When Henry Ricketts jumped head first into a septic tank to rescue a toddler who’d fallen in, it was a clear to me something was different. Emerging to spit a mouthful of ingested sewage, he went under once again and finally came up with the small unconscious body of a little girl. Mouth to mouth and minutes later, Kylie Lafferty was awake and thankful that she would see her third birthday because of the selfless efforts of the man, a drug addict, released from prison just two weeks ago.
I would like to meet Henry some day.
I know many people with no criminal records or addictions who would have done much less.
This is a true story not widely covered in the press. Sure, there was a thank you ceremony in which Henry and two others received commendations for their valor but Henry’s fifteen minutes of fame are over and he will fade into obscured memory and an unimportant uphill battle trying to rebuild his life and reputation after prison without drugs, a changed heart, and a scarlet letter.
But nobody will really care.
Admittedly, I know very little about the events that lead to his arrest and conviction, nor can I predict what he will make of his life from here on out. But a mouthful of sewage certainly changes things. Some addicts experience change at such a deep level I can say with complete confidence, that they become the most heroic humans on the face of this planet.
Drugs make people selfish pigs. I know first hand. Yet the inverse is also true.
People who quit using to enter a lifetime of recovery are some of the finest, most genuinely humane people you will ever meet. Ever. They try harder at everything. They take risks of life and limb for others that put the rest of the human race to complete shame. They have an uncanny sense of what is truly important. They are genuinely the best, most loyal friend you can make, and yet they are rarely able to shake the branding acquired during their days of using and criminal behavior. I know this first hand also.
Like a scarlet letter A, the ever recovering addict has a public past which may never escape the notice and scorn of family, friends, neighbors, employers and those in his future. I sometimes wonder if this humility-producing fact is the reason why truly recovering addicts are so consistent in character over time. The awakening experienced upon getting clean has few parallels. It is a long suffering, selfless condition that creates the kind of humility that makes one willing to dive into a sea of sewage for a complete stranger while others take smartphone pictures.
When I contemplate this story and the action of Henry Ricketts that day and despite his heroism, the near vertical battle he faces two weeks out of prison to redeem his character as an ordinary citizen, as a recovering addict myself, I know he is not at all ordinary.