It was a beautiful late spring day in June and I was comfortably nestled into my cozy little outdoor table at a corner pub on Pearl Street. I’m sipping my beer while waiting for my food and I’m people watching, marveling in the incredible eclectic-ness of this place. Locals, tourists, business folk, hippy-looking musicians of all ages, young families, wanderers, and homeless persons–strategically positioned amongst the high-end retail shops–crowd the old brick street mall. An early 20-something lady down the way is belting out an acoustic rendition of House of the Rising Sun. Her sweet, crisp voice echoes over the crowds. In the 30 minutes that I’ve been here, I’ve heard her sing this song twice, and nothing else. I wonder if it’s the only song she knows. . .
My attention soon turns to what appears to be a homeless man. He is wearing a plain white tee that seems particularly white given the rest of his disheveled demeanor. The man in the plain white tee is harassing one of the city gardeners that is watering the meticulously groomed blooming baskets that line the street. The harassment began rather quietly but has definitely become more audible in the last few minutes.
My perfectly blackened turkey burger with equally as perfect deep-fried sweet potato fries has arrived. I take a bite of burger, then a fry, then a sip of beer. I eat and I sip and I listen and I watch. At first it seems that the guy in the plain white tee might be intoxicated or on drugs, but as I listen to him continue to verbally assault the gardener, (who he thinks, from what I can gather, purposefully got a splash of water in his eye) it becomes pretty obvious that the guy in the plain white tee is likely a person struggling pretty badly at the moment with mental illness.
The tension mounts. The bewildered gardener, who had been doing a splendid job of not engaging with the increasingly agitated man, walks off to continue watering the blooms. The man in the plain white tee continues ranting loudly to whoever will listen. Now, he’s kinking the gardener’s hose, stopping most of the water flow, while continuing to yell. For real. This is shit that you can’t make up, ya know. I eat and I sip and I listen and I watch. Not quite believing what I am seeing and hearing, but knowing that the situation is very real.
By now, I’m worried about the man in the plain white tee. I’m worried about the gardener. I’m worried about all of the unaware folks that are aimlessly walking through the mall. My years of emergency trauma training have kicked my brain into high gear. I contemplate if there is anything that I can safely do to alleviate the tension. I know that there likely isn’t, at least for the moment, so I continue to quietly observe.
The men seated next to me have been watching as well, although with a much different lens than me. I had listened while they quietly mocked the man in the plain white tee. At one point, as the tension was mounting, one of the men got out his phone and stated that he’s going to be ready to video, “because this shit is going to go viral.” For real. Again, shit you can’t make up.
The heartlessness of the viral video men had me fuming. Even though they were wrapped up in the scene being created by the man in the plain white tee and not super aware of me, I made sure to glare them both down anyways, with the best angry resting bitch face I could muster, prepared to publicly shame them loudly if they dared to hit the record button. At about that same time, another diner said something unkind about the man in the plain white tee to the wait staff. I regaled him with my best angry resting bitch face as well.
The intensity of the situation began to wane, although it was only because the gardener had moved further down the mall. The man in the plain white tee had followed. Still yelling. Still kinking the hose. Still very much out of control. Thankfully, not long after they had moved from the pub area, a police officer arrived and was doing his best to kindly de-escalate the situation. I eat and I sip and I listen and I watch. I’m sad and angry and wondering about so many things at the moment.
Suddenly, a loud yell comes from somewhere else in the mall. I look up in time to see a very large man wearing a hockey jersey, wielding a hockey stick, and yelling all sorts of obscenities into the crowd–he’s very obviously in the grips of a mental illness as well. I quickly say a prayer for him and for the man in the plain white tee and for all of the passers-by. I pray that no one will be physically hurt, especially the little ones and the elderly that are in the presence of these men.
My heart was so heavy. I wanted nothing more than to bring those men someplace where they would be safe, and medicated, and have the chance to get well. I knew nothing of their stories yet I knew that whatever their stories were, they had to be painful for them as well as for the people that loved them. I wondered what I could have done differently in the moment other than say a prayer and angrily glare the assholes down that wanted to film the next viral video. My thoughts soon shifted to lamenting about how far our society has sunken and I couldn’t help but wonder when we started seeing each other as the next viral video instead of as human beings? When did this become normal? And, most importantly, why the fuck are we okay with it?
I could write volumes more on all of this, especially because I am a sociological geek that loves to theorize and research and study human beings and society but really, it all just comes down to this one thing for me–the Golden Rule. You know, do unto others. Nearly every religion in the world has its own version of this guideline for life but who wholeheartedly lives by it? We love to preach it but do we ever truly practice? What if we just loved and accepted each other as human beings? Simple as that.
For now, though, I’ll leave you with this thought. . .
What if, in 2018, we all made a New Year’s resolution to humbly do unto others? Can you imagine what this world would be like? I guess that would mean instead of me glaring down the guys next to me with my best angry resting bitch face and judging them harshly on their lack of humanness, I would lean in and say, “Hey, maybe we should do something to help that guy in the plain white tee? It looks like he’s having a pretty rough day.”
Shalom, my friends. I’m challenging myself to be a much better human in 2018. Who’s with me?