Joy, The Real Kind

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Joy, The Real Kind

He’d been there at the front door handing out numbers and joking around with Harold for about six weeks straight. Tats from neck to wrist, leather café jacket. Scraggly beard, Young, but old.  That’s the part the gives it away.  Young, but old.  The old is in their eyes…maybe in their bones, too. There’s a way that they carry themselves.  There’s something else in a recovering heroin addicts eyes, too, that I can’t explain.  There’s more to it, but you get to the point where you just kind of know who’s using and who’s recovering. Crack has its tell-tale signs, the jaw going side-to-side, the skin on the hands picked raw.  Heroin has its tell-tale signs, too.   He’d been referred to us by Justice 2000 for mandatory community service hours.  When he came he was pretty sketchy.  And I’m pretty sure he thought we were, too. He didn’t know what all this “Kingdom of Heaven” stuff was about, not sure he wanted to either. But he kept coming back.  And his guard came down.  And we came to know him. And he came to know us. He finished his community service hours, and he kept coming back anyway.

He had been doing so well.  Despensa de la Paz had become more than a place to him, just as it has for so many people.  People who don’t understand spiritual things think we hand out groceries.  Yes, it’s about groceries, but it’s about a whole lot more than groceries.  I always make it a habit to say, “Love you, brother” or “Love you, sister” when they leave. I said that to him every week for a long time.  I think at first he was kind of weirded out by it.  But I remember the first day that he said, “Love you, too.”  His eyes welled up with tears as he said it.

The Teacher said one time that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.  It’s the smallest of all seeds.  But it grows into a huge bush where the birds of the air come and take shelter. He had to take multiple buses to get to Despensa.  He probably had to start riding about six in the morning.  This had become a bush where he could come and take refuge.  It started so small for him. A cup of coffee and just a break from somebody.  And it became huge.  For many people, Despensa is their refuge.  You can’t quantify that.  There’s no number for that on a form.  But for him, this is the closest thing he’s known to home and safety in a whole lot of years.  God is here, and no one contests God’s presence.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to Despensa and he wasn’t there.  I figured maybe he missed a bus, but that he’d be along.  His girlfriend came in very upset, and said she hadn’t heard from him, that he’d disappeared, and that she was worried about him.  She knows him.  They used together. And they were recovering together. She said he’d told her that he was thinking about getting some crack.  I know this is jaded and horrible, but I actually felt a sense of relief that he wanted to get some crack, because at least it wasn’t heroin.  So many people are dying out here from that first return visit to heroin when they relapse…too many to count. What crossed my mind was that he might mess himself up, maybe even get himself thrown in jail, but he wouldn’t be dead with a needle sticking out of his arm. Don’t get me wrong, I know the monster that crack is, and I’ve seen it devour households.  I’m just telling you what went through my head.  I have become what I’ve become. After years of this, it just is what it is.

I was excited to see him today.  Joy.  The real kind.  He was back.  And he was clean again.  And he was alive.  It’s funny how quickly we get into each other’s hearts here.  I’ve seen so many people not make it, so many people die or end up in prison forever, or just disappear…I just thank God every day that God has not allowed me to become hard. I don’t ever want to get to that terrifying place where I am afraid to feel anymore…where I am afraid to let people like him into my heart. The metaphor isn’t lost on me, “a heart that’s broken, and yet is also resurrected.”  As I walked away after catching up with him, I said, “Love you, brother.”  I heard the catch in his voice, holding back tears, and he said, “Yeah. Love you, too.” One day, this friend might not make it.  One day it might be this one that his mother finds dead in the bathroom, or who washes up in the Milwaukee River, or who dies in some Godforsaken abandoned warehouse.  It might be him one day.  But, not today.  Today, he was here.  Today, he was our gift.  And I am grateful.

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