After driving under the influence of alcohol, a message of faith propelled him to change his life around.
Posted in , Jul 9, 2019
I don’t remember a thing about the accident. It was April 11, 1991, and I was driving home to Montgomery from Birmingham along I–65 near Clanton. There’s a rest area there, and I’m told the tractor trailer rig was pulling out onto the highway when I ran under it in my Volvo. But as I say, I have no recollection beyond leaving the political rally I had attended in Birmingham that night until I woke up at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham two weeks later. It was a few weeks more before I got Eddie’s letter, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I do know that I was in a hurry to get home to my wife and kids that night and that I was also drunk behind the wheel. I was drunk most nights back then so I don’t want to give the impression that these were unusual circumstances. If anything, it was the natural—if calamitous—culmination of the life I had been leading.
I am a lawyer who does a good deal of work in politics and the mental health field. That means I’m with people a lot. Back then, I was entertaining clients and trying to project an image of confidence and “big-shotism.” I managed to prop up this facade for many years with a whiskey bottle. It was the alcohol that lubricated my insecurities and fears, that made life just a little less daunting and numbed any bad feelings I might have. Alcohol may have nearly killed me, but it kept me going for many years when I hadn’t yet discovered what I had been searching for all along.
When I woke up in the hospital I swore I would never take another drink for as long as I lived. This is it, Corky. Your drinking days are over!
During the month that I was hospitalized I received hundreds of letters and calls from folks pulling and praying for me. One day a letter arrived from Eddie Walker. He said he had been at the scene of my accident. So far, so good. But then he went on to profess his faith to me, how Christ had turned his life around, and how he felt the Lord had protected me that night, protected me for a reason.
I almost threw the letter away. It didn’t upset me; I knew all about God and Jesus. It’s just that I didn’t have much use for Eddie’s type of faith. I was in charge of my life here on earth—the day-to-day stuff, I mean. God could take care of heaven.
But I didn’t throw the letter away. I put it aside like all the others, thinking that I would drop Eddie a thank-you note someday.
I have always been an achiever. I competed aggressively in law school. I was an athlete in high school. It was only natural that I went after my recovery from the accident tooth and nail, to be as successful at that as I had been at everything else. That’s the way I felt about not drinking too. I was going to stick to my pledge come hell or high water.
The months went by and my body got stronger. Yet my spirit weakened, though I mistook that weakness for strength. After nine months I thought I could try taking a drink again. Just one. No one would know. You’ve learned your lesson, I told myself. Soon I was drinking regularly, then daily. And it was no secret.
A year after the accident my family and some friends and colleagues confronted me about my continued drinking. They didn’t pull any punches: They called it alcoholism, and left me with the option of drinking myself to death or going to a rehab hospital. I had no choice. Willpower had failed me. I checked into Parkside in Warrior, Ala., on April 7, 1992, almost exactly one year after my accident.
Among the things I took with me for the month’s stay in the rehab was Eddie Walker’s six-page letter. I had never been able to get it out of my head, and I often reread it, even when I was drinking. In fact, I began carrying it in my briefcase.
One line jumped out at me: “All I know,” Eddie had written, “was that I was one person, then I asked Christ to come into my life, and I was a new man.”
I wanted to be a new man, and I had more or less proved to myself that I couldn’t do it alone—and the best thing for me to do was to get out of the way and let God take over. That was the decision I made in rehab. On Good Friday, 1992, I became a new man, a different man, thanks in great part to the message of Eddie’s letter.
Twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous say you must undergo a “spiritual awakening” to change your life. I have found the Holy Spirit. Some call it being born again or saved. I like what Saint Paul said. He described himself as transformed. We change. We go from the dark to the light. We see things differently. I am an Episcopalian, and the Episcopal Church celebrates the conversion of Saint Paul as a holy day on January 25. That’s my birthday.
In his letter Eddie talked about mysterious people who arrived at the accident on I–65 that April night as possible angels. “It really doesn’t matter who they were,” Eddie wrote. “God sent them with perfect timing to give you a second chance at life.”
That second chance was my transformation. I have read Eddie’s letter to countless people. I have copied it and laminated it. My cousin, a missionary, took it to Malaysia with him and shared it there. Another friend read it at a Bible study in Russia.
Though I don’t remember the strangers who saved my life that night, I will never forget the message they helped deliver—that I could become a new man, transformed forever by God.
This story first appeared in the November 1995 issue of Angels on Earth magazine.