“What if they aren’t ‘less than?’ What if they are ‘more than?’” – Split
Tonight I saw something miraculous. I saw a heart open and words resonate in someone who was previously blinded by anger.
I thought of Preston, whose last words to his mother were “F-you” when a loving father showed me the identical text from an angry son.
Preston never had the chance to apologize to his mother directly. She died before he had the opportunity to speak nice words, take back that verbal slap, or express love for her. Instead, he wrote it in a letter and sobbed on his hands and knees as he read it in front of a hole in the earth. He buried that letter there, and the tree he planted above it was later moved across multiple state lines to his new home. He still would’ve seen that tree every day… it is tattooed on his forearm above his sobriety date. Now he spends his days helping others find redemption.
I thought of Chase, Landon and Derek… all good men who had incredible potential, and I thought about how painful it was to see them in coffins while their loved ones wept.
I thought about Blu, Taryn, Terry, Dave, Ashley, Kelly, Kathy, Jean, Dale, and countless others who have seen that the destructive combustibility of addiction can also be used as a rocket fuel to greatness.
I thought about how many of my mornings have begun with a call or text that someone had lost their battle with drugs. I strove to focus on the light that still shines alongside their names… fallen warriors, not failures.
We are not weak.
I pulled over to exhale and the tears began to flow. I was finally able to “clock out” of tense portion of this four-day endeavor. I thought about how much effort it took to give this young man a hug, do the same with his parents, and get out of there before I allowed the true meaning of what I’d seen turn me into a blubbering mess.
This miracle… this wonderful family who found the way to drop their shoulders and plow through an obstacle that seemed unbreakable. The light in their eyes shone bright at the mere glimpse of what they can do when they work together.
That young man: a good-looking kid who is a talented musician, a poetic songwriter, and a million other things made the difficult call of humility today. He looked me in the eye and listened when I told him that I see so much more in him that just an “addict.”
How often do we get the chance to watch someone create an entirely new life path and ponder the possibility of change? We try so hard sometimes to scream at them through clamped ears or shove their face at the redemption we see in them.
Unfortunately, those tactics aren’t nearly as rewarding or effective as the right encouragement at the right moment.
We don’t shout for joy in those moments. We watch with baited a breath as they timidly and curiously test the unfamiliar terrain.
“Yes,” we whisper to ourselves. “Go. It’s right there. Take that first step.”
His grateful parents tried to hand me a wad of cash but I physically couldn’t hold it. I wasn’t trying to be noble. I just couldn’t put a price on that priceless moment and cheapen my true reward.
It’s not every day that you get a front-row seat to something like this.
I thought about all of the people who didn’t give up on me when I had given up on myself and the gratitude was overwhelming. I had survived long enough to be one more wave in that ever-expanding ripple of hope.
Now he gets to choose what he does with that moment, as do so many of us. It can be terrifying for someone to see potential in us that we don’t see in ourselves. It’s so tempting to find out why, but that requires a leap of faith.
Faith means trying, and with trying comes the possibility of failure.
I’ve only known about this young man for a few days, but I love him as a brother and hope that he sees how equal we are. Our stories are practically identical, but we are living in different chapters.
So… I hugged him back. I resisted the urge to jab him in the chest and say, “This… THIS is the feeling I was waiting for. I’m always here for you as a friend and a brother-in-arms, but I’ve said my piece.”
You have it in you because I have it in me. We aren’t broken. We aren’t lost. We aren’t less than other people. We are part of a community that exists in every demographic in every corner of the world.
We are fathers and mothers. We are brothers and sisters. We are smart, driven, loyal, kind, and powerful beyond measure.
Maybe our aim was lost on drugs, but we have the ability to get out of our own way, to surprise ourselves, to use that agonizing education and those miserable sentences inside our own prisons for pursuits that push boundaries.
We are so much more than just “addicts.”
We stumbled through those dark corridors and climbed through miles of filth to reach our light. Some of the best people on earth are navigating that darkness right now. They hold the antidote to this drug epidemic in their unlit torches. That light is our reward. It is a light that will burn as bright as we allow, and it multiplies when we take our breath of freedom before we turn back to take the hand of another:
“Your light is there. Let’s go find it. I can show you the way.”