“It’s my life! I’m not hurting anybody else.”
What amazed everyone most was that John* seemed so sincere when he said it. He really didn’t seem to realize he was hurting people all around him.
John obviously loved his family. He was, in fact, remarkably sensitive and thoughtful. He saved his money to buy his mother a figurine she admired. He cleaned the garage for his dad. He was consistently kind to his brothers and sisters, especially his sister Becky, who was two years younger.
John had walked Becky to school when she started kindergarten, let her wear his baseball caps, and listened to her talk about cute boys. The day she registered for junior high school, he showed her how to open her locker.
John’s problems had started in the seventh grade when he tried marijuana. He soon moved on to a variety of drugs. Despite his family’s prayers and counseling from both the bishop and professional therapists, he continued to use drugs. He also began a life of flamboyant immorality. “Hey, I’m not hurting you. And I’m not hurting them. Every one of those girls knows what she’s doing. What we do doesn’t hurt anybody else. Besides, we’re careful.”
John’s whole family continued to love him and to look for ways to help him. Becky especially was close to him, and he was close to her. When Becky married Hal, John immediately put his arm around his new brother-in-law and said he would always be there if they needed help. And he always was. He drove out in the rain to help pull their stalled car off the freeway. He helped clean the house when Becky was pregnant. He brought wonderful little surprises to his nephews as they came along. Sometimes he simply showed up with a bag of groceries and fixed dinner.
Then, suddenly, Becky needed a lot of help. When she became sick one summer, the doctors found that Becky’s constant cough stemmed not from flu or pneumonia, but from cancer. Chemotherapy had little effect.
The cancer was spreading so rapidly the doctors said Becky’s only chance was massive radiation. But radiation strong enough to kill all the malignant cells would also kill the healthy cells in her blood. The healthy cells could be replaced by a bone marrow transplant, but the donor needed to be a person genetically similar to the patient, usually a brother or sister. When Becky explained the situation, each of her brothers and sisters hurried to the hospital to be tested for genetic compatibility.
A few days later, the entire family went to the hospital to learn the results. They sat together in the waiting room, watching anxiously as the doctor came toward them carrying a file folder and one of the blue cards the lab technician had made for each family member.
When Hal asked if there was a match, the doctor said, “Possibly.” Then he asked which one of them was John. John stood, and the doctor asked if he would come with him for a moment. They disappeared into a small office. When they returned, John sat dejectedly at the end of a long couch. The doctor explained that John was the only member of the family whose genetic pattern was a close match to Becky’s. He was, in fact, an excellent match—but he couldn’t be a donor, at least not for six months.
John’s blood test showed no infections, but his history of sexual activity and intravenous drug use put him at high risk for AIDS. If he were infected, he could pass that infection along to his sister. The doctor explained that there is no test for the AIDS virus itself. Only the antibodies produced to fight the disease can be detected, and those take six months to develop. The hospital would continue to look for another good match, the doctor said.
But Becky didn’t have much time, certainly not six months. Within a few weeks the cancer was so widespread even massive radiation couldn’t stop it, and Becky was gasping for every breath. A friend, watching her labor to breathe, expressed his anger with John. Becky simply explained, “I knew when the doctor first told me about the tests that John’s lifestyle would make it impossible for him to help me. I forgave him then.”
Hal made funeral arrangements and tried to explain to their children why Mommy couldn’t play with them anymore. Becky’s parents cared for her grieving family.
And John? In some ways, his life changed. Yet his addictions and behavior patterns are so strong he has been unable to change them completely. But it’s been a long time since anyone has heard him say, “I’m not hurting anybody.”