Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Away and Back Again

Highline Park (please note terrific
mohawk photobomb)

This is the third of three parts describing a recent trip to the Oregon desert and then to New York City. Here is part one.  And part two. 

After the Revolutionary Love conference I did touristy things for two days.  I gawked at the Flatiron Building and the Statue of Liberty. I ignored a certain Tower, and I took a picture next to the defiant girl statue, but not the charging bull. I sniffed flowers at a farmer's market and stood in the wind on the Highline. I ate really well and I got a sunburn. I waited in line for longer than I expected to in order to see the Daily Show, and it was worth every minute. I saw ads in bus stops that showed pictures of bombed out buildings and urged us to make a disaster plan before it was too late.  I passed statues of people I did not recognize (Roscoe Conkling?) and people I recognized but whose New York connection seemed somewhat murky (Gandhi?). I made a short pilgrimage to Ground Zero and still could not fathom it.
Right before I saw this,
I had literally just given money
to a guy dressed like the monk
who is pictured here. 

And I went to a May Day rally in Union Square, along with several hundred other earnest people. I walked around, taking it in. There were some speeches (which after the conference I had just attended seemed kind of bro-heavy) and some music from the stage, and OFF the stage people making theater and music and speeches of their own.  There was every kind of costume and sign imaginable.

And I saw an African-American man, passed out on a sidewalk.  I know he was passed out and not just sleeping, because his friend was trying to wake him up.  He was shaking him, and patting him on the face, telling him urgently to wake up, wake UP, man. I remembered Pastor Jacqui's sermon, her exhorting us "not to step OVER the homeless people in our neighborhood like they are PART of the ARCHITECTURE." I was holding a half drunk water bottle so I knelt down and offered it to the friend.

I believe that this sign holder
believes this.  And I believe that
sometimes our ideals are
easier to hold in the abstract

than to live into in reality. 
The friend poured some on the man's head, tried to help him drink some, told him to go home before the cops came. I sat down on the sidewalk, not at all sure what to do, and regretting (not for the first time) the untaken first aid classes. People walked by with signs, talking into phones, squinting up at the sun. If they did look at the man on the ground, at the man trying to revive him, their eyes held...what was it?  Mild disinterest. Pity, maybe. Or contempt.  The cops did come. And they called an ambulance, which I understood from the friend would cost the man $2000.

I joined the effort to wake him, shaking him, talking to him.  He looked up at us a couple of times, one time even sat up for a minute, then fell over again before we could catch him. And in that whole crowd, no one stopped. No one in that crowd of activists, lovers, human rights proponents offered to help. No one touched him.  When the ambulance arrived and the paramedics were loading him onto the stretcher, he looked up at the face of his friend and spoke for the first time.

"You. I don't like you."

"Yeah, I don't like you either," the friend replied without rancor.

And then he was gone, loaded into the ambulance.  An unlikeable drunk. A child of God.

All I had left was questions. Could I have learned his name? Could I have prayed out loud? Could I have tried to get help from the people passing by? And what kind of help was needed anyway?  What happens to a guy with no money when he gets carted off to dry out in a hospital somewhere? Could I have gone with him to the hospital with him to find out?  Could I have tried to pay the ambulance bill, which was just a little more than it cost to frolic in the city for a week?

I didn't do any of those things. I stood still for a minute in that swirling, swelling crowd and then I really wanted to find a place to wash my hands. As I walked out of the park, I tossed the empty plastic bottle into a bin.

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