There’s a word I hear all the time.
It’s a thing too, a way to be,
and maybe even a lesson for others or an artform of living.
The word is called selfless
As in, no concern for self
It’s not about “Me.”
There’s no “I”
As in no need for repayment
As in without regard for self or reward
As in unconditional, no strings attached.
No pat on the back, no award ceremonies
or any kind of accolades.
Selfless, as in putting yourself out of the equation;
as in not even thinking about you;
as in doing something so big, or so huge that
without thinking about this,
your action, while simple enough,
is so great and so impactful and life changing
that for someone with no thought of yourself –
someone out there’s entire world was either, changed, settled,
saved or restored.
But with all humility, there’s nothing on the back end, no royalties,
and nothing else of the sort.
Selfless; as in absolutely.
Have you ever done anything like this?
There was a man lying on a gurney.
He was outside of a room in the emergency department
of a northern New Jersey hospital.
He was drunk and alone. He was sad to see and with his fingers,
digging through a plate of hospital food, which looked unappetizing, at best,
I suppose he was reaching for something.
I suppose he was reaching out for some kind of something.
Maybe he was hoping for warmth or an ounce of attention.
Maybe he was hoping for a sign.
Or, maybe he was just looking for humanity
and waiting for a moment of kindness
or for someone to show compassion
in an often uncompassionate world.
As for me –
I was waiting outside of the E.R. room
because my client was saved and reversed after an overdose.
They call it “reversed” because the medication known as Narcan
reverses the opiate effect and brought the patient back to life.
I say patient because to the hospitals
and to the doctors and nurses and the staff, they call them patients.
As for myself, I am not a doctor. I am not a nurse
and as for my employment at the time; I worked for a division of family services.
So to me, I referred to people as clients
because A) there’s more dignity in this word
and B) I have no legal right or ability to refer to anyone as my patient
and C) I look to dismantle the terms we use
and be clear of stigma; hence,
the team I worked with referred to the so-called patients as clients
and so did I.
my client was neither aware of his surroundings
nor could he speak coherently for most of my interaction.
In fairness, the night was not a good one.
I was training a new specialist.
I was working with someone who, in all fairness; I had zero
to little faith in.
For the record, I struggled to keep my opinion to myself.
The specialist tried to speak with the doctor.
But he was unsuccessful.
He was annoying to the nurses and to me,
all I was thinking is “dear God,
how do I get this guy to shut the fuck up!”
Meanwhile, the man on the gurney
seemed as if something was different about him.
I can’t say what it was.
I can’t say why I noticed him more than anyone else.
All I can say is that the Emergency Room was busy that night.
I knew the man was drunk.
I could smell the booze on him whenever I walked past the gurney.
There were tears in his eyes
and some scrapes and some cuts on his face.
But, in all fairness, he was alone.
So, I said hello.
Because, why not?
We talked for a while. We talked like people talk to each other.
We laughed a little. We tried to pass the time
and meanwhile, the other specialist
was still nervously talking and not doing well with the client in the room.
So, I went inside to make a deal.
The client was hungry. He was homeless.
So, I got him some food.
He needed a place to stay.
So, I thought of somewhere with clean sheets
and where he could take a shower in the morning.
I offered an option, which was a spot where
he would not have to worry about food or shelter
for the next 30 days (at least) and
if he wanted to, we could help him clean up
and get the dope out of his system.
As it turns out, I had the perfect place for that.
In fact, this was my job.
I promised that once we got him situated,
we were going to work on getting the client’s housing;
as in a place to live
and maybe a place where he could find work.
The client agreed.
The specialist explained, “And I’ll be with you every step of the way!”
The client laughed and said, “On second thought,”
but we knew he was only kidding
I walked outside and said goodbye to my new friend on the gurney.
We talked for a bit.
I told him that I hope he felt better,
He told me that he wasn’t sick.
So, this man who I had never seen before,
never met, never thought about
or knew existed was there
because in the depths of his own despair;
he tried to take his own life
and yet for some reason,
he survived . . .
Somehow, after he explained
why he was in the hospital, we talked for a little while longer.
And we talked about real life.
We talked about the time I tried the very same thing
and the foolishness I felt
when I was in the hospital, just like him,
and how there was no warmth or compassion.
I wept with him.
Two grown men – me, tattooed and supposedly tough
or at least trying to be
And him, well, he wasn’t at his best at that time
so I suppose tears like this are to be expected.
You hold on, I told him.
I explained that, you and me . . .
We’re friends now
So, I need you look out for my friend, is what I told him –
“And keep him alive.”
I had to leave because I was on duty,
Two days later,
I received a call from someone at the hospital.
It seems the man requested to find me.
Since much of the staff knew about the service I worked for
and much of the staff and I got along,
the nurses knew exactly who I was
and how to contact me
The nurse reached out and spoke to me about this man
who I never met before.
She told me that he agreed to seek help
and that he went into treatment,
and that something we talked about
was enough for him to decide to give his life another shot.
“That’s nice,” I thought to myself.
A few months had passed and I was at one of my programs
which was called Breakfast with Benny
at a homeless shelter in Jersey.
There were some new faces in the room.
But mostly, the usual crowd was there.
For the record:
I have never met anyone as beautiful as these people.
I never received such a wholesome smile and regard as I have in this place.
I have never experienced such kindness or grace from other humans in this world.
And there I was,
just some guy named Benny,
who, for some reason,
was picked and
was able to create an empowerment meeting
on Sunday mornings after breakfast.
We talked about everything in this room.
We talked about the ability of hopes and dreams.
We talked about the ability of our thinking and mostly,
we talked about the world around us
and ways to overcome the problems at hand.
Our aim and focus was primarily geared towards living a better life
and learning how to navigate away
from the troubles
that have plagued us in the past.
This was a grass-roots attempt
to recognize and realize that, above all things,
it’s okay to be human.
There was a man in the room
who I had never seen before. Blue-eyed and gray-haired.
He raised his hand.
Do you remember me?
I didn’t recognize him.
“because I remember you.”
He then told the room where he met me.
He told the room how he was laid up in the hospital,
wishing that he died,
and wishing that he could go at it again
and how nobody in the hospital seemed to care
if he lived or died.
“And then you came in.”
He said, “And you talked to me.”
Then a light came on in my head.
And just like that, I remembered him
He introduced himself to me.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said.
“My name is Benny.”
Yeah, I know, he told me
And the room laughed.
I got a hug from a man who I had only met once before
and for the both of us,
this little moment of selflessness between two people
who decided to allow each other to be human,
just for a moment,
was enough to change two hearts
for two completely different reasons.
See, I am no better than anyone else.
I am humble and I am equally vulnerable at times
because, in all transparency, the world can be a tough and frightening place.
Times can often be lonely and the uphill climbs we face
can be downright intimidating and sometimes,
the things around can spin the lie machine in our heads
and maybe, perhaps not for everyone,
but there are times when we want to hang up on life
as if it were a bad phone call
and just walk away
I have never done anything so big or tremendous with my life.
And, in fairness, even this to me is somewhat out of line.
What I mean is –
Reporting this to me seems wrong;
as if I’m trying to pose or posture
or as if I am truly worthy of redemption.
But like I say, I’m no better or worse.
I’m a sinner too.
More accurately, I have the stains of a tainted heart
and I have my fair share of issues and challenges.
I have more than I can share when it comes to rage
and when it comes to the waves of insecurity; there are times
when the tsunamis are mounting
and worse than drowning beneath them
is the anticipation and the threat of drowning alive
and sinking beneath the tides of a heavy undertow,
which is also known as depression.
I think that, in all honesty,
kindness is not a boastful thing; therefore,
talking about being kind is not kind at all.
And, when bragged, charity is no longer charitable.
Instead, this is an option of trade.
I do “this” in order to get “that.”
See what I mean?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I just want to be good.
I want to be selfless.
I want to pay back all the times I was gifted and granted mercy.
I want to pay this forward to the next person
and whether they keep this moving or not is beyond me.
All I know is that what I have now is more
than what I would have had
if I never opened my eyes
and saw things differently.
I want to do something pure.
I want to let go of every skeleton in my closet and let go of my burden of self
so that, yes, I can be selfless; but more,
I want to give someone a feeling which is substantial enough
that they could feel what I felt
when someone else was kind to me.
I want to implement the feeling of being saved,
the same as I felt saved when someone saved me.
I want someone to feel like
I did when my friend Mathias
stood by my bedside one night –
to make sure I wouldn’t die,
I want to give back
just like the way I saw an old friend by the name of Bill T
give to someone else.
And all he did was share a moment of kindness.
All he did was offer a moment of brotherly love and understanding.
That’s all he did;
but to someone named Chris,
that offer was life-saving,
at least for a moment.
And Father Mike, remember him?
This was a man who gave something to me that changed my world.
He was selfless.
Then of course there was another man whose name has to remain unsaid.
He was the keeper of a poem
that I was too young, too angry,
and too resistant to understand
“But one day,” he said,
“Trust me. You’ll understand.”
The poem should not be new to any of my entries;
however, it is important that I share this here
because this is the only way
I know how to honor a man who saved me yet
he never had the ability to save himself
The poem reads:
A song is not sung til’ you sing it
And a bell is not rung, til’ you ring it
And love in your heart was not put there to stay
For love isn’t love
Til’ you give it away.
I want to love.
I want to be good.
I want to rid myself from all that’s kept me down.
Is it selfless to do something so decent for someone
or to give so much, that I myself would feel decent as well?
Maybe it is.
Or, maybe this is what happens
when people decide to be human to each other.
Maybe I just want my Mother to be proud.
Or, maybe I want to be comfortable when I look in the mirror
or see a photograph of The Old Man
and not believe that I should be ashamed
or look away
I really don’t know whose life I touched or changed.
I don’t know if I’m selfish or not.
However, I have a list of people who helped me
and they did this when I was otherwise
undeserving of their love.
At some point, just like they were kind to me,
my job here is to pass this off, like a torch to shed light
or lend hope
or like a baton in this relay race
which we call life
I have to pass this on
And you . . .
I don’t know if you know this. I’m not sure
If you can wrap your mind around this either,
but you being you and you being with me throughout everything,
throughout all the years and through every up and down,
failure, falls, bang-ups and breakdowns,
and with all the shit that comes with life;
and with you being the way you are with me,
unrelenting and unwilling to walk away,
no matter how bad things might seem –
You are the most life-saving thing in this world to me.
Please, just know this.
So help me, I swear
Maybe one day, I’ll believe as if I paid my debts in full.
Maybe one day, I’ll believe
that I’m square with the house again;
and maybe I’ll believe that the demons that haunt me
will go away,
and all the mind-fucks will vanish.
Maybe that’s when I’ll understand what it means to be selfless
because my needs will be met
and the drive to survive will be overwhelmed
by the understanding that life is meant to be lived –
not just surviving.
Or, maybe we’re all selfless in some way.
Maybe this is selfish and, to be honest,
maybe all we’re trying to do
is figure out the best way to get through this ride
the best way we know how –
And hopefully, in one piece.
Oh, and um,
Hey, if you’re not too busy (and I know this isn’t your kind of thing but)
could you send a prayer my way
or at least some of your energy.
I sure could use the warmth when life gets frosty.
Plus, life can be pretty uncomfortable sometimes.
Know what I mean?