Friday, November 12, 2004

Encounter with Absolom

"0 my son Absolom, my son, my son Absolom! Would that I had died instead of you, 0 Absolom, my son, my son!" (2nd Samuel 18)

Last Sunday night, I got a call. It was one of my son's AA friends. Paul had been more depressed than usual lately, and had swallowed a bottle of Tylenol. He then panicked, and called his buddies, one of them an EMT. They rushed him to the hospital....

Paul is nineteen now, and after graduating from high school five months ago, was faced with his mother's remarrying and leaving the city, effectively throwing him out onto the street. He has a good job, waiting tables at an Italian restaurant, and is staying with friends. But the living arrangement is temporary, and this is his third since graduation. He is trying to "find himself," as the saying goes. It's been a hard search.

I've been renting a studio apartment for the last ten years, having spent the last fourteen trying to support two households. I would have loved to be able to just go out and buy a place big enough for both of us. But nothing like that happens right away. Try telling that to his mother. And even if he lived with me, the fact is that he is no longer a child, and must still face the challenges that accompany the coming of age.

Sometimes, when you find yourself retreating into "the dark place," it only takes one more thing, and....

I threw on my clothes and rushed to the hospital. He was still in the ER when I got there. Since he was no longer a minor, I needed permission from him to consult with his caregivers. I convinced him that his interests would best be served if I was totally in the loop. They believed they caught him just in time, and while preparing to give the antidote by IV, were hopeful that the damage to his liver would be minimal, if any.

After staying with him a couple of hours and getting him settled down, he drifted off to sleep. I went to my car in the parking lot, and kept my vigil there, in the hopes of being available at dawn the next morning.

I awoke before eight, and rejoined my son in the ER, just in time for them to take him to a private room. We were joined by a nurse, a "watcher," to ensure that Paul would do no further harm to himself. My conversation with him was enough to convince me that such was no longer an issue.

I was there on Monday and Tuesday evenings. I could hardly concentrate at the office. Conferring with his mother was important, given her knowledge of his medical history and experience with hospital work. But it seemed as though she still had to be calling the shots from four hundred miles away. Not anymore, I assured her; she lost that prerogative when she left town. Paul said he would consider coming to live with me. I told him it would take awhile to find a place, and that he would have to move away from the suburbs outside the Beltway, and into town.

He got out of the hospital on Wednesday, and I was there to take him to the county social services center. I haven't been able to get him on my health plan up until now, but for the moment, his immediate needs are taken care of.

Paul is a brilliant and talented young man, whose innocence was shattered by growing up in what we used to call a "broken home." Being a "good Catholic" and attending church every Sunday does not spare one the pitfalls of the human condition. Paul has not been to church in over a year. But AA has provided him with a spirituality of sorts, and he prays -- down on his knees, literally -- twice a day. He used to draw a comic strip about life with Father -- "The Daily Dad," he called it.

He also reads about Thomas Aquinas, in a quest for meaning to his life. He's also earning a reputation as a local hip-hop artist. That conjures up images of decadence, but I've learned that the genre is more than that. He has even worked the Angelic Doctor into one of his works, telling his listeners how "curiosity didn't kill the Catholic."

Paul grew up in a Byzantine Rite parish along with his mother. With a spirituality similar to that of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, I found the perfect book for him; Steps of Transformation: An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps, by Father Meletios Webber. With insights into the Twelve Steps of AA, combined with the writings of the Eastern Church Fathers, Paul seemed to appreciate it.

But the road to daylight is a long and winding one. After visiting the clinc, he went to join his friends who rallied around him. I went home, alone.

Meanwhile, I have spent the remainder of the week getting caught up. And wondering what might happen next, and how it is I managed not to fall apart. I wish I could tell you it was my faith. I am not without it, but its presence appears as the wind in the willows, what Isaiah remembered as "a still small voice."

But never mind me. Pray for my son. Please.


Domenico said...


Rest assured my prayers are with you and your son. He's very blessed to have a dad like you.

Anonymous said...

I am a music major in college, looking up information on the text "Oh Absolom, My son" and I came across this blog.

This is a truely moving story, and I wish the best for you, and your son.
When all else fails, Music will bear all of your emotions which are unattainable.

Listen to a recording of "When David Heard" arranged by Eric Whitacre,