A fellow David and I knew years ago died recently. As he had lived in our area for 30 years before moving to Florida, the Washington Post published an obituary this past Sunday. Sandy Beach, a retired Marine pilot whose children attended school with my children, had almost 50 years in AA. As a younger man, Sandy was mad, bad and dangerous to know, not unlike most of the Marines I have ever known (I was married to one for 16 years).
But Sandy found Amazing Grace, or Grace found him.
When Sandy died of a massive heart attack he was attending an AA meeting and giving a ‘talk’ on the First Step” (Admitted we were powerless over Alcohol), advocated by Bill Wison many years ago.
The reporter wrote that Sandy pitched forward and fell face first into the “Big Book on the 10 steps of AA recovery” used by alcoholics across the world. I can’t think of a better way to die, especially for someone who so profoundly affected so many lives including several members of my family. Rest in Peace Sandy.
Years ago, when David and I were younger and into stories about violent crime, we saw all the films Bruce Willis made, including Pulp Fiction. Although it had its humorous moments, the murder and mayhem left me feeling badly, so I gave up these sources of entertainment. Later I realized the name of the motorcycle Bruce drove in his final scene where he and his girlfriend ride out of town, was named ‘Grace.’ Bruce’s character is literally saved by Grace.
I’ve been thinking about Grace lately, because I have been rereading a book on religion in Colonial America, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgement: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England, by Bruce Hall.
I am exceedingly curious about this period in our history because in exploring my Great-Grandfather Herbert’s family tree, I have discovered hundreds of his ancestors were affiliated with one Christian religious order or another, and a number of them were Deacons. (One of these Deacons was also a famous “Indian Fighter.”)
Furthermore, one of Herbert’s ancestors was a judge who oversaw a witch trial (the defendant accused of hexing a cow, was exonerated) and another put on trial for witchcraft, but later released. Hall’s book sheds light on these incidents, because he makes clear that although these people were nominally Christian, they also believed in magic. In my mind (probably put there by the anthropologists), religion and magic are closely related. (See also, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, by Emile Durkheim.)
Mostly, what seems to have survived from this period in our family is the so-called Protestant Ethic, which involved, among other things: godliness, personal responsibility and accountability, thriftiness and cleanliness. If I escaped this inculcation to some degree, it surely has been owing to Grace as evidenced through the kindness of others.
The Coffin House in Massachusetts, where some of my ancestors lived long ago.