(After a long drawn out post about not blogging about “negative” things, the wonderful people in the blogging world set me straight. Writing here is about being honest, and I was not feeling particularly positive at the time this was written. I now realize that this is OK, and have reposted this blog entry.)
It seems so innocent.
It’s just a food substance that has been fermented. Over long, long centuries, my ancestors and yours have been drinking it.
I’m thinking a lot these days about this fermented substance, and what it does to people, and every one around them. And I’m not so sure it’s safe for anyone.
Wine is described in ways that disguise what it really is. It’s poison, loaded with sugar to disguise the taste. It’s a bait and switch, selling you one thing, but giving you another. It’s a predatory loan from a brutal mobster — the slippery devil himself. And Lucifer, described in the Bible as “perfect in beauty,” is the ultimate salesman. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
No one sees it coming. There’s no prettier packaging than a nice chilled bottle of wine at an expensive restaurant, with waiters and other patrons assuring you that all is well, that this fermented substance you are about to drink is a great thing. It’s a symbol of success and leisure and exotic locales and prestige and camaraderie and ease. Welcome to the club! You deserve this.
A toast! Somebody make a toast.
Suddenly, you are a mini-celebrity. People at other tables raise their glasses. “We’re all in this together,” they seem to be saying. And it feels like the truth.
Who doesn’t want this? Which of us, having stumbled through the day — sometimes well, sometimes in aching, lonely defeat — doesn’t want to join the table? To eat, drink, and be merry! To merge with humanity effortlessly. To feel less alone. To celebrate. To forget.
It’s communion. Communion of spirit. It’s everything holy about what we’re supposed to feel at the table of God himself.
Or so it seems.
Sometime later — could be years or just a few hours — in the early morning light of gray defeat, alcohol becomes something else entirely. Now it’s a disheveled thug that appears by your bed. A loan shark, expecting to be paid, with outrageous interest. And there are no boundaries to what he can do to exact payment.
Like the grim reaper himself, he has no scruple about who he takes or when, how unfair the circumstances, how blindsided those left behind.
You have to give the devil his due. It’s a masterful disguise, that pretty bottle.
Decades ago, I watched a New Year’s Eve episode of the Oprah show. It got my attention because it featured a high school girl about my age who had the same first name as me. From what I remember, this Shawna and a bunch of friends got their hands on some alcohol at a party. Some young men at the party convinced Shawna to drive them somewhere because they were too inebriated to drive themselves. They all piled into someone’s convertible, and Shawna, not used to heavy drinking and inebriated as well, ended up driving at a high rate of speed into a brick wall, killing two of the men, critically injuring everyone else.
I was amazed at the poise and calm with which this young woman, who had been a typical high school success story — beautiful, athletic, smart — spoke about the event and her later efforts to make peace with herself and the boys’ families. But underneath the poise, she had a haunted look, as if she had resigned herself to being forever guilty — a sacrifice made to a rapacious wolf, on behalf of the rest of us.
Though the story aired well before the rise of the internet, I’ve searched for it online, and haven’t found it. This girl’s story, however, has never left me. I was a casual drinker then, if that, but me and my group of friends were beginning to experiment with drinking, and then inevitably driving home. I remember thinking, with a slight chill, that could be me.