two movie nights, first at the end of April and the second, coupled with a graduation was held on the last Monday of June. Everyone is stretching and the beat goes on. This week I had the blessing of Zoom attending the bris of a baby born to one of our alumni whose wife did her own recovery and in spite of being separated for two years they have reconciled and made this recovery miracle baby. I watched as over sixty people from around the world logged in to bear witness to this blessing. In all honesty this marriage was so broken that divorce seemed inevitable, but this proves once again the power of healing and God’s grace. I sat back in awe of the possibility of Redemption, which is an essential concept in many religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  At the end of the day, never say never.

From the emotional high of that very blessed happy event to the sadness of life’s opportunities for wholeness helplessly slipped by, I received a pre-paid phone call from a former NMS man who is serving a fifteen-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado. We have not talked in over three years. I remember like it was yesterday when he “dropped by” my office unannounced because he was in the area just to say hi. I was thrilled to see him. It had been a while. He spent four years in group very connected to the program and men in recovery. He took several leadership positions and face down all the demons from his past. He re-established relations with his adult children and life was good. And then he started to drift away. Two years of excuses like, I have to work or I’m too tired to do “recovery” followed by the news of his arrest. We all were devastated yet by then not surprised, the adage once again got proven true “if left untreated it always gets worse.” That was the last time we talked. I did see him as I sat in the courtroom, but we were not allowed to talk, that is the way it is in federal courts.

So there he was. Same voice, just a little flat, I could hear the negative self-talk and the “woulds”, “shoulds” and “coulds” of regret. I tried to keep him on the upside instead of the down low. He wanted updates of the men he had come to know and love. Our call was a ten-minute timed call with three interruptions informing me that the call was being recorded. The disjointed call was emblematic of a disjointed life. So sad.  I pray for his safety and his peace. Self-forgiveness is a bitch.

Also during this day I had two scheduled zoom calls with two current men that I am mentoring. One man is fifty-five, once divorced with a bunch of kids, the other is a recent college graduated on the cusps of adulthood. I loved my time with them. COVID-19 has stolen the hugs but not the essence and for that I’m blessed.

What a day in the life. Home run or strike out, I get to stand in the batters box of life watching the ball coming straight towards my head hoping that it’s a curve ball and if I just don’t bail out I just might be able to get enough bat on the ball to leg out a hit and live for another day. When people ask me how I am these days my answer is always the same, “I’m working overtime to not become a statistic” what more can any of us do, oh yeah and it’s not fair, that’s life. For me whether it’s the good, the bad, or the ugly, it’s the only game in town, plan B sucks. And tomorrow we get to get up and do it all over again, just for today!

And as I always say: misery is optional.

Give me a call if you want to talk, I’m here.

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