A few days ago a friend told me a remarkable story.
My friend is, himself, a remarkable man.
He has an incurable belief in the goodness of all people and firmly believes that everyone deserves a second, or third, or fourth, or fifth chance.
Some time ago he befriended a man named Tim.
And three days ago he told me Tim’s story.
I asked his permission to write the story and his only stipulation was that I not mention his name.
This is Tim’s story as told by my friend.
He had coffee and a chat with Tim a few days ago.
He hadn’t seen Tim for a few months and was beginning to worry about him but now that winter was rapidly approaching he knew that he would be seeing him, and coffeeing with him each week until sometime next April when the weather warms up and Tim’s visits would then become further and further apart.
He and Tim have been coffee mates for a couple of years now and the pattern has become well-established.
When spring rolls into summer and the temperature reading is not preceded by a minus sign then Tim disengages from their frequent interactions and directs his focus towards the enjoyment of all things summer.
As soon as the temperature dips they reconnect over a cup of coffee a couple of times each week.
Tim, you see, is a man without a home. He has lived on the streets of our city for the past 20 years and spends his days with his head down, eyes searching for anything that can be converted into cash that is then further converted into alcohol that is used to ease the cravings and dull the pain that has become his life.
He is a proud man. He will not accept money from anyone and insists on making his own way in the world by picking bottles when he can and going without when he can’t.
He first met Tim a few years ago as he was walking back to his office and noticed him climbing out of a nearby dumpster while triumphantly clutching two bottles in each hand.
He went up to him and invited Tim to his office to take possession of several dozen empty pop bottles and cans that were huddled in a box on the kitchen floor awaiting transportation to the local recycling bin.
As Tim was gratefully loading bottles into an overstuffed garbage bag he offered him a cup of coffee and suggested he drop by every week or so and help himself to the stash of bottles that were always stacking up in the office.
And thus began their ritual of sharing stories over a cup of coffee.
Tim’s life had taken a wrong turn many years earlier when he developed a relationship with alcohol that over time became more important to him than his relationship with his wife, his children and his employer.
Several times he’d been given ultimatums; choose your family or the bottle; choose your career or the bottle.
It was a simple choice. There was no force strong enough to compete with the bottle.
And then one day the ultimatums turned into reality. Tim was fired from his job and came home to find that the locks had been changed and he was no longer welcome.
Fortunately for him his one true friend, the omnipresent bottle, remained faithful and the two have been inseparable ever since.
He told my friend that he generally eats a meal every second day as there is seldom enough money to provide for both the thirst and the appetite. My friend often offered to buy him a meal and Tim has yet to accept the offer. On a few occasions when he knew that Tim would be visiting the office he brought in sandwiches for him. Tim always accepted the sandwiches and took them with him when he left.
He believes that Tim took these sandwiches to share with a few friends he had made during his life on the streets.
Those friends have become his family. They are his community and they all look out for one another. Last winter he brought three of them to meet my friend and as the five of them sat around a table in his office drinking coffee it was apparent to him that an unbreakable bond existed between each of these four men and that anyone of them would lay down his life for the others.
These four men, each of whom was battling his own demon of addiction, had forged a friendship based on their common values.
Each of them spent their days searching for empty bottles to turn into cash. At the end of each day they pooled their resources so that they could share equally in the booty.
The thought of stealing in order to feed their addiction was a violation of their values and on days when there just wasn’t enough cash to satisfy their addiction they collectively endured the pain of withdrawal and vowed to try harder next day.
Tim often told my friend that he desperately wanted to exchange the bottle for a job, an income, clean clothes and a place to live. But as much as he wanted these things he didn’t want them badly enough to risk pouring the contents of his bottle down the drain and thus be unable to dull the never-ending pain that was his life.
He was so riddled with self-hate for all the pain he inflicted upon his family that he felt unworthy of a second chance.
And he was afraid of even trying to clean up his act because his fear of failure was more than he was willing to endure.
Twenty years of street life, muggings, beatings, hangovers, arrests and the never-ending pain itself had further convinced him that he was not worth the effort required to turn his life around.
So imagine my friend’s surprise earlier this week when the doorbell rang and he opened it to find a man standing there who looked remarkably like Tim.
Except this man was bright-eyed, clean-shaven, sported a fresh haircut, was well dressed in clean clothes, shining shoes and was not standing inside a mist of musty, unwashed odour.
It took a moment to realize it was Tim, but a very, very different Tim.
And he did something that Tim had never done before – he hugged my friend -and then proceeded into the office and poured himself a cup of coffee.
And they talked.
And he told my friend that all of their talks about how our lives are driven by the choices we make, and how events in our lives have only the meaning we choose to place upon, and how everything we believe to be true of ourselves is, in fact, true had finally gotten through to him and how several months ago he had finally made a choice to take back his life and how he had managed to get himself into rehab and how sobriety had become a choice about which he was now fanatical and how he had completed a job re-entry program and was now working full-time at the same bottle depot that he had been dragging bottles to for the past 20 years.
And he was off the street. He was living in a subsidized housing development with two of his three friends who had gone into rehab with him and were also working full time.
And when the three of them weren’t working at their jobs they were working at convincing their fourth friend to follow their path and he had finally agreed and had gone into rehab 10 days ago.
Then he told my friend that he’d stayed away from visiting him for one reason. He was waiting for a very special occasion. He wanted my friend to celebrate a milestone day with him.
And that day was today. His 100th day of sobriety.
And my friend told me that Tim has taught him some of the most valuable and powerful lessons he has ever learned.
Tim taught him that there is no such thing as hopeless. It is just an illusion.
He taught him that the moment you believe things can get better, things will get better.
He taught him that a little bit of short term pain is so worth living through in order to get to long-term pleasure.
He taught him that no matter how far down you may be, the moment you stand up, you’re back up.
He taught him that you always have to get up one time more than you fall down.
And he told me him that he had met with his ex-wife and two sons last week and had asked for, and received their forgiveness.
A hero is a person who, despite his fears, takes action and as I listened to Tim’s story he became a hero to me.
Most of us, no matter how bad we think our lives may be, will never have to claw ourselves out of a hole like the one Tim dug himself out of.
If Tim could, each of us can.
If you think life has presented you with a few tough challenges, do what Tim did.
Make a new choice to take a new step today.
Don’t wait. Start now.
After all, there’s no Tim like the present.
Till we read again.
P.S. Tim is one of the heroes of this story. My friend, who is too modest to allow his name to appear here is the other. The word “judgemental” does not apply to him. Through his kindness and gentleness he has helped many people live better lives. The only reward he seeks is for those he helps to live happy lives.
We need more like him.
P.P.S. On Monday I received an order for ten dozen copies of my book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours. My goal of selling 5,000 copies is now within reach. If you would like to order your very own copy please click here and my friends at Self Connection while ship one out to you right away. You can also order the book by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.