lots of pain – but alone or together?

Journeying Together
a man and graffiti

I spent time today contemplating two images of bleak, down-and-out existence. One (from the film Una Noche) was based on life in Havana where the grim realities of a few young people leads to a foolish gamble on an ocean trip to a better life (I wonder if they knew that you could also paint a pretty grim picture of life in Miami?). The other was the opening chapters of Gabor Mate’s bestseller on addiction, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Neither provided cheery stories, but one key distinction shone through.

The lives of the young people in Cuba were lives of meaningless and alienation. A bond between brother and sister was just about the only ray of hope. There were very few connections. Families, neighbourhoods, workplaces – all seemed to be based on individual survival and mutual exploitation. Life had no centre – nothing but their hopeless context was shared “together.”

Mate’s book has an equally grim context – the true lives of addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where “the insulted and the injured” (as Mate borrows from Dostoevsky) are given space and a taste of community by the Portland Hotel Society. Here all manner of addicted people, most of whom will quite likely never “recover,” find at least some consistent relationships. At one talent evening, a long time resident with no poetic aspirations just comes to the mic and begins, “This is the only home [I’ve] ever had…”

Two very bleak sets of circumstances – one very big difference.

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