"You know, I was a golden child, Rebecca. Straight "A" student, on the chess team, popular. I had a girlfriend, my parents were proud of me, I had friends. Then I went to one party. One. After that, everything changed and now my life's shit."
That's a quote from a good friend of mine, describing his first brush with drugs. I hear a lot of train wreck stories like that; blink of an eye moments where life is altered forever or eradicated altogether. The horribly ironic thing with substance abuse cases is, all sides are tragic. My brother Ian was killed by a hot-rodding teenager who smashed into him on his motorcycle, killing him instantly and maiming his fiancee on the back of the bike. We lost him, she lost her mobility and the world lost a truly wonderful person.
But what about the teenager? Whatever happened to him? How did his parents and family feel about his awful, avoidable crime? I think of him a lot, wondering where life has taken him over the past forty years...if he's even alive. Many people get their hackles in an uproar over such a question. "Who gives a shit what happened to him? I hope he's suffering. No, I hope he's burning in hell, the little murderer." That's a common reaction. But how would I feel if I killed somebody? If my dumbass, ridiculously selfish quest for fun crushed a human being under the wheels of a car I was driving? If I wanted a friend to experience how awesome it feels to get high and it eventually killed them?
We had a plaque up in our kitchen when I was growing up that read, "Never judge a person until you've walked a mile in their mocassins." Can you imagine the dreadful weight of such a pair of shoes? As to the teenager, I know what happened to him. He was seventeen years old at the time of the accident, a good student himself, driving his new car and wanting to see how fast it was. That was all. Just a need for speed, a laughing joy in the rush of air, a kick in the blood from the roaring acceleration. Then he blinked. In that moment, his life changed and my brother's ended. The boy had a nervous breakdown at the inquest and had to be carried out of the courtroom. He stalked Ian's fiancee for years, trying to make it up to her, begging her forgiveness, in and out of institutions for decades. That's one of the sad stories.
Then I think about the really bad cases, the mean spirited ones, the unrepentent aggressors. There's my dad and his retelling of sexual exploits at the dinner table, my nephew's rhapsodic retelling of unspeakable crimes, my other brother's laughing tales of animal abuse...and I wonder. When did they have their moments of disclarity? That's probably not even a word but it's apt. A loss of clarity, a moment of change. A blink. They weren't born monsters but they're monsters now. What's worse, they like it too much to stop. Even the cruelty itself has become just another addiction.
I believe in the possibility of change. I've seen miracles happen. I've witnessed horrible offenders come back from the wastelands and become drug counselors, college students, good and highly protective parents, reliable and loyal friends, all after their own personal split-second epiphanies. Another blink. Another life change, but this time for the better. Monster to hero. Scuzball to soccer coach. Sleazy prostitute to life-saving nurse. Born pure, gorged on a banquet of filth, ruin and redemption, all in one mind-numbing set of circumstances. We are all gods and monsters, saints and sinners, scumballs and heroes. That's the wondrous, marvelous, ghastly truth of it all. We can choose, even if we don't want to, to change. Everything's a tapestry and the Fates are weaving every decision we make into the design. Choose colors that enhance life, even if you never have before. If you're disgusting, weak, immoral, addicted or broken, that's simply what you are now. It's not who you are. It's just a suit of clothes that sucks. Sluff it off and start again. Hope is eternal. That's as certain as death and taxes and even more powerful. Let go of anything else but don't ever let go of hope. Even when you're hopeless.
Especially when you're hopeless. Take care.