There’s a kind of courage that, ideally, everyone should have, yet, ideally, no one should need.
The kind that enables us to resist life’s many inequities, rise over its many hurdles, and to seek and find light and peace in all things, even our darkest sorrows.
That kind of courage is so rarely seen that it is the more powerful and beautiful for appearing at all.
Two of my best friends recently displayed such courage. In fact, they’ve been showing it for most of their married life, as a racially-mixed couple who adopted a racially-mixed son, whose biological parents were both drug addled.
Heartbreakingly – the cold cynic in me wants to say “predictably” – those drugs wormed their way into their 23-year-old son’s blood, brain and existence. This, though they raised him as far away from his biological parents’ circumstances as a life of suburban comfort, professional expertise, cultural nurturing and middle-class resources could take them.
Their son – handsome, brilliant, clever, funny, talented — overdosed on fentanyl. The opioid reputed to be 50 times stronger than even heroin.
Like some weird, cosmic vacuum, their sadness on that chilly, March morning for the loss of their child literally sucked the air from their lungs when they found their son’s lifeless body in his car.
We could debate the evils of drugs, and his choice to use them. Fine. I agree. Drugs are bad, wrong, evil. Debate done.
We could dissect who knew, and who should have known, what could have been done and when, since their son lived in his parents’ home, and they tried to honor his young adulthood by respecting his privacy as much as possible in their shared space.
We could. Those are moralistic arguments, and (their insensitivity notwithstanding) fair questions. Indeed, in our pretend-Christian nation – “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, remember? – we like to make lots of room and time for moralizing.
Yet it is just as immoral to even think, much less raise those issues to fellow human beings in their grieving as some often do (and did), if just privately in whispered side conversations. Moralizing loses all its weight when staring into the beautiful face of a child gone too soon.
As a thousand, thousand shards of glass slice their hearts daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, second-by-second; as they apply fake smiles and gamely effect laughter when laughter is inconceivable; as they force feet forward along a daily path back toward “normalcy”, though nothing will ever again be “normal”; my dear friends continue to carry a private burden that I — most – cannot begin to imagine, much less understand. (Thank you, God, by whatever name you are called, for this immense blessing of ignorance.)
No one with a shred of soul would fault them for even an atom’s breath for simply curling up in the cocoon of their own hearts and subsisting off the perverse, pain-numbing energy of grief.
But not them.
Me, for sure.
Instead they took their hurt; their confusion; their anger; their emptiness; their brokenness; their loss; their ache; their whispering to themselves, “what did we do wrong?”; their screaming to God, “WHY?!”; their longing for an answer that they know – for they must know, if they have any hope of living again – that they won’t get until they can ask their son to his face.
They took it all, and decided to do something about it.
My friends researched opioid addiction. Laws. Other stories of loss and destruction. Ways that they could maybe, possibly, with some small bit of luck and a lot of hard work, make a difference.
They found the “2017 Fed Up! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic” summit in Washington, D.C. in early September 2017
They packed their bags and their pain and their righteous indignation and – most important of all – their precious memories of their sweet baby, and got on a plane.
There, they listened to speakers at the National Press Club.
They networked with other victims and advocates.
They participated in a candlelight vigil and, the next day, they marched in front of the White House.
Then, nearly six months to the day after their shared heart temporarily stopped beating, they told their son’s story on national television.
They made sure to hold up his picture so that everyone – even the “holier-than-thou-ers” — could see that their agony had a name and a face with an easy, charming smile, now forever erased by drugs.
They held each other close, their mingled tears wetting each other’s cheeks. Loving, comforting, healing themselves, yes, but also those who watched and felt their own hearts shatter by association.
They resisted the criticism of the unfeeling, and the condemnations of those who would blame, deflect, refuse to acknowledge the truth of their anguish. The same anguish that any parent would suffer.
They rose above the deepest valleys of their own heartache.
And they demonstrated what it takes to truly “Walk the Talk.”
To set an example. Create a path where none existed. Take the harder road to show a way through a tangled thicket of injustice.
They turned their private despair into public action. With faith in a tomorrow their son won’t know, and determination to help give that tomorrow to someone else’s child.
And a courage born in love and borne by love – like all things good and worthy and true.