Don’t give up on your good habits
People are not supposed to change.
Marrying someone with the idea of changing them is less successful than Baron Frankenstein's experiment trying to give life to a conglomeration of body parts.
But still, somehow, some people do change. I do not recommend abused spouses and children waiting around until the abuser changes. But some people, over decades, make some progress. Many more could.
The one great contribution of the United States to worldwide spirituality is Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-Step charter showing people how they can change. I do not say it outlines how a person can change solo. The first step is recognizing our powerlessness and turning our lives over, 24 hours at a time, to a "higher power." Naturally, as a priest, I have my own idea of how the higher power captures our lives or tries to.
The next steps calculate damage and give directions for restitution. Restitution? In a land of lawyers, this is subversive talk. But it is a reality check that keeps us from wallowing in our contrition at the expense of those we rolled over. It means public contrition and even writing some checks. The victims should accept the money even if only to pass it along to good causes. The victims are doing the addicts a favor by depriving them of material comforts.
I know that people can change and cannot change. My mother died last June in her sleep at 81, still with the habit of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. She died on a Sunday, which meant she had read her morning paper, a ritual as important as nicotine and caffeine.
When the elevators were shut down after a fire two years ago, she walked down 30 flights of steps to get the paper that Sunday morning. She also had two fried eggs that morning, as she did every morning. She had a decent cholesterol count of 179.
She beat the odds by not changing these usually unhealthy habits. But there were two serious ways she did change. She became very focused for the last nine months of her life. The death of my sister, who was two years younger than I, might have been the occasion of despair. Instead, my mother became more focused and loving.
The other was her alcoholism. She was a retired alcoholic who especially appreciated one friend who called her some weeks before she died. My mother said that there was a long period when she became socially unacceptable (and that was an understatement), but this friend stuck with her.
There were, though, two other habits in her life she did not give up on: her fighting for the poor against the powers that be and her love of human presence. She said of the hospice people attending her, "These people are really there."
I am glad she did not change in her defense of the poor or her love of top professionals who do more than go through the motions. There should be no surrender there, no change.
The Rev. Hal Weidner is pastor of Holy Trinity Church and St. Sophia Ukrainian Catholic Church.