This song began with an article I read in 1995 by George McGovern, the former senator from South Dakota, about his daughter Teresa, who had died the previous December in a snowdrift in Madison, Wisconsin, while extremely intoxicated. He went on to describe the problems she had had with alcoholism most of her life, and the efforts he and the rest of her family had made to help her. I was impressed by his willingness to share his grief at her loss (as well as some of his feelings of guilt and regret, that he had not been able to save her), in the hope that this would help others to avoid the same problems. I was able to meet the Senator briefly at a book signing in Berkeley several years ago for the book, Terry, which he wrote about her, and to give him a copy of this song, which he seemed to appreciate. One of my valued possessions now is an autographed copy of the book which I got then. I hope this song, in its own way, can also help.
She was born in South Dakota, on a hot summer afternoon;
On a cold night in Wisconsin, her life slipped away — too soon.
And though she fought the bottle all her life, and in the end, she lost —
We might still gain some strength ourselves from her struggle, and what it cost.
Some days the demons are in control, and sometimes it’s hard to see,
When the hole you’re in is deep and dark, if there’s any way to break free.
You might give in to the darkness — die, like she did, in your prime —
Or you might find a life worth living, just taking it one day at a time.
One day at a time’s about as much as I can face;
Don’t know if there’s enough inside me to fill the future’s empty space.
Forever’s too big a gamble, when I’m down to my last dime;
So, don’t give me eternity — just give me one day at a time.
Addictions come in many flavors, and sometimes it’s hard to tell
When drinking, drugs, or cards, or work become your ticket down to hell.
But if you reach out and listen to those who care, find some peace in your own mind,
You just might find a life worth living, just taking it one day at a time.
And if that Higher Power they talk about seems cold and far away,
Just take the hands of those who love you — let them help you through one more day.
No — don’t give me eternity — just give me one day at a time.
Dedicated to the memory of Teresa McGovern, 1949-1994; Martha June Bearden, 1921-1993; and the many others who have been helped by the work of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Afterword: At the time I wrote this song, I heard the line that came into my head when I was reading the article (“Don’t give me eternity — just give me one day at a time”) as a message, but at the time, I didn’t think it was addressed to me. I changed my mind a few years later when I decided I needed the help of Alcoholics Anonymous myself. See the notes to “The Twelve Steps” for more on how this developed.
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