I heard yesterday from an alcoholic friend whom my wife and I have known for a long time. She lives out of state; I hadn't talked to her in a couple of years, but we hear about her from time to time through mutual friends. Our friend was calling to ask my wife a legal question; my wife wasn't home, so the friend and I spent a few minutes catching up. She's had a fairly rough time of it, but whenever we've seen her she's had a positive, hang-in-there attitude, and her two grown kids seem to have turned out just fine.
It seemed clear that our friend wasn't entirely thrilled with some of the ways her life had turned out so far. I was going to tell her one of my favorite sayings, which is that life isn't a snapshot, it's a movie, but for some reason a variation popped into my head: One or two scenes does not a movie make. She liked that, and referred back to it several times as the conversation went on.
Our friend goes to AA, and has been in therapy for years, but she said she was thinking about going back to church too, because you couldn't really find a publicly-available community in AA, and she felt that she needed one. I encouraged her to do that, and we got to talking about church and religion. I pointed out that in the grand scheme of things, life was undeniably getting better, as evidenced by Gregg Easterbrook's thought experiment about whether one would want to trade places with a random ancestor from 10,000 years ago or even 100 years ago. She quickly agreed that no, she wouldn't want to do that.
I took the opportunity to tell her a wonderful story I heard a few years ago from a good friend from church, whom I'll call John Doe. John is a cheerful, brilliant guy with a wicked sense of humor (directed mostly at himself), a high-ranking business executive who puts his devout Christianity into practice every day. The story also indirectly involves John Doe's oldest child, whom I'll call Bill, who was a teen-ager at the time.
I'm going to retell John Doe's story my own way, so I can't rule out that I might be varying or embellishing it a bit. (See this posting about how that sort of thing can easily happen; scroll down to the part about how a SUNY Buffalo professor heard a story from Peter Fonda about his father, Henry Fonda, but then found that he had unintentionally distorted it in retelling it to his students.) But I'm pretty sure I'm getting the main point right.
Anyway, here's approximately how John Doe told me the story. He said:
"I once went through a period when I seriously doubted whether I was doing what I ought to be doing with my life. It was a real concern for me.
"Then one night I had a dream. In the dream, I was talking to God. I told him about my concern.
"Lord,' I said, 'I just don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. Can you please give me some kind of clue?'
"God answered me. He said, 'You just don't get it, do you?' I said 'What do you mean, Lord?' He said, 'It's not about you — it's about Bubba Doe.'
"I said 'Bubba Doe? Who's that?'
"God said, 'That's Bill's grandson, your great-grandson. He'll be born in about 50 years or so. I have a specific job in mind for Bubba to do. What you're doing with your life is some of the prep work that needs to be done before that. So relax, already.'
"I woke up feeling wonderful."
At the end of my conversation with our alcoholic friend, she said she'd gotten some of the best mental-health information she'd gotten in a long time. She promised to keep in touch; my wife and I are going to do the same.