This blog, in a way, is kind of a brain dump of some of the 50 years of experiences I’ve spent on this earth. In my early days of Twelve Step recovery I often wondered if my “war story” was kind of tame compared to others who had spent more time “out there.” 27 years later I daresay my recovery journey has probably been a little wilder than most.
There is one person who greatly impacted my life through his writing and it is because of his work that I hope my writing will impact at least one other person. In Twelve Step speak, it’s called “sharing my experience, strength and hope with others, and practicing these principles in all my affairs.”
Around 1987 I was shakily into my recovery journey. During my daily subway commute to lower Manhattan my face was typically buried behind the NY Daily News in the morning. I don’t remember how or why I started reading Bill Reel’s column. Whether I heard about him “in the rooms” first and then started reading, or if it was the other way around, I was hooked and always looking for the next column. Mr. Reel wrote about everyday people who had screwed up their lives and found redemption. From what I remember (unfortunately I can’t find his writing online anywhere) he did this with a minimum of Christian lingo. I grew up with very mixed messages about faith and spirituality and I had become completely turned off evangelical Christianity. Yet, I listened to Mr. Reel.
And then one day he wrote the column that took my breath away, that forced me to acknowledge my post traumatic stress disorder and to hop on a subway one night to go to some Catholic church across town and make my peace with God. I left the church that night a different person. I always hoped that I would have the opportunity to run into him at a meeting and thank him. Providentially, I did. I greeted him with starstruck admiration and thanked him profusely for that column. He seemed genuinely surprised and somewhat amused.
I guess his old columns are the property of his family, or maybe buried in the NY Daily News archives. I hope they get reprinted in some form some day. William McGurn, a long time friend and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush was mentioned in Mr. Reel’s obituary, wrote that “Many young writers grew up wanting to be Bill Buckley. I grew up wanting to be Bill Reel.”
Beliefnet.com wrote: “For his most faithful readers, though, “Reel People” was the column of the second chance. Week after week, he wrote about New Yorkers — alcoholics, gamblers, cheaters — who had messed up their lives pretty badly, but were searching for the road back. He wrote about these misfits with wisdom and humor and charity, because he saw them the same way Mother Teresa viewed the hard cases that often crossed her path: “There goes Christ in one of his more distressing forms.”
Growing up I wanted to become a journalist and go to Radcliffe. Because of my drinking and dysfunctional behavior I wound up a high school dropout with a GED. But I am one of those messed up New Yorkers who managed to turn things around (by the grace of God) and Mr. Reel was part of that. I’m not expecting this little blog will have anywhere near the reach that Mr. Reel did, but it’s because of the impact his writing had on my life that I do it…to keep paying it forward and to advocate for those society sees as worthless.