Monday, July 07, 2008

Everyone Was a Baby Once

The following is a reprint from a guest post I did this weekend for Anna over at Hank and Willie.

These past ten days have been surreal for my family. In the midst of the regular summer crazies the most unexpected tragedy befell my brother-in-law. This post won't be about what happened, although I can tell you he is alive and with a spirit intact and filled with generosity, love and gratitude.

No, this post is about the child in all of us. And it came about in the most unexpected way. Today I worked at the hospital (I've been MIA since the PTA Convention and then with my brother-in-law). Late this afternoon I walked onto one of the ICU floors to get some paperwork filled out by a patient. The first thing I noticed was the grim-faced police officer sitting outside of his room, clacking away on a small official looking laptop. I did a double take on the patient's chart - oh. Meth overdose. No wonder.

I felt myself harden inside as I judged this young man for his foolish choice before even crossing the threshold to his room. I'm a mom. I protect my own children from this kind of trash. I stepped in and took a good look. He was only twenty-four, but nearly unrecognizable as a young man. His skin was pocked and eaten away by Meth sores, and he had white streaks slashed across his cheeks where the acidic vomit ( imagine what your body would do if you regularly consumed Meth) had left its angry mark on his ravaged skin. I asked his nurse if I could talk with him and she shrugged her shoulders and looked at him with contempt.

"He's sleeping it off. Wake him up."

I understood why she felt this way - all the sick people needing care and this delinquent eats poison and gets some of the best care in the state. Her attitude may have been wrong by medical ethics standards, but I can understand.

"Mr. Meth Head?" [not his real name] "I need you to wake up so that I can speak with you."He slowly opened his swollen, bruised lids. He was obviously confused as to where he was, and for a brief moment, his vulnerability shone through him like a beam of light. Almost instantly, and very unexpectedly, I felt overwhelmed with compassion. What kind of life led him to this path? What was he numbing inside of him with drugs? Maybe nothing. Maybe he was just a junkie who had been given every opportunity and screwed it up anyway. Or maybe he had an unspeakably painful past.

I put my hand on his arm. "This won't take long. I know you're feeling sick and I'll be quick." I looked down and saw that his hand was handcuffed to the bed rail.

After I finished up, I turned to leave and I heard him croak out to me, "Has anyone told you you're beautiful today?" I quickly smiled and left. The cop gave me a grin and joked that I had a date as soon as he got out of jail.Later, when I got home today and hugged my children hello, my six year-old son brushed past me and then turned, almost as an afterthought. He looked up at me with clear, blue eyes. He drives me crazy with the longest eyelashes you can imagine - they nearly rest on his perfect pink cheek and I joke that it's a tragic waste on a boy. "Mama? You look beautiful today."

I felt my knees nearly buckle as I bent down to give him a squeeze. I will do my best by him, but no one knows where he'll be in twenty years. I whispered into his soft ear, "Thank you, baby. You're beautiful, too."

I'll bet that young man handcuffed to the bed was once a beautiful boy, too.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

WOW. well said.

Trudie said...

There but for the grace of God...
Sometimes the margin between success and failure in life is so infinitesimal that we miss it by the blink of an eye.

Di said...

your compassion is inspiring

fairytalesandmargaritas said...

Very moving. It is hard. My brother was addicted to drugs for awhile. Even knowing what a great kid he had been, I had moments where I was angry and mad at him. I had a hard time understanding his reasons for starting to use drugs, but now I see a little clearer.

the dragonfly said...

Beautiful post...you made my heart ache.

jakelliesmom said...

Amazing, Jen. Not expecting tears from a meth story, especially not right after coffee first thing on a Monday morning. Your heart is huge, and mine is bigger for reading your words today.

Patty said...

What a touching post. I can still remember what a handsome, funny guy my cousin was until drugs stole all that way.....thanks for the reminder to have a little more compassion!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You've done a good job explaining the dichotomy of compassion and judgement that so many of us feel.

Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck said...

Thank you for the perspective...

Beautiful post.

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Did you read that book, Beautiful Boy? I just finished it, along with Tweak (written by the son). So powerful, yet so tragic.

standing still said...

We should all judge not, lest we ourselves be judged. The crimes of others may look different, but we ourselves have been stuffed into little imperfect packages ourselves.

Julie Pippert said...

What a beautiful bit of insight and sympathy. Clearly the kindness in your eyes was a balm to him. I second the mention of that book.

Marie said...

Wonderful post !!

Valle said...

Thanks for this...and I bet he has a mother out there somewhere, weeping. And she will be glad to know that another mother laid a compassionate hand on her son's arm on the day that he was in so much pain.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Oh, I'm crying over this. I have a little guy too and your compassion toward this man warmed my heart. May neither one of us ever have to watch our sons grow up to be taken over by a drug.

Kat said...

It's true, you never know what leads someone to the path they choose. Lots of people recover from addictions and go on to inspire and care for others. They can help in a way nobody else can because they've been there.

You did a good thing today, overcoming your judgement to see past the drug addict to the person inside.

Nancy said...

Beautiful, wow.

Amazing how things we take for granted day to day, speak volumes when we just stop to really listen ... with our hearts.

Shellie said...

I loved that post. I work in the courts and see people who have made bad decisions all the time, but that is just part of them. No one is bad 24/7. Addiction is a hard thing to understand and very hard to break. Most people are way too judgmental. It's when you see their moms there sometimes, trying to see their child through paying the price and making the changes to a better life that you can easily see that child they once were.

Mom said...

We often say we are proud of our children with the same social lassitude as "Hi, how are you." But today, I can say, I am so proud of the adult my child has become. I think when the young man used beautiful, Jennifer, he meant more than you looks.

painted maypole said...

beautiful post. i try to remember that myself now and then.

DysFUNctional Mom said...

That gave me a chill. I'm glad you still have compassion; I think it's so important that anyone who works with sick people try to maintain that.

Barb McMahon said...

Usually you make me laugh.

This one made me cry.

dkuroiwa said...

This was really touching. How many times a day, as I am rushing here and there to get things done and put away and ready for the next day to begin again, do I actually stop and spend some uninterrupted time with my boys? Stories like this are God's way of saying..."do it now!" Love those babies and do whatever it takes so they don't end up like that young man.

Christine Bilek said...

WOW, that gave me goosebumps

kristi said...

This post made me cry. I have family members who have been drug addicted. My brother lost everything he had, a good business, a beautiful home, his family. He ended up homeless.

My nephew is in prison due to his poor choices.

Thank you for having compassion.

Peach said...

Hey, congratulations, you won Post of the Week!

Del said...

Beautifully written. Your compassion is heart warming.

imbeingheldhostage said...

beautiful post.