The other day while driving along an avenue parallel to the homeless shelter where I work, I was stunned by the juxtaposition of lives in action.
Stopped at a red light, I looked to my right and saw the busy patio of a downtown restaurant. Surrounded by city skyscrapers and riotous hanging baskets filled with colourful flowers suspended from poles lining the edges of the deck, people were laughing, chatting, sharing a drink and a meal, sharing their lives. It was a happy scene. A scene of vibrancy of life unfolding.
I turned my eyes away and looked further to the right beside my car. Tucked away at the side of the building, out of sight of the patio, a young man lay sprawled on the grass. He lay so still, I wondered momentarily if he was alive. I wondered if I should get out of my car and check. And then he moved his arm. It lifted into the air as if in slow motion, as if an invisible puppeteer from on high was pulling a string. His arm lifted up. It hung suspended above his head, the hand forming an arch, its fingers hanging lifelessly towards the ground. I wondered if he was waiting for a basket of flowers to be suspended from his hand so that he could be part of the patio scene. And then, his hand and arm fell down in one quick crumbling motion back to the ground beside his inert body. The movement must have surprised him. He struggled to sit up. Propped himself up on one elbow. Blearily looked around and then surrendered himself to gravity. His back gave way, his elbow folded beneath him and he fell back to the ground.
The light turned green and I drove on leaving behind the busy scene on the patio and the lone body lying on the grass.
I saw the young man again later that day when I was on the second floor of the shelter. He was sitting at a table, surrounded by friends who were laughing and talking, swapping stories, hanging out. The young man sat in their midst oblivious to their activity as they in turn were oblivious to his benign presence. His eyes were open but didn't seem to be taking in much of his surroundings. His elbows were propped up on the table top, his body hunched over, leaning into his hands which were holding his head up, keeping it from hitting the table top.
As I carried plates to the tables a young woman approached me and asked if she could take a plate to the young man. "He's coming down and we need to get some food into him fast" she said.
I handed her a plate and said, "Please give him this one."
She thanked me and quickly set the plate down in front of the young man. "Here," she said. "Eat."
The young man looked at her. He glanced down at the plate. Looked back at her. He shook his head as if to clear it. Picked up the fork and quickly started eating.
I passed on, carrying plates to other tables, other people, as life went on.
I saw him again later that day. He was sitting at the same table. Laughing. Talking. Interacting with the people around him. He looked so together. So, 'normal'. So alert. Young and handsome, so full of life. And yet, the scene of the young man lying on the grass was there too. It forms part of his life. It is part of his reality. So sad. Such a loss of human spirit.
I wondered what it is that can take such a vibrant young man and drag him into the ugly world of drug induced highs and lows? What is it that keeps him falling into despair when right around the corner, sitting on a patio, life awaits?
How different is he from me? How many times have I aimlessly drifted through my life without a direction, without purpose, without vision? How many times have I let some invisible hand pull the strings while I danced to unheard music that trapped me into believing someone else's beat drummed out the possibilities of hearing my own heartbeat so that I could dance to my own unique rythm?
I never used drugs, but like that young man, I often anethasized myself from reality by stepping into someone else's arms, someone else's drama, using whatever means I could to keep myself from facing own self-made drama.
I can't change that young man's path. I can't affect what he does today and if he'll survive until tomorrow. All I can do is be true to me. My life. My journey. My beliefs, principles and values.
Four years ago I lay broken and wounded on the ground. I was very fortunate. My sister and her husband reached out, took my hand and helped me up. They gave me space and grace to catch my breath so that I could learn to walk freely, without anyone else pulling my strings.
I am grateful.
For that young man, just around the corner waits a new beginning. Maybe. No one can force him to step free. No one can force him to make different choices. Whatever drove him to this place, he is free to step away, to step cleanly into a direction other than the one he's taking.
I don't know.
I do know that everyday I witness lives in despair. Lives that have tumbled far from where they were into a place no one wants to be. And yet, here they are.
And everyday I witness lives in action. The actions may not be a journey I understand. They may not include facets I would choose. And yet, they continue to be in motion. And, they continue to change. To make choices that take them in new, healthier directions -- some day.
One day, someday, maybe, that young man will choose to walk around the corner and step onto the flower strewn patio where life is different than what he knows it to be now.
Will there still be troubles? Problems. Issues. Yes. I'm sure that not everybody on the patio that day was living the life of their dreams. I'm sure there were people in stress, under duress, coping with grief and sorrow, break-ups and breakdowns, put-downs and put-offs.
It isn't what's happening in my life that determines my journey. It's what I choose to do with the happenings. How I respond. If it's raining, I use an umbrella. If it's sunny, I use sunscreen. Regardless of the skies above, I am responsible for determining the tempo of my journey, for ensuring I am safe on my path, that I take steps that lead me towards where I want to go and not pull down to where I do not want to be.
On a street corner the other day I witnessed the juxtapositions of life and wondered if a young man was alive or dead. He's still breathing. Perhaps one day, he'll breathe freely.
For me today, I take a deep breath. I feel the energy enter my body. I feel my spine straighten, my shoulders push back and down. I feel my heart lighten and my spirit lift as I remind myself that I am free to make choices that support me, love me and take care of me.
Today, in freedom, I love myself exactly the way I am and accept myself for all I'm worth. I am priceless.
May you be free to make choices that say, I love me. May you see the amazing value you bring to your world and know, you are priceless. A rare and beautiful treasure of immeasurable worth.
You are awesome.