HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Jack Benny circa 1959 © 1978 Glenn Embree

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18:  Deepak Chopra attends The Chopra Well Launch Event at Espace on July 18, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by D Dipasupil/WireImage)

Elizabeth Willis Barrett……………..May 2015

When I was in High School I played the violin in the school orchestra.  I don’t think I was ever first chair but perhaps I had that honor for a week or two.  Back then not many were taking private violin lessons so the competition wasn’t so great.  Our foreign exchange student Rafael from Italy played the violin, too.

One day Jack Benny came to town.  For those of you much younger and unknowledgeable about historic stars, Jack Benny was a comedienne and entertainer.  He died in 1974 so you might have missed him.  In some of his acts, he played the violin, albeit badly, for comedic effect.  For some reason Rafael and I were asked to have our picture taken with him because we, too, played the violin.  Perhaps because we didn’t play so well, either.  I don’t know.

I wish I were a rememberer of details so I could tell a more accurate and spellbinding story.  But I don’t remember where we were for the picture.  I’m sure Jack Benny didn’t come to Westwood High School for this marvelous opportunity.  Unfortunately I don’t remember much about this significant event in my life except that I was having a bad hair day—which is always a thing to remember—and that this picture made it into the Mesa Tribune, the local newspaper.  If I were in total control of my faculties and scrapbooks, I would scan the picture for you.

But most of all—and this is what my point is—I remember how Jack Benny made me feel.  He didn’t smile.  He cared nothing for Raphael or me.  He wasn’t interested in us.  We were the little people and he was the star and he was putting up with this photo shoot because for some reason he had to.  For all the times he had made people laugh and for all of his fame and most likely great wealth—although he always joked about pinching pennies—he didn’t know how to treat the people that didn’t matter to him.

Just last week I had a similar experience.  I was very lucky to be able to attend an event where Deepak Chopra was the keynote speaker.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Deepak Chopra, he is a prolific writer, speaker and New Age guru.  We were also in the pre-luncheon group that met for a question and answer session with him.  His answers were wise and insightful as he stood before us in his loose jeans, red tennis shoes and Indian shirt which may or may not be called a kurta.  Since we were at a ribbon cutting for a wonderful new drug rehab facility, some of the questions were asked by concerned parents of newly reformed drug addicts.  Dr. Chopra knew so much and talked about the importance of ………..of……………  I don’t remember what he said!  And maybe this is why:

That night was a final gathering with wonderful food and company.  I saw Dr. Chopra sitting at a table surrounded by adoring fans.  When some of them left his side and it looked like he might be uncomfortably alone for a moment, I hesitantly approached him to ask my question.

“Dr. Chopra, do one of your books address the problems of addiction?”

He looked at me like I was intruding on his transcendental  meditation.  Without a smile, a greeting, or any gesture of welcome, he simply answered in a very dead pan voice:

Overcoming Addiction.”

There was nothing for me to do but say a meek “thank you” and go stand in the non-alcoholic cocktail line.

Maybe I was asking too much.  Maybe I had looked forward to meeting him for too long and had imagined a much warmer encounter.  Maybe I am just way too sensitive.  But the guy has written approximately eighty-two books with titles that include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription.  Don’t you think that in all of that research and all of that writing he would have picked up some pointers on how to make others feel accepted and welcomed?  Has he not learned how to treat the little people who have bought his books and attended his seminars and brought him to his great success?

Maybe I caught both Jack and Deepak in the “off” position.  No one can be “on” all the time.  But even the big guys should know that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

If I’m ever in a “star” position—and it’s looking a little late for that—I hope I’ll remember how I want to make people—all people—feel.  And truly, at one time or another, we are each a “star” to someone.

Carl W. Buehner has been credited with saying, “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

He was right—you never forget.

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CLIFF NOTES

cliff

Elizabeth Willis Barrett………….April 2015

“Stay away from the cliff,” Mama called to Charlie for the 426th time, but Charlie didn’t listen even though he pretended to.  He’d heard those words so many times that they just bounced off his hard reward-centered brain like a ping pong ball and got imbedded in the walls with all the other words he didn’t like hearing.

“Don’t go near it or you’ll fall off!”  Mom’s voice got hysterical as it always did but Charlie grinned and promised again that he’d never get close enough to fall over its edge.

“Silly Mama,” he nearly added as he put a slight shake in his head and continued his exit through the kitchen door and out into the inky blackness.  As usual he called back:

“Just lookin’, Mama.  Just checking it out.  Trust me.  Don’t worry.”

Those words: “Trust me” and “Don’t worry” had become for Mama a red flag that was heaved and waved and blazed with the words “Don’t trust me, Mama, and you’d sure as heck better worry.”  The flag waved so close to her in her waking hours and as she tried to sleep that it was hard to see anything else—-the pride of Marie’s straight A report card, the thrill of Margo’s piano recital.  “Don’t trust me, Mama. Worry.” had become an unwelcome and constant mantra.

It was a dangerous place to live Mama knew, but they had tried other places.  And those had had their own cliffs and dangers.  Was there anywhere in the world that didn’t have a unique set of perils?  The four other children didn’t have a problem with the cliff.  They stayed away and found activities that kept them from even looking in the cliff’s direction.

But Charlie was different.  For some reason, known only to the Creator of all mankind, his focus was riveted on the cliff and no matter how many times Mama told him to stay away, there he was just teetering on its edge.  Mama begged and pleaded and bribed but it didn’t make any difference.  She might as well have been attempting to teach math to a cougar.  It didn’t stop her from trying though.  Somewhere in her vast vocabulary, there must be just the right words she could say.  And in all of her abundance of great ideas there must be one that would finally illuminate Charlie, make him see the error of his ways and get him back on the path leading far from the edge of the cliff.

On a particularly terrifying night Mama heard Charlie calling from a distance and knew at once what had happened…finally happened….inescapably happened.  Mama jumped out of bed and grabbed the rope she kept nearby for this anticipated emergency and ran out into the night barefoot and nightgowned.

“Charlie,” she called.  “Charlie?” more insistent.  “Charlie, Mama is here.  Tell me exactly where you are so I can help you.”

Mama ran along the edge of the cliff forcing her eyes to slide away the darkness so she would know where to throw the rope.

“Here, Mama.”  Finally a faint call and she heaved the rope over the edge.

“Grab it, Charlie.  Grab it.  I’ll pull you up.  Grab it, Charlie.”  Her voice was choking.  Her eyes were streaming.  What if she wasn’t strong enough to pull him up?  What if her hands slipped?  What if he was too heavy for her and he pulled her down over the cliff instead?

And that’s what happened.  Mama gave one futile tug and  Charlie’s weight—bloated with defiance, selfish arrogance, stupidity and disregard for her well-being and safety—pulled her down over the cliff and she landed with an agonized crumple on top of him.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” whispered Charlie when he could finally speak.  “I’m sorry, Mama.  I won’t go to the edge again.  I won’t.  You’ll see.”

Hope eased into Mama’s battered limbs.  “This fall was worth it,” she thought. “At last he will stay away from the cliff and we can all pay attention to other things.”

After Mama and Charlie were ceremoniously and painfully rescued, Charlie kept his word—for a time, a short time.  Then the old pattern blasted back ready for battle.  Charlie spent even more time at the edge of the cliff and Mama spent even more time trying to keep him away.  The other children felt neglected.  The Disneyland fund was spent on a protective—but ineffective—wall.  The money set aside for a new bathroom was spent on classes for Charlie.  In them he was supposed to learn ways to stay away from the cliff. But he didn’t learn them and he didn’t stay away.

Mama never ventured far from home since she needed always to be ready to save Charlie from himself.  She was missing out on a lot of things she had planned on doing at this stage of her life.  But isn’t that what mothers do? Sacrifice? She adored Charlie.  She’d give her life for him.

Her saving attempts forcefully wrenched her over the cliff so often that she had lost count of the times and the bruises and Charlie’s whispered and insincere promises ceased to make the fall worthwhile.

One night while lying in the muck at the bottom of the cliff with Charlie’s assurances rattling around in her despairing mind, other words came to her that she had heard over and over:

“You have to let him go.”

“You are as addicted to Charlie as Charlie is to the cliff.”

“He will never stay away from the cliff if you keep rescuing him.”

At last those words made sense to her.  Here at the bottom of the cliff, wallowing with her beloved son, those words finally made sense.  And something happened.

It had tried to happen before but Mama just hadn’t been desperate enough.  Perhaps she hadn’t hit the rock bottom that all the experts raved about.  She had thought the rock bottom analogy was for Charlie’s necessary change.  But maybe rock bottom applied to her, too.  And she had hit it.

“No where to go but up,” she thought.  And saying nothing, she walked away, ignoring Charlie’s calls of “Mama, Mama.  Where are you going?  You’re not going to leave me down here all alone.  Mama?”  At last Mama found a way to climb out of the gloom and home again.

After that, Mama lived her life.  After all, if she didn’t, who would?  And Charlie lived his.  It wasn’t the best life to be wished on a son, but it was his life and little by little it started getting better.  When Charlie finally understood that Mama wasn’t going to be his savior anymore, he started reaching down into his own rescuing options and found that he had a few to choose from. With tedious effort, he eventually turned from the cliff and explored paths that held greater promise.

For Mama, life became doable again.  Joy invaded the cracks made by everyday happenings and peace left its calling card much more often.

The cliff, the looming hated cliff,  seemed to dissolve into the horizon and Mama, just like Charlie, gladly turned her back on it and followed safer paths.  Sometimes she even followed Charlie—but not too often and not too close.

IN DEFENSE OF SARAH’S MOM

TemplepillsLisa Ling

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………Oct 14, 2014

The other day I watched “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Inside Utah’s Struggle with Drug Abuse.”  She showed that even though Mormons have a strict health guide, they are still falling in high numbers to the addiction of pain pills.  I felt that she was very compassionate in her interviews.  She attended a Mormon Addiction Recovery Program meeting, spoke with a Mormon Bishop and in addition to others, met with a very candid girl named Sarah.

I didn’t learn about the danger of prescription pills until my son was in high school.  He went to a friend of mine who worked in the school’s bookstore and asked her for one of her pain pills.   Very responsibly, this friend called me before giving him one.  She told me that Jeffrey had come to her saying that his back really hurt.  As a football player, Jeffrey had many reasons to have a hurting back.  I told her it was OK to give him one of her pills.  Unbelievable, I know.  Looking back, I am astounded at my naiveté.  I had no idea that I had just given my consent to an addiction that would become so full blown that we wouldn’t see the end of it for fifteen years.  I knew nothing about addictions and, of course, nothing about the role pills play in dependency.

Drugs were so out of my realm of consciousness.  I had five nearly perfect children.  It was very interesting to watch the Ling program because it stressed the obsession we as Mormons tend to have with perfection.  We don’t want anyone to know that our family might be having problems, so disasters like drug addiction can be swept under the rug of denial for years.  Although that’s probably not solely a Mormon dilemma.

Lisa showed how easy it is to get addicted.  Many start innocently with prescription pills given by a well-meaning doctor.  When pills get too scarce or expensive many turn to heroin and other illegal drugs.  Addicts need their next hit just like everyone needs their next breath of oxygen and they’ll do about anything to get it.

When Lisa Ling was interviewing Sarah—a full blown heroin addict—she asked her if she wanted to quit.  “More than you’ll know,” said Sarah.  Lisa also asked Sarah what she wanted.  Sarah’s answer was that she just wanted a hug from her Mom.

Sarah’s Mom, who was never named, might have sounded like an unfeeling woman, one who wouldn’t even hug her daughter.  But not to me.  I have been that mom to some degree and I praise her for her courage.  It takes a lot of courage to divorce your addicted child and let her determine on her own that she is ready to pay the price for sobriety.  I would guess that Sarah’s Mom has already spent years hugging and encouraging and saving Sarah from the consequences of her disastrous choices.  After all, she is raising Sarah’s child which is a difficult thing to do after raising your own children.  I would also assume that Sarah’s Mom has been lied to and stolen from because that is what addicts do—they lie and they steal.  Enough is enough.

Brad and I have had many couples sitting in our living room trying to absorb any advice we can give them about dealing with their own addicted children.  We tell them all the same thing that a recovered addict told us:  “There is nothing you as a parent can do or say that will change your child.  They are the ones who have to decide when they are really ready to walk the difficult path of recovery.”  We also tell them of helps that are available to parents and meetings that would strengthen their resolve.  Most parents don’t like our advice.

I am assuming that Sarah’s Mom finally arrived at the point we all must come to: we are not helping our children by enabling them.  We are not helping our children by giving them a nice place to live and driving them places and paying for their needs.  They will never recover until it is harder to be an addict than it is to be sober.  When we make life easy for them,  addicted children continue farther down that destructive path and there is no retrieving them.  Our son wasn’t willing to get ultimate help until he had been homeless for about a year—living behind dumpsters and on the canal bank in a bush, panhandling for money to get more drugs.  We couldn’t coddle him anymore.  We couldn’t bring him home.  We had to go on with our lives and let him go on with his even though his path might lead to death.

So to Sarah’s Mom I would say that there are many imperfect Mormon Moms who are behind you right now, wishing you the best and saying, “Hang in there, Sarah’s Mom.  You are doing the right thing.  The only right thing!”

I wish I could tell Sarah that although she wants to be clean she didn’t sound like she was quite ready to throw herself into a program where she’d have to give her all into getting well.  With the nation watching, I imagine that many would step up to help her into a rehab if she had said that she was ready and willing to go right now.  But when she is done, truly done with her addiction, there is help for her.

Our son finally got the help he needed in a 24 month program that changed his thinking and his life.  It is called the John Volken Academy . It was started by a wonderful philanthropist and costs next to nothing. Two years seems like a very long time to be in a program, but the many expensive thirty day and three month programs worked only for a little while and then the addiction returned.  When you are deep into addiction, a few months isn’t going to pull you out. Thanks to John Volken we have our son back—our wonderful son.

And one day, Sarah, if you are willing to make recovery your first and only priority, your Mom will get you back .  And, I promise, the hugs won’t stop.

SPILT GUILT

Basket 6

 

 Elizabeth Willis Barrett

Morning comes and I rise with the basket already molded to my head.  As usual it is full—so full that its contents flutter out and wiggle down my neck to keep me from forgetting what I carry. It isn’t visible to anyone else.  No one knows what it contains.  Just me.  I need to do something about it because it is very heavy and it squeezes out the joy that each day should hold.  I don’t think I’m the only one carrying a basket like this.  Not many  men would carry one, I’m sure.  But women would.  Women who are trying to do their best but always seem to find themselves wanting.  And thus the basket, the heavy basket.  It is filled with guilt.   Not major guilt but lots of little feelings of guilt that get quite heavy when added together.  I’d ask Brad to take a turn at carrying this basket but I know he’d be neglectful and just set it down somewhere and forget about it.  He doesn’t feel a need to carry guilt on his head throughout the day, any day, every day.  But someone has to—right?

Today is the day I should do something about lightening its load, though.  It’s getting unmanageable.  And my guilt for not diminishing my feelings of guilt adds to the guilt already in the basket.

So I take it off my head and begin to sort its contents like I do the papers and mail that pile into hefty guilt-producing heaps around the house.  I seem to be a Pied Piper for paper and a Pied Piper for guilt.

Where to start?  I shuffle through the culpabilities.  Aww.  Here’s one.  Not fixing breakfast for Brad.  Perhaps that can go in the needless pile.  Isn’t he a capable adult?  And shouldn’t he applaud me for allowing him to become self-sufficient.?  Yep, get that one out of the basket.  Why have I left it there so long?

I find scores of guilty words I’ve said, some formed into nasty criticisms or idle gossip.  And some I didn’t mean to say.  At times I was just making conversation and the words came out wrong.  Any explanation would have made the situation worse so I just shoved guilt into my basket and left the scene.  I think I can get rid of them now.  I start a word pile.

Some of the guilt I carry is for not meeting my own self-imposed expectations.  For instance, I feel guilty that I let my Christmas Experiment Blog down by not writing on it every day.  It would have been so easy if I had just done it.  And I feel guilty that I didn’t get 5000 hits on this blog by February 17th which was my goal.  That means I didn’t write as much as I wanted to this year and you can hardly ask people to read your blog if you haven’t written anything new for a month or two.  I extract those guilts out of the basket and start a self-inflicted pile.  There’s lots more to add to this one.  I pull out my exercise neglect, my cookie snarfing jags, my slightly over-indulgence of Excedrin—5 a week is excessive for me, and my under practiced guitar playing.

I give up sorting and just start pulling the guilt out piece by piece.  I let each fall where it will.  Guilt for staying in the shower too long morning after morning and wasting time and hot water.  And in honor of showers, I find guilt for missing some bridal and baby showers, some receptions and funerals and kids ballgames, too.  Here’s guilt for not having friends over more, not answering a letter, not writing a thank you note, having too much stuff and not enough gratitude.

I am working myself into a frenzy as I take new and old guilts from the basket and let them stack up around me.

Guilt for letting the front flowers wilt and the back garden become only two empty grow boxes containing worn out dirt and a few scraggly pea plants.  And guilt for an over burdened addict (whoops—I mean attic!) that needs to be organized and depleted.  And, yes, guilt for my addict, too, who possibly could have avoided that spirally path had I been aware of drugs and their pernicious tenacity.  That guilt makes me pause and I feel the need for a Mountain Dew Voltage before I continue…….  Ahh!…… .Since I only drink caffeine when traveling or in crisis, its effect is swift and I can continue.

I pull out the guilt about never hosting a neighborhood party.  Hey, that’s not my guilt alone, I reason. And I’m not carrying this one by myself.  I put on my running shoes—like I ever run (another guilt)—and stop at five houses in my circle.  With the help of Ziplock bags, I distribute some of this guilt and I can almost stand up straight.

Back to the basket.

Here’s guilt about choosing to stay inside to work on projects rather than stand outside to visit with friends and neighbors.  And guilt about sometimes walking past people that I know so I won’t have to talk to them.  And guilt about listening to books too much and guilt about my wanting to listen to books too much.

I find guilt for not knowing much about politics, although I do vote due to some expertise tutoring.  And guilt for letting the delicious oranges growing on our four orange trees go to waste even though we eat as many as we can and tell people to come pick them.  And guilt for not having a complete and workable years supply.

The basket is full of my spiritual guilt, too.  So many things I should do more of: studying, praying, serving, genealogy.  Mistakes I’ve made in leadership positions that can’t be undone.  Selfishness, procrastination, lack of charity, envy.  It’s all in there, not to mention the things I can’t mention.  And there is always guilt about not spending enough time with kids and grandkids.  I pull all that out of the basket.  I turn it upside down and shake it hard in case I missed something.  Shake…shake…shake.  And…it…is…finally…empty.

Whew!  I am exhausted.  But just for a minute because something happens.  Something joyful.  I am lifted.  My soul is free.  Even Heaven feels closer.  I close my eyes and take it in.

Peace.

Before I am tempted to put even a tiny guilt back into the hungry basket, I vacuum away the piles and take the empty basket outside.  Into the big black garbage bin it goes, breaking and splintering as I press it to the bottom.  It is finished.

And I am beginning.  Lighter…happier.  I float to the kitchen, take out the fry pan and make Brad some bacon and eggs.  He can be self-sufficient tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FLIGHTY

 

737-700 K62601

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I think that for every flight taken throughout the whole world there is someone who makes a solemn commitment to never fly again.  This last trip did it for me.  The going and coming were both filled with frustration.  I possibly walk through the door marked “Frustration” more than is needed due to my easily frustrate-ability, but this trip made me walk in and out of it like it was a swinging restaurant door.

The frustration began when we tramped up to the Southwest Airline ticket counter last Thursday morning. We needed to get our boarding passes and check our burgeoning luggage–always with an eye on that fifty-pound-limit scale.  As Brad remembered to retrieve his boarding pass, which he doesn’t always do, he held it up and with dismay in his voice groaned, “C45?!”  I had forgotten to enter the frantic online race to get an “A” position. I groaned, too.  I hate to be one of the last ones on the plane, scrambling for a seat and having to crawl over legs to sit between two unsmiling humans who are obviously upset that their space has been invaded.

Then as we wound and wound and wound our way through the banded barriers and up to the dreaded conveyor belt, I dared to walk past two men who were kneeling, getting stuff out of their carryons.  One of the guys said in a very stern, overweight voice, “Lady, we’re all waiting in line!”  I mewed a pitiful “Sorry,” as I got back behind them.  That reprimand from an unpleasant ugly stranger stayed with me for hours.  No, for days.  I still feel it.

We had the perfect trip once we got in our rental car.  We visited the Seattle Welcome Home facility, watched them throw fish at the Pike’s Place Fish Market, rode the ferry to Vancouver Island, and delighted in the Butchart Gardens.  Half of us delighted in the Butchart Gardens.  The most important part of the trip was spending a whole day with our son at the Welcome Home facility in Vancouver.  Thorough transformation happens there! If you know of a drug addict that needs some changing, we are always eager to talk about Welcome Home.

Back at the airport, the swinging door labeled “Frustration” got back into action.  The lines were abominable.  They wove in and out without sense.  When I finally got close to the human X-ray machine, the lady ahead of me stalled and I was redirected to a pat down employee–female, thank goodness.  Did you know that you have to be patted down if you’re wearing a long dress?  What is that all about?  I had to put one foot forward while said employee annoyingly patted, then the other foot forward while she did the same.  I was then told to pivot.  Pivot?  I obviously pivoted wrong because I had to reposition my feet until she was totally finished with my complete humiliation which was done in front of the world. The world was well represented anyway.

“I’m never flying again,” I said to Brad who waited patiently while I put on my shoes, my necklace, my watch and my sweatshirt and put my “liquid” pouch back in my bag along with my iPad and boarding pass.

We were a little late getting to the gate, but nature was calling.  Unfortunately, Seattle has sorely underestimated the number of women who might need to use the bathroom while in its airport and those lines were backed up, too.  I waited and hurried and got to the gate to find that the hurry wasn’t necessary.  The flight was delayed.  Then it was delayed a little longer.

An hour past departure time we were finally on our way to Phoenix.  Ah.  I even got an aisle seat even though our boarding passes were way into the “B”s.  That was thanks to Brad who ended up sitting in the middle of two very kind women.  They chatted together the whole time.  Brad is an excellent conversationalist.  I’m sure the women were much happier with him in their midst than they would have been with me.

I was so glad I had determined to use the bathroom in the airport and was very sorry I didn’t also take the opportunity to use the bathroom in the plane because just before we were to arrive in Phoenix, the pilot made a depressing announcement.  A storm was blowing hard in Phoenix and we were being rerouted to Las Vegas.  I heard “Las Vegas” past my headset that was playing Katie Couric’s The Best Advice I Ever Got. I thought I had heard wrong or that the pilot was having a little fun with his already anxious passengers.  But nope.  It was Las Vegas.  My eyes glazed over as I saw everyone rush to line up for the plane’s two tiny bathrooms.  I didn’t join them but should have.

We were supposed to land in Phoenix at 6:00 p.m.  Friends were going to pick us up and take us to an important dinner that started at 7:00.  We missed it.  Thankfully our friends were made aware of the plane’s delay and they were able to attend the dinner.  I was happy for that.

We didn’t get home till 10:45, tired and ruffled.  But we did get home.  That is always a blessing.  I’m glad the pilot didn’t attempt to land the plane in bad weather.  I’m glad that the crew was cheerful and helpful.  I’m glad that when I finally made it to the plane’s bathroom that it was surprisingly clean and equipped with necessities.  I’m glad that our luggage made the flight with us even though we had to wait a very long time for it to appear on the carousel. I’m glad it only took us about eight hours to get from Seattle to Phoenix instead of a driver’s twenty-two hours.

OK, maybe I’ll fly again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Oleander on the Right

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

(I am reposting this from my old blog so that tomorrow’s post will have more meaning!)

I drive up Bunker and just past Lionel make a left turn onto the canal bank where I shouldn’t turn at all.  I don’t think cars are very welcomed on the canal roads.  But this is where he lives and I have come for another visit.   I pull up to the first oleander and get out with my feet feeling like they are trudging through deep, dark mud and with my heart slogging along above them.

“Jeffrey?” I call.

“Hey, Mom,” comes his voice from the middle of the bush.

At least he’s alive–a good sign, I think.  I walk up to the large overhanging oleander, and part the branches.  There he is like he was the night before, wrapped in his sleeping bag and several blankets and looking very comfortable.  I almost want to join him.  Almost.

“How are you?”  I ask.

“Good.  Except for my hip.  I think it’s broken.”

The first story is that he had jumped over a wall and landed on his hip.  The next story is that he had hitchhiked and as he was getting out of the Good Samaritan’s truck, he caught the heel of his boot and fell hard on his backside.  Truth has lost its way in his muddled head and doesn’t know how to get to his mouth anymore.  Honesty used to be a valiant companion of this beautiful son.  But she was so neglected that she left long ago.  We have missed her.

Jeffrey is already dealing with a broken elbow that he acquired when his scooter failed to turn a corner.  Scooters don’t miss garbage cans on their own.  They need a sober driver and this one didn’t have one.  Lack of sobriety was most likely the cause of Jeffrey’s hurt hip as well.

I never planned on any of my children becoming homeless.  Homelessness is for people with no families, no opportunities and no one left to care about them.  We have lots of room in a very nice home and plenty of food and love to share.  We could easily keep Jeffrey for another 27 years.  But the fact is, our keeping him was doing him harm, not good. We had enabled him too long or rather dis-abled him.

His father and I finally reached a decisive intersection where we stood together as adoring yet formidable parents. Although we had been at this juncture a hundred times before, this time we irrevocably meant it when we took a turn to the right and declared, “YOU CAN NOT LIVE WITH US ANYMORE!”

I used to wonder how people ended up being homeless.  When I’ve encountered panhandlers on the edge of the freeway, I’ve questioned why they didn’t go get a job and pay for shelter.  I’ve seen many “help wanted” signs.  Surely those on the street have seen them, too, and could “inquire within.”  But I understand now.  They have “inquired within”–within themselves– and the answer was, “Drugs. I need drugs.”  Jobs cannot be sustained by those who need drugs.  And standing on a corner with an outstretched hand can bring in as much as $25 an hour.  That beats the wages for dunking French fries into oil at McDonalds.  Since they don’t have any ambitions nipping at their heels, why not stand on a corner and beg?

On one occasion, a very kind and well-meaning gentleman gave Jeffrey $100 when he heard that he was homeless.  That $100 nearly bought Jeffrey a permanent shelter measuring eighty-four inches long, twenty-eight inches wide, twenty-three inches tall and six feet under, since the entire amount was used to buy drugs.

When I had to take Jeffrey to TASC one day to get a court ordered pee test–more formally called a UA for Urine Analysis–to check for drugs in his system, we joined some rather questionable characters congregating for the same purpose.

“Do you want to be like these people?” I nearly shouted at him.  I mean, who would?  They all looked frightening and frightened, aimless and aimed at.

“No, Mom,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be like these people.  When I do drugs, I always know I have a home and a bed to come back to.”

I have to remember these words when I falter and want to gather him up and bring him home.  In his case, home has kept him from growth and made using drugs way too easy.

So, I have allowed him to be a homeless beggar, choking back my motherly compulsions and desire to keep his natural consequences at bay.   I don’t want him to be cold.  I don’t want him to be hungry.  I don’t want him to be alone.

As I leave him in his makeshift camp in the bush, I have become a beggar myself.  I am begging that a change of heart will come, that truth will conquer, that the need for drugs will diminish.  I am begging that another of the many people who love him will be able to influence him in a positive direction since his family no longer can.    And I am begging that Jeffrey will finally be able to sustain a home much stronger and more stable than the first oleander on the right.

Audio-First Oleander on the Right: Read by the Author