Years ago, Simon and Garfunkel produced a smash hit called “The Boxer,” a song about a young man’s struggles in life. This blog is dedicated to “The Runner,” my athletic young son and his own struggles. In my previous article I talked of Aaron’s athletic giftedness in his youth. Speed and elusiveness made him a very unique performer. On the football field, Aaron was like a white version of Barry Sanders: shifty, fast, and explosive. Once he got around the corner, there was no catching him-he was bound for the end-zone.
Over the years, however, as Aaron became entangled in drug abuse, I witnessed him running in a much different way. He was no longer running from opponents on the field of play, but from the law: police officers pursuing him in an effort to bring him into custody. Strangely, as a grieving father aware of Aaron’s life threatening addiction, I found myself rooting for his pursuers, wanting him to be caught for his own well-being.
One morning, a female deputy appeared at our door with a warrant for Aaron’s arrest. Aaron was in bed when she arrived. We awoke him and informed him of what was coming down. As Aaron emerged from his room, he asked the deputy if he could get some t-shirts from his room to wear to the cold confines of the Ingham County Jail. The deputy obliged. I went into my room to get some additional t-shirts for Aaron for Aaron to wear to the jail. I then knocked on Aaron’s door, offering him my shirts, but there was no answer. I opened the bedroom door to discover he was gone! His window was open and he had jumped two stories to the ground. The runner fled, and was clean out of sight in short-order.
Clearly angered, the deputy tried in vain to find Aaron, but was unable to locate him. Later that morning he returned to our home and lied down and passed out from exhaustion. Though it pained me to do so, I called the Sherriff’s. Moments later, my son, the runner, was arrested in my bedroom. The female deputy had returned with another officer, who pulled his gun and pointed it at Aaron as he lay in my bed. This image remains in my mind to this day. In my bedroom, our teenage addict was hand-cuffed and taken from our midst to jail.
Another dark night will always remain in my memory, as drugs continued to run rampant in Aaron’s life. It was a cold, brutal Michigan winter night, with the temperature below zero. Aaron had another warrant out for his arrest due to drug offenses and the cops were on their way once again. Just before their arrival, the runner once again leaped from his bedroom window and fled for places unknown. The Sherriff’s came in large number, along with police dogs. They searched the surrounding neighborhood for an extensive period of time, unable to find Aaron. Finally, a frustrated deputy told us they were leaving due to the extreme cold, knowing Aaron would eventually come back home (he didn’t even have a coat on).
The runner did return that night. Looking out my window, I saw a dejected figure, the image of my young son walking slowly up our dark road. Amazingly, the runner had raced to a sub-division a mile from our house and as the cops and dogs approached, climbed into a garbage can at curb-side and pulled the lid down. The cops and dogs were right next to the garbage container, but couldn’t find him. Ever-fast, ever-elusive, the runner had escaped the law, returning home in a nearly frost-bitten condition and in great discomfort. What to do now? Aaron was back, in our home, hurting and in pain. Our parental instincts told us to take him in, minister to his hurt, love him. But he was still bound to drug addiction and his life as a result was still in grave danger. The runner was a heroin addict, and our family was in turmoil.
I called the police, reporting that Aaron was back in our home. Law enforcement officers returned late that night, and the tired, hurting, dejected runner was taken away to jail once again. There were other times in this wild period of our lives when Aaron ran. He tried to run from police while on probation one summer night in downtown Mason when his car was pulled over. Wearing flip-flops, the runner couldn’t gain too much speed, and after falling down, he got back up and started running again as several officers closed in. At close range, Aaron was tasered in the back by a Mason cop, who shot him 3 times, dropping him to the ground.
Then there was another morning I recall. Aaron was scheduled for an appearance in Circuit Court, and it was certain he would not be returning home with us-he would be going back to the Ingham County Jail. How I dreaded those court dates! Drug addiction is a disease which jail time cannot cure-but what else is there? As his mom and I escorted him to the entrance of the court building, the runner suddenly pulled away, just as he had in so many football games in days gone by. Away he ran, in pouring-down rain, down Kalamazoo Street in Downtown Lansing. Like his opponents in football, I knew I couldn’t catch him. His mother and I appeared in court without the runner, another warrant was issued and he would once again find himself in jail.
Aaron was labeled in the court system, ironically, as a “runner.” As a father, I had witnessed this kid run in football games through the years, and his exploits brought me great pleasure. Conversely, seeing him run from the law brought me great pain. The obvious question, as I look back on those stress-filled days, is this: what was my son running from? The answer to this question is manifold. Obviously, Aaron was running from the consequences of his drug use. He dreaded jail, a place where he was treated as a vile criminal-lodged with murderers, rapists, armed robbers, drug dealers, and the like. In jail, he received minimal help for his addiction and psychological issues.
But Aaron wasn’t just running from the consequences: he was running from the cure. From age 15 to 21, he simply did not want to change. He did not want to give up the drugs which temporarily relieved his pain, and ruled his life. He, quite honestly, was not yet ready, or willing, to quit. Aaron did not think he was able to conquer this “demon” that ruled his life, and so he kept on running, much to our dismay.
Aaron was also running from himself and the painful issues in his life which he had come to believe were insurmountable. He was wounded. He had experienced enormous pain in his young life which he could not understand. And finally, Aaron was also running from God-The Lord he had trusted in at an early age, but had allowed painful circumstances to enter his young, fragile life. And so he did what came naturally to him as an athlete: Aaron ran, for 7 long years.
Aaron was, and is, a child of God, and like the Old Testament prophet Jonah, Aaron, the runner, was finally captured by his loving God and was brought into submission. Jonah was one of the original “runners.” He rebelled against God’s calling and tried to run from God’s presence. But God “tackled” Jonah, swallowing him up in the belly of a whale (a place far worse than the county jail). The new Jonah emerged from his captivity to do God’s Will. The runner was tackled, and great things resulted in the aftermath. Likewise, my son, Aaron, the runner, was “tackled” by God. “The runner” was brought into submission and Aaron surrendered.
Surrender, I believe, is the key word. It is only when the addict reaches this point of giving in and yielding to change and recovery that they will truly find peace. 10 ½ months clean, my son, the runner, is headed up-field today on the gridiron of life. He is scoring touchdowns every day in his life of recovery. And the wild stories of his past-and ours-serve as a ray of hope for families torn by addiction!
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