I met Eric in rehab. Tall and fair and eyes like oceans. He was the kind of guy that could make the mundane fun, funny. He found humor in everything around him, and in the most impromptu moments. I lost a pair of undies once somewhere between the laundry and my room and he never let me forget, found ways to mention those unmentionables in most every conversation for days, to everyone’s delight. Even mine. I cherished the normalcy he brought to the surreal.
But mostly Eric brought laughter to sadness, a sadness he worked hard to ignore.
Where sober reality consumed me, infiltrated my every pore and threatened to swallow me whole, Eric danced around its edges, taunted it with a wide grin and dancing eyes. A side-splitting joke. Oh how I longed for half his cup half-full.
It’s amazing how close you draw to strangers in a place like that, how quickly you learn to lean on and in to each other you don’t even know; drowning your sorrows amid one another rather than a drink or a snort or a hit. You become each others new addiction, needy and comforting. Like me Eric had a love waiting at home, a love with an ultimatum: the addiction or me. A choice is all. Just a choice. And like me, he wanted to make the right one.
Eric was two weeks ahead of me in the program and when his 30 days sober came along we were all there to admire his coin, his time in, his going home. We admired the light and laughter he kept along the way. As he left he handed me an envelope with my name across the front: small, straight letters so unlike his fluid, care-free demeanor:
Brenda- I pray you learn to see the beauty inside you, the beauty I see, the beauty others see. You are worth so much. Don't every doubt it. Love always, Eric
That was it: three sentences. Three thoughts. Three sobering, jarring proclamations that left me stunned. Speechless. Sobbing.
I wanted to grab him, to keep him there joking about lost undies and just any old thing, anything at all just so I could keep laughing, so I wouldn’t lose my mind as I shed my skin.
But he was gone.
Two weeks later and my own 30 days sober. As they put the plastic coin in my hand the door opened and eyes like oceans smiled at me, asked if I had my undies on. The whole room sprang up along with my heart and laughter spilled out like a flood-wall breaking. He’d driven three hours to be there, to wish me well, to remind me I was worth it. Oh how I loved him at that moment, that selfless, loving moment.
A few days later I’m home. I’m back in the world and reality and clinging to what I learned but couldn’t remember, not on my own. I racked my brain for the right thoughts, the right words, the right choices. I strained for the laughter echoing off walls inside, fading down dark halls; grasping for half that cup half-full.
Then the phone rang. It was my roommate from rehab telling me Eric was dead. He’d pushed a gun to his chin, taken off the top of his head, and that was that.
He was gone.
And oh how I hated him at that moment, that selfish, hateful moment.
I’d flirted with suicide many times, nearly succeeded a time or two, but this wasn’t about me, it was about him. How could he? How could this man so full of love and laughter let his cup go empty? How could he not see his own beauty inside? How could he doubt it so much?
That wasn’t one of the choices.
I found that note tucked away and tore it to shreds so small I couldn’t tear anymore, cursing him, cursing myself. Cursing God. And I bawled. I bawled until I couldn’t breathe. I bawled until there was nothing more than a big empty inside.
And then I set my face. And my heart. And the God I cursed took over.
Eric didn’t really teach me of the beauty inside. I still struggle with that. But what Eric did teach me was that moments are just that: momentary.
Eric taught me not to lean too hard on the feelings of a particular moment because they’re not real, not truth. Not yet. Each moment is merely a blurry, fragmented glimpse of something more, something larger, something on its way to something else, a something we can’t yet see. It’s not that moments are fleeting but rather growing, growing and changing and expanding, evolving in to something too big for our singular minds to comprehend.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Moments unfurl like a bud blooming, like an explanation, a story taking shape.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
Moments birth new moments.
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Eric also taught me that I can’t fix anything, not moments or time nor what’s been done or what’s not. And that I can’t fix me. No, not even me.
Eric taught me the breadth and depth of “Let go, let God”. He taught me to wait.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
And, bless his soul, he taught me to laugh at lost undies and most of all to laugh loud, really loud, right smack-dab in the face of sadness.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
Isaiah 55:8-13 NIV
What Eric taught me was all these things but I didn’t realize it until right now. Right here, right now, all these years later, in this moment. With a cup overflowing.