Sunday, July 25, 2010


A man is lying on his back, halfway into the street. A well-dressed woman stands over him, making gestures with her hands. It looks incantatory, like she is calling his soul forth from his body. As I get closer I see his cane, his back resting awkwardly on the edge of the curb. Now I can hear what the woman is saying, "Can you roll this way?" Her hands eloquently calling to him. "Can you roll far enough to get out of the street?"

"No," I hear him say. He doesn't sound distressed. Like he's just fine where he is, thank you. "No."

I walk by, only slowing my steps long enough to take it all in, I step over his cane and keep walking. Behind my back I hear a man's voice: "Is everything okay? Can I help?"

Have I sinned against this man, against all of us, by not stopping? I'm quick to rationalize the decision: there isn't much I could do, even between the two of us, we wouldn't be able to move him, he seemed okay with where he was, not many people drive down this alley, there was still room for a car to pass. If the driver could see him.

My neighbors live close to disaster every day. They're out there on that edge: the man with blood running down his face, the woman with the bruised face and missing teeth, shoeless, shaking, crying out. In the morning I can hear voices from my window. It's hard to distinguish between ordinary street person fights and true desperation.

But there are are people who take the time to make that distinction. People who work in the free clinic, social workers, legal aid. I see them out here, too.

At the bus stop, a man with a black eye approaches me. I'm already steeling myself for the usual answer: I don't have anything for you. Is it a sin, my fear? My fear of knowing him, of knowing too well what he needs and my inability to provide it. Or worse - maybe I can give him what he needs, but I don't want to.

He introduces himself as Vince. He grew up here. He wants to ask me a question. Here it comes, I think.

"Do you really, truly believe that we landed on the moon?"

This is of great importance to him. He wants to know what I think. "Yes," I say. "Yes, I do." I don't go on to say it isn't a matter of belief. His face shows astonishment.

"Really?" He says, as I step onto the bus. "You really think that." I watch him as long as I can from the bus window. His hands are in his pockets and he's shaking his head.


Geo said...

I wish I knew how to express how completely I understand this, every word. I have had this interaction with Vince too, again and again, a hundred Vinces, maybe more.

And I couldn't know it any better if I'd walked on the moon myself.

Chemical Billy said...

You are my moon woman, Geo. You understand so much.