God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference
--Serenity Prayer, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr
It all started with a promise of some cake for our son, Danny.
At the invitation of a new friend from synagogue, my husband and I, along with our teen with disabilities found ourselves last Sunday night in the middle of an AA meeting at the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles.
Our friend was celebrating his 5th year of sobriety, and I imagined a brief ceremony with a tearful speech or two, and then digging into the aforementioned cake. Since Danny is underweight for his height, we have been searching for creative ways to add some skin to his bones without gaining weight ourselves in the process. With his low muscle tone, chewing anything tough is still an issue, so there’s been a lot of expensive blended drinks at coffee places, milk shakes at home and enough avocados to slash the California Avocado Commission’s advertising budget for months.
The Director of the Center, Donna Miller, warmly welcomed us, and reminded us that she used to attend services at our Conservative synagogue years ago before she had became more observant with Chabad. After a few minutes outside enjoying their beautiful garden, everyone came inside to a multi-purpose room and sat in a large circle of folding chairs. There were some Jewish residents wearing kippot, a few Israelis speaking Hebrew to their relatives, and a wide range of everyone else, from young tattooed Latino men to middle aged women with quiet addictions. It felt like we had ended up in the middle of a staged play, only we didn’t know the lines.
As depicted in many TV shows and in the animated film, Finding Nemo (with sharks pledging that “Fish are friends, not food), each person said their name and stated their addiction, to which everyone said in loud unison, “Hello So and So”.
When it was Danny’s turn, he quietly said his name, and then broke into a broad smile when everyone said hello in such an affirming way.
Then it was time for group discussion on the topic of overcoming adversity. No one wanted to talk at first, but then the stories starting flowing, from stealing to pay for drugs to having the courage to voluntarily enroll in a rehab program even at high economic and personal cost.No matter how painful the story, everyone clapped at the end. I shared a little of Danny’s challenges and how proud we are to see him swimming and using his walker; the applause was like an audible group hug.
Our friend’s ceremony was indeed a tear jerker—a journey that started in Pico-Union with neighborhood gangs, time in jail, then recovery, a charity trip to Africa with a neighborhood pastor and now, studying Judaism and Hebrew.
And the dessert? Frosting on the cake.