The Kids Aren't All Right (but neither are the adults)

In my little corner of America almost everyone is a drug addict. Seriously. You will often see box drugstores directly across the street from each other, and it's hard to find a moderately populous road you can drive down without passing one or two pharmacies every couple of minutes. There are more drug stores here than there are grocery stores, so you might almost start to wonder if people do drugs more often than they eat food.

And that's just the legal stuff.

I don't have any hard statistics, so I decided to run an impromptu survey and ask my high school students what percentage of kids they figure are smoking weed or doing some sort of illegal narcotics, and the general consensus was between forty and sixty percent. From my experience as a teacher somewhat privy to this sort of information, I would say that twenty-five to forty percent of the students are on some sort of prescription psychoactive drug, so it would not be too much of a stretch to say that at least seventy percent of the students at my school are regularly on some sort of mind-altering substance. If you include caffeine drinks, then you could take that percentage up to just about a hundred. And this is in one of the most affluent, ostensibly "Christian" areas of one of the most ostensibly "Christian" countries on the face of the planet.


Sometimes I feel as though I'm in the middle of a dystopian novel. I am not the sort of guy to look around and cluck my tongue and bemoan how bad everything and everyone else is - so don't think I bring this all up to show how we're all going to hell in a gold-plated handcart (although we probably deserve it). I'm just sayin'... something ain't as it should be.

Last week I took a planning period to drive over to a student's house. He is a capitol fellow - the sort of intentional oddball who makes me happy to be a teacher. He's generous and loving and very creatively talented. He also gets depressed sometimes and can't sleep, and for that reason was missing school.

I understand this more than most. I spent a lot of high school depressed. I could feel it coming up on me like a giant, sickly-green wall of goo, and I would usually sneak off to the upper branches of some tree to sway around, sing, cry, and maybe just wonder how much I'd be missed if I were to slip.

I remember this one time when I was in the back of a pickup truck, inside a metal box they had placed over the bed for shelter from the elements.  I was riding home from a youth event with some peers and the green wall caught me and I couldn't get away, so I actually ended up banging my forehead on the aluminum for about ten minutes - to the point where one of the more muscular fellows in there with me ended up offering to help.

Weird stuff, I know, and it is just possible that some sort of happy drug could have not only taken away my bad feelings, but also might have allowed me to avoid some of the bad, destructive habits I formed to cope with them. Maybe then I would have been freed of a lot of the baggage I had to carry for a long time. But maybe not.

It was spirit week at school last week and the theme the day I went to visit my student was "being mauled by a lion". I wasn't too keen on cutting up a shirt and slathering myself with red paint, so instead I dressed in full indigenous Amazonian warrior regalia - complete with spear and monkey-tooth necklaces - and it was in this garb that I was greeted by my bummed student's mom, who had contacted me because she was concerned for her son's well being. I brushed past her startled response and walked over to my student with my spear held menacingly in front of me. "I've come to put you out of your misery", I said, and he laughed.

Then we talked. For about an hour. He told me about the Civil War-era piano of his sister's in the living room,  and when I noticed a thin sheen of dust and asked him if he played, he said she was "really anal" and wouldn't let anyone else touch it. We went up the steep, open steps with the nifty curved banisters, past his toddler brother's room with the floor and bed covered entirely with brightly-colored plastic toys, and then into his room, where we sat and chatted about whatever came to mind.

I didn't have an agenda. I told him straight up that I was there because his mom was worried about him, and then we talked about other stuff. Later, he told me that he'd stopped taking his meds about a week before, and I told him about being depressed in high school. I enjoy this guy and had been really bothered to hear he wasn't doing well, so I was thrilled to be there - thrilled for the opportunity to be a friend. We had a good chat and then I had to leave.

He came back to school the next day. I don't know if he would have otherwise done so, but I do know that I was able to cheer him up quite a bit. I know because he told me, and because his mom wrote a grateful email as soon as I was gone, thanking me and telling me that those were the first words she'd heard him speak in two days.

Could I have used prescription drugs in high school - would they have alleviated my suffering? Yes. Maybe. I don't know. I know that what I needed even more than drugs was not money, or toys, or a smokin' hot girlfriend with money and toys, but rather a friend without an agenda. And even though there were times when I felt as though a broken branch and a quick fall would have left everyone (especially me) a whole lot happier, my friends were there. They were selfish and broken and stupid, but they were also wonderful, and I always knew down in my duodenum that they loved me.

I am grateful that my depression was not so deep that I succumbed, finally, to despair. I am living now through the ugliness of a dissolving marriage, but I am also so full up with joy at the wonderment of an exciting, creative world. I am grateful for the moments I have had. I am also savoring the ones I am in now and am anticipating a great many others with hope. I am living and creating and loving in more meaningful and poignant ways than ever before.

This morning a good friend of mine wrote that a friend of his named Brandon had, in fact, given over to despair and had overdosed. He wrote about what a beautiful, talented person Brandon had been, and how he had gotten my friend through an intensely difficult time in his life with prayer and with love. I cried, reading that. I cried for the suckiness of this broken, ugly world. I cried for a small child in Haiti who, after a short life of poverty and hunger, now lies trapped beneath rubble - perhaps at this very moment breathing her last breath. I cried for my students who, trapped in the wealth of their sterile, museum-McMansions, take drugs and look for a way out. I cried for the desperate gasping of a dying culture, glutting on money and drugging away the pain while the medicine we all need lies all around us like snow... or sunbeams.

We are the solution, and the lonely death of any man is a tragedy for us all, because we all have failed and are continuing to fail each other. God is here in human flesh, and that flesh is me. Again and again I silence God, choosing instead to to worship the tawdry idol of my own selfish momentary desires.

Enough is enough. And the drugs aren't working.


  1. A friend without an agenda is one of the greatest gifts a person can have.

  2. "A friend without an agenda is one of the greatest gifts a person can have."

    I really love this quote from Rob Sharpe. Profound.

  3. Somehow I just came across this Mr. Barkey and I just wanted to say that I liked it a lot... and that I completely relate and completely agree. Hope you're doing well!

  4. Thanks, Mary Chayse. And yes, I am (as far as I can tell).


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