A Christmas Gift For All Year Round
I was reading, this week, a short piece titled: Right People Get It Wrong. The writer cited two extremes in the range of good and evil: those who appear to live selfless, sacrificial lives; and those who are utterly unconcerned about the damage that they do to others. But the gist, the moral, of the article, was that we should, none of us, be too quick to label people as one or other. We can be too swift in ‘filing’ people in categories of good or bad, or even writing them off altogether, said the author.
GOOD AND BAD
I thought, immediately, of my daughter. By anyone’s ‘filing’ methods, she would, at one time, have been labelled in the ‘bad’ category. But as I was to discover, painfully, things are rarely as clear cut as they appear.
Katya – not her real name - thinking she could take control of her life and escape the unhappiness at home when her father and I split up, started on cannabis at the age of fourteen. She quickly learned that far from being ‘in control’, drugs became her master and she its slave. By the time she was sixteen she had run away from home, and by eighteen she was hooked on heroin.
Terrified of what her addiction was doing to her, she eventually begged for help. Naturally, I gave it – and so began a decade long battle for her freedom. During that time she did what all addicts do to fund their habit: whatever it took.
But she was still my daughter!
DREGS OF SOCIETY
Three times in the next few years she returned from London and begged for help, and three times we gave it. It was perfectly obvious, to all who saw her, what she was into. Her sallow skin, sunken eyes and purple-punctured arms and legs sent a clear message that she was a ‘junkie’; the ‘dregs of society.’ But by then I didn’t care what the neighbours thought, or what category of ‘badness’ they had filed her in. I loved her. I yearned for her freedom.
We arranged a course of methadone for her, and faithfully took her to the pharmacist to collect her prescription. She did well. Too well! Convinced that she was cured, she returned to London and to those whom she believed to be her friends.
On the second occasion, our GP arranged for her to have residential help. Help? Despite the drugs, she was young and vibrant, and she was sent to what the Victorians called the lunatic asylum – a huge, red-brick institution – reserved for those poor, unfortunate members of society whose mental instability makes them a danger to themselves and others. Drumming heels, moans and cries: the corridors rang with Dickensian misery and despair.
It was a dreadful place for a young woman and, sure enough, when some of her visitors offered her a way out – back to the drugs – Katya took it. The third time, the last in which her stepfather and I were involved, she came off ‘cold-turkey’ – a horrific experience I hope I never again have to witness.
Still she went back to her old haunts.
In the end we had to practise what is known as ‘tough love’. It became increasingly obvious that I was merely a cushion, inadvertently preventing Katya from taking responsibility for herself. Or from reaching rock bottom. After nearly a decade of trying to help her kick her habit, it took a mere three months for her to achieve it for herself.
Katya put herself through college, graduated, settled down and had a family. For five years she lived a happy and fulfilled life. Then devastatingly, and in suspicious circumstances, she died.
She was a hoarder, my daughter! When I went through her belongings after her death, I came across address books and letters dating back years; back to the time when she was at the height of her addiction. And what I found opened my eyes to this question of good and bad.
A SURPRISING GOOD SAMARITAN
Among the tattered, dog-eared missives, were several from people who were clearly strangers to my daughter. At the very time that she was using dubious and illegal means to fund her self-destructive heroin habit, it appeared that she had given thirty pounds to someone she’d met on a journey. Thirty pounds was a substantial sum of money in those days. And from the tone of the thank-you letter, it was obvious that she had not expected its return.
Again and again I found that she had bailed people out. People like herself. The sort of people from whom you wouldn’t expect a thank-you letter. Yet they had, all of them, taken the trouble to write; to express their gratitude; to show that although they considered themselves ‘worthless’, they appreciated the sense of worth instilled in them by my daughter’s gift of money.
BAD PEOPLE SOMETIMES DO GOOD
The point of my story is that I remember the days when I used to feel a faint sense of disdain for the young scantily-clad women I saw frequenting the darkened recesses around Kings Cross, London, or the sullen youths who begged for money on the streets. They should get a job like the rest of us, I’d think, skirting my way around them, my eyes downcast so as to avoid their pleading gaze. I won’t give to them. They’ll only spend it on drugs.
As Jeff Lucas, author of Right People Get It Wrong said, decent, respectable people like me sometimes do get it wrong. Before my daughter started on drugs, I probably ‘wrote off’ a whole section of humanity because they were the ‘dregs of society’. The homeless and the helpless, with whom, just this week, pre-Christmas 2009, Prince William, heir to the British throne, identified himself by sleeping rough with them. Someone’s sons. And someone’s daughters.
AND RIGHT PEOPLE GET IT WRONG!
Amidst the hype and frivolity of Christmas, we have constant reminders of what it’s all about: Jesus’ birth and the hope of new life. God’s gift to us, to help us become ‘good’ people. We may even congratulate ourselves that we can safely say that we come into that category. But the point of God’s gift is that, like the proverbial dog, it’s not just for Christmas. The homeless, the helpless, the heroin user will be with us in New Year and beyond. And while we’re busy writing them off and filing them in the category of ‘bad’, they may, actually, be the very people who’ve most understood, and practised, the true message of Christmas.
Katya’s story is told in Mel’s latest novel, A Painful Post Mortem. ALL proceeds from sales are for charities benefiting children worldwide. Buy a copy here and help raise cash for children like Rachel, who, at 13 is mother to 6 kids orphaned by AIDS, or this project, drug-proofing teenagers in the UK
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Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. www.melmenzies.co.uk