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A Clydesdale Sobriety

Remembering the lessons his sponsor taught him

By the time he took me under his wing, Max was about 45 years sober in AA and continued to attend three or four meetings a week—some of them a good long drive away. Old acquaintances were often asking him to come and speak from near and far.

That's when he and I started spending a lot of time together in the truck. If it took three hours to get there, Max would always leave a good five hours to make the trip. That way he'd never have to hurry and he always had time.

That was just one of the hundreds of things I learned from Max: How to always have lots and lots of time. I was so impatient at first and how amused he was by how I felt I always had to time things out to the minute and then hurry up all the time to get there before it was too late. If Max had had his way, he'd have gone everywhere at a Clydesdale walking pace.

It took me about five years riding around with him and working together up at the barn and around the place to realize how wonderful and important it is to always have lots and lots of time …

And thank god I eventually managed on those great long drives to learn how to shut up and listen. He would tell me great long stories that seemed to wander all over the place. I'm so glad now that I was really listening. I can remember them today and I understand all the wisdom in them in a way I didn't then.

One time, after I rattled on for a good long while, I caught Max turning his hearing aid up! We had a good laugh about that one. He always let me go on and get it all out. He always knew how to respond and when. He knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Back in early days of AA, there wasn't really anything like the treatment centers we have today. Max told me that back then, occasionally when he needed to and his wife, Cassie could manage it, he'd go out to a meeting, find a new guy and bring him home for a month or so. Just like that.

And all the guy had to do was not drink and go with Max to the meetings. Apart from that he could do whatever he felt like doing that day. He could eat, rest, walk along the lake, swim or go with Max up to the barn and talk and help him take care of his big Clydesdale horses.

He had the same strong, quiet, solid presence and strength I felt when standing next to his Clydes. I believe he got a lot of strength from working with those big horses out in the bush when he was growing up.

Around home at all the local meetings in Victoria County, Max was such a permanent presence—and so soft-spoken and easy-going that sometimes he went unnoticed and unheard. I regretfully admit I too sometimes took him for granted. We don't know what we've got until it's gone as the saying goes. He wasn't fancy and he didn't have a big comedy act. He told his story with humorous modesty and also so matter-of-factly that it was entirely possible to miss the point. But those who knew the significance of what he had to say often went a long way out of their way to hear him. Wonderful meetings. And wonderful great drives in the pick up truck.

Max is gone now. He had over 54 years in AA and over the last few years, I benefitted much from him fellowship. I also learned how to harness and drive his horses, Bill and Bob. Max and his boys helped me to slow right down and learn to listen. Easy does it.

Nowadays, when I need a good talk, I can usually get just what I need and then some just by leaning up against the fence in the shade of great old trees by Max's headstone. The headstone has two horse's heads carved into it at the back of the little old cemetery at Fenelon Falls.

I just think my thoughts and if I get good and quiet and relax and really listen, I can usually remember half a dozen things Max used to say about all that kind of stuff 10 years ago when he was still here.

Max used to say, "It's so simple and wonderful this God-given program. So simple that if we are not careful we can look right at it, look over it and under it and look right clear through it and miss the whole thing.

He had one simple prayer that I've adopted for my own: Thank you. Thank you, God. Thank you.

—Russ B., Lindsay, Ontario. Canada

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