Over the years, I can say that I have watched good people give themselves away to bad things. I’ve watched people move like moths to a flame and witnessed as they lost to life the same way water loses to a drain. I have seen people with good intentions end up on the street and become something opposite of who they truly are.
On the other hand, I’ve watched as others point and judge and act like a jury to a life they have no understanding for. Then again, I suppose we are all guilty of this, —playing judge and jury, that is.
I have met good people that were capable of both terrible and violent things. I have met people dressed in suits and ties and standing tall in the corporate world, —and yet, in all honesty, they sharpen their smiles the same as they sharpen their knives to push into the backs of others in the boardroom. I’ve seen this in both legitimate worlds and with crime as well. Yet, somehow, there is a classification or wait, no, there is a justification that allows this somehow.
There is no difference between color or status. Evil is still evil, no matter what language it speaks. Bad blood is bad blood no matter where it comes from or how deep the pockets go. In the end, I can say I’ve met the devil. I can say the devil laughs because he doesn’t have to promote himself at all. Safe to say, we do this for him.
I have stood in the front of rooms with men dressed in institutional clothing, leaned back in their chairs, stubborn to stay in their lives because nothing else makes sense to them. I have seen men with bodies beneath their belt and crimes that will keep them imprisoned for decades. And somewhere in there is their life before. Somewhere in there was the person they were before their direction spun off into the abyss. Somewhere in there is the person they were as little kids until someone or something came along and stole their innocence with a splurge of something awful.
Did I ever tell you this story?
One morning, I was walking through the tunnels that go from east to west beneath ground in Midtown Manhattan. I was walking where the A,C, and E trains go and headed east, over to where the shuttle runs from Times Square to Grand Central Station. I was on my way to work, the same as everybody else.
This was rush hour. There were people walking the same way traffic moves. People on my right were walking forwards and the oncoming traffic of people was coming at me on my left. The corridor is long and typical of the New York City subway system.
I heard a woman screaming for help. She was blind and her dog was walking in the middle of the hallway. People passed her by as if she were just a fixture in the world or just another crazy lady, screaming in the subways. But she wasn’t a crazy lady. She was a blind woman with a new dog that wasn’t trained to understand the particular corridor.
She kept on screaming, “Please help me,” and I watched as people walked by without so much as looking in her direction.
I stopped and approached. I asked if she was okay.
The woman explained that her dog was new and that the dog would know which way to go once we reached the newsstand at the end of the corridor.
“How can I help?”
She took my arm and asked that I walk with her to the end of the corridor. Then her dog would know where to go once we got there.
She thanked me for stopping and we walked along until we reached the newsstand. it was amazing to me because she could tell where we were. She knew the newsstand was coming up in about in five, four, three, and then she said, “The newsstand is right here in two more steps.”
I don’t know why this was so humbling to me. I think the painful part was the woman’s loud cry for help. I saw her and watched her cry out and yet, normal, or so-called “Everyday” people walked by as if she wasn’t even real. She didn’t even matter to them. I remember thinking, “How cruel have we become?”
It’s a me-first world. Push and shove, get me what I want and get me to where I need to be. Nothing else is important and no one else exists.
This is what the world seems like sometimes.
I thought about the men I’ve met in the correctional systems. I thought about the men I have met that are considered to be monsters in this world. In fact, I have met people capable of violence, and yet, they would have been more apt to help the blind woman in the subway. They would have looked to help more than the usual, law-abiding citizens that passed without even blinking.
I wondered why I helped her. I wondered if it was the way she cried out and the pain I felt each time her high-pitched scream.
I wonder if I helped because I was hoping to find a piece of redemption for some of my personal crimes.
I wonder if it was the humility of not being able to see and being drawn into unknown places.
I wonder if this had more to do with my own blindness — or maybe I helped her because she took on the physical embodiment of the way I felt about my life.
I know what it means to be led astray. I certainly know what it means to lose sight and be blind in my search.
I know what it means to cry out for help and be ignored; as if I meant nothing or as if no one could hear me or even cared to.
Maybe I helped because this was just the right thing to do. Or maybe inside me is this thing we call a shred of decency.
Maybe I have demons in me too. Like I said, I’ve seen the devil. We used to talk on a regular basis and we had lunch a few times on Park Avenue.
I have seen violence and watched a bullet go through flesh. I have been involved with things that when the time comes, if I have to stand before my creator, I will have to answer for a night on the Belt Parkway. I will have to answer for my moments of rage. I will have to answer for my thefts. I will have to answer for my reactions to fear and the greedy substance that fueled my need to gain, feed and devour things in my path.
I know that I will have to answer for my heartlessness and my selfishness. Maybe this is why I helped the woman.
Or, maybe I helped her because deep down, I don’t want anyone to feel so lost that they have to scream.
God knows, I’ve screamed.
I’ve screamed a lot.
Or as I see it now, this is me paying for my second chance at life. This is me paying for the time I woke up on the bathroom floor in a place that was supposed to help me. I almost succeeded.
(Do you even know what I’m talking about?)
I almost achieved my greatest failure with a knot tied around my neck, and yet, there I was on the floor, awoke and survived my own worst grief.
And sure, this is raw. And I get it.
Most people don’t want to hear about things like this.
I get that too.
Fortunately for me, you are not most people and neither am I because most people walked by that blind woman in the pathway. I get why people turn their heads from this. It is the same as why they say demons avoid the light because light exposes the darkness of their deeds. And to hell with religion. This has nothing to do with God.
I once told you that the span of my hate is equal to the reach of my love. This means if I can hate perfectly then I can love perfectly too. In the end, the difference between the two is a choice. I swear this is true because at one point in my life, I was capable of terrible things, which means now, so long as I stay as I am, I am capable of incredible things.
Come to think of it, I remember when someone told me, “You have to get honest and get ready for corporate America.”
I was young at the time. I was trying to find my way.
I laugh about this now. I laugh because I’ve found more honesty in the prison systems than in the corporate world. Most people I’ve met in the corporate world would have walked by the blind woman and not even thought twice. And the people I met in the jails, the ones that most would point at or judge, —they would have done the same thing as me because they know how it feels to be lost or weak or led astray.
Maybe that’s why I helped the woman.
Or, maybe it was just the right thing to do.