Hope Recovery in Manchester is where I’ve worked for the last five-and-a-half years. It is a crucible of magic and a damn fine place to visit and be.
Since I’m the director here, you might expect I’d puff the place. Let me assure you, I am more than capable of shooting my mouth off about places I’ve worked. Being fired for being critical is old hat to me.
If Hope was a sham or a waste, I’d tell you. Then quit before I could be fired.
I do believe much of life is blind coincidences with no explanation. What follows shows “much” is doing all the work in that last sentence.
As I was writing the above, sitting at a table at the front of Hope, the place where members congregate for cards or chess or conversation, a woman I’ll call Carol sat down next to me. I greeted her with some sort of jackassery, and Carol looked into my face, hers slowly melting. On the verge of tears, she told me she hurt. Clearly, this wasn’t a headache or an ingrown toenail. I asked her if she wanted to walk down to my office so we could talk in private. She nodded.
As soon as Carol took a seat, tears dripped out and she talked of a son she hadn’t heard from in years, a daughter who was in the wind and would turn 40 next week. As I let her go on, her tone changed. Instead of a puddle of goo, she sat up straighter and said she felt bad she wasn’t doing more to help people. I asked her what she meant.
“I go to meetings, and I do all I can. Still, people keep on dying.”
“People do die,” I said, “and that sucks. Each of us does the best we can for those we meet—and leave the outcome to the universe or some higher power.”
“I know. But I want to stop the dying, stop the overdoses. Each time I hear an ambulance, I think it might be my son.”
I’m a man with few ready-made anecdotes or teaching stories—crabs in a bucket, the invisible boat, monkey traps—and usually let the situation determine what I should say. Here, though, I made an exception.
“I’m sure you know the starfish story,” I said, expecting to see a nod of acknowledgment. Nothing.
“The starfish?” Carol asked. “What starfish?”
Surprised, I recounted the old chestnut. Boy walking the beach after a storm, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. Old man comes up and says the beach is covered with starfish, so the boy is wasting his time. Throwing individual starfish into the ocean won’t make any difference. Boy picks up starfish, looks at it and tosses it seaward. “It made a difference to that one.”
Somehow, Carol had made it into her 60s never having heard that story. Her face, which had been tense and stressed, relaxed into a smile.
“Thank you for that,” she said. “That makes a difference.”
“This place is my safe spot. When I walk into Hope, I know I’m going to be treated well, and no one’s going to look down on me. No one’s going to act like they’re better than me. The staff treats me like a woman, not a client of some kind.”
“That makes me very happy,” I said, and it did.
And it does.
I’d intended this column to be a laundry list of all the cool stuff Hope offers—painting, music, meditation, cards, chess, karaoke, talent shows, etc., etc. etc.
Instead, I got handed a column about what Hope IS: a safe spot for Carol and hundreds of others.
You matter. I matter. We matter.