It is safe to say that I have met some unkind people. It is safe to say that we see this all the time too. We definitely see this on the 5 o’clock news. We see this at work too. We see people who lead through intimidation or people who speak with sarcasm.
We see people who laugh at someone else’s expense and, yes, everyone knows a bully or two – or maybe even three or four. If we’re being honest, it’s safe to say that we see mean people do mean things all the time. Better yet, we’ve somewhat become numb to the fact that mean things happen all the time.
It’s just part of life, right?
I know there is kindness in this world. I know there are people who care and who do not need to promote themselves nor do they have to push others down just so they can rise above.
I know that there is good in us all. But for some reason, I know that we have these defense mechanisms. I know we tend to build walls over bridges and that we forget how wars can be expensive.
I can say that I have witnessed cruelty. Yet, in the worst or toughest of places, I have met people who would appear to be closer to natural born killers than angels in disguise. But the heart inside of these co-called monsters are more brilliant than the sun.
Trust me on this.
I have walked among the so-called regular, everyday, citizens who are the so-called civilized in our society. I have seen people turn a blind eye and pass the needy or someone in distress. And I get it. This was in New York City. I get that “nice guys finish last,” or so the saying goes. But what I saw was hurtful to me.
I was walking up from the 8th Avenue entrance, underground in the subway, and making my way towards the shuttle train that goes from Times Square to Grand Central Station.
There is a long hallway that goes slightly uphill and then downhill.
The foot traffic here, especially during the commuting hours, is busy to say the least. You see all kinds here. You see the average business person in their average business attire. You notice the regular people, the young people, or the regular middle aged. You see all walks of life and all backgrounds, ethnicities and people from all different social or economic backgrounds.
Not everyone is an angel here nor is everyone a devil in disguise either.
This is just a sea of people.
I was walking uphill at the start of the long hallway, people watching, of course, and noticing the faces of others – when all of a sudden I started to hear a scream that was coming from behind me.
This was a call for help only this was the humbling kind. This was a shriek from a woman who was vulnerable, who couldn’t find her way, who also had no control over the moment and while yelling for help – everyone walked passed this woman as if she were nothing more than a tile in the flooring,
The woman was blind and, to paint a picture, she was somewhat short with short curly, almost fro-like hair that was salt-and-peppery. She was older with wrinkled skin, as if to show her years on earth were long and full. She was grandma-like too and humble which I suppose is why her loud screams and pleas for help were troublesome to me.
Her seeing-eye-dog was new to her and new to the route which she took on a daily basis. The dog was unaware of which way to steer the woman and with all of the people buzzing past, I suppose she knew she was in the middle of the corridor and the dog was meandering in a way that she was uncomfortable with.
“Help!’ she screamed.
“Will somebody please help me? My dog doesn’t know which way to go.”
I ran over and asked how I could be helpful. The woman explained that her dog was new and that the dog did not understand her daily routine. She explained that at the end of the corridor there was a newsstand and that once she reaches this point, the dog will understand which way to go.
I allowed my arm to which the woman wove hers around mine. We walked and, while this began, I noticed the odd faces of passers-by who witnessed like spectators, shocked to see someone like me, in a tank-top, tattooed from shoulders down, somewhat long haired and bearded to which I was once told that in certain attire, I appeared more “biker-ish” than professional.
Maybe I have an accent. Maybe the way I speak is different from the so-called corporate mold. Maybe the way I look is neither prim nor proper; yet, I certainly passed those who fit this look of prim and proper and they walked by this woman as if she was nothing more than an imposition.
The woman and I walked to the newsstand and separated from there.
But this was not over for me.
No, this was hurtful to me.
I thought about the humbleness of life. I thought about the times I’ve watched people bully others. I thought of the fights I’ve seen on the subways or the arguing I’ve heard in boardrooms or near the proverbial water-coolers at work.
I thought about the times people used the most commonly misused word in the world, which is “kill” as in “I’m going to kill you!”
I thought about the casual hostilities that I’ve seen volleyed back and forth. I swear I have seen people grow entirely too comfortable with being cruel and not being held accountable for their actions.
I thought about the so-called monsters or the people who I spoke with on a weekly basis in my groups at the jail and at the homeless shelter and how the people I speak with are often looked upon with stigma and shame (right?)
This is what I recall.
I told this story to the members of a group called Breakfast with Benny, which was a Sunday morning group in a county jail. I was telling the story of what happened and how humbling this was. I was angry to see people walk by the humbled woman as if she were nothing. To me, I saw this as an outrage.
In the back of the room was a man who had spent much of his life in prison. If asked, I am sure people would describe him as monstrous. I am sure that people who knew him might define him as “bad” or “cruel” and yet, he was crying too. This was a person who knew violence both personally and intimately and he shouted out: I would have done the same thing as you!
I am as God made me, said someone to me.
And I understand this from different perspectives.
I understand this from a situation of repentance. I understand this from a station of acceptance. I understand this from a moment of awareness; as if to define me as a person; as if to be a hunter, and as a predator afraid of being prey; or as if to recognize my position in this life and the choices I have made. I say this in recognition of the sins and cruelties I have committed.
I am as God made me; as if to say that I admit to myself and to the world – this is who I am and this is what I’ve done (or not done) and this is who I hope to be (someday) in spite of myself or my best and worst efforts.
I explained this to a group of so-called crooks and criminals and junkies and drunks – at least, this is what they are called. Yet, they understood my viewpoint. They understood the uncomfortableness of vulnerability and the humiliation of not being in control of their life. After all, isn’t this why we behave the way we do? Isn’t this why we learn defense mechanisms in the first place?
Isn’t this why the saying “Protect yourself at all times,” remains to be true?
Isn’t this why people wear masks or try to hide in plain sight or use an image to hide behind – to keep themselves safe?
So, why did I help the woman?
Was it the right thing to do?
Or, did I help the woman because her screams for help reminded me of the hatred I felt for being helpless?
Like you or anybody else, this is a feeling that I am quite familiar with.
Maybe her screams matched the notes of my pain and, for the moment, I felt empathy. Maybe I know what it’s like to “feel” blind sometimes or out of control.
Maybe I helped because perhaps helping this woman would help me in some way – so then I wonder: Was this selfish or was this all modest or humble?
The truth is I don’t know.
I am not so virtuous or better.
All I know is that the world can be an ugly place sometimes and me, I just don’t want to be an ugly or hateful person (anymore).
I laugh though.
I laugh because I am part of a world where people scream about social justice. I laugh because I hear people chanting about diversity, equity and inclusion. Yet, I see the misappropriation of agendas and personalized reasons that cheer for social justice as a means for personal or monetary gain.
To this I say just be nice.
Stop with the degrees of separation.
Cut it out with the holier than thou.
Or, (this one is my favorite)
Get off your high-horse and walk a while pal!
Just be kind.
It’s not that hard.
But I can tell you this much, it is rather contagious.
It’s enough to show others that kindness exists and if (or when) we see kindness exist, it makes it easier to drop the walls that we use to protect ourselves to keep the world at bay – or worse, to keep us continuously divided.
I don’t ever want to be that humbled or helpless.
Maybe that’s why I helped.
Maybe this buys me a seat on the flight to paradise one day.
Or, maybe I just wanted to be a nice guy, just for the moment, and do something good for someone else without showing the world “hey, look at me – I’m a good person.”
I see people do this all the time. They fix their grins and say “look how nice I am.” Meanwhile, they’re then wearing this like a sign while they stab someone in the back.
I am a good person . . .
At least, I want to be.
But I have some layers to shed and some masks to get rid of.
Know what I mean?