SAVED BY THE BELLS
by Charles McKelvy
When friends asked what I was doing for Christmas Eve 2019, I smiled and said:
“Going to jail.”
By that I meant that a friend and I were taking a meeting to inmates at our local county jail. I had even added something self-serving like: “I can’t think of a better place to be on Christmas Eve.”
Well, I didn’t feel that way when I arrived in the parking lot opposite the forbidding jail, in the dark and cold of a December night in Michigan. Suddenly, I wanted to be home with my wife and our new cat and the gas fireplace we had given ourselves for Christmas. Plus, I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself because the Christmas Eve jail-assignment meant missing Midnight Mass, which at our church began at 8 p.m. to allow the aging faithful to get to bed at a decent hour. Sure, I could go to Mass on Christmas morning, and that would certainly count with the church, but I suddenly missed all the magic of Midnight Mass, and wouldn’t you know, the church on the other side of the parking lot rang its bells, summoning folks to worship in a cozy church on a dark night.
I looked longingly at the church’s glowing, stained-glass windows and watched worshippers eagerly climb the church steps in anticipation of some midnight marvels, albeit at 7 p.m. Oh, how I wanted to join them.
But then I looked at my partner in 12th-step work and decided I couldn’t let him down. There had to be at least two of us outsiders in order for there to be an AA meeting at the jail, and, well, wasn’t there also that line from Step 12 about carrying “this message to alcoholics.” Oh yes, oh yes, and having had a spiritual awakening as a result of working the previous eleven steps to the best of my ability, I knew that I had a solemn duty to carry the message of my recovery to my incarcerated brothers on the other side of the parking lot.
The church bells rang again, reminding me that I had a choice to make, and make it I did that cold, clear night in Michigan: attend an AA meeting at the county jail on Christmas Eve.
And what a meeting it turned out to be, but I don’t have to tell you, because you know what happens when we share our experience, strength, and hope with one another—contented sobriety. Serenity happens. Peace prevails.
The promises are fulfilled among us, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But they will always materialize if we work for them, and we band of brothers—in green jump suits and blue jeans and flannel shirts—we worked for them.
And being Christmas Eve, we got bonus time on our meeting because the correctional staff was short-handed for the holiday.
It was all too beautiful, and once we were back in the parking lot, my partner in crime and I wished one another a Merry Christmas and agreed we couldn’t have found a better way to spend Christmas Eve.
And, don’t you know, I went to church on Christmas Day and got so much more out of it because I had been saved by the bells on Christmas Eve.