When he called me down and out, it was surreal. Here was a man who always had it together. He was smart and responsible, had a good job and a beautiful house, so how did he end up losing everything in his life, living on one of the most dangerous streets in the country? When I saw him the other day, it was as though no time had passed. He has been sober for six years and owns and manages two sober living houses, helping others on the road to recovery. His is a life of giving back and being of service. Our friendship picked up right where it had left off. We laughed and talked about old times and lamented over our love lives, just as we always used to do when we were younger.
Over lunch, he solemnly looked into my eyes, asking for my forgiveness, humbly handing me the money he owed me, the money he had told me was for his children, but he had spent on drugs. I couldn't speak for a moment. Here was a man who was taking accountability for all the mistakes he had made instead of trying to blame others. But the most beautiful sentiment of all was when he leaned in towards me and said, "I am so grateful to have you back in my life again, Theresa. What a gift from God this is." My eyes welled up as I watched him cry, not from grief, but from guilt. I had pushed him out of my life for many years. I had used my children as an excuse to not reconnect during a time when he needed me most. I had judged one of the dearest people who had ever entered my life and in turn, I didn't make the time to love him anymore.
Ironically, the next day, on Christmas Eve, I took my two children to Skid Row to pass out food and gifts to the homeless. As soon as the shuttle van pulled up to The Mission, I started to cry. Before me were hundreds of men, women and children waiting in line to receive a Christmas meal. My heart was swelling, not only for them, but at the thought that "Mason" had once been one of these misfortunates. While I was living in my charming house possessing everything I could ever need or want, he was down there on Skid Row, waiting for his God to be merciful and let him die. But his God never did. Apparently, he had other plans for him.
A man from the rehabilitation center offered to give me a tour of the facilities. He was in charge of grant writing and fund raising for The Mission. He was an articulate, eloquent man, dressed very nicely, and it was obvious all those who worked there respected him greatly. He took us around to show us all the wonderful opportunities they now have for those on the road to rehabilitation, including a career center to help them find employment and a classroom where they can earn their high school diplomas. As the tour came to an end, we stepped into the elevator, where a man stood quietly in the corner. Our guide asked him how long he has been sober and in the rehab program. His answer was, six months. Our guide then told him to keep up with it. "It works," he promised. "I'm living proof of that." Yes, this highly educated man who was in charge of raising money for the LA Mission had once been a resident of Skid Row. Like *Mason*, he had once had a good life, but a bad divorce sent him to the streets.
It's so easy to judge others without trying to understand their story. We catagorize people by the way they dress, their hobbies and hairstyles and sometimes by their possessions, or lack them. It only takes a moment to look past the superficial and see what lies beneath, but many of us don't want to take the time to do that. Judging is easy while loving is hard, but in the end, it's worth the effort. This bit of knowledge was the greatest gift I was given this Christmas. That, and having *Mason* back in my life again.