It's easy to think of a hero as someone who does grand gestures of bravery - firefighters, doctors and athletes. But I think more often than not, heroes are all around us. As I was driving to Fairfax early last Saturday morning, on my way to help host the 10th annual Fairfax Craft Faire, I got off the freeway on 5th street in San Rafael. It was a cold drizzly grey morning but the world felt fresh after a week of long awaited rain. This part of San Rafael is a little dodgy - right near the freeway, two motels that are host to all sorts of odd activity, tiny rentals and several apartment buildings. Along the way was an old house with a large group of people filtering out. Many on the sidewalk, talking and smoking. I can't be entirely sure but most likely it was an AA meeting that had just finished. It made me think of my mom. She tried AA and at times, maybe it helped her. But she was so stubborn and "smart" that mostly it bothered her. She found a million reasons why they were wrong or not for her. Watching all these people on a cold and rainy morning - knowing that they had all gotten up before 7 to make it to a meeting, on a Saturday morning, most likely, after a long week of work, I thought "they are heroes." To choose to take it one day at a time and to show up even when it's not convienant or fun or easy, that is heroic.
I have often wondered why some can commit to recovery and why my mom could not. Anne Lamott is the most famous example, at least to me. She is a hero. A messy, imperfect hero. Who was able to find a way to take all her quirks and her demons and let them see the light of day, share them with all of us through her writing and as a result we all feel a little bit better about how messy and imperfect we all are. When I first read Bird by Bird it was on the suggestion of an art teacher at Art Center. I had never thought to read Bird by Bird because it's about writing. But my teacher said it's about the creative process - and it's funny! I had been living in LA for several years by then and reading about "old Marin" - Anne grew up in Tiburon in the 60's - filled me with nostalgia for my childhood. I relished her descriptions of the Marin I held in my heart but that had changed so much. And I laughed! She is so funny - I would be reading in the hallway, waiting for class to start and laughing like a crazy person. When I told my mom that I was reading Bird by Bird and loved it SO much and loved reading about Mill Valley and Sausalito as it used to be, she said "oh yeah, I met her in AA - she's CRAZY." It definitely took the wind out of my sails. But as I have pondered this statement over the years, I realize yes, she is crazy and she has made it work for her. She has let us see in her closet with all it's ghosts and cobwebs and she has gone to church and she has gone to AA and she has raised her son and made a living as a writer and she is helping to raise her grandson. She is alive and well. My mom is not alive and well. She did not follow her creative callings, she did not keep going to AA.
When we moved back to Marin it was to Fairfax, the last "hippy" town left in Marin. And in 2005 you could still call it a hippy town. Turns out Anne lived there too. And I have seen her over the years, walking her dog, taking her grandson to school, living her life. And I never told her, "you are my hero". Because she just wants to walk her dog and live her life. But when I see her, I wonder, what made it possible that you could do this, that you could show up everyday and make a choice to be sober. And to be here. And my mom could not.