Dear Friends and Family,
Last week, Danny passed away after a long struggle with alcoholism. Of all the people our ministry has known, he was my best friend. I always looked forward to hearing from him, even when he’d been drinking and needed help.
When we met Danny in 2011, he and his family were living in an apartment without gas or electricity. They were basically camping. They cooked over a Sterno. They ate fish they caught in the stream behind the grocery store, and they slept on the floor beneath mounds of blankets. At one point, they even kept chickens and turtles in the apartment for entertainment and to sell to their neighbors. Their manner of living shocked us, but there was not much we could do. Their bills were thousands of dollars overdue, and we just tried to help them survive the winter.
As we got to know Danny, we learned about his alcoholism and tried to help him on the long road to sobriety. A bad drinking bout would leave Danny sick on the couch for days. When he came to, I would take him to McDonald’s for lunch and sit with him for hours in a government office so he could enter a rehab program. Once he stayed sober for a year and a half. But inevitably an argument with a family member or an invitation from a friend would lure him back to drinking. I’ve lost count of how many times we went through this dreadful routine.
Alcoholism is not the defining quality of Danny’s life. Like all of us, Danny was a beloved child of God and also a sinner. God gave Danny many wonderful gifts through which he blessed the world. His family called him “The Gentle Giant” because of his immense stature and child-like demeanor. His optimism combined with his sense of humor made him a joy to be around. We often laughed together at the way he called me “Bryant.” He liked to tell stories about his grandchildren, who are the same ages as my children, and we often prayed together for healing and strength.
It is rare to see meekness in a person who has lived such a hard life. Frequently, people who live hard lives become hardened themselves. Sometimes they even pride themselves on it. Not Danny. He remained hopeful and generous despite his difficulties and repeated failures.
During his periods of sobriety, Danny made great efforts to repair his relationship with his daughter. They were estranged for many years due to his drinking, but their reconciliation is one of Danny’s victories over addiction. He also spent a lot of time with an elderly neighbor, running errands for him and keeping him company while they watched television. He tried to help Simple House too. He would ask to help with odd jobs around the house to combat the ever-present boredom and temptations to drink in his neighborhood. He worked alongside our college spring break groups and accomplished a number of painting projects for us. While working, he was jovial and light-hearted, and his good attitude made the work go quickly for everyone.
My last interaction with Danny was not a positive one. He lied to me about getting kicked out of a transitional housing program, and he died a few days later. He did not die sober.
In some of the lowest moments of his life, Danny begged on street corners for change to buy alcohol. We’ve all met people like Danny, and we are usually unsure if we should help them. Sometimes we want to develop a “one size fits all” policy that will ease our conscience but keep us from getting too involved. We think something like, “I’ll give McDonald’s gift cards or provide the location of the nearest soup kitchen but nothing more.”
Having a policy enables us to keep the poor at arm’s length. When we only engage the poor with policies, we become bureaucrats and the poor become problems to be managed rather than real people.
Scripture tells us, “Avert not your eyes from the poor” [Sir 4:5]. For a long time, I thought this meant, “Don’t look away from a beggar, because that’s rude.” But a deeper meaning could be, “Behold the humanity of your poor brother or sister.” The beggar deserves a place at our tables and in our hearts.
Danny had hopes, dreams, regrets, and disappointments which were unknown to many who saw him every day. He was not respected in the eyes of the world. Drinking and drugs are common in his neighborhood, but even his neighbors looked down on him. Once, while I was sitting with him in a hospital room, a security guard from his building strolled in and berated him with vulgar language for drinking so much. Danny just lowered his eyes and said, “I know. You’re right.”
Danny did have something valuable: a certain humility that came from knowing his weakness. Danny’s humility was attractive and made him easy to get along with. This may have been his greatest quality. The Bible praises this kind of lowliness. The Blessed Mother proclaims that God has “cast down the mighty… but lifted up the lowly” [Lk 1:52]. There is still hope for Danny to be lifted up. I pray that God will look upon Danny’s lowliness and bless him with mercy when he stands before Him.
Thank you for your generous support which has made my relationship with Danny possible. Through him, I have learned a lot about the way God sees and loves each of his children. I hope that through our friendship Danny felt a little of the immense love God has for him.