By Minnesota's hardy standards, it was a drop in the bucket, or more accurately, a few flakes in the air. Still, it was a pesky snowfall, the first of the season, and those few flakes were just enough to coat the ground.
In my haste to make it on time to a radio interview, I took a spill on the sidewalk. No injury. But plenty of ego-bruising insult I foisted on myself, especially when nobody buzzed me into the building no matter how many times I tapped the keypad. Until Rico showed up.
I didn't know him when he came around the corner and down the alley, his hair spotted with those offensive sticky snowflakes. He could have been passing by or a security guard in his semi-official looking jacket, a homeless panhandler or worse. He and I were alone in the narrow alley.
"Here, I'll let you in," he offered, punching the secret code with authority I didn't have. "This weather sucks, doesn't it?"
Brushing off my snow-covered back and trying to collect myself two minutes before I was due in front of the microphone, mine wasn't a chatty mood, but in the ride up the elevator he said he was going my way. And he was, leading me right into the studio.
"I work here. Actually, I'm a volunteer right now," he explained. I thanked him and introduced myself to the producer.
"Are you really William Moyers?" Rico interjected from behind. "The guy I read about who's an alcoholic and addict just like me?" He stuck out his hand and shook mine. Rico shared a snapshot of his life.
"I'm 100 percent Mexican-American, born and raised in Minnesota, the youngest of five, plus both parents. We were the first 'non-whites' in Faribault, Minnesota in the '70s. I am also a sexual abuse survivor, got addicted to all kinds of drugs and at the end when I was smoking crack, I'd cry so hard and shake I'd have to get somebody else to light the pipe."
Telling me his story, Rico smiled, as he should.
"Finally, I've been clean and sober for 21 months, man."
Rico got help at Metro Hope Ministries. It's a non-profit in downtown Minneapolis with an unambiguous vision: "To be so focused on Jesus Christ that everyone that comes to our door will be permanently transformed by grace."
It is a laser-focused mission, too: "A recovery ministry providing real help and lasting hope, in a grace-filled environment through Jesus Christ."
In today's world, a lot of people are put-off by the religious overtones of some treatment programs. Invoke the name of Jesus, and critics scream louder.
Even naysayers of the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous cite the references to God as proof that it is nothing more than a brainwashing cult that jams God down the throats and into the minds of people who can't stop drinking and drugging.
I usually steer clear of such debate. Like politics, there is no room in the rooms of recovery for people to question, criticize or condone religion. All that really matters is that people who need help get it, with dignity and respect no matter who they, what they look like or what they believe.
Rico reminds me that for a lot of us, the only power greater than ourselves is the substance that is trying to kill us. That is, until an even "higher" power comes along and leads Rico and me and a lot others along a path that connects when we least expect it and need it the most.
Thanks, Rico, for coming by and hanging around for me the other day.
William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoir. His new book, "Now What? An Insider's Guide to Addiction and Recovery," was published in October. Please send your questions to William Moyers at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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