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12/7/2013 8:03:00 AM
Book offers wisdom from Skid Row

A new book offers wisdom from Portland's streets in first-person accounts.

One comes from a former addict who once paralyzed himself, but says his addiction helped him learn to depend on God. Another man, in and out of prison, began to change only when he once heard someone on the street say about him: "Here comes that damn fool!"

Collector and caretaker of the stories in "Wisdom Under the Bridge" (createspace.com/3611937, $18.95, 318 pages) is Linda Ross Swanson, a member of St. André Bessette Parish who speaks around Portland on mental illness and leads workshops. One of Swanson's goals is to have people save the wisdom they learned from life.

That is the form of her book, which includes cleanly written introductions to intense personal essays by people who have learned to manage addictions and have survived life on the streets. Swanson's founding belief is that we all can learn from these folks who have been kicked around and committed most of the blunders a person can commit.   

"We all make mistakes. We all suffer losses," Swanson writes. "We need assurance that there is life after loss, human or otherwise."

St. André Bessette Church is a key setting for the book. This church in Portland's Old Town is, a former pastor explained, where some parishioners drive Mercedes and others drive shopping carts.

Swanson, who returned to the Catholic Church in 1997 after some decades away, intersperses scripture quotes in her introductions. She makes no secret that she comes from a family of alcoholics and is herself in recovery, which seems to give her writing depth and compassion.

Swanson has consulted many of the neighborhood's luminaries, including Genny Nelson of Sisters of the Road, Mary Sue Richen of Macdonald Center and Holy Cross Father Ron Raab of St. André Bessette.

One chapter is devoted to Holy Names Sister Kate St. Martin, who started ministering on the streets in the 1970s. Sister Kate tells stories like that of Blacky, an alcoholic who recovered enough that he could be a stand-in dad, giving away the bride at the weddings of several young volunteers. But Blacky relapsed, had a fall and ended up in a nursing home. But Sister Kate loved them all, taking no credit, but saying that God gave her the grace to see the face of Jesus in every person she encounters.  

Jesuit Father Gary Smith, longtime street minister and author, says Swanson's book is a good place to start finding out what is in the heads and hearts of homeless poor.

St. Joseph Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, says the book makes it clear that God imbues everyone with wisdom.





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