To see the schedule for this week, click here.
ROUNDTABLE – BEN BREW ON ADDICTION AND RECOVERY: We’re really excited about this week’s Roundtable. Many of you have met or heard about Kelli’s son Ben’s fight with leukemia over the past several years. Ben was diagnosed in September 2005, underwent two-plus years of chemotherapy, etc, and was declared cancer-free in October 2007. During Ben’s fight with cancer, he became addicted to the painkillers prescribed to help with the side effects. At this week’s RT, Ben will talk about addiction/alcoholism as a whole–basic knowledge of the disease, who it effects, that’s its more than just a moral issue– then share some of his personal story–what it was like when he was using, how he recovered, and how he stays recovered. Please bring a dish to share if you can! We hope you’ll join us!
WHEN YOUR CAR BECOMES YOUR HOME: Sometimes things happen at the Jubilee House which we would like to share with you, but which are a little beyond the quick blurbs we include in emails regarding the schedule and house news, etc. When we have a chance, we use the GCW website to blog on some of the thoughts, struggles, happenings, and whatnot that are foremost in our minds. As some of you know, occasionally we have had people who are homeless but who have vehicles park in the public parking spaces out in front of our home. This past week, we had an experience that draws into sharp focus the struggles and indignities that homeless people suffer under. We hope you’ll take a moment to read more by clicking here, and think about how the current state of our economy is moving people out of their actual homes, leaving their car or truck or van as the only thing standing between them and living outside on the street.
MAKE A REGULAR COMMITMENT TO VOLUNTEER AT THE GCW THIS SEMESTER! Thanks to the several folks last week who wrote back to say that they could commit to a regulare, consistent volunteer slot with the GCW for the semester. It is a great help to us and those we care for and work alongside to have volunteers who we can count on to be there week-in and week-out. If you can make a regular weekly commitment to Dorothy’s Cafe, the Breakfast Brigade, the Rosa B Garden (later in the semester), or any of our projects, we would be so grateful! Just let us know what project you can do regularly and what time slot you can commit to (for example, Dorothy’s Cafe, 10am to noon preparation, etc)!
SCRIPTURE STUDY STARTS NEXT WEEK, TUESDAY, AT NEW TIME! We’ll start scripture study next Tuesday, at our new time, 2:30-4pm at the Jubilee House. Our scripture studies are typically a mix of folks–homeless people and students, working folks, intergenerational, different racial and cultural backgrounds, etc. We study scripture in a deliberate way that is meant to uncover what is at the heart of the story, by looking closely at the text, appreciating the story itself in all its richness with characters and conflict, paying attention to setting and scene, and weaving in political, historical and cultural analysis as well. We think it is a provocative and challenging way to do scripture and we hope you’ll consider joining us this semester.
AND THANKS! Special thanks this past week for all of the folks who dropped off blankets, extra sweaters, and whatnot. We’ve had a handful of folks sleeping on our floor as the weather has turned wet and cold lately. Thanks too to the Gonzalez family and their friends who hosted Dorothy’s Cafe on Sunday. The soup was outstanding and we had a nice crowd, including about 20 fellows watching the NFC championship game. We’re also still in need of a set of bunk beds and a chest of drawers if anyone out there knows of any leads. Just let us know!
PS: I’m getting this email out a little late this week, but we’ve got a group of folks watching the inauguration at the house right now. Come on over if you want to join us!
This past week, the addiction issues at the house came to a head again, and sadly we had to ask two people to leave. We will truly miss them; we already do. But facing the truth and its consequences are part of living responsibly as a community together. We hope with all our hearts that these friends will be back someday.
Also, this week, my son Joe came home briefly and brought home with him two other difficult stories I want to share with you. One was a chance meeting with some migrant workers at a bus stop in Atlanta a few weeks ago. The bus was terribly late, and there were a number of folks stuck waiting at the station who did not speak English and were baffled about what to do after four hours of waiting. They had left jobs in one place to find work in another (the plight of migrant workers), but if they didn’t arrive on time they would lose those jobs. Joe translated their concerns to the desk clerk, who was “not helpful.” The clerk said he had no idea about the bus (although he had announced every hour for the last four that the bus would arrive in approximately 20 minutes) and said he could not refund their money.
Joe spent the wee hours of that morning talking with two of the workers, a young couple from Oaxaca, Mexico. He said his own powerlessness within the Greyhound system really made him feel for the precariousness of their situation – new to the country, not speaking the language, desperately looking for work, having no idea what to do or to whom to turn . . . yet still more hopeful of finding work here than in their home country. While Joe felt abused by the bus situation too, he had resources they didn’t; they had emptied their pockets buying the tickets. In the end, they wound up staying in Atlanta – and they are still looking for work. Joe arranged to meet with them at the same bus stop on his way home this weekend so he could give them the English language book they had requested. They plan to stay in touch.
Another story he shared was an interview he had with a former Viet Nam vet. It was part of a history class project, and he was excited to be able to interview Scott Camil, a well-known Gainesville veteran. He asked Scott to share with him not just the stuff he could get off the internet, but what it was like to be a young man in Viet Nam. The little Joe had time to share with us over breakfast just tore at our hearts. You can know the story of Viet Nam or any war – its statistics and strategies, its motives and historical impact. But there is nothing like looking into the eyes of a person who has borne some of the brunt of it. The death and destruction he witnessed and participated in at such a young age – and the struggles and persecution he faced when he told the truth of his experience – had a tremendous and ongoing effect on his life. Today, he is still struggling to make some sense out of it – and to somehow redeem his own participation in it by telling the truth every chance he gets.
What do we do with these stories? They are part of who we are as a community and as a country, but they are so painful. Joe said he could understand why Scott might fall completely into despair after having experienced what he did. But Scott found the heart to come to terms with it and to face down the painful truth by telling it. And the two Oaxacan immigrants, struggling to get by in a strange system where their labor is needed but not respected have the heart to befriend a college student passing through the same bus station. As for the addiction issues… I still don’t know where to find heart in it. I do believe it is good, though, to face such a sad issue straight up, good to offer help whether taken or not, good even to suffer the consequences we all make ourselves vulnerable to when we face a difficult truth.
As Christians, we profess to believe that walking with people in their struggles is a way we can follow Jesus in the here and now. Jesus put himself in places where the difficult facts of human existence were apparent. He shone a light on hard and ugly truths people would rather not have seen. Dorothy Day often quoted Dostoevsky: “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” That truth is glaring on Good Friday when we contemplate a love that brought Jesus to the cross. But we remember at Easter that truth and goodness – God – prevailed. May God be with all of us this Easter season and may we all – such a struggling lot – be somehow transformed into Easter people, brimming with life and hope.
It’s no secret that a lot of homeless folks are addicted to either drugs or alcohol. The ways they got there are as various as anyone else’s. But the toll has been higher; it’s left them high and dry, wasted, alone, and needing another hit. Badly.
It’s easy to judge, especially for those of us whose addictions are culturally sanctioned – junk food, television, shopping… and/or alcohol or pills behind closed doors (because we have doors). And it’s a fact: addiction is wrong. It puts some people in jail and it kills others. And it is always de-humanizing. It strips us of our ability to act responsibly, even morally. Like Edward in the Chronicles of Narnia or Gollum in the Lord of the Rings (handy references for folks who don’t know an addict – or think they don’t), we would sell out our sister or our brother or our souls to get that thing that literally means the world to us.
Personally, we are experiencing this in all aspects of our lives right now. The Gainesville Catholic Worker is struggling with finding ways to treat folks who are addicted to drugs or alcohol with both mercy and responsibility. Those substances aren’t allowed in the house, and no one living in the house is supposed to be using illegal drugs or entering the house under the influence of anything. There are too many people struggling with this to allow what some people even consider fairly normal use – wine at dinner or parties, etc. And we try hard to treat guests and visitors with respect and dignity, whatever their addiction.
We are also experiencing this in our family life as Ben deals with the painkiller addiction that his cancer treatment left him with. If you are inclined to let Ben off the hook and differentiate him from other addicts, he would be the first to tell you not to. A lot of the folks you see weaving in the streets started out their drug use for the “legitimate” pain and trauma caused by accidents and illness. Even more sought emotional relief, like Ben,from a substance that was available to them. Ben will also be the first to admit that, if he didn’t have family, insurance, or other resources at his disposal, he could be out on the street too. That is a fact, but it doesn’t really help. We are as helpless as any addict in the face of addiction when it comes to dealing with addicts – whoever they are. They have to hit “rock bottom;” they have to decide they want help and find within them the humility and heart to ask for help.
And we have to wait and hope and hold them accountable, while offering alternatives and “tough love.” And we try to recognize ourselves, or a loved one – or Jesus – in the brokenness of it all. I don’t know what else. I wish I did.