“I hate our school.” Andrew, 13, lay facedown on the floor of his friend John’s** bedroom. The piece of charcoal in his hands was filling his sketch pad with strong, dark lines that seemed desperate to jump off the page and never come back. John, who was opening a bottle of beer, didn’t reply: that he agreed with Andrew went without saying.
|Help from St. Christopher’s Inn
“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” These words of St. Francis of Assisi, write the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, bring to life their mission, which partly is fulfilled in their ministry at St. Christopher’s Inn. Established in Garrison, New York, in 1909, the Inn serves as a temporary home each year for more than 1,200 men age 18 and older, many of whom are homeless and most of whom suffer from drug and/or alcohol abuse. “Our mission,” the Friars write, “is to offer a continuum of quality health care services that facilitate physical, emotional, and spiritual healing…. We strive to restore the personal dignity of each individual.” No one is turned away because of an inability to pay. St. Christopher’s Inn is supported by private contributions. For more information, and to help residents like Andrew, visit www.stchristophersinn-graymoor.org or call 845-424-3616.
“They all think they’re better than us,” Andrew continued, sitting up. “We’re never going to fit in there.” He took a drink from John’s bottle and examined the drawing. Frustrated, he crumpled it up and tossed it into the wastebasket. His arm throbbed for a moment where he purposely had cut the skin a few nights ago.
“Hey,” said John suddenly. “I got something new you can try.” “Oh, yeah?” John pulled out a small plastic pouch of white powder and waved it with a grin. “My new best friend.” “Cocaine? Can’t you die from that?” Andrew was more curious than afraid. John shrugged. “I’m still here.” Andrew laughed. What the heck? He watched John take his and followed suit. Then he waited for everything — thoughts about school, the disagreements with his family, all the times people had told him he wasn’t worth anything — to go away.
That evening, as the speaker talked about prayer, about how to give your life over to God, Andrew struggled to keep awake. A couple of times he could tell he’d slipped, because he’d come to and found Carmen glaring at him reproachfully. After the meeting, she walked toward his chair, her steps full of purpose. Andrew felt a twinge of guilt as he steeled himself for another lie. It’s the depression. It’s my medication for bipolar. It’s nothing; don’t worry about it.
“I know you’re using, Andrew,” Carmen said sternly. “How am I supposed to be your friend if you keep lying to me?” Andrew grimaced. Marie, another of his concerned friends from twelve-step, had recently said pretty much the same thing. “Look,” Carmen continued in a gentler tone. “I know this place. It’s called St. Christopher’s Inn, it’s a shelter and recovery program connected with the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Other guys from twelve-step have gone there. It’s got a good rep. You should get yourself to detox and then check it out.”
“I told you, Carmen, nothing’s wrong with me.”
“Don’t waste my time with that B.S.,” Carmen snapped. “Just do it.”
These last words stayed with Andrew the most. They kept him from concentrating. She was just saying that. Why would anyone want to hear about my problems? But after class, Andrew found his steps leading him past other residents, past staff, past the friars in their long brown robes and up to Nurse McCullagh’s office. He knocked.
“Come in!” called a cheerful voice. Encouraged, Andrew stuck his head around the door.
“Andrew!” beamed Nurse McCullagh. “Come on in. Make yourself at home.”
RESIDENTS AT THE INN SAY THIS PRAYER EACH DAY:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Andrew sat down, opened his mouth, and promptly fell into silence. Nurse McCullagh merely smiled at him. She had plenty of things to do, but she waited as attentively as if this visit was her only task for the day.
“Yesterday you were talking about healthy relationships with
other people,” Andrew finally began. Slowly, he turned his bare, scarred arms underside-up on his lap. They looked so vulnerable, bearing as they did the testimony of so much hurt he’d done himself. “I want to know how to do this. How do I let people into my life when this —” he nodded down at his arms — “scares people away?”
Nurse McCullagh didn’t lecture. She didn’t tell him he wasn’t worth bothering with. As Andrew talked, she simply listened.
“Carmen?” The voice that replied over the phone did a poor job of hiding its anxiety. “Andrew. Is everything all right?”
“I left St. Christopher’s Inn.”
Carmen’s disappointment was so tangible that Andrew hurried to break the rest of the news. “I left because I graduated. Five months. I finished the program. I’m at a halfway house and looking for a job. And I want to apply to art school.”
“Andrew Bruce, if are pulling a fast one on me, you are going to regret it.”
“You could call my folks. They know it’s true.”
Carmen’s voice was strangled for a moment with pleasure. She then began peppering him with questions. Andrew grinned. It felt good not to lie. It felt good to have plans, to think that maybe there was something he could do with his life besides be an addict. It felt good, he thought, to be going somewhere. CD
* based on the story of Andrew Bruce
** Some names have been changed for privacy