“Hi, my name is Albert,” the awkward little man said, as he waddled down the church sidewalk. His face was wrinkled and his hair was grey. He wore an old suit from decades past. There were food and coffee stains all down the front of his shirt, tie, and blazer. The clothes didn’t fit quite right. You could tell that Albert had mental health issues at first glance. His outstretched hand was shaking as he waited to clasp on to mine. His words were hurried and difficult to understand. Albert was as friendly as a puppy that just found a new home. He was a very gentle, yet enthusiastic soul.
It turned out that Albert was assigned to service work at the Friday night twelve-step meeting. His job was to greet people as they came for the meeting at 8:00PM. Albert lived in a home, not far from the church. In the meeting, when it was time for people to share, Albert raised his hand up high and said, “My name is Albert, and I’m an alcoholic!” He repeated that same mantra, week after week for years. He would always faithfully be there on the sidewalk to greet newcomers.
At first, I thought Albert was very strange. After a couple of weeks, I looked forward to Albert’s greetings. He would light up, like a Christmas tree whenever he greeted anyone. He really would make people feel welcome. He was as important as any other part of the meeting each week. He was full of love, care, and compassion. It was not unusual for Albert to have fresh cookie crumbs and coffee on his shirt and tie.
For years Albert only said the same mantra, “My name is Albert, and I’m an alcoholic!” He said nothing more, and nothing less. I don’t know his actual age, but he must have been in his late seventies or older. After many years Albert decided that he would take on the Friday night meeting speaking commitment. Everyone was amazed, because for years, all we ever heard him say was, “My name is Albert, and I’m an alcoholic!” The very next Friday night meeting, Albert was the keynote speaker. He went on for almost an hour. He kept everyone entertained, as he talked about his battle with alcoholism and his many years of recovery. Albert’s personal story was delivered in quite an eloquent manner. Many of the people at the meeting were touched by the speech, some were in tears. You could tell that Albert was very pleased as he shook hands with everyone after the meeting.
That night Albert returned to the home. He died of a massive heart attack in his sleep. The meeting was never quite the same. Although every time I got out of my car at the church, I could still see the vision of old Albert rumbling down the sidewalk to greet me. There are no coincidences, they say. Albert finally shared his story, during his last night on Earth. Heaven is going to be interesting! I’m going to guess that when newcomers arrive, they will hear, “Hi, my name is Albert!”
©2015 –Rev. K. T. Coughlin Ph.D.