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  • Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry anymore…
    ‘Cause when life looks like Easy Street there is danger at your door
    Think this through with me – let me know your mind
    Whoa-oh what I want to know-oh is are you kind?

    It’s a buck, dancer’s choice my friend, better take my advice
    You know all the rules by now and the fire’s on the ice
    Will you come with me? Won’t you come with me?
    Whoa-oh, what I want to know-oh, will you come with me?

    Come hear Uncle John’s Band by the riverside
    Got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide
    Come hear Uncle John’s Band playing to the tide
    Come on along or go alone he’s come to take his children home….

    Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead lyricist, said that.

    “Life’s a classroom, and class is now in session. The day you think you’ve graduated from this school, there is another school that awaits you up around the next bend. It is known as the School of Hard Knocks.”

    I said that.

    Every day has at least one lesson to be learned. Life’s teachers come in all shapes, forms, sizes, walks of life, and disguises. It is not ours to pick and choose them – they just show up. It is ours to learn the lesson they have come to depart to us. Judgements will obscure the lesson, if we stay in that frame of mind. Case in point.

    After our group got kicked out of N.A., because we didn’t follow the “rules” that had been laid down by the so-called “powers that be” in that organization, we continued to flourish and thrive, helping other addicts to recover from the dreaded affliction known as addiction, and we didn’t even have a name for ourselves. Some called us “Addicts Anonymous”, but we didn’t have nor need our own literature – we simply used the thing that had been working for alcoholics and addicts for 40 + years at that point – the A.A. Big Book.

    That’s what had gotten us kicked out of N.A. in the first place. They wanted us to use their own home-grown literature. Ironically, I had been one of the ones who helped put that literature together, and I knew that, great as it sounded, I couldn’t recover behind it. I needed something written by people who had actually recovered from addiction (which alcoholism is), not something that had been cut and pasted together under the guise of “God working through our group conscience”, that then got altered by the home office to suit their need to control the joint. So, we were a renegade outfit, but didn’t care about all of that. Addicts needed to find recovery, we needed to help them as a way of maintaining our own recovery, and the mutual need served everyone, beautifully. The less organized we were, it seemed, the more effective it worked.

    Then, we decided to get more organized, and our effectiveness went exponentially downhill. Instead of the just spontaneous meetings in peoples apartments and coffee shops, where it just seemed like newcomers came right out of the woodworks, we found a clubhouse in South Philly, and got organized into clubhouse politics. Bad idea. The guys up north of the city decided to start their own clubouse, so found a storefront on the main drag in Norristown, and we’d meet up there on Friday nights. The beauty of that one was, on any given Friday night, anyone might wander in.

    That’s where we met Cocoa – a most unlikely teacher who imparted a lesson onto Kathy that has stayed with her these 25-odd years. Cocoa – bug-eyed, scary looking ( “cross me and I’ll cut you with this knife” kind of look), prostitute junkie who found her way in off the hard streets of Norristown for a warm cup of coffee and a break from the insanity out there. Cocoa – a most unlikely teacher, for sure.

    There were other newcomers, and as was the group’s wont, we were working with them in groups of 3 or 4, here and there about the clubhouse. Kathy was sitting across from Cocoa, who at one point just fixed Kathy with that riveting stare, which bore right down into the depths of Kathy’s being, and slowly said, as if it was the most important thing Kathy would ever here in this lifetime, “To Be Alive is to be Aware…To be aware is to be Alive.” Kathy heard her. How could you ever forget such a lesson, delivered in such a compelling manner? Kathy never did. To this day, all she has to do to conjure up that lesson is to mention the name of “Cocoa”.

    Lesson learned. Taught in a classroom in the School of Life, by a visiting teacher from the School of Hard Knocks.

    Who might show up to teach today’s lesson? Be aware. Be alive. Pay attention.

    Class is in session.
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