John led Friday night. The first time I heard him speak was a decade ago. Different room, same building. Same thoughtful message.

I like John. I like the vast majority of those I’ve met “in the rooms”. Not all, of course. There are, to be sure, the same jerks one finds in the real world. We avoid them though— like we would errant “earth people”.

Parked pensively, warmed by his story of recovery, it was hard not to feel the dynamic—still shared after all these years —- of the men I’ve met in the trenches…each of us (in our own way) living second acts.

This was the best group (if you’d call it that) …the best “organization” (but hardly that), that I’d ever been part of. As the stats show, for me at least, it’s been (to coin the phrase of my father’s friend Nathan Detroit) “The oldest established permanent floating crap game in Cleveland”).

I’m really NOT an organization man. I survived the army, barely…stumbled through two years as an employee, barely…and for the thrust of my career have been self (if not gainfully) employed. Other than my drill sergeant in Fort Polk, a putz I once officed with, and the ex-wife, no one ever got to tell me to shine my shoes.

Rules I can follow, but not always structure.

The fifties found me in the Boy Scouts. Mrs. Markowitz was our den mother and we got these patches.   From empty metal band aid boxes we crafted cigarette cases for our still-smoking parents.  I hated scouting with the passion that others (but not me) hated Hebrew School.  Thank God Little League came and my father had his priorities in order.  I went AWOL, traded uniforms.  And fuck the merit badge, by the way.

There were groups of my youth, of course:

—The Excels in grade six. (Disbanded when Bruce Schwartz’s mother called Rowland, complaining we’d excluded her son).
—R.E.N. at Greenview. (French for “rouge et noir”, reference to our red/black banlon uniforms). This died too. Perhaps Snyder remembers.
—Shiloh A.Z.A. Male arm of B’Nai B’Brith Youth, national’d granted us a charter and advisor; Bobby was voted Aleph Gadol; this died too. They pulled our credentials, we were told, for our excessive hazing. (I’m sure Groovy recalls).

And there was the club of my first adulthood: the Knights Of Pythias.

—Conventional wisdom has it that Past Chancellor Al Bogart brought me in The Lodge. Not so. Truth be known it was the most private of my social circle, one Stuart William Fenton, that sponsored my entrance. Co-signed by Ermine, my application went through in ’75 and in November that year we were …brothers. It was a special mix, that crowd. An amalgam of men all ages, founded by an act of Congress on the precepts of charity, friendship and benevolence, it (for the most part), honored them.

A common thread runs, though, from the Cub Scouts through Knights. In each group, with all the friends I had—from Bobby to Stuart to Alan to Mark — I felt “less than”. Was I good enough? Or sharp enough? Was I OK? My friends did not measure, but I did. I knew that they liked me, but was I OK? OK enough?

That all changed in recovery.

From my first meeting in ’97 through the conclave last night, I’ve never NOT felt a part of. Not better than…not worse than. One of.

It’s bizarre, frankly. Coming from different worlds, telling different stories, melding. Common ground? We’ve all shot ourselves in the foot one way or another. We’ve all been kicked in the ass, one way or another. We all were our own worst enemy, one way or another.

And now we’re each trying to grow, one way or another.

That’s why, perhaps, as I walked into that church the other night and saw my friend John I felt grateful. I know his story, you see. And he knows mine. Over time we’ve shared how we’ve tripped, stumbled, fallen, and risen.

I don’t worry anymore if I’m OK.

I’m standing.

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