I raced to my 3:15 meeting, my bike moving as fast as I could pedal...phone in one hand listening to GPS directions. I took a turn and my tire buried itself in some soft sand and the bike threw me like a rodeo clown. But those cat-like reflexes of mine sprung into action and I landed on my feet...my bike sprawled out like a wounded soldier. I was running late and didn't have enough time to put the chain back on, so I ran with my bike and phone around the corner to the office. I made it...sweaty and smilin'.
So why was I late? You'll love this.
I had crossed the walking bridge on the riverwalk by Wingfield park with the intention to kill a few extra minutes until I'd head to my 3:15...it was roughly 2:40 at this point. A man sat picking his guitar with a flamenco flavor while another man sat next to him weeping in the dirt...his head hung low. Defeat and sorrow was all I could imagine this guy was feeling. It made me curious and I looped around.
I stopped and leaned on the handlebars, watching the guitar get artistically picked and an occasional keen glance toward this sad soul slumped a few feet away. The music seemed to drive his melancholy. I could sense it was more than just a reaction to the sounds he was hearing.
I continued for a minute...curiously engaged...that's what photographers do...we watch and observe - and from that I learn. I saw a drawing next to the musician and asked him if it was some of his work. He referenced another person who'd kindly taken the time to draw it for him as he played. On the drawing, there were the words, "A Clean and Sober Man..." and I don't remember the rest. But I asked him. "Clean and Sober?" and he replied with a witty response, "Well I haven't showered in a while, but I'm definitely sober!" I shared that I too was working towards my 5th month and I smiled while saying it, because it makes me happy.
"Will you help me? I need your help."
This came from the sobbing man to his left. He'd turned to hear our conversation and his tears had broken into a pleading desperation. I turned my bike so I could face him and I felt his earnestness and need. It was very real. This human was breaking and I was being ushered in...really? "I'm not ready for this. God give me words right now." was all I could think. He continued to utter, "My wife is gone and my kids too...I need help." So I asked him some simple questions...when his last drink was...and a bit more about his story. I was about to learn that this was not a 'by chance' meeting of two humans.
We spoke of his troubles. He spoke of his wanting to "end it"...and I shared my own. I explained that he was stuck in the very mindset I found myself in 4 1/2 months prior. "The only difference between you and I is that I didn't drink today...and for 142 days before this one. That's it. I understand you." He continued to share his decomposing life story. It was a page out of my own book, only with different characters. His arms rested on his knees and he hung his head again. More tears. From his sleeve I could read, a "K" and an "I"... "Does your arm say "Kia Kaha"?" I asked quickly... He lifted his head as his tears turned to puzzled and said, "Yeah, 'Keep Strong'" I. Was. Gassed. I showed him my own tattoo that also reads, "Kia Kaha".
I was placed there in that moment to see my past. I feel as if I was also placed there to be challenged on my willingness to move past my comfort zone into that uncomfortable realm of helping a stranger in desperation.
On any other occasion, I may have dismissed this young man's request for help out of the fear that I couldn't even help myself. But people have taught me that I don't have to do my stuff alone, and now, neither should this man.
We shared past stories of sober periods in our lives and I learned that he fallen into active alcoholism again through failing to maintain a support system around himself. Another key common ingredient between us. But this is how it works. We fall and get back up...we don't judge one another, but rather support the effort to rejoin the fight. And that's exactly what it is. We fight for our health, our minds and our peace.
I encouraged him to make it through tomorrow without a drink. He promised. I then asked him to sit with me tomorrow so we can pair him with stronger sober people again. That's how we roll.
He's gonna rebuild his life. He'll find a way to regain trust. He's not done being a father yet.
#KiaKaha #Recovery #WhereIBelong #RenoTahoePhotography