Raider watched me as he repeated a litany of complaints. His tall, lean body moved very little but his shadowy eyes were animated with anger and a profound desire to leave the building. He sat like this every other week and what he said didn’t change: he had bad luck, he was a victim of circumstances that seemed never-ending. He’d had a cruel father who died young, a mother who was sick and far away. His girlfriends left him before he could leave them. He felt justified in raising first a bottle to his lips and then raising his fists so he had landed in treatment. Raider lived on the periphery of what he felt was a controlling society and inhabited what he believed was an unfairly difficult life. Unless he could get out of the system and get back on his own. And he had to deal with me in order to make that happen.
“You wouldn’t understand,” he said, chin thrust out. “You probably have a sweet house, a nice little family, and maybe a fluffy dog. You’ve never seen the sky through bars. And I’m a skateboarder. I need to roam. It’s nothing to you, but I hate every day I’m not free to go where I want to. The system determines my whole life! I have to get through it somehow, though.”
His jaw tightened and his alert black eyes clouded over as though a mist had fallen. I told him the usual-that I could assist in helping him find housing, that he needed to stay sober more than anything else if he planned on getting off probation the next few months. I was beginning to wonder if he needed detox. I added a new group to his schedule.
“What are you going to do about finding some hope?” I asked him suddenly.
He shifted. “What?”
“You talk like you have very little hope.”
“Yeah, well, if you were in my shoes….” He tugged at a torn spot in his jeans leg. “What about it?”
I sat back and took a long drink of water. “People can do more than survive. Even people who have lost everything they think is important. One guy I’m thinking of just about lost his life. He was a skateboarder, too, one with great promise.”
Raider cocked his head at me and blinked.
“He borrowed a motorcycle for a spin in the country one summer evening. He wasn’t driving recklessly, but it was a gravel road and he took a curve a little too fast. He wiped out, hit a utility pole, flipped the bike. He wore a helmet or that might have been that. But he crushed his jaw and teeth. He was rushed to a trauma center miles away. He had serious internal injuries, damaged spleen and pancreas, a kidney that doctors said would be lost. Many people prayed for him. For a month and a half he lay there, trying to keep up his spirits, hanging on to hope while he physically got weaker and thinner. He was not able to walk more than a few steps. The doctors believed he would never fully recover. He was in pain and didn’t know what each day would bring but he held on. Deep down he was still a strong-minded person, full of fire and love of life. He wanted to skateboard, ski and snowboard, create things, travel, enjoy people–to fully live his life again. Like you, he was a free spirit.”
Raider was sitting forward, his hands clasped. “So then what?”
“The guy had a vision one night. In the vision he sat with a medicine man who told him to hunt, eat and get strong and he would be healed. So the young man told the doctors they had to stop giving him jello, puddings, fruit juices and other liquids, and round-the-clock IVs with nutrients. They said he was foolish, that he couldn’t handle foods like meat but the young man told them he had to have protein. He told them to puree the food so he could eat it; he told them what foods he knew he needed. This guy also said he had to get up and walk, if only a few steps a few times a day. He was so insistent that they agreed to start a new diet.”
“They did that?”
“He was so certain it would lead to healing. He had great faith in his vision and in his own instincts. In a few days, he got out of bed, walked a bit. In a week, he could walk down the hall; he walked back and forth and got stronger fast, using those muscles that had served him so well before. He left the hospital in another week. It would take time to fully recover but he wasn’t the sort of person who balked at hard work. And he had a strong belief that things happened in his life for a reason and he could learn from them. Really, he was a person who had a handle on hope.”
We were silent a moment. Raider shook his head.
“But he didn’t skate after that, I guess.”
“Oh, yes. He started to practice a few weeks after he got back home and became a more powerful athlete than ever before. He went on many tours, he’s had hundreds of photos in magazines, been in many films and videos, has his own line of skateboards. He still skates fifteen years after that accident. And he celebrates life. He’s a man who counts endless blessings, not losses; he shares his love of life no matter what happens. And I’ll tell you, tough things happened after that. He just kept believing and going on with his life.”
“Well, who is this guy? I’ve probably seen him and never knew!”
I shook my head. “If I could tell you the whole truth about this story I would. But I just want you to think about it. Hope is so often the best defense in life, Raider. Terrible things happen to people all the time, as you know. So you can get through probation and treatment. You could also see and do things differently if you choose. Or you can take the same path–see more sunrises and sunsets through bars.” I checked my watch. “Time’s up. I hope you stay sober. I’d like to see you back here.”
“I’ll try–I did better this week. And I think I’ll ask around about that guy.”
Raider walked down the corridor but at the lobby door he turned and raised his hand.
“See you next week,” he called. There may have been a half-smile on his face. It was hard to tell–he was gone in a flash, skateboard in hand.
As I returned to my desk, I thought of all the young men who lose their lives to substance abuse, violence and despair, and also to the most random of events. To defeat. They cross paths with me, and then they often vanish. They give up just short of a miracle. But a little hope is a fearsome thing, persistent, potent, courage-building. It is what matters most to those I see day in and day out–and it’s available to all who seek it.
(Thanks to my son: vision seeker, loving husband and father, contractor/painter, music and art maker, pro skater and one of five of my heroes –my children. You all inspire me.)
The name and identifying features of “Raider” and all others in my blog posts have been changed to protect their privacy unless otherwise noted.