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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Human...


I came across this photo tonight as I was going through my albums. As I was leaving Chinatown one night, I passed this gentleman pushing his shopping cart headed in the opposite direction. I was in a hurry, but pulled out what I had in my wallet and gave it to him. He smiled and thanked me profusely. I wished him a good night. I snapped this photo of him as we parted. I noticed that his spine was crooked and he was hunched over, laboriously walking and pushing his cart, with great strain. I said a prayer for him as I walked away...

I wouldn't see him again, or learn his name, for three years where a chance encounter led me to a conversation as we both walked in the same direction one late afternoon. I slowed my pace tremendously so he wouldn't feel rushed. He was self-conscious about holding me up with his hobbling. I noticed how people gawked at him or averted their eyes as we passed. Vehicles cut their left turn dangerously close to him down King Street, as if his Life was not important. I noticed his spine was much worse than when I first saw him. He lifted up his shirt and let me feel his misaligned vertebrae poking up against and almost through his skin. I really felt for him.

His name was Tony. We formally introduced ourselves to each other with a firm handshake. We spoke about his situation, his many regrets. How he had been attacked many times while sleeping on the street and had so much stolen. He even spoke of a temporary shelter on the North Shore where he used to live, but admittedly failed to adhere to all of the rules, and was evicted. I thought about how many rules in the past I have failed to follow, but it never resulted in a penalty that could cost me my Life. I listened and tried not to be judgmental. We walked for blocks as I pried him for information that I could use to possibly assist him.

He was worn out. He lamented that if he had the ability to get his back fixed a long time ago, he wouldn't suffer so much now. He said all he wanted was a safe place again. To sit in a comfortable chair or couch. To eat snacks and good food. To watch his favorite television shows. He talked about how his belongings and money often gets stolen. How the homeless population used to all know each other and help each other out on the street by trading necessities with each other, or outright sharing what little they had. Now he lamented, there are so many homeless people who just fend for themselves, or worse, steal what you have while you sleep.

I was unfortunately in a rush again, as it seems I have been in a rush for the past 20 years, not even coming up for air, so we stopped by 711 and I bought him food and drinks, and gave him extra money. I let him wait outside while I went in and shopped for him. He kept thanking me profusely, and then was showing me awful looking ulcering sores all over his legs, from insect bites while he slept. I gave him my telephone number and told him to call me sometime and I will see what I can do about helping him find a shelter. He wouldn't give me the name of any assigned Social Worker, or Human Services Unit that may have worked with him, or knows his history. He said they have given up trying to help him because he is admittedly difficult at times. I thought to myself, we can all be difficult at times. 

Tony never called me, and I never ran into him for quite some time, until I was driving and saw him standing hunched over on the meridian between traffic lanes about a year later. His back was even worse, as he is so hunched over now with scoliosis or some other degenerative disease, that he can't stand upright anymore. He survives by panhandling, and is always polite and appreciative.

People will see him hunched over in the blazing Sun and give him drinks or snacks as they drive up to him. They also give him money. It is how he survives. Shamefully, I haven't able to effectively assist him with housing as I had hoped. At least not yet. I check on him when I do see him, and help him with whatever I have on me. I know I can do more, but somehow I fail to do so. And I fail to do so with dozens of houseless people like him who I keep in contact with, as much as you can keep in contact with someone with  no phone, who often change their street address every night. Wanting to do so much for them, but ultimately not doing anything at all. All I offer him is money, food, drink, like everyone else. I tell him to hang in there, that I Love him, and keep the Faith. A little sustenance for his body, a little sustenance for his Spirit, but no sustenance for his Life...

The last time I saw him, he was on the meridian again, in the dark, hunched over on his walker. I knew about a month before, he had tripped on the curb and banged up his back and leg pretty bad. He had shown me when I visited him. Now, in the latest of the night, he was sleeping there, in the middle of the traffic, on the grassy dirt, exhausted, blanketed by nothing except the cold night itself, holding his plastic bags as many McDonald's cups with warm diluted sugary drinks sat around him. Undoubtedly given by a host of people, like myself, who can salve our conscience for a little while, with our compassion and generosity of Spirit, until Life snaps us back into our Reality, our Routine, our issues, our problems, our struggle to stay afloat in these trying times.

So we sit on our couches, eating snacks, watching our favorite shows, out of the Sun and Rain, safe from the street criminality, taking much for granted, seeking bigger, sharper, more colorful, louder, fancier, things in Life to amuse us, while Tony collapses and passes out on his bent crooked walker, with his bent crooked spine, with his collection of warm soda, his plastic bags of half-eaten stale bread sandwiches, dreaming of our couches, snacks and television shows...

Forgive me my Beautiful brother Tony. I really haven't done much for you...to alleviate your seemingly endless purgatory and suffering...

There just has to be a better Life than this...for you...and for us...

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