“Ryan Holets is 27 years old, and an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department. He is here tonight with his wife, Rebecca. Last year, Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin. When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby. In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: ‘You will do it — because you can.’ He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then, he went home to tell his wife, Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.”
The Holetses listened in the audience with their adopted infant and stood when the president thanked them for their charity. And with that thanks, Trump was on to foreign policy.
The abrupt transition surprised me. In Trump’s recitation, everyone in the story was named except the character whose circumstances prompted the entire series of events: Hope’s mother. Trump’s mention of her weeping and her difficult circumstances seemed to signal that there would be some resolution for her, too, and some moral meaning in what she had gone through. But there was none. And there’s probably a reason. In morality tales about charity, catharsis usually comes from the change a benefactor’s generosity brings about in a needy person, or the righting of a wrong done to that person. (Consider the parable of the good Samaritan, for instance.) Children make excellent subjects for these stories, because it’s easy to engender dramatic changes in the lives of those over whom you have near-total control, and because they can’t be held fully accountable for their circumstances.
With adults, things are more complicated.
Hope’s mother does have a name: Crystal Champ. Champ, 35, was eight months pregnant and living in a tent along a highway with her partner, Tom Key, when Holets encountered her. When that day’s footage from Holets’s body camera went viral, several addiction treatment centers contacted Champ and Key to offer them treatment. But there were challenges. Champ has been through rehab and relapse before, and she wasn’t certain that she was prepared to try again. “I’m scared I’ll get clean and not find the comfort that I find in my life like this,” she told CNN in December. Holets himself drove Champ and Key to a New Mexico airport last year in hopes of seeing them off to a treatment program in Florida, only for Champ and Key to decide at the last moment that they weren’t ready.
Holets has remained in Champ’s life since then, raising money for her and Key’s addiction treatment and living expenses online. Champ and Key are now in residential treatment and appear, via Holets’s updates to their GoFundMe page, to be doing well.
Yet their story highlights some difficult truths about what it takes to help one another. Fast, dramatic changes made in the lives of morally unimpeachable people make for the simplest and most uplifting stories. But real human beings are notoriously morally compromised, and real change often takes long periods of time and repeated efforts to achieve. Moreover, the blameless and the blameworthy are threaded together, in life, in a web of inseparable interdependence. It simply isn’t possible, in most cases, to maximally help the innocent while neglecting the accountable: The two groups are irreversibly entwined. They need one another. We all belong to each camp at various times in our lives, and we always need one another.
These will be important things to keep in mind as the opioid crisis advances and its ramifications become more severe, and as the GOP considers welfare reform in the coming months. When it comes time to mete out benefits, there is always a temptation to act as a moral actuary, preserving programs that serve these innocent sets — children, the elderly, the cognitively disabled — and cutting away at those that help ordinary, working-age adults, who are imagined to have no business needing the help.
Welfare isn’t charity. But when we’re making policy on how to help people, we would do well to maintain a charitable frame of mind: to remember that helping is hard and that it is good; that what someone needs ought to be considered before and above what we think they deserve; that if people can’t destroy their own human dignity even with self-destructive acts, then it follows we should never fail to recognize that dignity in our laws and social programs.
Champ’s story is a tough one, and there are many millions like her who will need the same faithful compassion and support in the coming years. I pray we have the strength to show it to them.