I saw a young man last summer standing on the Park Street bridge in Presque Isle, Maine. I watched as I sat waiting for the traffic light to turn green. He seemed to stare deeply into the water and was speaking to himself. He was dressed in dirty and baggy jeans and a black hoodie. Sadly, this is not an uncommon sight around town these days. Some of these young people have behaviors that are much more telling than this young mans. But I knew, I could tell even through my dusty car window, he was struggling with addiction. So often in these last years, I’ve noticed the sunken eyes, pockmarked faces and thin builds of many of our community’s young people caught up in a cycle of addiction. I watched aptly while I waited. My heart wondered what he was thinking. Was he thinking of how easy it would be to just end this torment? The vehicle behind me tooted the horn and I realized that the light had changed and I was just sitting wondering about this young man.
As I drove by, he never moved from his place and his gaze never left the river below. My first thought was to pull over and speak to him, but there are no parking spots near that section of town. Still, I couldn’t help but think about him as I made my way to the post office for my daily mail pickup. Fear began to overwhelm me as I thought what his life must be like. Did he have a home, a clean place to sleep? Was he so caught up in drugs that he didn’t think he had a choice but to end his existence? Did his parents cry at night, praying for someone to help him? I know that, like me, so many parents spend countless sleepless nights praying and worrying for their kids. The ones who are lured into an escape from the world that can be so oppressive. The ones who like being a fly caught in a web, have no way out.
I guess I have always gravitated toward the broken of this world. Reaching out to do whatever I can. Our community is so caught up in the drug epidemic and there are many who are judgmental to those who get stuck in it. Coupled with a severe lack of mental health services, we are basically crippled and powerless to change it. But, I’ve always been of the mind that, “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.” My daughter calls me an outcast collector, and I suppose she has a valid point. I remember even in elementary school reaching out to those who were ignored and often, becoming great friends because of it.
Today I thought, when I drive back by the bridge, if he’s still there, I’m going to grab a McDonald’s meal and take it to him and talk. Everyone needs someone to listen, to care, to reach out a hand when we need it most. As I came upon the light, I said a small prayer that I wouldn’t see police cars or an ambulance sitting there retrieving this young man. But it was quiet, the street was business as usual and I saw him in the distance walking toward an apartment door. An opportunity lost? I don’t know for sure. But the point is we never know what another is going through and compassion goes a long way toward recovery for so many.
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