Monday, August 29, 2011
“Abandon yourself entirely to God’s guidance. Do not hesitate or be frightened.”
~~ Mother Teresa
Friends who read this blog have told me that the posts they like best are those that tell about the lives of people living on the street. In that spirit, here’s an entry from my journal from 2009. Prior to this encounter, Max was in recovery from an addiction, had a sponsor and was attending Twelve-Step meetings.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Off the Wagon: Max Revisited
Sitting on my patio this afternoon drinking a cup of tea in this beautiful weather, I thought about my friend, Max, and tears stung my eyes. Everywhere I looked around the garden I saw his smiling face and bright blue eyes: in the fresh, green Vinca springing up by the gravel path, in the last of the rusty leaves still clinging to the Red Oak tree by the fence.
It’s funny: you may not think about a person every day, but there’s a notch somewhere in your gut that fits neatly into place when you know they’re doing well, and that comes unhinged when they’re not.
There are joys without number in knowing and loving people who live on the street, but this is one of the costs. Once you know, you can’t ‘not know’, and their troubles visit you even in the most peaceful moments. On the other hand, the depth of their suffering, and sharing it with them, carves out a place in yourself where their loving spirits reside, and that is a gift beyond measure that also stays with you.
One day this week, I was crossing a downtown street with a friend and heard a voice calling out, “Hey, Mama!” in my direction. It was Max, who grabbed me in a bear hug as I stepped up onto the curb and planted his characteristic kiss on my cheek, complete with the “Mmmm,MMM!” sound that people make when we kiss someone we haven’t seen in a while. I hadn’t seen Max in about a month, and I almost didn’t recognize him from our most recent encounter. This day, he was unshaven and disheveled, a different Max than I’d last seen, ‘spit-shined and polished’, as they say, with a new buzzed haircut of which he was proud.
“How’re you doing?” I asked him. “Well, not so good,” he confessed, “I’ve slipped a little bit. I’m having some trouble.” I knew what he meant. He’d been struggling with and — when last I saw him — succeeding in kicking his addition to crack cocaine. At that time, he’d been more than three months ‘clean’ — not an easy thing when you’re on the street, because those who are willing to facilitate your return to your old life greet you out there at every turn, when you don’t have a door you can close to get away from them, clear your head and make a ‘right’ choice for yourself.
What I said to him was, “I’m so, so sorry about this.” There is absolutely no point in a ‘tsk, tsk.’ For starters, like every other human being, I make bad decisions on a daily basis. However, gratefully, I have the peace and quiet of a home within which to consider my options.
Also, I know well that the person who will be hardest on Max in this case is certain to be himself. I have rarely met a person living on the street who falls back into an addiction and does anything other than take responsibility for it and heap blame and guilt on their own shoulders. “I’m working to get back on track,” he told me. “Max, I know you can do it, and I’ll be praying that you do.” “Love you, Mama.” “Love you, Max.” We parted.
Max had been sleeping in The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center courtyard before it closed for sleeping December 1, 2008, and was one of the lucky ones who got into a shelter. As long as he’s been sober, he’s been talking about securing a place in a drug rehabilitation program in Houston.
The sheer guts that it takes for a former addict to stay clean and sober for four months while spending his or her days on the streets of a big city is a lot more guts than most of us have. Shelters put people outside around 6 A.M. and reopen for business around four in the afternoon, and this man works past the afternoon cut off.
Yet Max did it. And I pray he can do it again.