I would like to preface this blog post by saying that while I’m kind of stepping on Tradition, it’s in the interest of honouring the memory of good man I was proud to call a friend. I belong to a certain recovery society for people who are too fond of booze and who need to put the plug in the jug. The image headlining this post kind of gives away the society’s name, but that’s as close as I intend to come to saying it out loud.
Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
~ Tradition Eleven
It is commonly accepted that the above now includes the Internet, so, whoops.
I attended the local boozer support group when I lived in East Central Alberta and became fond of one of the group’s old-timers, Bill E. They say that we go through a second childhood as we age and I’m pretty sure Bill was in the middle of a do-over of his teens when I knew him. An extremely intelligent man, he had a quick wit and a mischievous sense of humour. You’d see his eyes sparkle and then out would come that comment.
This wasn’t a bad thing at all. When you first quit drinking the world is a dark and colourless place. You feel like you’ll never experience joy again. What changes things is when you go to a meeting and bump into someone like Bill who is practically overflowing with joie de vivre. He had been sober for over a decade and the man was clearly having a blast every minute of every day.
People like Bill give newcomers the hope they need to keep coming back to meetings and to work The Steps when they see firsthand how amazing the results are. I know there are a lot of people sober today because they were inspired to stay and work the program by Bill. Some of them are old-timers now, like me.
Unfortunately, we age, we get sick, and we pass on. In Bill’s case, it was cancer and aggressive cancer at that. I think it was a total of six months from getting the news to losing him. And what a loss. I was out photographing a field full of dead autos that a local farmer had graciously given me access to on the weekend Bill passed.
One of the cars was a bit of a curiosity. An old Mercury with the letters AA and a halo over them scratched into one of the doors. It was unusual enough that I took a photo and kept going, working the rest of the collection.
When I returned from the outing I realized that I had forgotten my cell phone and there were messages piling up on it. Bill had passed while I was out marauding with my camera and the entire group was calling and texting to let me know. There was one strange thing… His time of passing. The time stamp on the image of the vehicle with the AA markings and halo pretty much lined up with Bill’s time of death. Nearly exactly as I and my sponsor at the time figured.
The serendipity of my stumbling across that vehicle with those specifically meaningful markings at that exact moment took up a lot of my head space for the next couple of weeks. Photographers are used to seeking out images. Having an image seek me out instead and so conspicuously… I had to go back and ask about it. The AA angel markings on the car weren’t new by any means – they had been there for decades as the owner recalled. He didn’t know who put them there and he didn’t know why. Not something he gave any thought to.
To me, stumbling across the old Mercury with the less than subtle message etched on it felt like one last good poke from that guy at my home group who could always steer me back to working the right Step, but in a fun way. Bill could be gracious, but the prankster in him always shone through. He was not someone who would leave without saying goodbye if he could, and he was definitely the kind of cheeky bastard who was not above tweaking you one last time on his way out the door. I bet his eyes sparkled right before he did, too.
The AA/halo markings on that car became an “ohhhhhhh” moment for me. I’ll tell you straight up that this is the kind of thing that messes with you when you’re an agnostic who trends towards being an atheist. It definitely rocked me back on my heels. I still don’t know if I believe in God or Heaven or Hell, but I can tell you this:
I believe in Bill E.