The final surrender
by Glen Doss, Major –
The following narrative is excerpted from an upcoming book on the life of Conrad Watson, which he and I are writing. Watson formerly served as the Los Angeles Harbor Light administrator. The account depicted here occurred in 1983.
A man, 44, shuffles slowly down the hall, some clarity returning to his thinking. He glances down and notices for the first time that his shirt and pants are filthy and he hasn’t bathed since…he can’t remember when. But what he is most conscious of is that he is sick, real sick. It seems as if every muscle in his body aches, and a painful gnawing issues from deep down in his gut. Hungry. Very hungry. Stopping at the door of the fleabag hotel room, he slowly turns the key and steps inside, dropping tiredly down upon the cot. Lying on his back, he stares at the ceiling.
Some people can get clean and sober, but I can’t. I’m doomed. I know I’m going to die living like this.
I had the choice between food and the junk. And I picked the junk. I don’t believe I have another hustle left in me. Tomorrow morning they will want the rent money for this room, and again I don’t have it; I will be back on the streets. What am I going to do? I can’t go on living like this.
Conrad closes his eyes, and the muscles of his face relax as he slowly falls asleep. Outside the dusty window, darkness envelops the streets. On every corner women call out to passing cars, plying their wares of feigned affection. Behind the dumpster a man has slumped into a half-sitting position, a near empty bottle by his side. Inside, Conrad sleeps as forgotten memories of a better time dance in his head.
“Gimme all your money or I’ll kill you!”
He is aware suddenly of a knife blade at his throat and a hand pressing upon the back of his neck. “I said, ‘Gimme all your money or I’ll kill you!’” repeats the harsh voice. In the dim light Conrad spies the stocking over the man’s face and knows he means business.
“Man, all I got is a dollar and some change in that drawer there,” he says, nodding as best he can toward a bedside table. Still holding the knife at Conrad’s throat, the man pulls out the drawer and grabs the money.
“Where’s the rest?” he demands. “I mean it! I’ll kill you, sure as I breathe.”
“Man, you don’t want to do that. I don’t have no more. Think: would I lie with a knife at my throat? Look around. I don’t have anything. I’m just a poor bum trying to survive. I ain’t got the rent for this place. I’m going to be on the streets come morning. That’s how broke I am. I ain’t got nothing!”
With an epithet the man snorts: “I’m coming back. And if you don’t have more money, you’re a dead man!” With that he storms out.
Conrad’s whole body trembles. He knows he is fortunate; the man might have killed him. Yet, as many times before, his street smarts had kicked in, enabling him to survive. But he is so tired. I’m doomed to soon die—of starvation, sickness or violence. I’m going to die living like this. Then for the first time since he was a child, he finds himself upon his knees. Tears streaming down his face, he pours out his heart to God as only the dying can do.
God, please help me out of this trap I’m caught in—the heroin, the alcohol, the violence, stealing, hustling. Is there no hope for me at all? Or am I doomed to die in this vicious lifestyle? Please help me! Tell me what to do!
Then a quiet, reassuring voice sounds within his heart: Go back to the Harbor Light, to that safe place. It’s not too late—to live right, to learn to live clean and sober, to get right with God. Humbled, Conrad trembles at the voice of hope.
Eventually, sitting in the Harbor Light cafeteria, the broken man sobs like a child. Others notice, and, embarrassed, Conrad flinches. Though he summons all his will to stop, he cannot. So grateful for the food before him and the warm shower he knows is coming, he cannot help but shed these tears of joy. He is so appreciative of the shelter, the clean sheets, the simple things that for so long he has taken for granted.
And Conrad wonders about that still, small voice that sounded so clearly in his heart: “Go back to the Harbor Light, to that safe place,” and recognizes it as the voice of God. He realizes God has been gently pushing and nudging him toward this end for some time. He makes up his mind that from this moment forward he will bring every major decision before God and seek his will. He has finally surrendered.