Call me whatever you like. My name’s not important—at least not to me. Besides, I can’t control how you greet me. Fact is I can’t control anything you do—never have, never will. But I do care. Take, for example, my friend, Allen. He’s a good man—he knows right from wrong—but he does wander from time to time, which worries me.
This story goes back thirty years, but time doesn’t matter; I remember everything. It had to do with Allen’s papa who had a drinking problem. (The ingenuity of humankind always amazes me, including what they do with water, barley, and yeast.) But Papa overdid it, and he knew it. And so did I.
One day, Papa drove out of town to swap knives with a friend. The trades lasted most of the day—laced with a tide of booze. When Papa was ready to drive home, his eyes were blurred and his back teeth afloat (one of those quaint American euphemisms for a sorrowful habit).
Before leaving town, he lost control of his car, flattened a parking meter, and ended up spending the night in jail. When he faced the judge the following morning, he said, “I apologize to this court, to my family, and to my God. This will never happen again.”
And it didn’t—a promise I appreciated. To this day, I grin when I think about it.
Ten years later, I checked in with Allen. We had a heart-to-heart, he and I.
It’s been ten years since your Papa gave up drinking, I said. That’s no picnic.
“Yeah, I know,” Allen said. “I’ve been thinking about it for too long.”
Good to hear, I said. Remember, you’re gifted with four human endowments to help you do the right thing.
Allen knuckled his brow. “I don’t follow.”
Think about it: awareness, conscience, imagination, and independent will.
He squirmed ever so slightly. “Sure, I have those things.”
Well then? Don’t you think it’s time to go to work?
Allen crinkled his face, which was answer enough. His awareness called out his neglect. His conscience counseled the right thing to do. His imagination ran a movie on the process. And his independent will set everything in motion.
Within the hour, Allen took a long breath, let it wither out, and knocked on his father’s door. His papa greeted him with a smile and an invitation to take a load off.
“I have something to say to you, Papa,” Allen said.
“Oh-oh, what have I done wrong?”
Allen shook his head. “It’s not that at all. It’s about what you’ve done right. You’ve been sober for over ten years.” He glanced skyward. “That’s no picnic. And yet, I’ve never offered a word of praise. I’m sorry for that, Papa. I’m so proud of you for being true to your word.”
His father said nothing. He simply beckoned his son with both hands.
They both stood and stepped to the center of the living room and hugged each other in silence—a warm, tender reunion. The embrace was so real, so loving, so filled with peace, I could feel it from here.
As Allen drove home, he blinked his tears away, swallowed hard, and said, “Thank you, God.”
And I said, You’re welcome.