Yesterday evening…wasn’t good.

I spent it at a funeral home for the family visitation and memorial service for an old co-worker’s son, who died at the age of 34. His mom, as you would expect, was in bad shape, but not as bad as you might expect. As I talked with her, she told me that “He’s finally at peace.”

This young man, who I first met while he was in middle school and who I had last seen in person shortly after high school, was indeed finally at peace. He would no longer be bedeviled by his demons, whatever they were. He left behind a grieving family, three sons by three different women, troubled friends, and me.

I’m trying to square what I experienced with some of my long held beliefs. You see, this young man died of a drug overdose, in particular an overdose of the stuff a treatment program gives you to keep you off of things that are even worse. I’ve never found myself in this situation. Deaths of this sort always happened at a remove, to people I didn’t know, in parts of town I don’t go to. They were always an abstract.

Not this time. This time I know all the players. Should that make a difference? I don’t know if it should, but it is.

Even though I understand that addictions are a disease, I’ve never had to struggle with addiction. No one in my family, as far as I know, has had to. We’ve had our issues, but thank God this hasn’t been one of them. I’ve never even known anyone who had to deal with this. I suppose I’ve led a charmed life in this respect, to be on this earth over half a century and never find myself in this position. I’ve been particularly blessed considering my lower class, blue collar background, since they do seem to be its natural habitat.

But still, I didn’t see the almost 20 year process–I just saw the one evening long ultimate result of it.

I’ve sat through a lot of funerals, some uplifting and some dull. I’ve never sat through one where it felt like the preacher was trying to keep someone from “doing something foolish”. It was a good service, spoken from the heart. He didn’t really speak about the young man’s life, because there really wasn’t much that could be said. There was no way to sugar coat his failings like I’ve seen with some others. He spoke to the family and friends and told them “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anything you did, or anything you failed to do. There was nothing you could have done that would have changed this outcome. Remember the good times and let the Lord bear the burden of the bad times.”

The thing that struck me was how well he preached that sermon. It seemed that it was a familiar message. I suppose if you minister in certain parts of town it would be.

So I’m sitting here after a night of not so good sleep, trying to reconcile the human toll that I witnessed and my beliefs about how we should deal with drugs, drug laws, imprisonment for drug offenders, treatment for addicts and all the rest. For most of my adult life I’ve been pretty libertarian on these–they’re “victim-less crimes”. A drug abuser hurts no one but themselves.

Well, at least in one case that’s provable bullshit. I saw 5 pews full of the victims of one man’s drug use. It doesn’t make any difference that it was an illness or whether or not anyone there could have done anything to help. A lot of people were victims of his 20 year spiral from happy kid to dead drug addict. Perhaps he didn’t steal from them or physically harm them in any way, but they were victims all the same.

And me? I’m not a victim. I’m left wondering if his death was meant, among other things, to call my beliefs into question, perhaps to cause me to become a different, maybe better person. I find that a frightening thought, and it isn’t going to go away.

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