I always wondered what happened to a man I met at a Trailways bus station over forty years ago. I was thirteen at the time and I was running away from home again. This was in the seventies and it seemed to me that the whole world was wide open and I wanted to join the party. Sometimes after school, when I got the urge for adventure, I would walk to the bus station in Petersburg and buy a ticket to Richmond. The place I liked most to run to was a small neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, called The Fan. I had heard there was a lot going on there, that hippies lived there and that it was the place to be. I dreamed of being a hippie, like the ones I read about in Life magazine and in the newspapers. I didn’t realize then that one small event that happened in that Trailways bus station when I was thirteen would stick with me for ever and shape and influence the type of person I would become, and the direction my life would take.
I would always have a few dollars from my allowance in my pocket, and I usually had a little more than the price of a one way ticket to Richmond on hand. One afternoon as I was waiting to board the bus, an older man approached me and asked if I would give him some money for a coffee. Back then, I was a relatively naïve young girl who trusted everybody and had no fears. Today, as a recovering alcoholic who has spent the last eighteen years in recovery, I know the ploy, or at least I think I do. I have always wondered if I was extremely gullible, or, as it seems in my memory, if God was working in me even then. I truly believe the saying, “God looks out children, fools and drunks.” It didn’t take long, after “coming into the rooms,” as those of us in recovery like to call it, to know that God had a special place in His heart for me. In spite of all the hare-brained, daredevil plans and schemes I cooked up and followed through on, I was still alive. That really said something to me. And how did I end up in recovery instead of wrapped around a tree after one of the many times I drove myself home in my twenties and thirties so intoxicated I could barely see the road? Don’t tell me there isn’t Higher Power. Matthew 22:14 in the Bible says, “Many are called but few are chosen.” I’d like to think I am one of the chosen, for whatever reason.
That one incident in the bus station has stayed with me all these years. I don’t know if I was there to help a drunk, such as the one I was to become, to not drink for just that moment, or to fix in my mind who and what I was so that I could connect entirely with others when I eventually got to the rooms. He was an older, black man, whose clothes were pretty ragged and I was a young white girl from a well-to-do home. For some reason I did not notice his clothes or his face at first, but I did a strange thing in response to his request and got such a strange response that he has never left my memory. When he asked for a cup of coffee, I, either stupidly naïve, or with God’s hand on my shoulder, did not give him any money. Instead, I went over to the counter and bought him a coffee, put milk and sugar in it and went back to him with it. I have never been able to explain how his simple , “Bless you,” affected me. You may know what I’m talking about if you have ever truly been blessed by someone in all sincerity and genuineness. I felt like I had performed the greatest act on earth and I had seen someone’ else’s soul. And it smiled at me.
Twenty five years later I entered the rooms of recovery with my tail between my legs, broke and brokenhearted, scared and alone. And someone brought me a coffee and someone else said, “You’re in the right place.” Many years later I am still coming to meetings and one of the meetings I attend on Friday nights is across the street from that old Trailways station. And I belonged then and I belong now. I know the spark of deep human companionship and fellowship was ignited that day forty years ago in that small bus station.