What Big Joe Taught Me

I’ve written on Medium for a month or two.

This is my first post that is not a response.

The only responses that got traction for me had to do with addiction and recovery. As Sherlock Holmes might say, “That’s a clue.”

For the record, I’m an alcoholic and addict with 23 years of sobriety.

Here’s the story of Big Joe, and what I learned from him.

Big Joe was a Navajo Indian.

He was in my first A.A. group, the one where the message took. Joe wasn’t his real name, but his real name isn’t important.

He sat across from me. He always had a smile on his face. He looked like he was high, but he wasn’t. He was serene. And juiced up on coffee.

Big Joe was a familiar face, but he was not somebody I talked to a lot. I gravitated towards other people in the group. There were no hard feelings.

Our group was a lively mix. We met at 10:00 A.M. A lot of us worked part-time or in restaurants at night.

The 12:00 P.M. group was suits on lunch break. That wasn’t us.

In the middle of my first year of sobriety, I took an AIDS test.

I waited two weeks for results to come back.

This was back in the day. Maybe results came in faster in some parts of the country, but not at the free clinic in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Two weeks was plenty of time to spiral down into a pit of despair. I didn’t think I was in a high risk group, but then again, I had been sexually active.

The day before my test results came back, I shared at a meeting. The anxiety, the panic attacks, all of it. I was in tears. I was going to die.

Big Joe sat there with a smile. He clutched one of those one-gallon plastic coffee mugs they sell you at convenience stores.

When I was finished, Big Joe shared.

He cross-talked what I had just shared. He wasn’t supposed to do that.

“And remember,” he said, at the end of his share. “However the test comes out, you will be fine. Everything in the universe is just as it’s supposed to be.”

He looked at me and smiled.

I was pissed. He stomped all over my share. He didn’t understand my fear.

When the meeting was over, I sat on the veranda and smoked a cigarette.

Big Joe came over.

“Thanks,” I said. I didn’t mean it, but I knew that I needed to be polite.

“Listen,” Big Joe said, moving his face close to mine. “If that test comes back positive, you come find me. I came back positive last year.”

He smiled, turned, and walked away from me.

His broad back turned the corner at the next block.

My heart went into my throat. I was ashamed.

My test came back negative.

“Oh, I’m not surprised,” the nurse said. “They can tell when they have it.”

I watched Big Joe after that. I knew a big secret. I wondered how he could be so spiritual if he were going to die. He was the most serene of all of us.

I learned how to handle adversity.

Because adversity is not really adversity.

It is just the way things are, as Big Joe knew.

If my test had been positive, I’d have felt sorry for myself.

Big Joe would have picked me up.

I’d have found a way to contribute. I’d have found serenity.

I remember Big Joe when I’m worried today.

What I want to happen may not happen. But I’ll be all right.