The other day I found myself in an extraordinary conversation. I was sitting alone, minding my own business when a man I know approached me. For the sake of this article, I will refer to him as Steve. Steve almost invaded my space, like he has on many occasions. I was sitting, relaxing and watching the world happen all around me, in fact, I was enjoying the solitude that I had found within the busy of where I was.
It was evident to me that Steve wanted to chat and that I needed to make space in my morning for him. As I began talking with him, I was reminded of my late father and how he always had time for people. Whether it be a chat through rolled down car windows on the streets of our small town or even when I would call his office and interrupt a meeting to ask a frivolous question. My dad always made space for people simply because people matter and through his life, he not only taught us kids that but he showed us, time and time again. As Steve continued sharing parts of his life with me and as I had considered my late father’s wisdom I chose to change my attitude. I decided that my solitude was less important than what was in Steve’s heart, so I turned my attention towards him, and I not only fully engaged, but I soaked up his words.
Steve started to tell me about his life. About his daughters and how he missed them. He told me about the house he was living in with 30 other people. He shared stories that made the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. As Steve spoke, my heart began to ache, the stories of pain, of trial and of challenge that he had faced, that he is facing and that he hopes he won’t have to face. I asked him about his parents, about his childhood and he told me a harrowing story about living on the street with his mother. He said that as a young boy, he spent more nights living on the street, in the back of cars and on park benches, with his mother than they did with a roof over his head. He spoke of the intense abuse he witnessed towards his mother by his father and ill-treatment that didn’t stop at her, but the hands found their way threatening his young life. As he spoke, it was like I could see the physical pain. Of the pain, he continued by saying, ‘I can’t even go to some of the places and tell what I’ve experienced. I don’t want you to hear of the things I’ve seen and done to survive,’
My heart was breaking, and I was reminded of the quote by J.M Barrie that says, “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some battle.” I could almost hear my father’s words telling me to listen, to hear and to see the man behind the pain and the life challenges and hardship that he has walked. I remember my father teaching me a lesson when my eldest niece was born (before I had children). My dad and I were driving home from visiting my sister and her beautiful daughter, Victoria. She was such a gorgeous child who was born into a loving family. As we drove home, my father said, “You know Susie, whenever you meet people, always remember that they were born into this world as innocent beautiful little babies, like your new niece. And, when you meet people who have had challenging lives, or you just can’t figure out what has happened remember that not everyone has the happy ending or the happy story. Life and circumstance does and will impact people and that it’s our job to be kind, to love and to see beyond what may be right in front of us. Sometimes, we will be asked to help them see the beauty of them that was there at birth. Life is an interesting place, and you will meet extraordinary people with stories that will impact you forever. Who will you be within their story?”
As my father’s wisdom permeated my mind I decided, that within this story, I would be the listener. I would also be the one in his day that displayed care. The one that listened so intently that I could ask questions, but questions based on his telling so that he would know he had captured my attention. I chose to see beyond what was in front of me, and I believe I saw the innocence of a man who has been riddled with regret, pain, frustration and by his admission demons.
Through our conversation, I learned three valuable things from Steve, and I’d like to share them with you:
While sharing, he said something to me that I believe will stay with me forever. He said, “[tweetthis]I don’t want to be awake in the dark anymore, being awake in the dark is the worst place, I would rather be dead.[/tweetthis]“
He told me about the dark, and it was in these stories that I could tell he was applying wisdom and protecting my heart, mind and soul from places that I don’t need to know. As he referenced being awake in the dark I could see fear on his face, it was more than I could or will ever be able to imagine. It was more than being afraid of the dark, being afraid and in the dark is one thing, but being awake and in the dark means something entirely different.
As he reflected on some of the things he had experienced, he stopped and said, “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t be burdening you with all my stuff. “I don’t need to spill my soul to you; I need God to fill my soul.”[tweetthis]Lesson #2 that I learned from an ex-Heroin Addict[/tweetthis]
Wow…. What insight. What truth. So humbling to recognise that in his strength or even through telling me and pulling someone onto the team to cheer him on, he realised that all he needs is God to fill his soul.
In the final moments of our conversation he said one of the most profound things to me which was, “The wolf doesn’t need to knock on my door anymore, I’m not a lost sheep. I have a shepherd, so the wolf needs to leave.”[tweetthis]Lesson #3 that I learned from an ex-Heroin Addict[/tweetthis]
Steve has discovered the one who brings peace, who calms the storms and who accepts him just as he is. He is still in a battle; he’s fighting for his life on a daily basis by making decisions that bring and give life rather than take away life. He told me how he looked at his life, and he can say with certainty that the challenges and pain he faced as a child are directly related to who he became. He’s in a new season of life where he is shaking off the old and becoming new. Steve craves clarity; he lives clean, and he desperately wants to live a healthy life.
I learned a lot from Steve the other day. I’m glad he came to church and invaded my space. I’m pleased that I got to stand alongside someone as strong as him, someone who has looked his demons in the face and someone who is choosing to be and embrace the world around him. Steve has inspired me to be a better person. I’m forever grateful for the lessons my father and mother taught which is simply to value people whoever they are and whatever stage of life. I’m grateful that I was able to see Steve as an innocent baby who is now a man filled with hope and gratitude.
Susan (PS: if you’re interested in another article I wrote a few years ago after a chance encounter with a homeless man in LA check out‘Everyone Has a Story’.