I spent a half hour yesterday at a Roman Catholic service. Yes, this “nice Jewish boy” was at a Mass in Kirtland, Ohio, (a town, I dare say, with more churches than traffic signals). Sitting beside a good friend, prayers were offered for a beautiful baby.

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In his day, he says, he announced prize fights. Who knows? He’s a bit of a “Damon Runyan” character; I can see him on Short Vincent.

That was then.

I first heard Mike some time ago, at a meeting. He’d been sober twenty years (give or take), and as I sat through a myriad of comments, his was the voice I heard.

I was in a bad place that night. Eight years into recovery I found myself pressured by the past, afraid….. As my Dad would have said: I didn’t know whether “to shit or go blind.” I just wasn’t functioning.

To this day I can picture the moment. This guy stands up, looking like Spencer Tracy—if Tracy had a Jewish mother—and he shares as if speaking to me. Just to me.

He spoke of fear…of his being “up against it”…and of his faith that God would protect him. He was calm.

Walking from the hall that eve, I was a different man. Emboldened by Mike’s message, his belief…I reinforced mine. That night—that very night—the faith I felt in my head shot down to my heart. It was the signal moment in my life.

Years passed before our paths next crossed. . It was a Friday night on Wilson Mills, and I was “leading” the meeting. Speaking as we do, without notes…just telling my story…I found myself thanking those that had come before me—those that taught me lessons. Mike’s was a name I mentioned.

Years passed. Four, maybe five. It was fall, 2010: I’d developed a new sponsor and the rhythm of my program was changing. Gravitating to men’s meetings, I met more and more guys with depth in sobriety …including Mike.

There was something about his handshake that very first time that said “friend”, and something about his manner that spoke “peace”. Today, two years later, his is the reassuring presence ever reminding me of the lesson first learned in that old hall on Mayfield: that I’m safe in God’s world.

It was not surprising then, what happened last December. Word had filtered; prayers were uttered…and Mike phoned.

“What’s your baby’s name?” he asked.

The card came a few days later. It named the church, the date, and the hour…

Our people: we call it a “Misha Berach”. It’s the traditional prayer for the sick, often made from a pulpit. The Catholics—they speak of “Intentions”. To God it’s all the same.

So there we were, sitting in his church, for my grandchild. Side-by-side.  It was morning—half past eight.  I was a long way from the night I’d first heard him. Mike was a long way from Short Vincent.

There we were, the two of us, at peace in the prime of our lives.

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