One Saturday morning, while I was under direct orders from my commander-in-chief, aka my wife, to clean the clutter off my desk, I came upon my fathers Twenty-Four Hour Book, one of the AA tools he used to stay sober a day at a time for 25 years.
It was a worn and tattered small black book that could fit in your pocket, a book held together by tape and glue after years of use. You see, my father started his day reading it and ended his day reading it.
I opened the collection of meditations and prayers and turned to that days entry, which read, It is the quality of my life that determines its value. In order to judge the value of a persons life, we must set up a standard. The most valuable life is one of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. All peoples lives ought to be judged by this standard in determining their value to the world. By this standard, most of the so-called heroes of history were not great men. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, if he loses his own soul?
They were Christs own words, and yet how little we heed them. Getting ahead, staying ahead and beating out the other guy in the race for success are what motivate us much of the time. After all, who wouldnt love to gain the world and be rich, famous and powerful?
My father was hardly rich and famous, and he certainly was not a hero of history. For much of his life while he was drinking, he wasnt even a hero in our family. However, nobody is beyond recovery or redemption, and for his last 25 years, he tried hard to live by the standard of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love.
Not too many people do and few even try. Sad to say, those intoxicated by power and prestige probably never consider the importance of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love.
All this, of course, leads you to wonder whether questionable moral values are a prerequisite to rise to the top of the ladder. At the same time, there are countless so-called good people who are community icons, political leaders, religious figures, corporate executives and ostensibly upstanding men and women who compartmentalize their lives, which means to say they leave their values at home when they go to work.
They have the unsettling ability to disassociate the good they are supposed to do from the bad they consent to do. Theres always a convenient excuse for evil.
My father, with wisdom acquired from his years in the college of AA, would often say, You cant just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.
The meditation in the Twenty-Four Hour Book was illuminating when you consider the so-called heroes of our world heroes in sports, in politics, in business and in entertainment, from Roger Clemens and Lindsay Lohan to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who spent thousands of dollars on a call girl.
How many of these high-profile figures and celebrities come close to the standard? Some pretend to live by these values and others give them lip service, but after you scratch the surface and direct a little light into the hidden corners of their lives, you uncover the sad truth of their decadence and selfishness.
Whenever I become disenchanted with the world I encounter in the newspaper headlines, I try to remember there are still some people struggling to live lives of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love by reading a small black book that helps them do it a day at a time. Fortunately, its a path available to everyone.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.