In the east end of my city is a methadone clinic, a safe place where opiate addicts can ingest a less harmful substitute under the supervision of doctors and addiction specialists. This clinic is new, operating out of a pharmacy in a residential area.
Concerned residents, led by a university student who lives in the area, are outraged that a methadone clinic was opened without consulting the neighborhood, though it adheres to the city’s bylaw that clinics in residential areas serve no more than 40 people.
The group has taken to photographing the addicts as they come and go, which has, of course, created an environment of fear and shame among those who use the clinic, already prone, as addicts often are, to fear and shame.
These protesters insist that they’re only taking photographs so that “if crime increases,” they’ll have shots of the “likely criminals.”
The media story around this has inspired equal anger on the parts of many citizens, who have sent e-mails filled with threats and accusations to the protesters. An eye for an eye, it would seem.
My daughter started high school a few weeks ago. She left her small, homogeneous elementary school and selected an out-of-area high school with more ethnic and economic diversity than any of the other schools in our city. Across the street from her downtown school is another methadone clinic. Although there’s the occasional rumbling in the community, the clinic and the school have co-existed for a number of years now. Students and teachers insist that the clinic itself has no negative effect on the school, though the drug dealers who hover nearby are less welcome.
Within the school, in my daughter’s homeroom, is a boy we’ll call Daniel. Daniel, to put it frankly, drives my daughter nuts. He chatters constantly, interrupting my daughter’s thoughts and work. He’s loud. While my daughter acknowledges that he’s a “nice guy,” she wishes he’d stop “bugging” her. Already prone to anxiety, she has enough to deal with, thanks.
I preach patience (though I don’t always model it). I suggest compassion. Perhaps, I propose, he’s nervous about a new school, worried — like her — about making friends.
Still, day after day, the stories come home about Daniel’s latest missteps and my daughter’s mounting frustration.
Until last week. On Friday, a counselor came into homeroom to talk to the kids about anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Aspberger’s syndrome and other psychological issues. She came at the request of Daniel, who, it turns out, has Aspberger’s. The counselor outlined what this means for Daniel and how it manifests in his day-to-day behavior. Equipped now with a deepened understanding, my daughter’s annoyance has given way, at least for the time being, to acceptance. Daniel isn’t unlike her, she realizes, dealing with an issue that sometimes overwhelms.
It’s a lesson that not only the protesters across the city would do well to learn, but the people responding to the protesters as well. A situation that should summon our compassion and our understanding has instead provoked fear and intolerance on both sides.
And yet, blocks away within a school smack in the midst of inner-city issues, is a boy brave enough to challenge that intolerance with openness and a plea for understanding.