something other than fear

Tonight a young man tried to crash our gathering, for alcoholics, our women’s meeting. He asked me if he could attend; he said he’d be “nice” (meaning well-behaved, I suppose – not prone to interruptions).

Truthfully, he is not ready nor able to stop drinking, but he has few places to go. He is homeless (again), and maintenance-drinking so as to not suffer delirium tremens, a severe affliction that I knew nothing about only a few short years ago. Tonight he is suffering a mouth injury that is getting infected; a very ugly wound indeed. In the moments before the meeting I ask him how he sustained such a painful abrasion; he says, “Someone hit me.” I tell him he needs antibiotics. The injury looks very painful, and not at all healthy.

What he really needs is a little kindness, and a little more time to live. Such individuals can get sober, I’ve seen it happen.

In the next hour – well, for the most part the young man behaves himself. Halfway through our gathering however, an authority strides in, interrupting the proceedings, and speaks very sternly. He tells the young man he’s banned from the location. I know this building and know it takes a little bit of bad behavior to get 86’d. The same authority later takes me aside and, his chin shaking, tells me the young man has busted up a few walls, and followed a few women around, and is no longer welcome on the premises.

My mind flashes back to a few weeks ago, when a girlfriend and I gave this selfsame young man a ride to the hospital. He was in a bad shape, going through alcohol withdrawal. There is no loneliness greater. On our short trip he vacillated between a wicked sense of humor and a keen intelligence, to incoherent stories about stabbing someone (or being stabbed, I couldn’t tell) and his thoughts of killing a previous girlfriend. And of course, the self-pity, which is very ugly indeed. Far from expressing gratitude for a ride, he turned surly when I would not stay with him at the hospital. I gave him bus (or beer) fare, and went home to my family.

One thing that occurs to me is that I have a deep compassion and love for this young man. I am not sure if he remembers my name, although we’ve spoken several times. I remember his.

I don’t fear him, although I know he is dangerous. I suppose that is the gift compassion gives to me. I think I’d rather think and feel the way I do, than have the imagined superiority so many others experience when contemplating this man and others like him. I suppose I am more grateful than anything else, that some time ago love entered my heart and didn’t leave. It is a legacy and a treasure more special to me than any other.

And I think I am grateful for the girlfriend who came with me on this hospital trip, even more. It is one thing to be compassionate, and it is another to share that space with someone else who has the same aim. These are bonds that get forged, stronger than what can be expressed by the written word. 

Tonight at home, we host a woman and her two children for a walk, and tea, and a talk into the late night. We are talking about a subject close to my heart: the parenting of young children. I tell her she is the expert, the person most qualified to care for her little ones. I can speak these words and mean them so deeply. I can watch as a person tries to decide if they believe this is true. I can’t decide for them.

I don’t know where self-worth came into my heart – it was about the same time love did – but I am so glad I lived long enough that it should happen.


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