Friday, June 14, 2013

Heavy Burdens

When I moved back to Texas a few years ago, I reconnected with some old friends. Guys I grew up with back in the day. Still kids to me, although like me, now older and grayer and wrinkled; gravity and time and life having taken their toll. Over the past four years we’ve gathered for golf and birthdays and dinners and concerts. We’ve bored our wives with stories of our youth and embarrassed each other with tales of misadventures, old girlfriends and the time when you know who drank a pint of gin and threw up in the back seat of his best friend’s car. Mostly true stories that get better with age and the entitled embellishment that comes with the passing of years and the fading of memories.

One of my old friends called me this week. I could tell immediately that something was not right. He sounded anxious and may have been about half-drunk. He rambled on with a gee-whiz, can-you-believe-it tale of moving and lost or stolen credit cards and debit cards. Of changing banks and having funds tied up in the transition. Of how he did not realize what had happened until the day before, when he was unable to pay for repairs on his pick-up. Of how another of our friends stepped up and bailed him out with a $500 loan. Now he had a family emergency and needed travel money to see his sister down on the coast who was in dire need of his help. He could probably get by on a $1000 but really needed $1500. He hated to hit up his buddies, but since we were kind of like a band of brothers figured it was the logical place to go. And, besides, he would have all of the banking and credit/debit card mess worked out by next week and would pay me back immediately.

It’s been some years since I had a conversation like this. I used to have them on occasion with truck drivers (or their wives). I was born at night, but not last night and my bullshit meter still works. My old friend’s story was bullshit. I told him that I would call him back. I actually took the coward’s way out and said that I needed to run this by my wife. That I would not want her giving $1500 to one of her friends without talking to me first. I owed her the same consideration.

I called the friend who supposedly loaned him $500 the day before. Sure enough, that story did check out….up to a point. He had given him the money. When I told this friend that our “friend in need” had hit me up for money, he realized that he had been taken. He said he knew the folks at the repair shop where our friend claimed to have had his truck repaired. He quickly checked and called me back. Of course, there had been no repair.

I did call back to the “friend in need”. I told him that I hated to be a jerk, but that his story wasn’t adding up. He had kids and family and even an ex-wife with whom he was on good terms (I mean really good terms…friends with benefits good terms.) Had he reached out to any of them for a quick loan? He assured me that they would help him out but he just hated to go to them and he felt silly being caught short like this. Then he quickly started withdrawing his request, saying that he understood and it was no big deal…blah, blah, blah. I told him that if worse came to worse, call me back and I would help him.

In the day or two since those calls, I’ve discovered that my “friend in need” has fallen back into the black hole that is his gambling addiction. Having been away for many years, I did not realize that this had been an issue in the past. I have been told that he has called others in our circle of friends, who knowing the history, have turned him down. I have now learned that he has even exhausted the patience of his kids, his family and his ex-wife. Our “friend in need” is in big trouble. But, he will not admit it and will not seek help. It breaks my heart.

I could get on my soapbox and tell story after story of people’s lives that have been destroyed by gambling. It is a terrible addiction. But we all have our demons. Some worse than others. I’ve written in the past about “living on the edge”. It is a real place and it is real fun while it last. Then it’s over. I will not and cannot judge my old friend. There but for the grace of God go I. I will pray for my friend. It can’t hurt and it might even help. But, I’m not sure that my prayers get through. I’ve seen too many friends and family members fall under the weight of whatever addictive burdens they were bearing. I look in the mirror and see a man still struggling with his own demons. We all break hearts; our own as well as the hearts of those who love us…and even the heart of the One who saved us.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” – Jesus, The Christ (Matthew 12:43-45).

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