Friday, October 30, 2009

A haunted man's lesson

There's something to be said for the sliver of time before the day begins, when the sky is still dark, the house is still quiet, and you've woken up before you wanted to and are consequently stuck with only your thoughts as company.

It's where I find myself now, solving the little problems of the day - timelines for getting everyone up and on their way to school, planning the day, trying not to drop anything from the must-do list - as well as the not-so-little ones, like what I want to be when I grow up and how I'm going to get there so I can make it happen for my wife and kids.

It's not always easy, this life thing, and I admit to the occasional moment (okay, maybe two) of feeling overwhelmed to the point that I just don't seem to have the answers or the solutions, and I can't see forward as clearly as I'd like. But yesterday, I was served up a stark reminder of why I shouldn't worry as much as I do, and why despite my own concerns about the future, I really should trust - both in myself and in the world around me - that I lead a charmed life compared to so many others.

The scene: I was cycling home from a television studio, where I had just taped a guest segment for a show that airs next week. Evening had descended, and I rode carefully, deliberately through the new darkness. As I silently cruised up downtown's main drag, I caught a sad scene out of the corner of my eye: a man stood on the sidewalk wearing no shirt, garbage bags scattered around his feet, doubtless containing whatever he owned in the world. Greasy long hair spilled out of both sides of a tattered ball cap. His face spoke volumes about his life: empty, addicted, hopeless. People walked by him as if he wasn't even there, averting their eyes and picking up the pace to put him behind them that much more quickly.

He faded out of my own view just as soon as he appeared, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. It was a cool night - maybe 10 degrees C (50-ish F) - and I had pulled my jacket in a bit tighter to ward off the chill as I rode. And here was a man, shirtless and alone.

I had no answers then, nor do I now. But as I wake up to a slowly brightening sky in a quiet house surrounded by all that matters to me, I find myself still haunted by the sight. I realize my worries pale next to his. I have a home, a family, a life, a future. I have a day to plan, and the tools I need to productively make it through the day. Like anyone else, I'll face roadblocks and loss. But at least I have. This stranger, whose ghostlike image refuses to leave me, did not.

Life. No manual. Not always easy. But so damn precious all the same. I hope this lonely soul realizes it, too.


Mark said...

A homeless person there must truly suffer the elements. Here in Texas they generally can sleep through the night outdoors without worry of freezing to death.

We do have it very nice compared to most other folks in the world. Curious, though... I thought Canada tried harder than the US to make sure nobody ends up like that guy.

Tabor said...

If someone is determined to be helpless and addicted, only he/she can really pull themselves out of that hole. We can only provide the tools and the ladders.

Mojo said...

I had a similar experience in August of 2008 that haunts me in the same way. It was at "Downtown Live", a summer series of mini-music festivals held at one of the parks in the City Market/Capitol District of downtown Raleigh. Moore Square Park, where the shows are held is directly across the street (on one side) from a homeless shelter, and during the warmer seasons the park itself is often "home" for any number of homeless. And as I was trying to fight my way through the crush and listening to Eve 6 try to revive their career, I caught a glimpse of a man who I would just guess wasn't there for the show, but was waiting for the party being held in his living room to end so he could get some sleep. It wasn't hard to figure out, a 30-something (maybe) black man in a sea of white college kids sort of stands out. But it was his eyes that will forever be burned on my mental retinas. Red rimmed, exhausted, beaten. I'll never forget the abject look of defeat I saw there. I've seen plenty of homeless people. Why that one man stuck in my head I don't know. Maybe because I felt like I was the only one who saw him. And beyond maybe a few dollars or an overpriced foot long hot dog, there wasn't a thing I could do for him. Or maybe it was the fact that he wasn't even bothering to try and put the touch on the any of the thousands of people there. No cardboard sign, no pleas for change, he just sat, alone, looking at nothing and waiting for ... more nothing I guess.

Marion said...

Your words are truly heartfelt and beautiful, Carmi. I think sometimes "There but for the grace of God go I"...when I see the homeless. It makes my heart hurt as well.

I wish I remembered more often how very lucky I am to be warm and dry and fed and happy. And that my family is,too.

Klaatu said...

Sometimes, these people are the ones our system have let down. The government has decided that mental health patients should be released and they have no where to go.So they end up on the streets. Sometimes they are victims of themselves. Drugs, alcohol, the past catching up with them.
Sometimes people just want to be left alone and would rather live under a bridge than rely on others. ( that would be me.)

On the positive side,could you show up for a T.V. interview sometime in your dorky bicycling outfit. You know- spandex pants, faux racing shirt, spaz helmet. It would make quite the impression on your viewers.

Cloudia said...

An excellent post, Carmi, that sort of echoes my post for Friday too.

Have a relaxing weekend with your dear family.

Shabbat Shalom & Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral


Awareness said...

Early morning before the sun comes up is one of my favourite times of the day because it is both reflective and hopeful. I'm clear headed then....and often am struck by an image, an interaction that has stuck with me. Early morning, like the end of the day is a time to give thanks and to recognize our blessings all the while remembering those who need our help and need our attention.
There are so many people out there who are disconnected and lost. It saddens me. The other day, I read a line on my friend Pip's blog that has stuck with me since.... it was about how there are 5 people in your life out there whom you love. his question after that statement was... Could one of them be you?

Sadly, there are so many souls who for one reason or another don't have that love in their lives, who can't even rely on themselves. I don't know what the answer is as far as helping these human beings. You can't "save" them. I guess the best we can do is acknowledge, affirm and advocate on their behalf.

Susan said...

A late comment on a moving post. I met a homeless woman a week and a half ago who is still on my mind. She loves to read, is seven months pregnant, and is out there somewhere on Vancouver's bone-chillingly cold and wet streets.

Thanks for caring, Carmi.