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  • Writer's pictureSweta Patel

Beyond Labels: Seeing People, Not Problems

Rory speaks. Sweta writes. How one addict's story raises questions for reflection for any one of us.

Local Public Library - Book Talk & Signing Event

In Should've Been Dead, there's a story that's touched many hearts.

Picture this: You get to work and find a young man asleep in a hammock behind the building, a needle beside him next to a box of stale cereal. What would you do?

Rory's response was simple yet profound: he walked the young man to a nearby gas station and got to know his story. His name was Tyler. The simplicity of that moment when we met is what makes it so big... To someone with an addiction, "How are you doing" quickly spirals into "What are you doing? What's wrong with you? Why did you do that?" All these things people sit and yell at us. Instead, when I see someone who seems broken, and if it feels right, I ask, "Hey, do you want a cup of coffee? What are you doing tonight? What to get something to eat?" That's how genuine and honest conversation starts. It's not about how I'm coming in to save you.

Years later, Rory crossed paths with Tyler again, who was now working as a peer recovery specialist as well as helping at the local day center for those experiencing homelessness. He credits those moments with Rory with helping him move forward.

At the alternative high school where I teach, our Chemical Health Specialist wears a yellow clip on her lanyard. When she works with our students who are struggling with substance use, she gives the clip a little touch as a reminder: What can I say right now that will create a link with this student? If she starts in on their drug use, she'll drive them away. So, instead, she gets to know the person. And their story often holds the key to their struggles.

How often do we pass up opportunities to "form links" with others because of discomfort or uncertainty? Rory shares: Don't think. Don't pause. Just do it. When we authentically reach out, without expectation, something remarkable can happen.

My experience on the streets shaped the way I treated Tyler. I could see what was truly beneath his "I'm fine, I'm good" act. And that helped change the guy's life. Knowing this gives purpose to all the pain and suffering I've endured. This is why nothing I've been through can ever bother me too much. It led me to these people and the conversations we've shared. I'd go through it all again because these connections are better than any paycheck. It's the good stuff in life.


For All of Us: As we go about our day, let's look for opportunities to "form links" with others. Maybe a colleague starts to share about a personal problem. Or maybe your spouse starts up an old argument again. Or maybe a friend has been a bit distant lately. This may require going against our natural habits to fight, flight, or freeze, but if it feels right, what words can we offer that will help us to connect with this person, instead? Maybe it'll leave us feeling as Rory does after - that this is the good stuff in life.

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