sixth assignment

Some of the homeless, hungry ghosts that loiter around the Pier Plaza all day, and then sleep beneath the pier or go crawl under some bushes at night, have been there for years.  Most of them largely keep to themselves, or at least keep their quarrels between themselves.  Over the years I’d often reflected on close I was to being in their shoes, the difference being that I had my parents’ backyard to crash in.  If not for the pop-up camper I’m squatting in now, I wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in Huntington Beach for one night.

Santos didn’t seem to have a home, although he didn’t appear homeless either.  He usually wore the same uniform, a black hooded sweatshirt, the hood almost always up, and black pants.  With his sharp beard, walking stick, and the pack he wore on his back, I took him to be a pilgrim or hermit.  I gathered he had some small space or sanctuary he could return to when need be, although we never discussed it.  Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for days, and then he’d come back and tell me what he’d seen in another seaside community.  He seemed to keep his ramblings to the coast.

I knew that he took his job as a guide seriously, that he owed his life to someone taking him through the Twelve Awakenings, and didn’t feel that there was any part of the program that could be skimmed over or bypassed.  At the same time, I felt like I could be working faster since I had absolutely nothing going on.  I was still hoping that a cure for the pandemic would be announced and things would start getting back to normal.  I had no idea what I’d do next, but felt an obligation to start planning for something.  I couldn’t just sit in my Mom’s backyard forever.

When I told Santos I’d finished my latest assignment, he told me to meet him at the pier that afternoon and to bring the piece I’d written on spiritual awakening and my Big Book.  By the time our appointment rolled around I was feeling particularly frustrated and depressed about my situation.  He told me I was actually an inspiration to a lot of the other ghosts, the way I showed up every day and was so willing to do the work required to make a change.  That surprised me.  We can never see ourselves the way others do.  All we know is how we feel, and I felt like hell.

Santos believed that I’d been lucky, that I had one of the best stories about finding a recovery group that he’d heard in a long time.  I assured him that it hadn’t been as sexy as it sounded, but when you drop names like Vietnam, Cambodia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Death Valley into your narrative it sounds more like you’ve been running from The Terminator than from COVID.  He believed that even if it had only been all panic-attacks and mania, it was still a classic tale of spiritual awakening, if I could maintain the courage and perseverance to follow up on it.  My story, he believed, could help a lot of people.

That was both flattering and humbling to hear.  It did make me want to double down on my efforts and put one hundred and fifty percent of myself into the program, if for no other reason than to find out for myself what the truth was and what was possible.

We sat down on a bench and read Chapter 2 of the Big Book of AA together.  The title was There is a Solution.  He read the first page and then I read the second, so on and so on, alternating back and forth, occasionally stopping to discuss things that either he or I felt were important.  Afterwards, he told me to go back and read it again, and then write another piece about it, since he liked my writing so much. 

I said I couldn’t guarantee another action classic, but I’d try.

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