February 17, 2016

My Friendships, Part 6 : AA friends

Joel Anderson at AA World Conference 
"There are no coincidences in AA"
That's one of AA's many sayings. It's not one of my favorites, since it implies that God plays a part in everything that happens. But it certainly came to mind this morning.

I've been writing about friendships, and had planned to post something today on the major contribution that AA has made to the number and quality of my friendships. I wanted to include photos of several people who had helped me in my recovery... people who had also taught me how to deepen friendships by sharing feelings.

I planned to begin with the photo above of Joel Anderson, my AA sponsor. Our relationship was strong and deep, not unlike other relationships I developed through AA.

When I went online this morning, I found a message from Joel's wife Ellen on FB and on CaringBridge  that Joel had passed yesterday morning. I knew he hadn't been doing well, so I wasn't shocked. But I was in tears nevertheless.

There were many good reasons for picking Joel as a sponsor. But what made it an easy choice for me was that Joel believed -- and demonstrated -- that getting sober in AA could be a lot of fun.

When he dated and married Ellen, also in recovery, the fun multiplied. So did the help they both gave others.

Just one quick story. Joel and Ellen were the focal points for a "come one, come all" gathering every Friday night at the Nanking, a Chinese restaurant off Dupont Circle. We came to the Nanking for fun, food, and fellowship, knowing the check and the fortune cookies would arrive at the table in plenty of time to make one of the dozen or so 8:30pm AA meetings held in the basements of area churches.

One memorable AA moment came on the evening I persuaded the waiters to substitute X-rated fortune cookies for the regular ones. The tradition at our gatherings was to pause for a moment at the end of the meal while everybody opened and read their messages. I still laugh when I recall the the silence that fell across the table when people opened their cookies on this particular night.

After a few moments, I turned to the guy next to me and innocently asked "What does yours say?" In a low voice, he read his fortune: "If you don't like this message you can shove it up your…"

Around the table we went, sharing the raunchy messages. Our raucous laughter created a scene at the Nanking that night.

Well, when I started thinking about this post this morning, I figured I could easily complete it by lunchtime. Now it's 10pm.

A few months ago, I would have stayed up into the night to finish the post, and as a result I'd have gotten a night of disrupted sleep. But now I'm calling it quits and heading for bed. I'll finish up tomorrow.

I just wanted to post something today in memory of Joel, who gave so much to me and many others.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this post! I am Joel's step daughter, Mary. He was always a loving, sweet, helpful man. He was always willing to help others. I know this now not only because of the outpouring of support I am hearing about, but also because he helped me in sobriety.

Thanks you again for such a wonderful post about Joel.

John Schappi said...

Mary -- Thank you! It was a real treat to hear from you. And you remind me of something I need to remember to keep my ego in check -- my son got sober before I did!

Again "thank you for sharing." -- John