Beyond a Rock and a Hard Place

Originally published April 23, 2016.

 “An ocean lies between what is said and what is done.”  Italian proverb

Sometimes that ocean is between a rock and a hard place.

NEWS BULLETIN ISTANBUL: “Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van Province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said yesterday. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal Daily said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.00.”  Reuters, July 8, 2005


The price we pay for neglecting our sheep can be steep indeed.  Yet my experience is that I can be both sheep and shepherd.

Both lost and loser.

I think this is what we usually think of as between a rock and a hard place.

Back in 1963, shortly after my dad died, I began to run with the “bad” sheep in my neighborhood.  We, dumb sheep that we were, would sneak out late at night and look for cars to steal.  In those days it was not uncommon for people to leave their keys in an unlocked car.  We called these cars “loaded wheels.”  One of my buddies, Steve Sebastian, was particularly adept at finding these kinds of vehicles.

One August night we scored a Chevy Impala.

We were not five minutes into our joy ride when we figured out we had a tail light problem, and not five minutes later that we had another kind of “light problem.”

The flashing lights of a Seattle Police car.

My moment of sheepishness landed me in the juvenile jail.  For the first time I experienced myself as a lost sheep, herded together with other lost sheep in a locked facility.

I experienced being torn between two worlds, one bright, one dark.  I was fascinated, excited, seduced, by the dark side.

It was there I met another boy, assigned to my cell, who had struck and killed a pedestrian on his joyride.  He was looking at being charged as an adult, facing a possible 20-year prison term.

  • He was a boy very much like me
  • He, too, had lost his dad
  • He, too, was just starting high school

His aspirations were just like my own and yet he had no chance in hell of ever achieving his adolescent dreams.  One way or the other he was going to be put away for a very long time.

I had my trial before Judge Robert T. Long.  He had a reputation for being tough and uncompromising.  His own son had been convicted of auto theft and he had no trouble sending him away for a year.  Judge Long pulled no punches with me; either I walked the straight and narrow for the next year or I’d join his son in juvenile detention.  He cut me no slack for having lost my father as a 13 year old.  He was much more focused on the plight of my widowed mother with five children and a delinquent older son.

Judge Long reminded me that the Rock and the Hard Place between which I found myself were entirely of my own making.  If I intended to turn away from a life of crime I needed to be my own shepherd.

This courtroom encounter turned out to be singularly important; it literally scared the darkness out of me.  To this day, more than 50 years later, I can remember the shiver that went up my spine with Judge Long’s sheep and shepherd speech.

I was sobered up from my sheepy fascination with the dark side.  My cell mate went on to spend the rest of his adolescence in detention and I thought of him often while at Seattle Prep and the University of Washington. I thought:

Now, there is a transcendent end to this story.

Some 25 years later I attended an AA meeting in Seartle and much to my surprise, the chair of that meeting was none other than my bad sheep cell mate.  He had sobered up in jail and found the means to shed his sheepishness, as I has shed mine.  We had a fine reunion after the meeting as we gathered with other lost sheep to share our stories as to how we all came to be found.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2016 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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