John Duckworth: A Recovery Café San Jose Member

By Cindy McCalmont

My friend John Duckworth and I have been talking about the soul recently. It’s the kind of friendship we have—discussing two-toned lobsters one day and the soul the next.

John has a long, grey ponytail, a Texas drawl, and a ready smile that crinkles at the corner of his eyes. “You’re wetter than a well digger’s t-shirt,” he remarked one morning when I came in out of the rain.  John has a seemingly infinite supply of such witticisms and the ability to pull out the right one for every occasion.

John’s also smart. He reads voraciously, but it’s his wisdom that’s truly exceptional. As a person in a recovery, a person who’s lived on the streets, a person who’s played the piano at more Salvation Army services than even he can count, John sees the world with deep understanding.

“What do you think the soul is?” I asked him one afternoon while we were standing outside the library.

“The soul,” he said, “is where the burdens of our past and the hopes of our future meet to create someone unique.”

This definition fits John perfectly. He has burdens from his years of addiction and homelessness, yet he also has extraordinary hope born of his sobriety and faith.

And John is nothing if not unique—able to play the accordion as well as the piano; known to carry cat food in his backpack in case he finds a hungry kitten; who can describe in great detail the smell of gummy bears when you first open the package; who loves amusement park rides, CNN, and physics.

John’s uniqueness has been a gift to Recovery Café San Jose since he became a member over three years ago. He brought down the house in 2017 when he spoke at the Café’s annual Closing the Gap fundraising Breakfast—combining his dry sense of humor with upbeat music he wrote himself.

As a Peer Leader, John facilitates a weekly Recovery Circle and also leads the Friday afternoon Jam Sessions. Last Friday, for example, John could be found accompanying a shy, young man who loves to play the harmonica.

John’s tender heart is his greatest gift of all. It’s his heart that has him living close to his special needs brother, Winston, and regularly making the long trek to a Care Center to visit a friend with schizophrenia. John’s open-hearted compassion enriches the RCSJ community and helps to make the Café’s beautiful ideal of radical hospitality a reality.