By Fred Hastings
ARISE held its monthly potluck supper on April 16 at Machias Christian Fellowship, the sponsoring church of the treatment program that has achieved noteworthy success in helping young people from Maine and the Northeast afflicted with drug addiction. While many drug and alcohol treatment programs are clinical-based, this one is strictly grassroots and faith-based, driven by private initiatives and voluntary support.
ARISE’s monthly supper, like its community fundraisers, usually includes what are referred to as “testimonials,” the life stories told by those enrolled in the six-month residential program based in a converted, once-stately riverfront home. The talks are invariably riveting, revealing as they are of just how deep was the black hole in which the addict had found himself. You think you have suffered along life’s way? Wait until you hear these experiences.
The teen or early-20s young man offering his testimony, if not yet fully emerged, clearly has ascended from the deepest depths. This is indicated by his unassuming ability to talk about private things that would, for most, be difficult if not unthinkable to impart, even by those who believe themselves capable of such openness and honesty. In addition, one is struck by the delivery. Here is a person, likely speaking for the first time in his life before a sizable public audience, doing so without reticence and displaying unexpected grace and ease. As the startling words effortlessly flow like water, unadorned, totally confessional, one is led to conclude that they defy restraint and affectation precisely because they rise from such a deep well within the speaker. The effect is arresting.
Despite the searing hardship, in these talks one hears no request for sympathy. Indeed, the table is turned, with testimonial speakers taking full responsibility for their actions, discussing ways to repay past transgressions, and thanking God, Jesus, the Bible, supporters of ARISE and others for their success in overcoming adversity with nary a forethought of victimhood.
At the recent potluck supper in a long-dormant and recently remodeled church in the Kennebec District of Machias, attended by perhaps 75 longtime Downeast residents from around the region, many of whom have lost loved ones to drug abuse, one felt present at a Maine gathering as authentic as one could imagine. Scattered about and chatting amiably with one another were young fishermen and their families, clammers just off the flats, a local barber, a graduate of the ARISE program and now happily married house painter, oblivious and energetic youngsters who scurried about and often underfoot, oldsters with trusty suspenders holding up their trousers and pen knives attached to their belts. All eventually made their way along the makeshift serving table where a helpful woman, perhaps someone who has raked blueberries in her day or makes wreathes in the fall, tended to the homemade dishes placed upon it — baked beans, pasta salad, mac and cheese, dilly beans, berry pies and oversized pastries including brownies, fudge and cookies. Plastic utensils and paper plates were placed adjacent to the only store-bought offering, a bag of Humpty Dumpty barbecue potato chips. No tendency to pomposity here; rather a scene of prosaic life, one refreshingly devoid of posturing of any kind.
At the most recent monthly supper, the testimonials were offered not by participants in the ARISE program, but by its founders, Aaron Dudley, the pastor of Machias Community Fellowship, and his wife, Lisa. For nearly an hour they spoke, in turn, of their early lives growing up in difficult home situations, of the dysfunctional families and negative peer pressures that led them to a variety of abuses including drugs, alcohol, crime, sexual experimentation, abortions, domestic violence — practically all before they completed high school. Religion had little presence in their upbringing, they said, but it proved the one thing, when presented to them, that provided a firm foundation in their lives, replacing others that proved built on sand. Their faith provided a welcome place where they could build back their individual selves, develop their new life together as husband and wife with their children in tow, along with establishing what would become the driving force of their life’s work.
Not a movie scene, not a passage from a novel, the April monthly ARISE potluck supper was high and meaningful real-life drama, an inspiration giving rise to hope at eradicating a grave social affliction bearing down on Washington County, as it is across Maine. It was the kind of event that those who write film scripts and write stories imagine in various forms, much to our delight, but seldom can match in fiction what can only happen in real life. William Faulkner’s words come to mind, not only in this regard, but with respect to the ARISE project itself. Faulkner speaks of writers, but his words apply equally to ARISE’s enrollees and staff, its graduates, its supporters, and those who are fortunate enough to happen upon one of their community gatherings: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help a man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”
Fred Hastings is a retired journalist who lives in Cutler.