Jon Harkings spent many years living in the dark world of addiction, disease and loneliness.
Heroin hooked him, his girlfriend abandoned him, and infection nearly killed him. He has learned both the hardest and most-heartwarming lessons about life.
“I have had to hunt through that darkness to find the light,” said Harkings, 40, who often returns to Lawrence to remind himself both of his past and the role Lazarus House played in his recovery.
And most recently, he was there to literally repay the generosity of the Lazarus House staff.
“I had never used the needle before, until I met my (now) ex-fiancée,” Harkings said. “She was a recovering heroin addict and I fell in love. I felt the only way to get closer to her was to try it. And I regretted it.”
When the two came to Lazarus House two years ago they needed food, clothing, personal items and kindness. They also needed money for a need likely unusual for the Guests we serve.
“In our mind we wanted to have a baby, even though we were addicts and we really had nothing,” Harkings said. “We wanted a child, but my blood type is O-negative and hers is O-positive.” They came to Lazarus House for food, personal care items and hoping to get the $20 needed for a medication that would protect the baby from what is called Rh incompatibility.
“They are just big-hearted and warm people and it didn’t matter the condition we walked in with or why we were there,” Harkings said.
“I gave them clothing, showers and meals,” said Community Resource Specialist Miguel Cruz. And for the sake of an innocent child, Cruz reached into his pocket and gave the $20 with few questions asked.
But there is no quick, simple end to addiction. Like many, he found himself near the bottom when he first came to Lazarus House, and for a time he only descended further into what he calls “last place.”
His fiancée became pregnant but had a miscarriage. Their relationship fell apart and, in a fight, he said, she stabbed him with a needle. The resulting abscess brought him near death.
“They were giving me last rites,” Harkings said. “She called me and said I am never coming back. I burst into tears. Nobody was there for me. I know what loneliness is.”
It took time until, as he puts it, “I lit a fire under my rear.” He eventually returned to Lazarus House and began the slow journey toward sobriety.
“I steered him in the direction of a recovery center, got him into a shelter and gave him a lead on a job possibility,” said Cruz.
Today Harkings is sober, employed and has a bank account. He also has a need to repay.
“He had a day off and did not know what to do with his time,” said Cruz. “He thought ‘Why not visit someone who gave him a helping hand.’ He said that was me.”
“He went into his wallet and said, ‘Here is the $20 we borrowed.’ He shook my hand three times and said, ‘Thank you, you saved my life’.”
That is why Harkings felt the need to show up and pay back.
“We are supposed to be kind to each other,” Harkings said. “And it’s not always there. Kindness is hard to find, but it is out there.” It’s at Lazarus House.