Little steps lead to big steps.

“I’m going on 12 years clean and sober,” said the man sitting in a plain chair. Black molded plastic and four thin metal legs support a man whose journey is one most of us can never envision.

He smiles, his salt and pepper mustache colored with a touch of yellow nicotine above his upper lip — a subtle tell of not being a stranger to a cigarette or two.

At a local community church outreach, homeless and others in need are invited for free haircuts. No questions, only love, a hug or two and a haircut. The event is staffed with volunteers — even those cutting. They are here because they want to help.

What they don’t know, nor does anyone else, are the personal stories sitting beneath the black cloths that drape around each of the guests.

His eyes are bright as the hair stylist weaves his unkempt hair between her fingers, carefully threading strands between the black teeth of a comb as the silver blades of scissors cut a horizontal line.

With each pass for the shears, a new person is being revealed from behind the hair.

“Yes, I did my share,” he said. Alcohol, drugs and other things he’d just as soon not remember, litter his past he tells me.

“But I’m clean now,” he says again, this time as a statement. The words he knows — he’s earned them and knows it.

I congratulate him. He tells me about his path, one of time in the military and bouncing around different areas. But what he knows now is each day is a blank slate and it is up to him to succeed against the odds.

Life is hard. People who fight substance abuse face an even more difficult life — one filled with misguided solutions to pain. Having no one to turn to or anywhere to turn when you need it must be one of the truest definitions of loneliness. And for most of us, we can only feebly relate through our limited imagination of such circumstances.

Around the man is a pool of black and white clippings. He looks remarkable. A transformation is occurring before my eyes. Even his spirit is lifted by his new appearance. Magic is happening.

The next day our paths cross inside a church service — he’s taken me up on my offer to visit. Sitting within feet of where his remarkable transformation occurred 24 hours earlier, he and I visit again. He’s strong, solid and confident.

I notice a silver bracelet on his left arm.

“My brother-in-law was a welder and made it for me when I got clean,” he said.

Slipping the heavy silver object off his wrist, he proudly shares with me. Much like my new friend, it is worn, shows a few nicks, but regardless is strong and proud. The bracelet is more than a piece of beautiful woven metal rope — it is my friend.

President & Publisher of The Galveston County Daily News.

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