Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 7, “Sticking with God,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 56th excerpt in the blog series.
Sticking with God
The long and tumultuous days of the 4th of July weekend were like dark clouds gathering for the stormy month that lay ahead. It was during the month of July that faith, family, and friends, became equal partners with talented and caring doctors, nurses, and hospital staff in the miraculous effort to save my life. Every person who frequented the waiting room that month played a unique role in the unfolding drama that kept people coming back for more.
Rudy brought his own brand of faith to the daily gatherings. Once I graduated from college and started chasing redemption for my failure demons, our friendship began to drift apart. I embarked on a tireless quest for recognition through work and professional accomplishments while Rudy continued his cycle of binge drinking and cavorting despite being in his early thirties and with a growing family.
He left the life of a construction worker for a steady paycheck and good benefits as a driver for Berkeley Farms milk products. Not wanting to jeopardize the stability the job created for him and his family, Rudy would go months without a drink or a night on the town. Every now and then he would go on a months-long binge after a party or a Saturday with the guys. The times that he and I were able to get together always ended in a drunken disaster.
Early in my career, a professional colleague invited me and a guest to a San Francisco 49er football game. Being that Rudy and I are lifetime 49er fans, I invited him to join me at the game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The two others who rounded out the group of four were well-respected business and community leaders in east San Jose. When we arrived at the stadium, we each bought a beer and raised our cups in a toast as we headed to our seats.
Rudy bought another round for the foursome just before kick-off. The others hadn’t even finished the first beer by the end of the first quarter and Rudy was ready for yet another round. I had also finished my two brews, but declined having another beer because the negative impact a drunken afternoon would do to my future career opportunities. Looking confused, Rudy sat down and didn’t have another drink for the rest of the first half.
At halftime, Rudy again invited me to join him at the concession stand. Again, I declined. He said he would run up to get refreshments and be back before the start of the second half. I didn’t see him for the remainder of the game. In fact, I didn’t see him for several months. Rudy went on another alcoholic binge as I started on a destructive binge of my own working obsessively to slay my failure demons.
It was my work schedule that prevented us from having any quality time together. Our friendship became a one-way street. Rudy helped on my campaigns for public office and played important roles in my parents’ funerals. He even traveled to Bakersfield to be with me and my family when my sister Patty passed away in 2003.
I called him only when I had a free moment waiting at an airport or driving from one meeting to another, spending the few minutes regaling him with stories about my successful exploits. I couldn’t recognize my selfishness as I marched forward reaching for the next promotion or achievement. Rudy never brought this to my attention during that time, or since. Although I was oblivious to anything other than my next professional move, Rudy’s friendship was rock solid.
While I immersed myself in the intoxicating world of politics and the executive suite, Rudy embarked on a long and successful journey to rid himself of his own demons. With the unconditional support of his wife Melody and his family, he sought refuge and guidance in God. At Melody’s urging he went with her to services at a non-denominational church and allowed himself to welcome the presence of God in his life.
Over time, his binges were less frequent and lasted just a day or two instead of the long months of the past. He ultimately conquered the demons by putting his life in God’s hands. Although he must still fight the urge to return to his old ways, Rudy has a deep and real spiritual faith that has brought him closer to his family and a happy life.
That unconditional faith came with him to the waiting room every day. Wearing navy blue work pants, boots, and a white-collared shirt with a Berkeley Farms logo over one shirt pocket and his name over the other, Rudy would show up at the hospital around 3:00 in the afternoon after a long day of delivering milk. Most days he would bring something from the shop to add to the other offerings of food and drink for the waiting room dwellers: chocolate milk, orange juice, ice cream or yogurt.
Some days he would just sit and meditate and exchange in whispered banter. Other days, he would fill the waiting room with life and laughter by sharing colorful stories of our youthful shenanigans. He could also bring tears to tired eyes with anecdotes about how we stood together like brothers in difficult times.
After spending several hours eating junk food, sharing stories, and being one with my family Rudy would call it a night to rest at home and prepare for his route that began before dawn the next day. Like clockwork, between 7:30 and 8:00 PM, he would ask everyone in the waiting room to stand up and hold hands. Closing his eyes and allowing God to give him inspiration, Rudy would say a heartfelt prayer before leaving for the night.
Those that made the waiting room part of their daily lives would make sure to be in the room by 7:30 so they could take part in the evening prayer. The energy created by Rudy’s love for me and his unwavering faith transferred from hand to hand as he recited pleas to God. The surge of energy generated by the prayer circle gave a boost to those who would stay through the night.
Next Wednesday: Friends start a virtual prayer circle…