I looked down at where he was sitting. “He died, you know.”
Mac looked away from me and then back again. “Yeah, I know. You told me.”
I stood there, thinking. This person I love like a brother, sitting there, so lost and so out of touch with reality that he thinks himself untouchable, indomitable. Were there any words that would get through to him?
“He didn’t think it was a problem. He thought he was okay. He thought he had it under control too.” I fumbled for what else to say.
“Yeah.” He shook something off, and laughed. “Well hey. I haven’t had a drink today.” He laughed again. “Yet.”
I knew the conversation was over. I stood for a minute more, willing him to hear the words I didn’t say.
He had resources you don’t. He had a home, a job, warm food at every meal, doctors and treatment at his disposal. He could watch television anytime he wanted. He didn’t have to wait in line for much of anything. The only time he had to walk was across a parking lot to his truck. He had family and friends who loved him and enjoyed spending time with him. And yet, the disease killed him. He lost his life to this–this disease you have, the one you have fought so well only to fall prey to its control again and again.
What I wanted to say was, If it can get him, he who had all of those things working for him, how am I supposed to believe it won’t get you too?
Because the reality is, odds are it will.
That was a week ago.
Today I stood outside Daybreak beside my friend Mac as he teased me about the ink stains from a leaky pen that covered my hand, making it look bruised. We talked about the puppies that belonged to some other guests at Daybreak. He looked over at them with a twinkle in his eyes. “One day I’m gonna have me one of them.”
I nodded. “That’ll be good. When you get things…..settled. Yes. That will be good.”
“Yeah. I love me a dog.”
He’s had one before. Living in the “camp” with him. I never asked what happened to it. He grew up with dogs and loves them. I hope one day he can have one again.
We talked about his Mama who had come to see him and took him to handle some business today. She’s a dear, sweet lady who does what she can. He loves her too.
As we stood there and the breeze teased us with thoughts of warmer weather, I looked at my friend and wanted to cry. He looked good today. He was sober, maybe due to the impending trip with his Mama, I don’t know. I’ll take it whatever the reason. He was waiting on his laundry to be done and enjoying sitting outside in the sun.
One of our other friends was under the pavilion trimming someone’s hair. I asked Mac if he was the next one in line for that.
“Noooooo,” he said, shaking his head. “I ain’t ever cutting my hair again.”
Aub and I looked at him and squinted in the sunshine. I tilted my head to the side, looking and picturing him in my mind’s eye with his shoulder length hair even longer.
“I can see it. Willie Nelson braids.”
“Oooh, and the bandana, yes, you could rock that look,” Aub said, remembering the cover of one of Daddy’s Willie Nelson albums no doubt.
Mac laughed. “Yeah? You think?”
As I prepared to let the littles know it was time to go and pull them away from playing with their new friend, I looked over at Mac. This man who is a poet and artist and who loves to cook and dreamed of opening a restaurant for those in need one day. The one whose eyes and smile remind me so much of my Daddy, but who is his own man, just as lovable for different reasons. I don’t even pretend to understand him anymore. I can want it for him, but sobriety and living in a home, any kind of home, is something he has to want for himself and then be willing to work for. And the truth is, he doesn’t want those things. He would rather camp out in the woods somewhere and miss meals when he has to than follow the rules set up by a rehabilitation home and not have to worry about things like food or a roof over his head. I don’t understand that mindset, but that is where he is. It’s the disease taking control.
And so I have a choice.
I can walk away, frustrated that he continues to throw his life away and attempt to prevent myself from further heartbreak and worry. Or
I can love him as he is. Love him no matter what choices he makes. Love him without trying harder than he does to make things “better” for him, even when that means certain heartbreak.
What he has is a disease. It’s a hard one. It has people shaking their heads, wondering why he doesn’t just “stop” instead of reaching out a hand and offering prayers and warm hugs and food brought over in throw-away containers as we all would if the disease had a name like cancer or heart disease instead of the name “alcoholism.” The name doesn’t allow much room for grace, so not many folks will offer it to those who suffer with it.
But facts are facts. He struggles with his addiction, but that does not make him less of a person. He lives outdoors, but that doesn’t make him not human. He makes choices I don’t get, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Or family.
Tonight I give thanks for this reprieve from the bitter cold. Tonight maybe Mac will sleep a little more comfortably. I am thankful he has a place like Daybreak to go to for showers, laundry, phone use, and so many other resources. I am thankful for Loaves and Fishes and Macon Outreach at Mulberry UMC which open their doors to share a meal with people who are in need. Most of all, I am thankful for a whole new understanding of what love looks like. Yes, in loving Mac I am risking heartache down the road. But so is he. He risks his heart every time he lets someone get close. He risks being hurt like he has in the past, by people who love him when he’s doing okay, when he’s sober, when he’s making those good choices, or just talking about those choices. He risks people walking away when he just can’t fight it any longer. When they just can’t understand why he is as he is. I am working hard to be worthy of that risk, of that trust.
I give thanks for Mac’s life today. In the words of Mac himself, and it never fails to bring light into my heart and make me smile,
“If ain’t nobody told you that they love you today, well, I love you.”
And love. That’s what we’re here for, right?
Love to all.