We’ve all seen the man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change
The hair on his face is dirty, dread-locked, and full of mange
He asks the man for what he can spare, with shame in his eyes
“Get a job you fucking slob,” is all he replies
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues
Then you really might know what it’s like …
Bear with me for a few minutes and imagine this scenario:
It’s been a dog of a workday but you’re finally home. You pour yourself a drink, flop into the La-Z-Boy, and crack the spine on that book you’ve been meaning to read. It’s an autobiographical novel by an award winning writer chronicling his nightmare of a childhood, his days of street poverty and addiction, and finally his ultimate redemption and triumph. Feel good stuff.
It’s so emotionally gripping you read it in one sitting. My god, you think, what a story! What a man! And you wonder why those bums in Lowertown can’t be more like him. If he could work his way up and off the street, why can’t they?
Then it hits you that you didn’t ask the obvious corollary. How did a man like that end up in the streets turning to petty theft to feed his addiction? How could someone of such strength of character and talent have rotted on the street for over ten years? Would I have recognized him chilling with the boys outside the mission? Or did I actually pass him by one day and shudder with disgust knowing he’d never be more than a hopeless blight on society?
Aye, there’s the rub. How can all addicts be scum when so many former addicts are the epitome of strength, compassion, and courage? And what about those who started out strong, lost their stride, and finally fell?
Steve Fonyo was a darling of the media when he completed his “Journey for Lives” run from coast to coast in a touching tribute to Terry Fox. At 20 years of age he became the youngest recipient of the Order of Canada. His courage and strength were undeniable, out there for all to see.
Today Fonyo still gets media attention but it’s for the mess that his life has become since those glory days. Suicidal depression, addiction, and a string of criminal charges tarnished the golden boy’s image and cost him dearly. He could have had it all but …
If a man so obviously talented, dedicated, and courageous can fall, how could anyone smugly declare, “It could never happen to me”. There but for the grace of god …
The uncensored version, considered to rough for sensitive American ears.
… and your humble scribe who has fallen but believes he shall rise again.