Sunday, July 29, 2012

When you come across a broken man...

Please leave me alone
Montreal, QC
July 2012
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I came across this tragically lost soul as I walked through a neighborhood on downtown's eastern edge, a place that couldn't seem to decide whether it wanted to gentrify itself beyond its currently gritty reality.

When I first noticed this man, a woman was standing over him, asking him repeatedly in both English and French if he was okay, if he needed help, if he wanted her to take him somewhere safe. After a few verbal attempts, he finally waved her off, telling her he didn't need anything from anyone. I'm guessing he was sleeping off the last of that afternoon's beers - that's a can of Old Milwaukee beside him - and felt safer where he was than anywhere else.

Eventually, she realized he wasn't budging, and she disappeared back into the late afternoon crowd, leaving him to roll back over and return to whatever passed for rest in a life that seemed to offer none.

I don't come here often, but when I do I seem to have this habit of crossing paths with society's lost souls - here's Exhibit A. I'm not entirely sure why. I don't necessarily seek them out, but when I do see them, I can't help but raise my camera and record the moment. Exploitative? Perhaps. Should I have followed that woman's lead and made an attempt of my own? Honestly, I still feel guilty that I didn't even ask.

But I realize the world can be a broken place in so many ways, with enough broken people in it to overwhelm even the most tough-minded Good Samaritan. We pick our battles, choose where we can do the most good, decide when it makes the most sense to dive in, and when to save our efforts for another day, for someone else. I wish we all had enough reserves to help everyone, in every way. I wish resources were limitless. I realize life doesn't work that way.

As I slowly lowered my camera and walked toward the Metro (subway) entrance mere steps away, I wondered if on this day I had made the right call. I'm guessing I'll never know.

Your turn: How do you decide when to help and when to leave it for another time, another person? Does it ever overwhelm you?


15 comments:

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I leave it up to my gut as to whether to help someone... lately, I have come across some homeless that literally get in my face and ask for money... My daughter was in New Orleans and a woman approached her and asked for money to go to a 'shelter'... she told my daughter it cost $5. My daughter gave her a $1 and the woman replied " didn't u hear me? I said it was $5".. My daughter responded by saying " I have a dollar, u can have it or deny it'... the woman took it... I realize some homeless are desperate, but what happened to manners and humility? being homeless does not excuse crassness.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

btw, I never heard of any shelter asking for money from the ones in need!. hmm, makes u wonder, doesn't it???

Tabor said...

I think it is somewhat exploitative to post it while it is not exploitive to take it for yourself. Not sure why I feel that way, but I do.

Pamela said...

I recently learned that even when you do the right thing, you can be accused of wrong doing. I'm heart sick.

In today's culture, it is difficult to do anything.

Daniel Hans said...

You call him, and people you deem to be like him, "lost souls". Certainly it is not a place you would choose for yourself, and in his shoes you would consider yourself "lost", however, when he declines help, perhaps he is exactly where he wants to be. Whatever the reason.

Steve Gravano said...

It's hard to know what help is. They ask for money for food, but buy drugs or alcohol. As KALEI'S BEST FRIEND observes in her daughter's experience in trying to give a dollor to someone in need. Sometimes the best help is to not give money that might aide in their addiction, instead make a donation to an org. Most have professionals that know how to help those that are ready to overcome their problems.

Daniel Hans said...

You call him, and people you deem to be like him, a "lost soul". Certainly you would not choose to be where he is and in his shoes, you would be "lost". However, when he declines help, he may be exactly where he wants to be... whatever the reason.

Daniel Hans said...

You call him, and people you deem to be like him, a "lost soul". Certainly you would not choose to be where he is, and you would be "lost" if in his shoes. However, when he declines help, he may be exactly where he wants to be. Whatever the reason.

Thumper said...

You didn't do anything wrong by not offering him help; you'd already seen him wave off help from someone else. He was where he was by choice and didn't want to move. I'd call it respecting his choice, not walking away.

I'd be more curious about his story. Is he really a lost soul? Or does he know exactly what he's doing and why? If you've ever walked around San Francisco and seen the huge numbers of seemingly homeless people panhandling, it might surprise you to find out that a lot of them rake in six figures a year for their efforts, and live in very nice homes out of the city.

I'm more likely to offer help to someone if I have a feel for their story. Closer to home there are those who hang on the corners with signs asking for help...watch them long enough and listen, and you can get an idea who's doing it because they just want to, and who is desperately in need of kindness. I'll make an effort for the latter. But I'm so jaded to the former...

Kalei's Best Friend said...

@Steve: I agree w/your comment but when one is approached by someone 'in need' the natural reaction is either to give or to ignore them... this woman seemed to pick my daughter out of the others that were on the street.. funny how this woman did not ask my other daughter for money...

Kalei's Best Friend said...

@Daniel: Sure, he may be where he wants to be... calling him a 'lost soul' is not a mean term.. to me it means someone who has not found his way or has no one who cares about him.. If he chooses to be alone/homeless the person observing is making a personal/general judgment that comes from logical thinking.

mmp said...

our hearts are becoming hard... well mine is

pray to God our hearts stay soft and that we continue to question...to ask those tough questions....to be hurt... offended that this even happens....to be filled with pity...

to want to change something and not to know how to is not a bad place to start

Jeremiah Andrews said...

In Montreal (downtown) you can't really walk anywhere and not see someone asking for money. And some of those people have pets as well that need to be fed, in addition to the human.

Some people on the out can be downright belligerent and swear at you as you walk down the street. I usually ignore them.

It's the kids that sit out front of the Provigo with pets and help signs that you just can't avoid no matter where you walk.

If I have extra cash - I might buy a meal for the kids on the corner, instead of giving them money.

Random acts of kindness are part of sobriety, and when I can I do that.

I've seen panhandlers sit on a freeway ramp and beg with BUCKETS to fill, who it turns out both husband and wife have a huge house and kids - they just panhandle because they can bilk people.

I know that some homeless in our city are there by choice and do not want to get out of poverty they come into our meetings every night and take coffee and cookies, but they remain homeless and destitute by choice.

Most of the homeless in my section of town I know by their faces because they haunt the same sidewalks and churches.

We can't save them all. And most don't want to be saved. Once lost in the world of addiction it is a sickness of mind and body, and if they are to get out of that, they need to want out, and you can't decide that for them. It has to come from them themselves.

Jeremy

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

You have photographed an arresting moment, Carmi. I felt awkward when I snapped a quick pic of a man bedded down for the night under a bridge in Philadelphia a few years ago. I think, since this is your blog and not created for profit, it is okay to have taken and posted the photograph. It is somewhat essential to the conversation here; certainly it evokes strong emotions.

I worked in our church office over the past few weeks and noticed that as the end of the month drew ever closer, there were more calls and drop-in visits of people looking for help. Were they legit (truly in need)? I think some of them were. Certainly some people abuse the system -- I've seen tag teams of 2 or 3 who operate their business on street corners. I've been the recipient of verbal abuse by panhandlers on city streets in the past -- but I also recognize that some folks truly do not have the means to save themselves from the current economic storm.
I can't help them all. The ones that tug at my heart, I try to help with a little money, a sandwich, or even just looking them in the eyes and smiling. The woman you observed did this very thing, and since you had observed it, I believe you were respecting his choice and honoring his humanity by not pestering him.

I was once downtown with a preschool group, and a man called out one little boy's name. I'm glad his mother was with us; it turns out it was her brother-in-law. He had indeed chosen to live life on the streets. He knows the family is there if and when he wants them, but he is living his life on his own terms.

H said...

This picture brings up a serge of emotions for me. I think of the many broken men and women that I know and pray that if they were in this predicament someone would offer them help. Of course, if help is denied, there's not much else you can do.