We were at the pub yesterday, having a quiet drink, when we met someone we hadn't seen for years. It was like a ghost walking into the room. We'd thought for certain that he was dead. Last we'd seen of him he was, we thought wrongly, hopelessly addicted to drugs. As the addiction grew stronger, he was unutterably diminished. Then. He was gone.
We assumed the worst. It was tragic because he was young, vital, smart and compassionate. Even at the height of his addiction you had a sense that behind the fog was a man, trapped a screaming. He would have been offended by this sentiment, but it was how we both felt. And. He was gone.
But he walked into the pub. He expressed shock to see him, he expressed pleasure at seeing us. He got a beer and sat down. Over the next hour we talked about where his life had taken him. After he fell of the radar he went back and finished high school, then went on to University and ultimately got his masters. He had lived rough as a young man and he wanted to work with the homeless so he became a social worker for seven years working with people who needed a home within and a home to live within.
I asked him if I could ask a personal question. He made a joke and then, quietly, said, 'go ahead.' I asked him what had happened? How he had managed to grab the reigns of his life and drive through the fog. He said, "I suddenly realized that life was too short." I shook that answer off, I said, "People say that, they talk about hitting bottom, but I think that's just a simple way of explaining something complex. What was it that made you 'realize,' what was it that 'woke you up'? He said that he didn't know but what he did know was that he had choices, choices he didn't realize he'd had before. And he could make one good choice after another.
Then he asked about my disability and being in the chair. He'd been honest with me, I was honest with him. I gave him a brief version of the story. Afterwards he said, 'I feel for you man." I told him that he didn't need to. My life was virtually the same as when we knew each other years ago. I still work, I still travel, I still lecture, I still write. In fact, I told him, I felt that I was now doing some of the most important work of my career. "But doesn't it make you feel bad being out there," indicating the world, "in a wheelchair while everyone else is walking?" I told him that it was the attitudes and assumptions of others that were the problem, not the getting about.
We'd now hit common ground. He knew, of course, the attitudes that people held to people who had histories like he did. He knew, of course, of the mistrust that comes from others about his own recovery. He knew those things. Then we moved to a discussion about how the prejudice of others had no place in our personal journeys. He had to shake off addiction and shake off others expectations of failure. I had to adapt to my disability and shake off the sudden devaluation of my life and purpose.
Different paths. Different journeys. But common ground. We left the bar feeling refreshed somehow, hopeful somehow. It was nice to see him and hear his story. It's nice to have seen the resurrection of a man thought long dead. It was a miracle of his own making. "The power lies within," I thought, "within the choices we make."