I saw a man tonight who broke my heart and challenged my ethics.
It was on the drive home from my Denver office in the middle of a wet, icy, snow storm, just as daylight turned into darkness. I was safe, warm, comfortable in my car singing the song ‘Heal’ by Allison Moorer – ‘no matter how I try, I end up on the ground, another orphan waiting in the lost and found, over and over, I take it on the chin, fist up to the world, fighting a fight I can not win’…… ‘help me lay my weapons down, help me give the love I feel, help me hold myself in kindness, help me heal, remove all of the false, and show me what’s real…….’ I know, kinda preachy, a bit of a victim tone? Ah, but her story reveals a deeper truth – her abusive father shot and killed her mother and then himself, she then, left to find them on a hot August night at the age of 14.
And then, there he was, walking across the street, right in front me as I sat at the red light. His gait disrupted by a contortion of his legs and feet, tangled up heading in a contrasting position to the direction he was going, and only a flannel shirt as a poor protector from the weather’s beating. His long hair, curly, wiry, worn up on top of his head where the wet snow collected like a crown.
It all happened so fast. He went by. The light changed, and my eyes lingered on him, watching and wondering how he’d gone so unprotected, where was he going, what was he thinking, how did he feel the cold, what hurt, what could I do to help?
The loud horns of frustrated cars pushed me on, as I drove debating my options. I had no cash on me, no winter coat or blanket in the back of the car, if I picked him up, then what?
And yet the impetus - Just simple, a natural inclination to reach. Quite the opposite of the everyday fight for space that I engage unwittingly, propelled by a biological protective reaction. I wanted to savor this generative reflex, it indicated something good, in me, in him, in all of us. The impetus that does not wait for story to tell the senses what to do.
If I walked in front of you and suddenly collapsed, you too would have this impetus, to reach. I don’t imagine you would check your calendar first, or let your implicit bias for or against white fifty something women, or ask if I am republican or democrat. It would be an uncategorical reach.
I miss that.
And I missed the moment of tonight’s natural inclination. I did not know what to do. I did not circle back. I did not pick him up. Well, not literally, but obviously, I am here now writing about him. So, in some sense, “I picked him up”.
I drove on, and on, knowing that some distance would distance my heart and relieve my lack. I wondered at the disparity, at my assumptions about him, at my responsibility, at my heart that could not deny the perfect ‘storm’ if you will: The priming with Allison’s lyrics and resonate voice moving memories into meaning, the dark, the cold, the sudden struggle we were all facing in the affluence of our cars, and the human being so exposed, exposing me.
I drove. I sang, “help me lay my weapons down……show me what’s real”.