Yesterday at church I sat behind a woman who doesn’t have a home. For a while she lived in a shelter, but she told me that she was now sleeping outdoors. I know her name and her age–early 60’s–and that she is clearly an addict. She was twitchy and shaking in the pew as Mass went on. My compassion for her was deep, but I thought about what I had learned in what those who know call “these rooms.”
Anonymous programs exist to provide people a chance to share experience, strength and hope with others. Some of these are for people who live with addicts, some for addicts themselves. I have spent hundreds of hours in such places processing and learning about the addicts I grew up among. Slogans are a key part of these rooms, and one in particular came to me as I sat behind and prayed for her. “You need to accept life on life’s terms.” It’s a counter message to the “visualize and it will come to be” so prevalent in much of the culture.
I had to accept that she was self destructing. I had to accept that her mind was consumed with needing a fix. I was careful to take my phone with me when I went up for Communion. Did that mean I didn’t trust her? Yes, it did. I care about her and I wish the best for her, but part of life on life’s terms is that in her need for a fix she might have seen my phone and taken it. Not because I wasn’t kind to her. Not because I don’t call her by her name(which I do.) No because she is an addict, kicked out of a shelter and not asking me for help beyond money. Our priest has asked us not to hand out money directly but put it into the poor box. He knows all these street people and can discern actual need.
It is extremely painful to watch people self-destruct. The only thing more painful is to mistakenly believe that I have magical powers to cure them. I didn’t have them as a kid and I don’t have them now. I learned that in “these rooms.” I am forever grateful.