“Have you found a job yet?” I asked “Kyle” (not his real name) who has been sober for three months now. Kyle’s been through treatment and recovery a few times in the past seventeen years and never lasted more than six months before he started drinking again. He told me he lives in a homeless shelter, eats at soup kitchens, walks for hours and swims a couple of kilometres nearly every day. In the small town where he lives, the city allows anyone on income assistance to use the recreation centre free of charge.
“No. I’m not looking for work right now,” he said. Over the course of a long, frank conversation, I learned why.
“I don’t want to push the river,” he said. “I’ve gotten out of treatment before and went full steam ahead making good money and six months later I was drinking again. This time I’m trying to stay in the moment and pay attention to what I’m thinking and feeling. The other day, I was in a lineup to open a bank account and started to have a panic attack. I had to leave the bank and try again another day.”
“I try to stay positive,” Kyle went on to say. “I get out in nature and walk the trails and look for opportunities to do a good turn every day. Where I live, everyone on the street knows everyone else, and we look out for each other. But sometimes I get thinking about where I would be right now if I hadn’t wasted my life. I get down on myself and those feelings are brutal. But I’m not shutting them down anymore; I’m learning to let them pass.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” I said.
“I’ve got a place to live lined up next week and a full-time job waiting for me in the spring. But for now, I walk and swim. When I’m in the pool, immersed in water and buffered from sounds, it’s like zen meditation. But I don’t accomplish much in a day,” he said.
I suspected he knew that he was accomplishing a great deal, but couldn’t quite believe it.
“You’re in the flow,” I said. “You’re listening and being kind to yourself and others, and those are not small things.”
He smiled. “You’re right. I’m not doing too bad for a homeless guy.”
Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust
that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.
—Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs
* * *
The King of Kensington, Ken Ryan passed away on January 11, 2017. He will be greatly missed by family and friends as well as those who received so much practical support through Ken’s volunteer work in North Burnaby. While Ken was in hospice, his friend Shirley Hatch and his son Brad started a GoFundMe campaign for Ken’s wife, Lou. Here people can donate money to help Lou pay her rent and for funeral expenses. The Burnaby Now described the extent to which Ken has given time, energy and money to help others. His “laundry list of accomplishments” included receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Gold Jubilee medal for his volunteer efforts. Now we have the opportunity to give back.