On Sept 3rd 2008, I woke up at 4:30am and couldn't go back to sleep. There were so many things floating in and out of my psyche that I just couldn't manage to go back to bed.
I had set my alarm for 6a so that I could go to the Oprah Show in Millennium Park - and get there by 7:30a. I was meeting my friends on the steps of the Cultural Center on Randolph. I got up way before the alarm though, and sat in bed trying to empty my mind. Trying to just FEEL. By 5:45a I figured there was no way I was going to go back to bed so I thought I'd take a bath.
I filled up the tub and went through the whole bathing ordeal, including the requisite soak. I washed my hair, and conditioned / detangled. I got dressed - you know - a morning ritual. At 6:20 I left for the train and it arrived almost as soon as I got to the stop. I knew I was running ahead of schedule but with these types of situations the earlier you get somewhere, the better.
As I waited for the train I noticed people basically walking though this one man. He was carrying a humongous backpack. It was the kind that mountain climbers use. He was cute too. He looked a little tipsy and smelled of beer. He noticed my tattoos and came up to me and said - what he must have been asking the people walking through him - how to get to the Fullerton stop.
"Do you know which train I take to get the the Fullerton stop? No one seems to want to help me and...."
"YES" I said, "just hop on the same train with me."
That's when the train came and he jumped on with me. We spoke while riding and I found out that his name is Jason. He is a War veteran from the Iraq war. He wanted to get to Diversey and not Fullerton because he was actually on his way to The Iraq War Veteran's Office.
The man served our country and people walked through him. The man witnessed horrors I can't even conceive of, and was clearly self-medicating with alcohol, but is that any reason to ignore his small request for DIRECTION? He didn't want money or pity or even thanks, just directions.
On my way to meet my friends on the steps of the Cultural Center, I met a man named Tim Harrison. This was immediately after I left Jason with clear instructions as to how to get where he was going. As I crossed Wabash on Randolph, I noticed him standing at the bottom of the stairs leading out of the train platform. People were walking through him.
I watched fifteen people as I crossed the street completely ignore this man. Again they walked around him, bumped into him, completely avoided listening. It broke my heart. I walked up to him and said, "Everything alright?"
He looked at me and said, "You're the first person to listen to me," Fighting back tears he said, "I just want to know how to get to a church to get some food."
Now, I don't know which churches give out food or really which direction to walk in to get to a church. I knew where there were a couple of churches and told him how to get to those - but I knew I could probably help him without sending him to a church. He was so elated that I was actually LISTENING to him that he kept weeping and hugging me. I had done something so small and in that one gesture - LISTENING - had made him VISIBLE again.
"I can't ask you for money, but if you can help me get to somewhere..."
I told him that I'd take him to 7-11 or something to get him something to eat. He wasn't a con-artist nor was he panhandling. He was hungry. He was tired. He was completely brokenhearted. I am not the person who thinks that it's 'not my problem'. I am the person who truly believes that we are all but cells in the bigger organism of humanity.
We walked to the 7-11 and it looked like all they had there were slurpees, and cigarettes. There was a Walgreen's up the street. 67 dollars gave this man and his 3 kids what they needed to feel human again. Cereal, milk, Canned Pasta, Diapers, Baby Wipes, Soap, Toilet Paper, and Clothing Detergent. He only asked for the cereal - milk and soap, but I told him to get everything he needed and fear not asking for it.
Before I had finished paying, he'd popped open a can of Chef Boyardee. He ate it in the line of the Walgreen's straight out of the can. He was too hungry to wait to even get outside. I didn't want to break down in front of him. I smiled the whole time. It was killing me to do so but I did. He needed the happiness. I gave him a farecard I had that had enough for one ride on it. I put him on a bus home. Home: a temporary shelter...
As soon as I reached the steps of the Cultural Center I sat down. I was completely drained emotionally. I was kinda feeling good about myself but feeling icky about the situation. It hurt me to think of the invisible people. And then it got worse.
The same people who had walked through both of these men and were still walking through others, continued to amaze me. As I sat thinking about things, there was a car accident. There weren't any injuries to people, only to the vehicles. The people all stopped to look. Cab drivers got out of their cabs and huddled around the scene. Business people who were clearly running off to the office stopped running and joined the cabbies. Some people actually came out of their offices to witness the spectacle. Not because they could help in case of injury, but just to see the wreckage.
I cried. I cried for the invisible people. I cried for the situation. I cried for the hearts of anyone who has ever made another person feel invisible. I cried for the war veteran who deserved so much more than the treatment he got. I cried for the rubbernecks. I cried for humanity - for the cells that forgot their place in the whole and have been forming cancer in the body of the all.
When I stopped crying - I sent love out. To every corner of the Universe. I sent the love that I had shared with two men that morning. I sent the love that had been given to me by a man named Tim Harrison, his tears and his embrace. I sent it out in hopes of healing the cancer of the current human condition. I sent it out because it was too big for me to hold. My heart was heavy as it had been filled a million times over that morning. It was needed by many, clearly.
I sent it to YOU too. So pause and breathe - feel the vibration of the earth and dance in her music. Perhaps this pause will help you see someone who has been made invisible - and you can help make them whole again. All you'll have to do is acknowledge them.