I haven’t posted any excerpts from Holding Breath here for a while, but a conversation having to do with drug tests for Welfare recipients I stumbled into this morning on Facebook (probably ill-advisedly, as I was in an unusually grouchy and impatient mood, for some reason, and might have known to stay out of it if that hadn’t been the case) got me thinking about something I’d thought about many times in the past, and wrote about in the book. (The first time I thought of it was probably when I was a kid, walking down what must have been East 19th Street in Manhattan with some family members. We saw a man panhandling, and I wanted to give him some money, but my family told me not to–that he would just “use it to buy liquor.” They’re kind people, but I now know that they were just going along with a conventional idea that, even at the time, didn’t feel right to me.)
I’ve come to believe that when a person in need asks you to give, you give—no questions asked, no test to see if they’re “deserving” enough, no pre-judging what they might use it for. If they need comfort (and, preferably, a few warm, respectful words to go with it), and are in a situation that has brought them to the demeaning point at which they need to stand in the street and ask strangers for help, and I have the means to give them what they need just then, I’m happy to do it. I don’t give a damn how they got to be that way, or what they’re going to do with what I give. I used to feel that there might be something wrong with my thinking that way, as so many others seemed to feel differently, but I’ve gotten over it.
In any case, here’s the excerpt:
…Maybe I really was, as I was told over and over, just being naïve, and being an “enabler”.
But I’ve grown up enough to see that my beliefs are as valid as anyone else’s (and perhaps based more on experience than those of many others who make judgments about the character of addicts and people who live on the street), and aren’t negated by someone else’s disagreeing with them. Almost all of us are, to a greater or lesser degree, addicted to something. We all lie, often without even thinking of it as lying. We all manipulate others in order to get what we want, and we’ve all stolen or cheated in one way or another—even those of us who have everything we need already. We’ve all caused others emotional or physical pain. And if being an “enabler”, with David or with anyone else in a similar position, meant that I was giving them the comfort of feeling that they were, after all, as worthy of love as anyone else, I had nothing to be ashamed of.