“Of all people, you should know better.” His words pierced my soul. These words and this day will be burned in my mind forever. Seven years ago, but it seems like yesterday.
I had just started with OIM and everything seemed like chaos. I guess it was chaos for me, trying to balance everything, be fair, help people, and do intervention in a culture that was strange to me, potentially explosive – all the time.
About 200 people at the drop in on a hot summer afternoon. I was watching two men: one of them was pacing the floor across the room strung out on drugs and aggressive. Probably crystal meth, I thought. Crystal meth was in abundance on the streets – not good. It’s the kind of drug that can make you feel invincible, feel no pain (literally), and you can become aggressive.
The other man was using, maybe some blend of alcohol mixed with prescription drugs – he was having a heated argument, with no one, someone or anyone. Have to keep an eye on him.
Another man comes up to me and engages me in conversation. In just a few short minutes, he has told me some of the highlights of his unbelievably traumatic life. His earliest memories seeped in torment, a childhood of abuse, loss and damage so severe that it’s almost unimaginable.
Across the room the ‘pacer’ has a violent verbal outburst and I look to see who is the target. Then immediately to my left the second man throws a wild punch into the air- trying to keep his invisible tormentors at bay.
The man in front of me says, “I can see you are too busy for me. I’m going to go.”
Cut to the quick. I quickly explain: the guy across the room, the guy to my left, I’m in charge, so sorry, I want to hear you, I am listening, but things are happening…
“You’re in charge here? Of all people you should know better. I’m going to go, you have no time for me.” He turned and walked out, ignoring my desperate pleas to remain and give me another chance that I really didn’t deserve.
Burned on my memory, I had done the greatest misdeed that could be done to someone who was in the midst of crisis – in a moment of confession where all he needed was a friend to listen. Too busy, preoccupied, otherwise engaged when I should have been engaged – with him.
People experiencing poverty and homelessness, living on the streets have two things they have complete control over, that they can choose to give or not: one is their real name, the other is their story. If someone gives you their real name and their story, they have given you everything.
A violation of a sacred trust: a lesson I will never forget.