I blogged this story before. And I’m blogging it again after driving into Dublin the other day and seeing, I would say, ten addicts wrapped up, empty coffee cup in front of them, hoping for help.
Thing is, there aren’t many people in town anymore. And those that are there don’t have loose change anymore.
But for the addicts, life goes on. For the moment. And just for the moment.
Anyway, this is the story of Michael…
We have probably all known people who suffered drug addiction.
Some of those I know eventually, and with help, managed to beat the addiction.
Others weren’t so lucky. Friends we thought ordinary like us, fell victim to the curse of drugs.
I still think of those friends who died.
But there was a moment with a stranger which will forever bring home to me the tragedy of addiction.
I worked on Baggot Street in the late 90s.
The Sunday Tribune offices were over what is now a Tesco supermarket, in what was once Zhivago nightclub!
Every morning, before going into the office, I would buy a coffee in the shop across the street.
And as I emerged I would habitually put a few bob into the cup in front of the young man, sitting there, on the ground, begging.
One day I got into the office with my coffee when a colleague, Neil, came up to me.
He said he noticed me giving money to the guy begging.
And I have to confess that, what I thought was coming next was the old cliché telling me “he’ll only spend it on drugs.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Neil, it turns out, did voluntary work with the homeless.
And he suggested to me that, as well as giving this guy money, I should talk to him.
So I did.
Every day, I’d get down on my hunkers and talk to the guy whose name, he told me, was Michael.
We chatted almost every day about something and nothing. Occasionally he would mention football or I’d talk music. We talked about anything at all.
Then one day in late November, I bent down to talk to Michael when he asked me a question.
“What aftershave do you use Paddy?”
I smiled in what was probably a very condescending way.
“Why? Do you like it Michael?” I asked him.
“No,” he said. “I want to get you a bottle for Christmas.”
I smiled. I said I’d see him tomorrow.
And I walked away.
And I walked away because I didn’t want Michael to see me crying.
Because I was crying.
Right up to that moment, I could think of Michael as a beggar, an addict and – a word I hate – a junkie.
But in that moment he showed me that he was actually a person, a caring, ordinary person. Yes, almost every thought was probably about his next fix or where he might sleep that night or what he could get to eat. But he had taken time to think of me, kindly, for giving him a few coins and stopping to chat with him.
God, I wish addicts had a political lobby, I wish people marched in huge numbers demanding help for addicts.
But we don’t. We give out about them. We blame them for what they’ve become though no child ever stood up in class and told their teacher they wanted to be an addict when they grew up.
I never got the aftershave of course. I didn’t need to. I got the thought of it. And that thought was one of the best Christmas presents I ever got.
And more addicts will die between now and Christmas.
We know that homelessness is our shame..
But so is the way we ignore the problem of addiction.
It took Michael ten seconds to ask me about the aftershave.
Twenty years on, I can still hear him asking…
Here’s a link to Merchant’s Quay donations to help, in particular, their nurses so badly needed right now.