Thursday, August 26, 2010

Light a Candle

I am on the elevator going up to the sixth floor from the parking garage underneath the building. It stops on the 3rd. The doors open and a large man steps on.

"I'm going up to sixth first," I tell him. "You're welcome to come for the ride."

It is a safe assumption to think he is going down. Above three are only the transitional sleeping floors of 4 and 5 and then the admin offices and boardroom and classrooms and art studio on six. The sleeping floors are closed during the day and clients are only allowed up to six if escorted.

He stops mid step turns and gets off the elevator. "Nah," he says. "I may as well walk down."

Behind him another man patiently waits his turn to get on the elevator. "I'll come along for the ride," he says as he steps into the confines of the small space with me. He is carrying a rolled up blanket and a plastic bag. His long thin frame is hunched at the shoulders. His face a craggy map of hard living and harder nights.

It is late in the day and I am just returning from a meeting outside the shelter where I work. He's come from Day Sleep, a service we provide to those who are ill or work nights.

"Did you have a good sleep today?" I ask him.

"Yeah," he replies. His voice husky as if reluctant to let sleep go. "I got out of Renfrew this morning and was glad of the opportunity to have Day Sleep. I need all the rest I can get right now."

Renfrew is a Detox Centre. Clients often cycle in and out, in and out. It gives them a three to five day window to dry out from whatever concoction they've been taking to mask the pain of their lives.

"Are you going on to a Rehab program," I ask. Often, after Renfrew is the best time to catch someone before they fall once again under the lure of alcohol or drugs.

"I gotta," he replied. "Three years," he says, his head nodding up and down. His mouth a thin line. "Three years I've managed to stay off the crack. But the alcohol. I gotta beat that baby. I gotta quit. I don't wanna die a drunk."

"You sound convinced of what you want to do," I say as the elevator bell chimes and the doors open on the sixth floor. I swipe my access card against the panel on the elevator wall that will let me access other floors. "First or second floor?" I ask him.

"Second," he says, clutching his blanket tightly to his chest. "I need some coffee." The second floor is our day area where clients can sit and watch TV, plays cards, read a book, visit with friends and share a meal.

"Good luck with the rehab," I say as I step off the elevator.

"Thanks," he replies. "I'm gonna quit this time."

I turn and smile at him. "I believe you. Getting to this place takes courage and you've obviously got lots of that," I reply as the doors begin to close between us.

He sticks a foot between the closing doors to stop them. "You think I've got courage?"

"Absolutely. You gave up crack. You went to Renfrew. You've committed to quitting drinking. That all takes courage," I tell him.

He stands and looks at me, his eyes peering into mine as if looking for some hidden meaning, some joke he hasn't quite got. His head nods up and down again. "Thanks. I like that. Courage. Never saw myself that way before. Courage."

And the buzzer sounds on the elevator to indicate the doors have been held open too long. He grins. Removes his foot and the doors slide closed.

It was just a momentary encounter. A fleeting exchange of two people riding an elevator in a homeless shelter. And yet, in those few moments the story of thousands of men and women unfolded.

I gotta quit.
I gotta give it up.
I gotta get straight.

No one likes the role of addict. No one enjoys the moments in between the highs when reality sets in and grinds you down with its insistence that you will never change, never get away from the strife and turmoil of wanting that next fix, that next hit, that next slug of a bottle to make the horror of where you're at and what you've become go away.

He was one man on an elevator determined to make a change.

I pray he does. I pray he holds onto the thought that he is a courageous man and he can do it.

For that man, and the hundreds of men and women like him, I light a candle.

You can light a candle too by visiting here.

I'm sure there's someone who needs your prayers, who needs the breath of hope you can give when you believe in them enough to help them see, they have the courage they need to succeed.

Take a Moment

From time immemorial, people have lit candles in sacred places as expressions of devotion and gratitude. Why should cyberspace be any less sacred? Help make the Internet a little more holy by visiting Sit in silence for a minute or two, feeling your breath while gently reflecting on the many blessings of life. Form a prayer in the center of your heart, surrounding yourself and everyone you love with the warmth of your gratitude. Then use the website to light your own virtual candle, releasing your prayer to the rest of the world. Take a deep breath, exhale, and enjoy your day.


S. Etole said...

What a gift you gave him in just a moment of time.

Brandi said...

Your story shows how even a brief encounter can have an impact on someone's life!
Thanks for the reminder :)

Maureen said...

Lovely post, Louise.

I'll found many wonderful readings and lit quite a few candles at

Hugs for all the goodness you give our world.

Anonymous said...

Courage is so powerful, Louise, it truly is a wonderful gift you gave him! I'm sure he stood 2 inches taller. Love, BA

Anonymous said...

and what a ride
it was

Anonymous said...


great piece ... I'll run it tomorrow on 360boom . .


M.L. Gallagher said...

Thanks for your comments everyone -- and thanks Mark for re-posting it!

hope everyone has a day of wonder!