“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Ghandi
A few months ago, I did something I was highly encouraged not to do. Before I tell you what that is I want to be clear as a helping professional for all of my adult life, giving is in my DNA. Until approximately two or three years ago, I would respond to requests from people on the street especially those who appeared to be disabled or indicated they were Vets. When I told people I did this, I was chastised and reminded by more than a few that I was contributing to someone’s chronic drug addiction. I was horrified. Although I am quite sympathetic to people suffering addictions, more harm was not my intention so I stopped. Over the last few years, I would drive by the people appealing for money, and when I came to a traffic light, I would avert my eyes as they walked by me.
Now here is where I changed the trajectory: Not long ago, one Saturday afternoon, I decided to attend church. Being a cafeteria Catholic, I am not a regular churchgoer, but something beckoned me to go that warm summer day. Upon arrival, I parked my car and began to ascend the stairs to the old city church where as a child I had accompanied my father and grandfather. As I hurriedly made my way, a young man whom I will refer to as J. asked me very politely if I had any money to spare. I said “no” and continued towards the entrance, but all of the sudden the same something from earlier that day stopped me in my tracks. I turned around, went over to J. and offered him a dollar bill. As I put it in his hands, I said nicely but firmly, “I hope you are not going to use this for drugs.” J. looked at me and courteously stated, “Ma’am, I am an addict. I will always be an addict, but I am not using right now.” I was quite taken aback by this man’s civil and forthcoming response. I looked at him and told him I commended his honesty. I questioned him about the drug of choice from which he was trying to abstain. J. told me and shared with me the loss of friends who succumbed to overdosing on this drug. When I asked how he was doing and what assisted him in his quest to remain drug free, he informed me the Pastor of the church I was attending was being most resourceful. I then asked him his name, wished him well and told him I hope to see him again. J. responded most graciously.
As of today, I have not seen J. again. I think about him often and recognize the gift he gave me. Since meeting him, I have stopped and given to others always saying the same sentence, “I hope you will not use this for drugs.” All of them appear to be startled when I ask but have been polite, deny drug usage and thank me. Do I know if any or all of these people are being truthful? I do not, but does it matter? Perhaps, just engaging them as people might just stimulate their thinking, or maybe, if their lives improve, they might assist another less fortunate human being. Possibly, an extra dollar could prevent someone from being robbed because a troubled soul had enough to get them by. Whatever the reason, I remind myself, who am I to judge. People become addicted for different reasons, and many have suffered gravely.
Shortly after meeting J., I told this story to a gathering at a summer barbecue. A friend of a friend was present, and stated, “Darlene, my mother used to say ‘Shame on you if you don’t give and shame on that person if they misuse.'” I believe her wise mother was correct. All of our actions have some impact on one another. The gift of this young man helped me become “unstuck” from a certain posturing, and I wonder if our paths will cross again. More importantly, I hope he is well and remains “unstuck” from the lure of a false panacea.