Recently, I presented a workshop on counselor wellness at a major addictions conference on the East Coast. While the conference was fantastic, the journey from Tucson, Arizona, to the conference site was a trip from hell; and the fact that my laptop died the day before I left didn’t help matters.
The day prior to my presentation, I woke up at 3:30 am to travel 100 miles to Phoenix to catch a very crowded plane. After the six-hour flight, I had to schlep my stuff on a two-hour bus ride to the conference center. That day’s grueling schedule had allowed me no time for exercise – back home I climb the desert hills for close to an hour each morning – so the day of my presentation, I awoke with a serious case of jet lag.
The general session in the morning featured a presentation by a nutritionist who mentioned that many folks nod off around 3:45 pm as their blood sugar drops to the day’s all-time low. Just what I need, I thought, as I remembered that my workshop started at 4:00 pm.
Ironically, the noontime presentation was sponsored by an eating disorders center and featured a lunch consisting of a decent salad, a large slice of cheesecake and a heaping plate of mashed potatoes, overcooked vegetables and two huge hunks of hotel-style turkey. Great, I told myself. With all that tryptophan, I’ll end up falling asleep at my own workshop! I was fortunately able to sneak out, head downstairs to the restaurant and grab a real sandwich.
Despite these hurdles, my presentation went quite well. Afterwards, I dragged myself back to my room to crash before catching an evening workshop. The next morning I was up at 5:30 am. I checked out and visited with fellow attendees in the exhibit area before catching a cab to the airport shuttle at the bus depot.
After taking a morning walk at the depot, I visited a restroom, where a fellow in the adjacent stall was having a rather heavy dialog with himself. I heard him complaining that he needed to go to Boston for detox the next day and bemoaning the $20 bus fare. I called over the top of the stall, “Guess what – it’s now $26!” He then proceeded to pour out his tale of woe.
He had been run over by a motorcycle a few days back and claimed that the meds he was given got him off his program, hence the need to go back to detox. I empathized with him and commended him for taking a very important first step in getting back on track. I asked if he was working a program. He admitted that although he had an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting directory, he had stopped going to meetings. I strongly encouraged him to go to a meeting as soon as he got out of detox and to line up a good sponsor.
When we vacated our stalls I noticed a large recent cut on his forehead and thinking of his recent relapse on pain medications, said, “Man, you must really be in a great deal of pain.” He thanked me for my support and we headed off to catch our respective shuttles. I smiled as he asked me for a dollar to help cover the two-dollar fare for a local trip and politely refused his offer of some of his pocket change in exchange for my dollar. I again commended him on his decision to go to detox, wished him well and knew that I would remember him in my prayers.
During my two-hour trip back to the airport, I contemplated my meeting with this chap. In the course of reflection, the words of the renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh came to mind: “We should not underestimate the effect of our words when we use the right speech. The words we speak can build up understanding and love.”
I believe there is no such thing as coincidence and that every encounter we have with another person is pre-ordained at some level. I thought to myself, Wow – what a great way to end an addictions conference! I felt privileged to have been in a position to offer a new friend some support in his time of need and continue to hold him in my thoughts and prayers.