Some days you get to talk to a beautiful soul. A raw but beautiful soul.
A diamond in the rough.
A kid* comes in with an injury for removal of stitches. I know this kid, I saw him before for a different injury, for a broken bone. He talked openly about smoking a lot of pot. And not giving a shit.
He had the same non-chalant, “don’t give a shit” attitude that he had before. But there was a spark in him too. He was open, honest and didn’t hold back. He talked about how drinking had started to mess his life up. How alcohol had contributed to his reinjury. I talked with him a little bit about it, as I took his stitches out.
I was walking out, hand on the door. “I smoke too much weed and I know it’s messing up my life” he said. I heard in his voice the admission, the realization, the subtle but present desire to change. I turned back around and didn’t really know to say, but felt that a moment of honesty is an open moment for honesty. I said “Yeah, you do.” and I went and sat down. I asked him, “What do you really want to do?” He said “I don’t know.”
“What do you enjoy?”
“Well I was going to school to be a mechanic.” But I don’t know…”
He talked about how his dad beat him his whole life and his mom was never there, and one day, he couldn’t take it any more and he beat the shit out of his dad. Then he ran away from home, he did drugs. He got a DUI. He got arrested. He broke his parole, and he’s scared, but he wants to make things right. He owes a lot of money to people. He doesn’t know how to go back.
We both know he had to deal with more pain and toughness in life than many can imagine, and yet he made it away from that. He moved past the pain. Yes, he’s running, but yes, he’s still alive. Sometimes you have to just get away so you can see your life from a different view point, so you can see it all with fresh new eyes. I wonder if there’s anything really wrong with that. I told him that he has a chance to do something with his life. He shrugged.
“Do you like to read?”
“No I hate reading.”
“The reason I think of reading is because there are stories, not unlike yours. And there’s a lot of inspiration and triumph in the human spirit.” Have you ever read East of Eden?”
“Yeah we read that in high school.”
“You did?! That’s deep, I just read that in my 30s.”
“Yeah. I love that book. There is so much about life and sorrow and pain and overcoming.”
We talked about what he wanted to do. What he really wanted to do. What makes him tick, what makes him get out of bed in the morning.
There is so much more when you look a human in the face. So much more depth, character, will, sadness, tragedy, pain, fear, strength, charisma, beauty, heart-beating, desire to be alive.
I would have never known. And something made me go back and sit down.
He talked about what he could do.
“I drank too much.”
“Yeah, you’re body is fighting a hard fight for you. You are lucky. The amount you drink is a lethal dose for some.”
“If I keep on the track I am going, I know I won’t be around much longer.”
“Yeah–you will be lucky if you make it to 30 or 40.”
He talked about quitting and maybe turning his life around, and becoming what he set out to do. And after a while and encouragement that now is his time to turn his life around, he left, and I went back to seeing other patients. I don’t know what he will go out and do after this, but I sincerely hope that he can find the strength that already exists within himself to seize the moment, and take back his days, to be the better person that he wants to be. To continue his “journey with plans and the simple breath that keeps him alive.”
Excerpt from the poem “Kindness”
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
*This is a story from multiple different people that I’ve seen over the years in various places. Details have been changed to protect all identities.