GETTING THE ANSWER – RICH PASCHALL

His 20’s seemed like an absolutely magical time.  Bobby began them with frequent social activities with his high school and college friends.  There was softball, touch football and sometimes bowling.  There were concerts and plays.  There were house parties and gatherings at local sports bars.  Every weekend was an adventure and Bobby was a willing participant in all of it.  If nothing was happening on a given weekend, Bobby would organize something.  He would have people over for a beer tasting event and purchase several different types for people to taste and judge.  He would gather up a group to watch an important sports event at a neighborhood bar.  He would organize a group to go to an Oktoberfest or other festival.  Bobby would not let a weekend go by without something happening.  In this regard, Bobby was quite dependable.

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As he reached the end of his twenties Bobby found it a little more difficult to keep the parties going.  Some friends married, started families and were not free every weekend for a Bobby social event.  Others moved away and were no longer nearby to jump into neighborhood activities.  And some were just tired of the Bobby social calendar which began to rely more on drinking in bars than anything else.  Bobby, however, did not slow down and always found someone to participate in his weekend outings, but the numbers had dwindled and Bobby could no longer command the attention of his many friends.

As he marched into his 30’s the lack of friends was barely noticed by Bobby.  He continued his assault on neighborhood bars.  The bartenders of his favorite places knew his name and usually had his beer poured by the time he sat down.  Regular patrons of these bars knew Bobby by name as well.  This made Bobby feel at home whenever he went out to the bars.  It was nice to have friends here, he frequently thought.  It did not dawn on him that all these people were just drinking acquaintances and not really friends, until he reached his middle 30’s.

By that time he found all the partying was wearing him down.  He was no longer in the fine athletic shape he enjoyed when he was just twenty-one.  He did not participate in sports or work out as he once did.  Bobby was handsome and had been quite desirable to many of the young women and perhaps even to some of the guys when he was 30 pounds lighter.  He had paid no mind to that, however, as the social calendar was the most important part of Bobby’s week.  There is no telling why Bobby did not, or could not, develop real friendships.  He was totally clueless as to the reason all the friends he had 15 years earlier drifted away from him.  Perhaps he had drifted away from them.

Headaches and hangovers became the frequent companions to the rapidly approaching middle age Bobby.  It was starting to take him all week to recover from one weekend so he could start up again on the next weekend.  He had taken notice of that and started to give serious thought to getting into better shape.  “I really need to start working out again,” was the thought that began filling his week days.  As a result he joined a health club and actually made a few week day stops there, but his run down feeling generally prevented him from becoming a frequent patron of the club he passed every weekday on his way home from work.

When he was not too hung over, Bobby resumed going to church on Sundays.  It was a practice he abandoned in his early 20’s, since it just did not fit his social calendar.  Now he was asking for guidance.  He desired to change his lifestyle and felt he needed God’s help to do that.  So he prayed often but with little result.  On several Sundays a month he now begged and pleaded with God to help him break free of the cycle of drinking and partying and replace it with something meaningful.  Bobby was smart enough to realize that the weekend bar hopping would never just end without something else to do, and Bobby could not imagine what that might be.

Finally Bobby decided to give up the weekend outings when the New Year came for as long as he possibly could, with or without God’s help.  He figured a New Year’s resolution to stop the weekend madness until at least St. Patrick’s Day would be a great idea.  With a little perseverance, he might give up drinking for lent too.  Imagine no weekend outings until past Easter.  Actually, Bobby could not imagine that but he thought he might give it a try.  While this might seem a reasonable resolution, it terrified Bobby.  He thought he might go stir-crazy during the party break.

Since Bobby had planned that New Year’s Eve was the last night out for a while, he was disappointed to learn there would be a lot of snow.  He ultimately decided not to go out in a storm and he watched New Year’s Rockin’ Eve instead.  It brought back memories of old Dick Clark counting down the old year.  “There are too many drunks on the road anyway.  I can go out anytime.”  So the new year started on a new note.

When the next weekend came, arctic cold arrived to dissuade Bobby from going anywhere but home on the weekend.  As a mater of fact, January had settled into a pattern of snowfalls and subzero temperatures.  Each time Bobby was tempted to go out, he feared losing his nice parking spot on the snowy street or being stuck in sub-zero weather.  By the third weekend, he wanted to hit the local sports bar for the play off games, but the deep snow and bitter cold forced Bobby to reconsider such a plan.  Now all Bobby was seeing was his apartment, his workplace and the snowy roads in between.  After many weeks of this unusual weather pattern, Bobby began to wonder why God was torturing people with the snow and cold.  Surely something was wrong that the awful weather did not just go on for a few days or even a few weeks, because now it had gone on for over a month.

On a February Sunday, Bobby felt pretty good and decided to return to church.  Weather had forced him away from church as well as the bars.  He hardly got out at all for weeks, and then just to the store for a little shopping.  Bobby felt he should point out to the Lord that his weather was keeping Bobby away from church.  Although he did not really expect God to answer, he thought he would just ask him what is up with that.  So he started down the right aisle of the big old church and went half way up toward the front where he picked out a seat he had often chosen.  “Well?” Bobby said to God once he sat down.  He stared at the large stained glass window behind the altar for several minutes before Bobby realized that God had indeed answered his prayers.

15 thoughts on “GETTING THE ANSWER – RICH PASCHALL

  1. I was waiting for the ending of this story, but it never came. No offense to you Rich, as I thought the story was well written and expressed the idea that faith in God can help us in unexpected ways. I completely agree. I’m not sure though that you have experienced this situation in your life, or that you have a lot of experience with problem drinking or with alcoholism, whether it be your personal experience, or the experience of people you know. There is a distinction between problem drinking and alcoholism, and I wanted to bring this up because I know a lot of people in Bobby’s shoes who’s stories ended in jail, or in an institution, or 6 feet underground. As I said, I don’t know if Bobby is a real person, but here is my experience with people like Bobby.

    For most people like Bobby, it takes more than a New Years resolution, or bad weather to stop drinking. Now, I will give you that people like Bobby do exist, but the person you are describing may very well be an alcoholic, and that person would find a way to drink no matter how bad the weather was. They would find a way to justify their drinking, whether it was because God was keeping them from church by causing bad weather to occur, or because they just didn’t have the will power they thought they did and maybe they’d try again next year, or maybe it would be just because things were going well in their life and they wanted to celebrate.

    Even if there was no possible way to get out because the weather was so bad, once they were able to get out they’d say to themselves, “See, I don’t have a problem. I went this long without having a drink, so I can’t possibly have a problem.” And then they’d celebrate with a drink. They might also go to church. Many times people feel that simply being in church is enough to show God, and themselves, and the other people in their lives that even though they have a problem drinking they are still faithful, upstanding members of society. “That guy can sure knock them down, but look, he’s a good church going Christian, so therefore he can’t be an alcoholic.”

    People come up with all sorts of excuses to drink and to justify their drinking. Like I said though, perhaps in Bobby’s case all he needed was a long hiatus, and that was the end of his problem drinking. That has not been my experience though, either with myself, or with the people in my life who were behaving as Bobby was. For myself, and for the people I am describing, further action must be taken to resolve the problem, and the first action that must be taken is to admit there is a problem, and that it cannot be solved through willpower, or through prayers or through a long hiatus. God can solve the problem, but God is going to send these people to Alcoholics Annonymous in one way or another, either through the courts, or by their own free will.

    Being in church is not having a relationship with God. I have nothing against church, or synagogue or mosque, believe me. But many who attend church feel that simply being there means that they have a relationship with God, when all they really have is another justification for drinking. To have a relationship with God, you have to listen to what God is telling you, and do what God is telling you to do, and that means being amongst people who have been through what you are going through. God provides guidance through them.

    Many people in this situation come to realize that they were never paying any attention to what God was trying to tell them, and they form a true relationship with God through working the steps of AA. As a matter of fact, that is what the steps of AA are all about. They are about forming a relationship with God, or what many like to call a higher power because that is what they are more comfortable with. AA is about learning how to live a better life, and forming a relationship with God first by allowing others to guide them, and then by helping God to guide others. AA is a transformation from being a self-centered, instict driven, lost soul, to being a helpful, giving, caring, loving and useful human being. It’s about learning how to form true partnerships with other human beings and with God. Oh yeah, and it’s about not drinking too. See, once someone is living the life that AA teaches, they have no need for a drink.

    Alcoholics do not lack will power, they simply process alcohol differently than “normal” people. No hiatus, or church, or prayer is going to fix that. Prayers to God are fine, but when the answer comes, it is usually a request for action, and not a free gift. If you haven’t noticed, your story really touched a nerve with me, and I hope you will allow it to be posted for the sake of the one or two people who might read what I have written and find it useful. Maybe Bobby’s story did end where you left it, but for the majority of people I know like Bobby, the story has just begun.

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    • Thanks for taking the time to provide these thoughtful comments to the story. It is appreciated. If a story can provide meaningful information on an issue, then it has done more than its job.
      As for Bobby, it is no one’s story in particular, but I do know people like this. As for an ending, it is like many of the people I know because I do not yet know the ending. Bobby was looking for something to break out of the cycle and that was provided to him. Was it enough? Will he just resume his recent lifestyle? Fortunately you have taken the time to provide insight into what people like Bobby may in fact need.

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      • Thanks Rich. I tend to write from my own experience, or at least from the experience of people very close to me who can validate my assumptions and interpretations. Having a lifetime of experience on this particular subject, and knowing thousands of people who suffer from alcoholism, hundreds of them personally, I can tell you that people who are drinking like Bobby, and who are unable to break the cycle on their own will need most likely need more help than just the inability to get to the liquor store, or to the bar. In face, many people in his situation would suffer from delirium tremens, and seizures if they had to go even a day without alcohol and did not have medical assitance to help with the withdrawal.

        People in this situation face a desperate dilemma. Drinking is killing them, and yet to stop drinking will kill them. Even if they are not yet at this phase of alcoholism, they are many times suffering from many other physical ailments, and are usually horribly depressed, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, and utterly hopeless unless they get help.

        Only another alcoholic can fully understand the implications of alcoholism, and that is why alcoholics annonymous is so successful. It is really just one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. There are no doctors or other medical profesionals giving lectures about liver disease. There are no therapists lecturing people about the moral implications of their drinking and the affect on their families. There are only other alcoholics, ready to help and to give away what was so freely given to them.

        The is why I give caution to those who write about problem drinking or about alcoholism unless they fully understand it themselves. A problem drinker who read your story might think, “Ah see, this guy was helped by God because God made it so he couldn’t drink, and then he was OK.” And they might try, as they have tried many times before to just stop, and when they fail once again they will think that God must not like them since God did not help them as he helped Bobby. They might read your story and feel even more hopeless.

        Please don’t take this personally, as I enjoy your writing. As I said though, I tend to write about things that I have a great deal of experience with, even if I am writing fiction. To do anything less would be doing a disservice to my readers, and to my own integrity.

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        • To say I do not know the ending, does not mean I do not understand the story well. I am not sure these few words will lead anyone to the wrong conclusions about their own lives, although there could be someone who points to this short fiction. If they lie to themselves over these few words, they would find a reason to tell the lie with or without the story, I think.
          Interesting to me is that Bobby may have gotten an answer but is it what he wants or needs? At the end of The Bishop’s Wife (David Niven/Cary Grant) the angel leaves telling the Bishop his prayer has been answered. The Bishop insists his prayer is not answered because he prayed for a cathedral and did not get it. The angel replies, “No, Henry. You were praying for guidance.” I see the ending here in a similar way.
          Thanks for all your time to write. It is great to bring discussion to the story and I appreciate that.

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  2. I love when people take the time to make thoughtful comments. It means you’ve stirred genuine emotion. Opening the door to a sensitive issue is a good thing.

    I have a pretty intimate knowledge of alcoholism, AA and addiction. Everyone’s road is unique. Most people do need structure and support to break free of alcohol or other addictions, though I know one person who did it on his own … but he’s the only one. Everyone else needed some kind of program and long-term support.

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