By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
There is so much chaos in our midst. As we see a light at the end of the tunnel and start to feel free from the shackles of this pandemic, we need to seek out a deserted place to renew our spirit, recharge our battery and reflect on the things that are most important to us.
These past 18 months have been challenging. We have seen so much suffering, so much death, so much pain. For many of us, over the past few weeks we have been fortunate to reconnect with children, grandchildren, parents and good friends for the first time in more than a year. It’s overwhelming because we are beginning to realize that we have to create a new normal.
Hopefully, this new normal will cause us to value human connections over things; to see the importance of the people in our lives and to try to live every moment to the fullest. Hopefully, this new normal will underscore the importance of human relationships and the need for us to be respectful of all human beings no matter what their social circumstance, their sexual orientation, their race, religion or ethnicity.
As we begin to embrace this new normal, may we appreciate the sacredness of all life at all stages; may we also appreciate life’s fragileness and respond appropriately. We never know the time, the hour or the day that life as we know it might end. So, the challenge is to live life to the fullest, to make every moment count and to communicate to the people we love how much we love them and how important they are to us.
During this pandemic, I have seen so much pain and suffering, so much senseless death. I have deepened my appreciation for the people who give of themselves every day in healthcare and mental health — for all the essential workers that have sacrificed so much so others might live.
This past year has made me appreciate how hard life can be for so many who live in the shadows of mental health and addiction. Recently, I buried a 35-year-old recovering heroin addict who died last year in the midst of this pandemic. He spent the better part of his life in active addiction and destructive decision-making. He was lost and couldn’t find his way. Finally, he made the decision to embrace the road to recovery.
As he began that journey, it was very difficult. He had a number of stumbles along the way. He committed himself to a long term, nontraditional residential treatment program that helped him to change his life. He discovered a voice he never thought he had in poetry. It helped him to see life with a different lens. It empowered him to discover spirituality that helped him to cope with some of the potholes that he encountered along the way. His mother said she discovered a son who she thought was dead and found a son that, at first, she did not recognize. She saw laughter, compassion and concern for others. His new voice provided solace for so many and she found peace of heart. Although brief, she had reclaimed a lost son who was blessed with three years of a wonderful life.
This young man was doing well but like anyone who carries the cross of addiction, it took only an instant for him to disconnect and lose his life. The world is better because he walked among us and shared his new voice of hope, love and life. However, he is also a powerful reminder of how fragile life is and we do not know the time, the hour or the place when life ends. His life is a powerful reminder that we need to live each moment to the fullest, to become the best version of ourselves and to leave this world better than when we found it.
Addiction is like a cancer spreading out of control. People do recover and reclaim their lives but we have to do more to support those who are struggling on that road to find their way.
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.