We see, hear, and read, almost every day, the topic of addiction. We have seen the headlines: “Rock star enters rehab!” “Actress enters rehab!” “Senator enters rehab!” Just last week the headlines read: “Actress moves from rehab to rehab!”
But whether the addiction is alcohol, drugs, sex, or cigarettes, the process of recovery remains the same; requiring certain steps - one of which is a process called “making amends.” “Making amends,” is an opportunity to bring the harms of the past into present time for healing and restitution.
But if you are new to recovery, as I was 30 years ago, way back when, I still had the lingering notion that I only hurt myself in my addiction. After all, I was the one who crashed the cars. I was the one with the police sirens going off in the middle of the night. I was the one with the crazy hair and crazy friends. I was sure any harms done could be handled with just a few, casual apologies.
Such was my thinking when making my amends to my brother, Robert, who stopped me half-way through to say:
“Christine, it’s true. You hurt yourself in your addiction. But while you were out there ‘hurting yourself’ there was a consequence to our family which was this…. Your empty chair. Your empty chair at the dining room table is what you gave us to look at with every passing meal; morning, noon and night.” My empty chair.
The empty chair is symbolic of what ails our world today as we now consider all empty chairs in our lives. We do not need to be an addict to have an empty chair story, do we? What about the empty chairs of people who have lost their appetites for life? We won't have far to look to find people tapped out, tuned out, and turned off by life. What about them?
Because as you and I know, it takes courage to assume our chairs at the table of life. It takes courage when we have been beaten, abandoned, and sometimes destroyed by life’s circumstances, haven’t we?
After a while, we get so beaten down, we stop caring all together. We think someone else can take our place. Someone else can do the work. I do not need to show up. I do not really matter. As we see exemplified so often even in our local meetings when the speaker does not show up; where the duty roster remains empty. Those empty, empty chairs.
Last November at the Toastmasters International District Conference, I was so thrilled to be your Toastmaster as I trotted up the stage - saw a host of friendly faces, just like yours right now. But who should be sitting in the first two rows but my old Toastmasters club? Anyone here have an “old Toastmasters club” you are not talking to right now? You have to say it that way, too. “Oooollld Toastmasters club?” Or anyone in your life you are not talking to and suddenly they show up “Boing!” right in front of you?
That is what happened to me! But I knew the power of making amends and knew restitution needed to be made. So, I went to each and every one of them and made restitution for harms done.
Every one of them met me with friendship and forgiveness. Every one of them– but one! There is always one who will not let you off the hook, right? Upset and annoyed, Max says in best Scots' brogue: “Aye, and you should be sorry, Christine! When you walked out on us, you left us with your empty chair at our Toastmasters meeting. Stayed empty too because no one speaks the way you do, and you know it! When you walked out on us, we were down a man.”
“Down a man,” is a military term, signaling we are losing the fight. We are losing the battle. "Down a man" is an S.O.S. for help and that is the consequence when we leave our chairs empty.
Mother Teresa used the empty chair symbolically, as she would pose one question to be successfully answered by those candidates who would follow her to tend the dying in Calcutta. One question: “Are there any empty chairs in your life?”
Her question for them is my question for you: “Are there any empty chairs in your life?”
Is there a father who needs to be contacted? A mother who needs to be consoled? A brother or a sister on the streets like I was, who needs to be taken off the streets and returned to their rightful place at table of life? Will we be the ones, could we be the ones, who are big enough now to draw a line in the sand, cross it and say, “That was the past. It is the present that counts! And I’m not letting my past run my present!”
Call these people. Write to them. Rekindle their appetites as you describe the table of life, full to overflowing with room for us all. With room for us all.
It is late, but not too late, to fill the Empty Chair.