If you’ve been following this story with me—the story of Frank Stevens of Chicago and his family—you and I have been journeying together along this line for nearly six months. After what I told you about Frank at the end, yesterday when I revealed his weakness, think about this: would you have embarked on this story journey at the first if I told you, up front, that this was going to be a tragedy about an alcoholic? I know I wouldn’t stick with it!
I have never met Frank, myself, but from what I knew of him from the hurts I read in his surviving children’s hearts, I confess I wouldn’t have had much interest in following his life’s story—not even the snippets I have since been able to find through his letters and photos. Setting that aside though, when I did get to read those letters—let Frank tell his life’s experiences from his own point of view—I saw a young person very different from the father I learned of through others’ eyes. And honestly, I found myself falling in love with a very charming, very fun guy—after which it breaks my heart to think that all this befell someone as lovable as that.
When it is all said and done, though, I need to remember some of the sage observations others in the family made about that life once it was no longer being lived—comments in letters from his oldest brother John, and even from his own wife.
Remember the letter I told you about, the one Frank’s brother John wrote home to his mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, who was unable to make the trip from Chicago to Albuquerque to attend her son’s funeral? What I left out of that letter in my previous post was John’s observation about Frank’s condition:
Frank loved Norma + the kids but he was definitely an alcoholic and we must face this fact.
Fr. Baca said he was to be pitied as he couldn’t help it.
Two weeks ago our pastor told us from the altar that while the Church didn’t condone uncontrolled drinking by anyone that alcoholism was a disease not a sin.
Norma was crazy about him but he did give her a lot of grief and almost drove the poor girl insane with worry because she never knew what he would do or what would happen to him when he was drinking. He lost lots of money gambling.
When Norma wrote her letter to her mother-in-law, Agnes, after Frank’s passing, in the midst of the notes I had already shown you, she had also mentioned,
he was a good man, just very ill… I know he’s no longer miserable, but peaceful and happy, it helps me bear the heartache. No matter what I went through I loved him so very much… We try to remember the good times, as much as we can, we had with Steve.
To look back in time and survey that history through the eyes of the cold diagnosis of alcoholism may be realistic, but it also strips the man of the multi-faceted essences of life. Perhaps it was the war that did this to him before any such diagnosis could box him in with that rigid stereotype. Whatever it ended up being that portrayed him in such a tragic cast, I prefer to remember the full picture of who he was before life hemmed him in: that young man, full of life, full of hope, full of good-will and wishes to do good for others—and always ready for an adventure.
In my heart, I believe that there are so many more people who mean to do well than can make it so in the end.
In my heart, I want to remember that big picture.
In my heart, I want to appreciate those good beginnings, and continue to seek whatever slightest thread may weave itself through to the end.