I have lived in two universes; they overlap or maybe coincide. It’s a paradoxical thing I don’t understand and don’t try. The first was a straight line sort of thing — a loving family, schools, university, Military service, beautiful wife and family, a business career capped off by social acceptance and success, and so much largess.
All was unappreciated because I believed I had earned it by working some, but mostly because I lived by the right principles, a strict code of honor.
The second universe poked its nose into my life at unexpected times. I remember in college, I was asked to take a maid home, a young African-American woman. She invited me into her modest home to meet her folks. We entered through their kitchen, and I was startled to see a custom-made box, maybe 2-foot by 3-foot and 2-feet high, right in the middle of the floor. I asked her what it was, and she replied, matter of factly, it was their toilet. It was over 70 years ago, and I vividly remember being slammed by the dignity among the squalor.
Enter alcohol and the slow but persistent erosion of the principles and code of honor. From the steeplechases at the Rolling Rock and the bowling green of the Pike Run Club to loading two number 5s into my Charles Daly 12-gauge over and under so I could blow my head off. It was as though I was falling deeper and deeper into a pit of absolutely black despair.
I was drunker than a Lord, so there is no sequence, but I “saw” a pinpoint of light, and I KNEW there was a way out. Looking back, I realized I was given an undeserved gift of a second chance as I entered the portal of the other universe. I didn’t realize it then, but I began to try to think with my heart and not my “super atomic brain.”
And so it continues to unfold: a piece here, a scrap there, a patch of sunlight on the forest floor, not a promise but a gift of sight into reality for a moment. I am not sure into which universe, but it truly is a gift.
Frederick Frank, my favorite artist, said, “This Life is a gift and though it is only a human life, it is that one chance in a million to realize That Which Matters.”
A Binge and a Spree
When I was a drunk I would go on binges.
Early on, I would go bar hopping always
looking for action (happiness).
Throwing money on the bar and inviting
new, old friends as well as total strangers,
no judgments made,
to join me in a drink
to celebrate Wednesdays or Fridays or
Then from high to delirium to oblivion.
On awaking, or coming to, with
a head bursting with pain
a stomach full of sickness
and a panicked search for my wallet
to see if there is anything left. …
Today, an eternity of “one day at a time”
I will go on a spree
and give as much of myself away
as I can to all I meet
no judgments made
sharing, as best I can the joy and love
I now know
An undeserved gift
Knowing I can never pay it off.
• Bill Hogan, bo born and raised in Wheeling, W.Va., is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and worked in the worlds of finance, real estate and alcoholism rehabilitation. Bill has six children and three grandchildren. He and his second wife, Susan Hogan, served in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1987-90 in Benin, West Africa. Now retired, he is a trustee of the Schenk Foundation, an artist, a writer and self-proclaimed “highly skilled dispenser of bull.”