Friday, February 11, 2011

Mumbling strangers in our midst

I've spent enough time living and working in relatively large cities to have developed a sixth sense for trouble. I can feel it more than I can see it, often from blocks away, which gives me more than enough time to find another way to get where I need to go. I'm heartless that way, and it disturbs me to no end.

And so it was today, as I walked back to my car at the end of the workday. I spotted him when he was barely a speck. It didn't take long to realize he wasn't all there, as he shuffled oddly from one leg to another, and carried an empty 1.5-litre plastic pop bottle in his right hand. His salt-and-pepper hair was curly, wild and long, backdropped by an equally salt-and-pepper overgrowth of beard. He spoke to himself, then in my direction as he realized our paths were about to cross.

I couldn't make out anything he was saying. I got the sense that merely hearing his own voice was enough to keep him moving down the street.

As he walked toward me, he looked straight at me and for a blink, seemed like he was going to approach me directly. I adjusted my path to stay on the other side of the street. Part of me was thankful the brutal cold of the past few days and nights had eased, so at least he could mumble and wander in relative comfort. The other part of me felt guilty that I had avoided him at all. I had followed my own instincts to avoid potential trouble with a troubled stranger, and in doing so I wondered if my avoidance, slight as it was, had even registered in his mind. I figured he was used to it, but it still gnawed at me as I got into my car, locked the door and headed for home.

Before long, I found myself walking into a house whose front door was crowded with a barking, wiggly dog, huggy kids and a really beautiful wife. I realize the unfairness of a world where some live in warm homes with happy families while others wander the streets, confused and alone. I get that mental illness claims more of us than we dare admit.

I don't have any magical answers to the random cruelties of our planet. I just wish I had a response more elegant than pure avoidance.

Your turn: Thoughts?

[For more thoughts and perspectives on strangers, please click over to this week's Thematic.]

7 comments:

Vicki said...

Ahhh ... is it truley mental illness ... or could it possibly be, that for so long some have had so little contact with others that the sound of their own voice is the only thing that keeps them going ...

Dawn said...

Oh my heart is in this exact same predicament. I'm not sure how one "fixes" it.
I know I am blessed incredibly...but why? And how does it go around...if it can at all?
Why me and not him?.......

A Paperback Writer said...

It's not always a treatable mental ILLNESS that manifests itself in such a way; sometimes it's an incurable condition. I'm no expert, of course, but we have a self-contained special ed class at our school. The kids in that class will never "get better" or "get over" their mental conditions that make them seem a bit unapproachable. Of course, the rest of us at the school are used to these kids, who sometimes dance about and/or shout or mumble to themselves in the hallways during break times or before school. They don't seem "scary" because we know them, and we know they may very well be expressing joy and not sorrow.
However, if I saw someone else behaving that same way on the street, I might avoid that person as "scary."
Again, there's woman who lives in my neighborhood who has obvious mental disabilities. There must be someone who keeps an eye on her, but she's able to go out alone sometimes, walking to the store and such. At first she was a bit "scary," but then I got more used to her and realized she was harmless.
I think that's the thing, really: when you KNOW the mentally different person, they may not be as high on the "avoid list" when we can predict their behavior a little more.
That's not much of an answer, but it's the best I have at the moment.

Bob Scotney said...

I was anticipating a photo on the 'Strangers' theme when I first saw this.
Unfortunately these days we tend to pass on the other side and not get involved.
There are people like this in the UK too.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Avoidance is due to fear, maybe some ignorance mixed in? Fear meaning that the person may act out physically? or may break down crying... or worse, beg ... I know that would run thru my head...No apology Carmi, its human nature reaction...can't fault that..

dennisthemennis.co.uk said...

well at the very least you noticed him, what more could you actually do ...

Gilly's Camera said...

uncomfortable....is an OK emotion to live in