I realized after I wrote yesterday about Meera Bai and her work at Insite, the Vancouver safe drug injection site, that she has both a blog called Strong Hands and a Twitter feed — @senoritabai. When I spoke to her on Twitter last night, she pointed me to an article she wrote describing her experiences at Insite, provocatively titled “Why I Help Addicts Shoot Up.” A couple of excerpts:
Something about seeing people at their lowest and most desperate, half-clothed from turning tricks for drugs while hating themselves for it, opens into a profound level of intimacy. I am blessed to enter the darkest place of people whose sins are far more public than those of the rest of us. Constant humiliation makes the people I work with especially vulnerable, and vulnerable in almost every way: to violence, to exploitation, to false hope and finally to despair. When allowed into these dark places, it is my privilege, and that of all InSite staff, to communicate worth and love instead of judgment and scorn.
The day nurse asks me to keep an eye out for a specific participant—a regular who comes in several times a day. She hadn’t been seen yet. Later that night, the woman finally comes in, and she’s beaming. “I went to see my daughter today! And I didn’t use all day! F—, soon I’m gonna get off this s—!” We break out in applause and cheers, celebrating her triumphs with her—as she mixes her drugs to take in a few minutes in our facility. Other participants in the room are excited as well; two of them come over to hug her.
Another regular later chats with me in the treatment room as I dress his abscess, trying not to cringe away from the overwhelming odour he emanates. “It would have been my anniversary with my wife today, if she hadn’t gone missing. We’ve both been down and out, but she took care of me out here. Now, I got nobody to talk to. This is the first human touch I’ve had today.” I look up, startled. I am wearing gloves, holding my breath, cleaning his sores with a 10-inch sterile Q-tip. Even this, my deficient attempt to heal, is taken as love by a man desperate for human connection. I am ashamed.
I finish dressing the wound, clean up, remove my gloves and give him a hug. I hop up on the treatment bench next to him and we sit together and talk for another 15 minutes: about life, love and faith. He says goodbye, and then asks for a referral to an exit program. I give it to him. He knows the referral is merely one point along our journey together, and that I will listen to his story whether he goes to the program or not. As a Christian, I know that his life is part of God’s real story of redemption. InSite is one of the few places where I get to hear it openly spoken, with trust, without judgment.
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Often, participants at InSite are forced to sleep outside at night. Not having a warm, safe bed takes its toll on bodies, and special care is needed for feet. An InSite staff member chats with me behind the desk as he fills up a basin of warm, soapy water. Kneeling on the floor, he gently strips damp socks off the swollen foot of a participant and lowers it into the soothing water.
Washing feet here isn’t an oddity from a discomfiting Bible story, but a regular occurrence. Foot baths are healing—for body and soul. As I fill up another basin, I marvel at the timelessness of this act of community. The humility necessary for all involved in washing feet produces beautiful vulnerability and relationship, which, unsurprisingly, creates change.
But really, go read the whole thing. It’s worth it.