I was sitting in the waiting room at the RVH accident and emergency department last Friday and the police wheeled in an elderly man in a wheelchair whose face was covered in blood.

They gave the receptionist the details and left the man sitting in reception opposite me. 

As I watched the man, my analytical mind clicked in. I wondered had he been in a fight or did he fall. Had he no-one to turn to as he was on his own? Was he homeless?

Perhaps he was an alcoholic who had hit his face off a wall. As I sat intrigued by my Columbo mind, a little old lady who sat a few seats away said to the bloody-faced man: “Excuse me son, would you like a hanky?"

"Yes," he replied.

She went into the toilets, dampened her hanky and gave it to him. Suddenly my Columbo mind changed to saying what a spiritual act that was. She didn’t ask what happened but acted from a place of kindness with thought and respect for the man's dignity. 

I suddenly shifted from my head to my heart and was moved. I then asked myself with my critical mind, "Why did I not do that?" It’s amazing how I am still learning at my ripe old age of 67-and-a-half (going on 10). 

What I witnessed is what we call in AA 'a programme of action'. The elderly lady took action. She didn’t get caught up in the wrangling of the inner committee of her mind.

I’m reminded by the wonderful posters on the Falls that the Clonard Novena starts this Wednesday. It was 29 years ago that I received the miracle of sobriety. This time 29 years ago I was in full-blown alcoholism, in the depths of despair and hopelessness, filled with fear of myself and others.

I was submerged in a state of impending doom. Back then my face was not unlike the face of the man in the hospital. I’m reminded of that amazing biblical quote: What you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me. 

Back then, my alcoholic mind was filled with self-obsession. I now know that I was self-centred. I made a promise then that I would, out of gratitude, attend the Novena every year, giving thanks for my recovery and to offer my help to others. I’m in recovery, I’m not cured yet. The Novena is always a great wake-up call for me when I listen to the petitions of the suffering and the unselfish strength of those who bear this suffering with compassion.

I’m always reminded at this time of how things were back then and how I’ve turned 360 degrees.

It’s equally uplifting when you hear the voices of thanks for the many miracles that parishioners have received. Everyday miracles: The miracle of being alive, being sober, being able to be of benefit to others. 

Clonard is where I was born, so I’m also blessed at the Novena with the feeling of coming home. We all know that feeling, there’s no place like home. I look forward to Wednesday and the first day of the Novena, only this time I will be filled with hope, not hopelessness, joy not despair, love not anger.

Hopefully I’ll learn how to be like the lady in the hospital and offer a hanky to someone who needs a hanky. Hopefully, I'll be blessed with the compassion of action.