The good old days where I grew up weren’t always so good. In the late 1960’s
Lawrence earned a well-deserved reputation (along with Beverly and Springfield) for having the highest percentage of junkies
in the state. Junkies were so common in Lawrence’s old neighborhoods, there even existed a certain “junkie chic.”
Users had a style of dress and behavior. Pushers strutted around with pride and self-satisfaction, as if they were successful
entrepreneurs or rock stars. I knew beautiful girls that were attracted to junkies and sought them out. It seems incredible
now that this loathsome, diabolical habit was cool; but it was a statement of disenfranchised youth.
Thinking back to that time, a popular song by Curtis Mayfield called “Freddie’s
Dead” resonated with me; it portrayed my own feelings about the everyday lives I observed and the dissolution of the
inner life of the old mill city.
could be such a beautiful world
a wonderful girl...
can’t we be brothers?
it makes me furious,
Freddie’s on the corner now...
you wanna be a junkie, why?
Why are drugs so seductive? Even the happiest, most well-balanced person can feel existential
loneliness, even on the happiest day of their life. What do I mean by existential loneliness? I have always remembered an
old “Star Trek” episode from several years ago where, an alien in spirit form, came to the earth on some sort
of mission to satisfy his curiosity. He wanted to inhabit a human body to see what it was like. Somebody on the Enterprise
crew let him enter their body. Once he found himself inside, he started too weep uncontrollably. When he came back out of out the body, he was overcome with sorrow for human beings: he had not been able
to feel the beauty, mystery and active participation in the universe. Existential loneliness is the default ground of people’s
being, the place they live inside themselves which is debased from their natural higher selves.
It doesn’t matter that this feeling of separateness and isolation from the universe
itself is illusory. The philosopher Alan Watts says, “In the same way an apple tree ‘apples,’ the universe
‘peoples’.” We are indeed active participants and truly connected,
we just can’t feel it. And herein lies the problem.
Pain is the human condition. We must all- sooner or later- face separation, sickness,
loss of friends and family, old age, and we all have to die. Philosopher and guru Ram Dass once said that suffering existed
even inside the Playboy mansion- he had stayed there. But suffering itself is
not nearly as much of a problem as the lack of meaning that modern people experience in their lives.
I used to ask some of my old doper friends what heroin feels like. The answer
was inevitably something to do with heaven. One guy actually told me he felt like “God’s son.” He had found something to fill his existential separateness, and he assured me that heroin does this very
well- even better than sex. No wonder
then that people steal from friends and family, sell their bodies and destroy their lives for it.
If life is sad at times, if we are filled with doubt, or paralyzed with fear, the way
is forward. Viktor Frankyl addressed the question of meaning after he survived
the Holocaust, during which he experienced the murder of his family. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning,” he
used the Holocaust as an existential laboratory to examine the reactions of people under the most wretched and brutal conditions
imaginable. He told the world that even under these conditions, some people were nevertheless able to find a sense of meaning
The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun. In the old days, heroin
and meth were the epedemic. In the 1980’s it was coke. Now it’s heroin and cocaine, with meth use accelerating.
But even the worst hard-core dopers I knew from the old days- people whose whole life was getting high- had a fearful respect
for crystal meth. And with good reason. It may be the worst drug of all.
If you want to see what they saw. If you want to impress upon your kids the dangers
of this drug, go to a website called “faces of meth.” Here you can show kids what meth is capable of. Here you
can see unretouched “before and after” photos of beautiful, healthy girls turned into toothless, wasted hags.
Young men in the prime of their lives that look like starved refugees. When I gaze at these pictures, I hear Curtis Mayfield’s
lyrics, “If you want to be a junkie, why?”
We all must find our own way home. And there is much to be learned during our
brief visit on this planet. In the words of Viktor Frankyl, “The door to life opens outwards.”