by Don Bradley, 1-31-12
On any of the forgotten roads leading out of town, you'll find them. Old, weather-beaten taverns, relics of Eisenhower, cheap gas, plenty of jobs, and lives gone by. Sporting faded parking lots in need of repair, no windows to let in the light that reminds all within that life still beckons from beyond the door, and older cars long past their prime, the VFW still stands in every locale as a haven for the lost, weary, and those much in need of love and friendship. These places also have karaoke nights, which pulls in those, whose voices (and sometimes their ego), need a work out from time to time.
It happened to me that—having avoided bars with a vengeance my whole life—life itself required I actually visit one in order to see someone. “Let's meet at the VFW...it's within walking distance from where I live.”
It takes a few moments to shift from the outside world to the VFW world. Arriving, there doesn't seem much going on at all. A few cars in the lot, no visible sign of life, and, being on roads less traveled, it's quiet. Once inside however, the wailing strains of some lamenting country singer whining about losing his girl/dog/truck/job hits your ears and you are instantly greeted by twenty or so turned heads, all looking to see who it is that has just violated their airspace. The smiles and warm nods inform that it's okay to come in; pull up a stool, pardner.
We're all here for the same reason. Have a drink, won't you?
Meeting my friend, I am informed of who is who and why is why. It's an interesting family of folks who make the VFW an important part of their life. Everyone is a story, a tale, a great suffering or hardship that has come upon them—sometimes for decades.
It's about broken hearts, promises, regrets, and weird remembrances of slights from the 7th grade or a jilted lover back in '82. Everyone knows everyone else, hence the extended or more likely, replaced family that is no more in their other life; the life they left at the door.
You cannot belong at the VFW unless you bring with you a great pain right in the middle of your heart. It must be unstated at first, but it must be sensed by all as severe enough —to you at least—to pull you in here. For you see, the bar stools are in fact great magnets for souls suffering under burdens they are unable to carry any longer within themselves. They need, no, they MUST, come to some place, somewhere, to unburden this great load that is slowly grinding their best parts into the dirt.
They come here, to the ever open, ever welcome VFW.
For it is their church. A place where they are understood, loved, accepted without judgment and given an open forum—especially after several drinks—in which to confess the thing which is that great pain and cross which they carry every single day of their lives.
Looking around, peering deep into the hearts and souls of the assembled choir, I wept inside. A part of me was chatting with my friend, but my deeper part was observing and listening with an open heart to the great wall of suffering that was the masked frequency of laughter and shouts of good cheer. All facades, all blusters of courage hiding a deeper longing to be understood, forgiven, and freed.
Sometimes, there was no understanding. As one man put it, “why doesn't that guy put a cork in it.” He would be no man's priest that night, his ego driving the worth of his own pain above all others around him.
At 8 in the evening, it's all bon-vivant, smiles, and have another beer! By 11, it starts to get very quiet. Half the women are silently weeping, tears streaming down their face as each regales those willing to comfort what has befallen them—that day or thirty years ago. Little huddles of loving, warm embraces move from woman to woman, giving solace and murmurs of love and support. Sometimes, someone shouts out in anger at some unseen foe, past enemy, or just someone in the room they—for reasons only they know—happen to hate. Jealousy is found here. Anger, too.
Welcome to the VFW.
It makes perfect sense why Christ hung out in bars in his time. These are souls in need of real healing, love, and a way out of their own personal hell. A soul healer of that magnitude would find full time work there. Every single day. The pay sucks though. For real soul healers are never paid—they are nailed up. But I digress...
When disinterested pastors impatiently listen to wounded hearts, there is the VFW. When fake gurus offering even faker New Age modalities that give nothing and take everything, there is the VFW.
There will always be the VFW. As it should be.
As long as love is denied, there will be the VFW. As long as suffering goes on without end, there will be the VFW. At the VFW, love is never denied, misunderstood, or held back. As long as you are drinking. And drink you must, if you are to be accepted here. This is understood at the outset.
But the risk is great. Of alcoholism. Of digging deeper holes than one can ever imagine; as the morning strains of light and a hangover oft reminds. That drug keeps the wound from EVER healing. As any drunk knows without being told.
It's part of their pain.
And very often, a great part of their loss.
Of everything that ever matters to them now, once it's gone and has stayed gone for so many years, that it pains them to recall it. Until a half dozen drinks allow it to be recalled with all the associated regrets, remorse, and suffering that is loss. Then the vicious cycle repeats.
Then, finally, one day, the realization. I MUST CHANGE WHO I AM AND STOP LIVING IN THE PAST. I must become something new, with new ways and ways of thinking. For in this, I will be free.
Hopefully without AA. For that is a hospital without an exit sign. Ever. For AA is about programming and group-think—it abhors a thinking individual. It wants droids. Lots of obedient, jingoistic droids.
It's about a change in mind and spirit. Once understood, it becomes easily obtained.
But one must want it so very badly.
Until then, there is the VFW.