I got to see my friend Mac today.
This made me very happy.
He looks really good. He seemed sober and well-rested. I give thanks for that. It can’t be easy to get good rest when you don’t know exactly how cold it’s going to get or if your tent will hold during the next rain or if a policeman or someone else is going to come and make you move along.
We had time to sit and visit today–a rare gift. He shared the discouraging news he had about something that could have changed his future. We shook our heads, and I asked him what he was going to do. He shrugged and said, “What I need to do.” And I laughed and said, “You’re going to do what comes next.” He nodded.
I told him the story of my friend years ago who moved to a new town. He wrote me that on his way in to his new job, he got a flat tire. On a very long bridge. Oh my land. I asked him what he did. He wrote back, “I did what came next…..I changed the tire.”
Today I listened to Mac’s game plan, his “what comes next,” I was proud of him. Proud that he had done his own research and asked questions and had come up with a plan. This is huge.
We sat and talked about Aub and the littles. How they were all doing and the propensity for two out of the three of them to lose textbooks and pencils and socks.
Then he shared a story with me.
“Hey, the other day me and J and a couple of the other guys were sitting down yonder under the bridge near the store, and this lady pulls up beside us. She asked, ‘Hey are you guys homeless?’ We looked at each other and said, ‘Well yeah.’ Then she said, ‘Okay, well can I drop my son off with y’all? He keeps on acting up and not listening to me. I want him to know what it’s like to live like y’all.”
What. The. French. Toast.
My jaw hit the floor. She asked him WHAT?!
Mac said the teenage boy in the car with her looked scared. “We told her ‘naw’ he couldn’t stay with us, but maybe she could check down at the shelter and see if they’d let him hang out there. Then we told him he didn’t want to be like us, that he needed to do right.”
Can you imagine being asked to be an example to a young person of who not to be? How not to turn out? What was this woman thinking?
I understand the frustrations and challenges of raising children. I know what it feels like to worry over their choices and their actions and their friends and what they are doing every hour of every day. I don’t know exactly what this woman was having to deal with, but what I do know is this.
Mac is a human being.
So are his friends.
They are more than the sum of where they live or how they live or when they had their last meal and where it came from.
They are stories of families and choices and choices taken away. Of lost jobs and injuries and friends who took advantage of them. They are people who need the same basic things we all do–to feel loved and respected and valued simply for who we are.
Not to be asked to be an example of a life gone wrong.
On any given day, we fluctuate where we live, how we live.
All of us live on a continuum. None of us are completely on either side of it. We all float somewhere in the middle–about where poor choices, luck of the draw, and grace abounds all meet.
My friend was seen as a two-dimensional character–“what not to become”, not as the beautiful person he is.
And that breaks my heart.
Not all people who are overweight have a problem saying no to food. Not all people with lung cancer smoked all of their lives. Not all people who are out of work failed to apply themselves and get an education. Not all people who are homeless are lazy and don’t have any ambition or dreams. People should not be defined by their circumstances. If we don’t know their stories, we shouldn’t assume the reason why their situation is as it is. What this lady was asking my friend and the others to do was to scare her son into behaving. We don’t ask this of other folks–what is it about not having a roof over their heads makes my friends any less human?
Mac laughed it off. He’s used to shrugging off the insensitivities and downright rudeness (my words) of folks. He sees it a lot. And he didn’t mind telling the young man to stay in school and behave. He tells my children the same thing quite often–that and to keep up with their textbooks. Ahem. The difference here is I didn’t ask him to, but the biggest difference is we have a relationship. I know some of his story and he knows some of mine. The reason he says this to my children is because he KNOWS them, he knows how they roll, and that they’d rather be playing on the hill at Daybreak than doing math any day. And because they love him, they listen to what he says. He doesn’t finish out his sentence about staying in school and behaving with “or you’ll end up like me” because that would make no sense to them–all they see is a wonderful guy, “Uncle Mac,” who fell into our lives and became my brother–a friend who makes them laugh and who draws great pictures. He makes all efforts to be sober when he’s around them, and for that I give thanks. Because we are close, he knows that is very important to me.
Today I told Mac how much I admire him because he is a strong person. I could not face the challenges he does even for half a day. He looked at me and said, “But I’m getting weaker.”
I know, my friend.
He wants sobriety. He wants to have a home, friends, family he can be with anytime he decides to go see them. He has tasted it and it tasted pretty good to him. But the taste of the alcohol is stronger. And for now, it’s winning.
But I have hope. This beautiful soul, this talented artist, and this quick-witted friend and poet–he has a lot going for him. And when he makes the decision to do something different, I’ll be right there beside him.
Just as I am now.
His choices don’t affect my love for him. They only affect my worry for my friend, my brother.
We all need to know we matter, that someone cares for us. As a person, not as a cause or an example or a lesson. As a living, breathing child born into this crazy, messed up world and left to eke out a life for ourselves. Without an instruction manual.
We all need to know we are human. And that others see that in us.
And we all need to be careful of the lens we use when we look at other people.
Go love somebody and let them know how much they matter.
It’s a good day for that…..any day, don’t you think?