I originally walked right by Bob who was holding himself up by leaning against a pole and supporting the rest of his weight with a walker at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street. I crossed the street but couldn’t stop thinking about what his story was. I turned around and went back and placed ten dollars in his hand.
“I’ve got a bad lower back which is inoperable,” Bob shared. “I fell down a flight of stairs in 1977…each year it gets worse.” There was something special about Bob, I don’t know if I knew exactly what it was immediately but I did perceive something really unique. I have to admit that when I first walked by him I assumed that he was panhandling to get some money to buy booze. But I would soon find out that he has been sober for nearly 25 years.
Part of me doesn’t want to write anymore and just tell you to watch the video I shot of him. It’s one of the most moving videos I have shot of any of the people that I have met. Bob opens up to me about being adopted, an upbringing void of love, 30 years of addiction to alcohol and a slew of drugs, family hardships and 20 nervous breakdowns. His vulnerability and genuine candor will touch you. I have watched this video probably a dozen times and forced my dad to watch it this weekend. He too was in awe.
Bob tells me that he has good days and bad days. Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in a depressed state. I definitely caught Bob on a good day. No less than six people stopped by, I kid you not, and said hello to Bob while we chatted. Two or three of them made a specific comment about how happy he looked. I’d like to think I was a part of that, but he might just have been having a good day. If you were curious how many people stopped to say hello to the guy who gives away $10 every day…that number would be zero!
He goes into a lot of detail about drug induced binges he embarked on in the 60s and 70s. “I just wanted to drink, shoot dope and have a little sex occasionally,” he told one psychologist in the early days of his recovery attempts. After dozens of failed attempts at sobriety he finally succeeded with the help of others and will be celebrating 24 years of sobriety on October 16th of this year. I asked him if I could see him on that day and he said that that would probably be OK. “So what’s the secret to finally beating the addiction,” I asked. Bob looked down for a second and then looked up and said, “Well, you just have to do two simple things: stop drinking and change your whole fucking life!” He managed a smile and laughed softly despite him realizing the bitter and all too familiar truth of what he had just said.
At one point a stunningly beautiful young woman stopped by and said hello to Bob. “Are you going to play piano tonight?” she asked referring to an open mic session at an outreach ministry based coffee-house. She had hoped that maybe he would play some music that she was going to bring but Bob said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that. “I just know a few notes,” he humbly offered. “I was hoping to play a song tonight that I wrote. It’s a love song I wrote to my daughter. I love her so much.” He went on to tell me more about his daughter and it was so clear how much he loves and cares for her. He lives in the basement of her house but their relationship is clearly strained. He says that she has an alcohol addiction. “There is always hope, look at me. It took me 30 years though.”
I spent almost two hours with Bob. I learned so much and every topic we spoke about he had something interesting to contribute. I am so impressed with his overall attitude toward life. “Desire nothing and you will have everything,” he says referencing the teachings of St. John of the Cross. “Buddha said something similar, ‘Human desires are the cause of all human sufferings.’”
I hope that you took the time to watch the video above. It’s worth it and if you know anyone who is struggling with an addiction or even well into recovery I think they will find it very insightful. One thing he says about recovery at the end of the video clip that I think is priceless is, “It takes time and a lot of alcoholics don’t want to wait. It takes time, it’s a process, recovery is a process. They want what they want when they want it. They want it right now. They want 15 years of recovery in a month. It doesn’t work that way. You got to be patient.”
As we said goodbye he left me with a single thought. “Tell someone today that you love them.” Invaluable advice.