A few weeks ago I was crossing the hallway from court administration to my office, heading in to do a full calendar of harassment hearings. A man sitting in the hallway caught my eye, waved, and started coming towards me. I like to stop and chat with folks, but I assumed (incorrectly) that he was there for one of my hearings and wanted to chat me up. I tried to walk by but he was too quick.
As I started to rebuff him - I can’t talk with people coming in for hearings, judicial code stuff - he started talking and pulled out his phone. I realized that he wasn't there for a hearing but was waiting to meet with his probation officer - their offices are across the hall from my courtroom. I had sentenced him several months ago and he wanted to give me an update. (I confess I didn’t recognize him… I’m not good at keeping track of all the folks I see.)
He explained that he’d finished treatment and aftercare and was doing great. He excitedly told me about his work, pointing out his work shirt. He’s doing landscaping for a small company and has been entrusted with steady work. He had pictures of a big project that he and the other guys on his crew had done. He showed me pictures of his kids and the mini-bikes he’d bought to ride with them. He was so proud of his life. As we shared stories of kids and work and motorcycles (I have a weakness for two-wheeled fun) it occurred to me that he was excited about his recovery. He wasn’t talking treatment or meetings, abstinence, sobriety, relapse prevention, not using any treatment lingo at all, but he was sharing proudly about his recovery from his heart.
What he was sharing was the meaning and, at the risk of using a spiritual term, the joy of his recovery. We focus so much in my business on abstinence, almost as an end in itself. But I often have conversations with my folks who are abstinent but surprised that they are still sad or lonely. Life hasn’t popped into the bed of roses that we sell or are sold by marketers 24/7. Life is still hard. The connections, whether the family or community or even the neurological type, can be slow to come, slow to stick, slow to bring life.
My friend in the hallway was sharing how proud and glad he was for his recovery, via the language of meaning and connection. Meaning found in hard work, recognition for good work, being trusted. Meaning expressing itself in his fathering. Connection with his children, being present, time together. Play!
It’s a privilege to witness people making their way. The importance of finding meaning, connecting, and presence can’t be overstated. Abstinence gives opportunity for folks to stop numbing and beginning feeling, both the good and the bad. Rediscovering or even starting doing things that bring joy and value is powerful medicine.
I think we can all take a lesson from my friend in the hallway, at least I know I can. Life is best when we’re mindful, present, and connected. We need to be still for a moment, pull out of our busyness and our media saturation (it’ll wait, really, it will), and be grateful for meaningful work, play, good friends, time for those we care about.
Judge Shaun Floerke is a Judge of the 6th District, chambered in Duluth.
He will be giving a "wait list only" presentation on 9/22/2016, titled,
The Profound Impact of Healthy Human Connection.