Posted October 11, 2005 in MH Edmonton AB:
Three Poor Men

by Michael Fagan, a former director of Marian Centre Edmonton.

These stories are essentially true. I put them in my own words as I remember them. They were told to me by real people, men I met and listened to and served in Marian Centre.

I don’t know if you know the tremendous feeling it is to own your own farm. To a Ukrainian like me, this was freedom, something that gave me and my family a tremendous sense of accomplishment and dignity. I would never look back, never, never. But tragedy hit my life.

I was in the middle of spring seeding when the tractor broke down. God, how angry I was! I wanted to finish the seeding before the rain came. And to make matters worse, getting it fixed meant going into Edmonton for the part that needed replacing.

My wife told me to do it later, but I stubbornly insisted that the seeding must be done before the rain. I told her to go get the part, and she brought the children along for the ride.

That’s the last time I saw them alive. They were killed in an accident on the highway returning home.

I’ve never drawn a sober breath since then. I lost the farm and ended up as an alcoholic living on skid row. It’s so terribly hard for me to forgive myself and forget.

I was born into a native family on a reserve. I am forty years old.

When I was a small child, the authorities came and put me in a residential school to be educated. It’s difficult for me to describe to you the terrible loneliness I felt in that school.

Oh, I know, my guardians meant well, but in my young mind and heart, I felt like I was in prison. And my parents who I visited during school breaks never understood either. I felt their pain and their loneliness, too, every time I visited them.

I tried running away a few times, but they always caught me and dragged me back. At times I would get a walloping for my truancy or for breaking their rules.

Slowly I grew to resent everything they taught me, including the religion and culture it seemed they were forcing on me. I looked forward to the day when I would be free.

And that’s what it felt like when I got out. I hit the streets filled with the vigor of my frustrated youth, and I was determined to let everybody know how I felt by my anti-social behavior. The way I saw it, I was testing out life on my own terms.

You name it; I got myself into it. Booze, women and gambling were life to me, and I was determined to maintain that lifestyle at any cost.

Inevitably I ran afoul of the law, and back to another prison I went. I was in and out several times before the reality of my tragedy and despair really hit me. Then I’m not sure whether it was anti-freeze or rubbing alcohol that we were drinking. All I know is that one morning I woke up blind.

I was as helpless as a two-year old. And that day I entered a terrifying prison without bars.

Then because I was considered an un-cooperative client, my behavior being absolutely obnoxious at times, most agencies closed their doors on me.

I was a social outcast, a blind alcoholic native who shuffled down city streets crying out for help and friends.

My strong voice became my leper’s bell, announcing my presence and calling to passerby to take me a block. Some did and some didn’t.

I am sure I walked many circles until one day I woke up in the hospital with one leg off and the other foot totally crushed. In my blind drinking state, I had tripped on the railroad track and the train had run over my legs.

So, my friends, that’s the tragedy of my life. I am a poor man, a Job, crying out in distress. I beg you for your love and prayers. I give you my tears.

I was born in eastern Canada of Irish Catholic parents. I graduated from a university with top honors and in my early twenties, I became a social worker.

My first job was in Harlem in New York City. There I encountered poverty that shocked my idealism to pieces. And as I came to love these people, there grew within me the sense that they were trapped in a cycle of despair that welfare programs could not alleviate.

Tired and emotionally exhausted, I applied for another social work job, this time in Chicago. The approach in the agency I worked for there was as close to the ideal as my profession could hope to achieve. I worked with a committed team of professionals of various specialties to alleviate and hopefully eliminate the cancer of despairing poverty in the lives of the welfare poor.

Money was poured into our program like confetti on a bridal couple. A glimmer of hope flickered in me and kept me going as we worked practically night and day to realize our goals. Sad to say, it was not to be.

The violent social revolution of the sixties along with the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Kennedy put an end to everything. The social dream was finished.

When the riots and looting hit our districts, we social workers left. The poor were left to fend for themselves and endure as best they could the social chaos that almost instantly erupted.

I returned to Canada and, after a good rest with my family, I got another social work job in Ontario.

There are people in the social work system who have insulated themselves sufficiently from the pain of those whom they serve. I could not do this. Eventually it got to me and one day suddenly I said, “That’s enough. I’m quitting.”

That’s when my restless pilgrimage began. I moved from city to city, taking any casual job that came my way, just to keep alive. With drink to ease my tired emotions, I became more transient that the transients themselves.

Here I was with a wasted degree and education and a wealth of experience in the social service system, reduced to being a beggar on the streets. Now, in my very bones, I know what poverty is.

I was tempted many times to end it all. But I am grateful to the Marian Centre staff who encouraged me not to give up. I’m not out of the woods yet. I need your prayers. Please do not forget me.

These are just three of the stories I have been told over the years at Marian Centre. Did these stories, will these stories, have good endings?

That Jesus, who is one with these men in the mystery and reality of their suffering, will one day give them the joy and peace their wounded hearts cry out for. This is our prayer.


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