I met Ed Grinnan, the author of the new book The Promise of Hope, through my friend Michael when the three of us were undergraduates at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the mid-’70’s.
In those days, when the teaching fellows went on strike, the University was essentially shut down because the professors refused to cross the picket line. Michael, who had a used Oldsmobile with a throaty engine, killed the time by leading me on long road trips with shifting destinations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Canada. As Michael’s Oldsmobile rumbled down empty two-lane roads, we talked ceaselessly, fueled by a chain of cigarettes, which we called “pleasure sticks” (as that was how they were marketed), and coffee, which we referred to as “The Sustainer of Life” or sometimes, just “Sustainer” as in “Let’s get some more Sustainer.” Michael was Neal Cassidy inventing an adventure and a story with each new mile. I was Jack Kerouac, quietly taking notes for a series of articles for the student newspaper that would capture the ambience of the class-free semester.
With nothing to distinguish me other than these short pieces in the paper, I was one of thousands on Michigan campus whose status as a writer was defined only by desire rather than accomplishment. I wanted to write a book, of course, and I figured that running would have a place in that book, as I was running a lot in those days. But every kind of running I was doing in those days was a kind of running away, and eventually I ran away from that calling.
One day, Michael introduced me to another of his friends, Ed Grinnan. Unlike the rest of us, Ed already was a writer, having been ordained as such by the faculty panel that gave out the Hopwood awards, the Michigan awards that certified the talent of an aspiring writer. And so it was with some reverence that I met Ed, and we embarked on our evening, the goal of which was, as I recall, to have a drink in every bar in Ann Arbor. We succeeded, of course, Ann Arbor not being that big a town. I listened raptly as Ed and Michael talked up storm. But by the time we stumbled home to our respective apartments, most of what was said was forgotten. If I had remembered it, I probably would have put much of it in the novel I never wrote. Then again, I’m pretty certain no one would have read such a novel had I written it.
Ed and I had a few similar meetings in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s as I finished law school and began my career. As I was beginning my career in Manhattan as a Wall Street lawyer, Ed’s promise as a writer was beginning to deteriorate under the weight of his increasing devotion to alcohol. During one of our meetings in that era, Michael photographed the two of us, as we were about to head out for an expedition doubtlessly devoted to an attempt to have a drink in every bar in whatever jurisdiction lay outside the door. When I left Edward that night, or rather when our weaving paths separated, I was unaware that in the coming years Ed’s talent would nearly be drowned by more of what we had consumed that night.
I envied Ed that night, surely I did. Although Michael and I longed to create tortuous and dazzling works of literature, Ed was unlike us, we thought, for we knew for sure that Ed had the talent to do it. For that reason, unlike us, he would not need to suffer through the drudgery that is the writing of the law, the interrogatories, the objections, the briefs, the memoranda. I did not know what dark and brilliant plays Ed was writing, but I was sure that he was writing them, that he would be famous, and that his plays would be published and viewed by many. Perhaps his work would show the truth that human suffering was unavoidable, that human defeat was inevitable, as I believed in those days, but his work would nevertheless be a defiant triumph that would enable him to keep the good times rolling.
The Promise of Hope recounts a night a few year later when Ed had sunk so low he had no money to drink. Desperately, he called our friend Michael, because Michael was more a brother than a friend. He tried to borrow just $20. Then just $10. Then just $5. Each time Michael said no, knowing that the money would go for alcohol. And alcohol only.
As the book recounts, the night Michael refused Ed a loan was not even close to what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “the bottom,” the place an alcoholic must reach before wanting a better life for himself alone, and not because of what others have decided is the right way. That would come later, and I would encourage readers to discover it for themselves in The Promise of Hope, which is uncompromising in its honesty about the years during which his great gift was squandered, and nearly lost. Along with his life.
Although I did not know it then, Ed’s drinking had its roots in a childhood tragedy he writes about only now. Knowing it now, I’m not surprised that he nearly drank himself to death. Really, it’s more surprising that he stopped. The Promise of Hope, will make the reader glad he did, and perhaps give hope to the many others who must make the same journey, and must rise above tragedies greater and lesser.
As The Promise of Hope recounts, Ed eventually found his way back, and found faith. His faith allowed him to accept how a job at a magazine named Guideposts, a magazine devoted to hope, faith, positive thinking, could turn into a lifetime of commitment to these values. Today Ed writes his own messages of inspiration and comfort for Guideposts’ millions of readers. Today he is the Editor in Chief.
Now it turns out that Ed has fulfilled the promise of his early years, and has published a book. It is far different, however, from what we expected him to write. Ed’s The Promise of Hope may instead be the book God wanted him to write, and it exhibits Ed’s gifts as God may want us to see them. Through the interweaving of Ed’s story with stories of the many inspirational people he has met and written about at Guideposts, he illuminates the factors or “keys” to personal change. These are Honesty, Willingness, Imagination, Commitment, Faith, Forgiveness, Acceptance, Resilience and Love. In some cases, one of these is enough. Most of us recover through some combination of them. Using individual stories to illustrate each of the keys to change, he shows how all of them were at work in his own journey.
Largely, human change is longed for much more than it is ever accomplished. Anyone who has sat through a 12-step meeting knows that it is the connection to others that gives the program its power, and makes change possible. One begins by noticing that there are others with the same problem, that one is not alone. By recognizing the honesty in others, we grow to be honest ourselves. By seeing the courage of others we are inspired to show courage ourselves. Eventually there is recognition and acceptance that a higher power may know a better way than the ego demands. So too, it was for Ed as he connected to others through his work at Guideposts, and eventually came to save himself.
I used to believe that people did not change. In his book, Ed notes that he used to believe that too. Some years ago, I used one of those programs that select the music you like based on the music to which you’ve been listening. For me, the program seemed to choose strings of hopeless, depressing music. There was a lot of Neil Young. A lot of Nine Inch Nails. “Whiskey Lullaby,” a double suicide drinking song, kept coming up. These days, the song that keeps coming up is Montgomery Gentry’s “Some People Change.” I guess I still believe that most people don’t change, but I now think that some people do change. I’ve seen it happen. Ed Grinnan is one of them. If you need to change, you might want to read his book.
You can order it at http://www.guideposts.org/