I pulled into the driveway, and people crawled out of the half-opened garage like cockroaches. One girl came up to the windshield and asked Step, “Whatchu want?” Moments later, she came back with a tiny, clear bag, and they swapped product for capital. That was the first time I saw crystal meth.
Step was a homeless man I met while studying in college. I was 19 at the time, and I invited him to stay the night at my apartment so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets for a night. I had just started to take my faith in God seriously, and I wanted to take my belief into action. After years of self-dependence, Step felt he had to fight the world alone, and he would only go to sleep when he had money in his pocket. So that night, our mission was simple: get him money, go to sleep.
Before we set out, he assured me that drugs were in his possession, even if they were in my car, he was the only one liable for the crime. I’d never seen or done drugs before. I’d never even had a sip of alcohol. I had my own problems, but the drug world never appealed to me. Having no knowledge of drugs or the laws that govern them, I moved forward, dead-set on helping Step. I had no idea I would be one mistake away from being mugged, shot down, or locked up. Nonetheless, as we pulled out of the driveway, we began our descent into the night.
Step made a few calls to some of his dealers, but call after call, he came up dry. We parked in a gas station lot, and he was frustrated, disappointed, and ready to give up. I bought him a $2 scratch off to lift his spirits, and the $200 it turned into did the trick. The gas stations wouldn’t exchange it for cash, so Step traded it for drugs, and the real rodeo began.
Driving him to-and-from pick-ups and drop-offs, I saw the dark corners of the drug arena that were hiding in plain sight: fast food restaurants, apartment complexes, alleys of shopping malls. I saw a man spend his last dime to get high before he returned to the five-by-five storage locker he lived in. I waited in the middle of meth motel lane as Step went door-to-door as a crystal salesman. I found hives where dealers and their peons cooked and sold product. Looking back, I wonder how I wasn’t found out—I was a skinny white kid in a red Toyota sedan. I stuck out like some Poindexter at a downtown club.
When we returned home, I felt like a champion. I pushed past my fear, turned a failure of a situation into a success, and helped the person I set out to. I slept heavy and happy and woke the next morning to tell my friends the story. While I expected to be met with hips and hoorays, they gave me blank stares and dropped-jaws. “You did what…?” As they told me about the legality of it all, the horror and shame set in. I felt like a neon sign materialized above my head blinking “FELON, FELON, ARREST ME, FELON”. I was paranoid, mortified, embarrassed because something I did to help was totally and completely illegal.
Funny enough, the week before, I had invited another homeless man to live with me long-term, and ten months later, he ended up robbing my apartment, taking duffle bags of valuables and pawning them off (you can read that story here). Looking back on that year of my life, it’d be easy to believe what I did was a complete failure. Knowing what I know now, there were dozens of decisions I would have made differently for both of these guys (and for my criminal conscience). But I’m actually happy I did it exactly the way I did it. Not because I did it anywhere close to “right”. Rather, I’m happy because I didn’t just think about helping—I actually got in there and tried. I didn’t sit back in the pew of my church and save the heavy lifting of loving difficult people to missionaries and monks. I bucked up and set off into the unknown. And even though I failed big, I failed while playing big.
So many people who wish to do good spend their life imagining valiant deeds but never test them in reality. While they spare themselves the risk of failure, they miss out on the thrill of risking for something that matters. In the end, I’d rather be the fool in the arena with scars from passionate pursuits than be the scared soul in the stands with nothing but dusty dreams and forfeited fantasies.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; …who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.