There But for the Grace of God Go I
by Sanctified Brother
One of the notorious sights of big city life is the heroin lean. It’s the almost-gravity-defying struggle heroin users face when they’re too high to stand erect, yet are sensible enough to attempt composing themselves before falling down in a heap like a sack of potatoes. Knocking their teeth out. Getting a hematoma. They bob up and down, correcting themselves and righting their posture, making micro adjustments that save them from the inevitable fall. What, beside the grace of God, could be on their side?
There was a woman standing in the stairwell at the Jay Street/MetroTech station performing the heroin lean, obstructing foot traffic. Passersby came up one landing, made a slight turn to go up the next landing, and there was this sister leaning. Just bobbing and leaning while my fellow New Yorkers maneuvered around her, avoiding any major collisions with people coming down the other side of the landing (I love New Yorkers’ ability to adapt and adjust on the fly!).
I stopped ever so imperceptibly to glimpse the sister’s face. Was she coherent? Could I speak a word of encouragement to her? No dice. She was to’ up. Leave her alone. I continued up the landing to reach street level. The glorious sun was shining intensely so the closer I got to street level the brighter the sun appeared to the point where all I could do was squint. Then I noticed someone standing at the top of the steps, blocking the way.
Was this person in their right mind standing there blocking the way (c’mon, man!). He wasn’t: he was leaning. What kind of madness does heroin make you do? This man, doped up and leaning from heroin, was standing on the very first step—concrete and steel NYC train station steps—balancing like a dancing bear.
I reached my hand out in front of me, as I walked up the steps, and firmly placed it against his chest. Every step up I took pushed him away from the edge. He lumbered backward with a frustrated grimace and an annoyed grunt, gnashing what looked like weathered, wooden teeth.
He was safe, at least from unintentional stair diving, once I moved him from the edge. I asked him if he knew where he was and all he could do was utter some imperceptible gibberish. I asked him a few more times, at different volumes and tones, until he finally recognized someone was talking to him.
The brother narrowly opened his eyes and started smiling, the kind of smile where you’re embarrassed and trying to minimize the social damage. I reminded him that he was risking his life and he insisted that he was fine. He was able to identify where he was so I blessed him, playfully chastised him (stay off that dust, man, you leanin’!), and gave him a firm pat on his shoulder and went on my way.
Then I felt compelled to go back. I was half a block away and thought it necessary to confirm he was alright. Suppose he relapsed and fell face first? Thankfully there was no emergency. I went all the way into the station and didn’t see any thrills or spills.
You and I are just as susceptible to the lure of drugs as those two unfortunate souls. Someone might find us with track marks or nursing a bottle. We’re not impervious to drug abuse, that’s why I looked at the brother with compassion and thought there but for the grace of God go I.