Unexpected surprises

I offer space in the publication I edit for people who live on the margins of life—living with poverty, mental illness, illiteracy, etc.—to tell their story. All too often, I think society passes these men and women by, and my theory is if I can provide a place for their voice, then maybe they’ll be heard and greater awareness can be reached. But I was on deadline, my “life on the margins voice” for the month had fallen through because of some nasty winter weather, and I was forced to call in a last-minute favor. As luck would have it, it all came together perfectly; someone would dictate his tale to me.

I knew I would hear a riveting story. I’ve never talked with a former orphan, “street person” or recovering addict without coming away inspired and touched—and sometimes horrified about the depths our society can sink to. I’ve talked with people whose parents have arranged for prostitution or women who have eaten out of garbage cans just to survive. They’re good tales, classic stories of human survival against all odds.

But what I didn’t expect was the absolute beauty of the story I heard that day. The beauty was not in what he’d been through or what he’d found in his new stable life, but in his dauntless, in-your-face faith that no matter what, everything would now be all right. This young man had seen some awful things: his father beat his mother, drink into oblivion, abuse drugs and worse. He’d been shuttled from relative to relative, and he clearly struggled with some sort of developmental disability.

But the light of hope shone brilliantly in his eyes. His smile was bright, wide and true. His heart was pure and kind. And he truly expected the best was ahead of him.

It was heartening and haunting. It remains with me—the sweet optimism of a young man who knows the future will be good because he wills it so. He is living on faith, and that faith will carry him strongly to the next tomorrow.

I remember that light in his eyes now, as I struggle with far pettier things like how I can juggle deadline and a child with strep throat while running a one-parent household. And I remember his unflinching belief: “Everything will be good,” he told me. “It’s all behind me now, and I’m just looking forward to the future.”

I can learn a lot from this young man, both as a writer and as a human soul. We all can.