Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Walk on By

The last picture writing exercise was so successful my goal is now to do one every week. I was really amazed at the comments that came up last time which ranged from dark, to sweet, and from the profound to the hysterically funny.

So technically, I'm a bit early to be doing another image, but this isn't a writing exercise as much as one to provoke some thought. As you can see, it is a hard picture to look away from.

Walk on By
Copyright by Creativity+

When I came across this picture, it stopped me dead. I was moved by immense pity and by something akin to shame and remorse. Have I been one of those to walk on by? Did I turn a deaf ear to his pleas for spare change? Did I wrinkle my nose in disgust? Did I pretend not to see him? He is in every city and every country of the world. We all know of one just like him or her.

I wondered what his name might be, who he once was, what was his story? I wondered if once he had people who had cared for him. Where were they, what happened? Did he once have a house and family and dreams that all died, leaving him alone in the world?

His story whispers in my ear steadily whenever I stare at his picture. And I find myself talking to him. I wish I could buy you a decent meal. I wish I could give you a helping hand. But there are so many of you out there. What is the best way to help you all? I wish I knew.


Anonymous said...

That picture is so powerful! I hear you ... I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by all that needs help in the world. I must walk by a million chances to do more.


Anonymous said...

This piece is almost too powerful for words. I feel emotions, some directed toward the fellow in the picture, such as sympathy, some directed at the world, such as sadness as to why someone isn't doing something for him, and sometimes the emotion is directed at myself, anger that I personally haven't done more.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly a crude attempt at poetry on my part but I think the essence of it gets you there.

Has it been a while since you offered someone like me a Coke and a smile?

Or do you turn away with pity yet think to yourself "there are too many of me in the city."

Would you find me different and worthy of your care if you were my mother, daughter or sister . . . would that be more fair?

So I ask that next time you see me sitting all alone, remember that I was someone's father, son or brother not just some unknown.

Anonymous said...

This picture makes me so uncomfortable - because there are times in life when almost anyone, with just a few slips or slides in what is perceived as normalcy, or sad events, would find themselves sitting here instead. Or beside.

I don't have a macro solution to sadness - but what I feel I CAN do, I do. I adopted a homeless person - a sweet man in DC. I pass him money weekly. I think others do, too. I don't kid myself, or care, about whether or not he will use the money to drink or whatever-the usual reason to blow people off. I simply hand the man the money. He's a human being. That's enough for me.

I also talk to him if the light changes and I have a minute to say hi (I see him at an intersection- I'm in my car- he's on the street).

I think saying hello is a good thing. I like to think someone would say hello to me if our roles were reversed.

Maybe you can't help everybody - but you CAN help somebody. Just pick one. That's how I feel.

And, by the way, I'm not in any way saintly. I'm a certifiable bitch in many situations. I just think this is important. Thanks for bringing it up, ello.

Anonymous said...

They always need volunteers at soup kitchens and at homeless shelters. There are so many things we can do to help. But the question is how much of our time and ourselves are we willing to give up? I used to help out with church on Saturday mornings handing out breakfast bags to the homeless. I brought a friend once and her mom was terrified that something would happen to her. My parents also worried that handing out food at 5 in the morning in D.C. was too dangerous. But that's really the best way to reach them, before the streets are swamped with tourists. I stopped doing it and caved in to the nagging. But also, truth be told, I did enjoy sleeping in on Saturday mornings and eventually the guilt I felt at not helping gave way to the pleasure of being in a warm cozy bed on a cold winter morning. But that does little to ease the comfort of the homeless. Isn't that the harsh reality? We have the best intentions but few of us are really willing to be so giving with our time.

Anonymous said...

I'm with charles on this. Too powerful for words.

What strikes me most is how isolated the man is in the midst of people. He's not accosting people, not reaching out for assistance, not even making eye contact. Just sitting curled up. I can't even tell exactly what time of year it is...women in strappy shoes are behind him and yet he's bundled in the few earthly belongings he has.

Solutions? I wish I had any.

Anonymous said...

My Story ---

As a young child I grew up in a home filled with love and laughter. I would come home to my smells that began at the front door and ended at the kitchen. My mom would sometimes have flour sprinkled on her nose or in her hair. I would sit down for an afternoon snack and tell her about my day as she stirred something in a pot or arranged something in a baking dish. Later, dad would join us for dinner and laughter would bounce around the table as we talked.

I grew up making friends, graduated high school top of my class, graduated magna cum laude with a law degree from Harvard. I met my wife while traveling on business and married one year later. My wife, on the very day she found out she was expecting our first child, decided she would quit her job as a teacher and would stay home to raise our children. In her fifth month we found out we were expecting twin sons.

Her pregnancy went well until the last month and then it seemed nothing went right. She went in to labor early and I called 911 as blood began pouring out of her. The ambulance rushed her and my two babies to the hospital. The took her right in to surgery and performed and emergency c - section. She and both my children died that night.

I went back to work after mourning but nothing held joy for me anymore. I had to go home to emptiness. Her side of the bed was cold, the nursery loomed at the top of the stairs, greeting me with sunlight each afternoon when I came home.

One night I decided to end my life and join my family. I never succeeded and ended up in a hospital. I could never return to work or my home again. The day they released me from the hospital is the day I walked away from my life and never looked back. Somedays I could swear I see my wife and children when I look in to the sea of faces that pass me by each day. Somedays I can hear the laughter that once was a part of my life. But mostly I feel the cold chill that permeates my flesh from the cement and the cold chill that permeates my soul.


That's the story that came to my mind when I saw it. Sadness reflects from him - what he had, what he lost, what he feels, what he sees. Not so much what others see or feel when they see him but what is about him. The unselfish part of looking at the picture. Getting in to *him* and not in to me.

Anonymous said...

Shauna Roberts had a post last week about resonance that sparked a really good discussion that this reminds me about. She came up with a term I'd never heard before that has stayed with me. She said she thought so many of us were overwhelmed with obligation overload and I think it's true. With homelessness, genocide, racism, cruelty to animals, the war in Iraq, PTSD, hunger, AIDS, cancer, human rights violations --- the list is endless -- we want to be aware and we want to make a difference and the truth is that there is only so much each of us can do. I think most of us do the best we can and if we can remember to try and do at least one thing every day that might lighten someone else's load, so much the better. Such a powerful image. So hard to look at.

Anonymous said...

Do people ever hear the warning signs? Or pay heed if they do?

*Citibank lays off 17,000 people last year
*American Mortgage has declared bankruptcy
*Researc and technical mega companies, like General Electric, are laying off U.S. workers and shipping jobs to India
*The U.S. dollar is the lowest it's been in over 20 years compared to the Euro
*For the first time ever, Saudi Arabia did not match interest rate changes with the U.S. dollar. It is now tying its currency to the Euro and the yen
*The U.S. is sending amputees to the battlefields of Iraq.
*Suze Orman goes on the Larry King show and says the middle class is fast disappearing.

I don't see signs anymore. I see shoes. Some are shiny and new. A few are even brand-names. But most are worn and patched-up. People take their shoes for granted.

You don't have to look at me if you don't want. Just don't ask me to share my blanket with you when the bank forecloses on your house.

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday I walked downtown for lunch and passed by a homeless person. And part of me wanted to look away and wish that I didn't have to see him, and the other part of me was horrified at those thoughts.

Anonymous said...

For two years, we lived 45 minutes from the White House. When we first went to the Mall, I saw all these lumps on the sidewalks, steam escaping from the grates under the lumps.

It took me a minute to realize the lumps were people, sleeping over the grates for warmth.

Anonymous said...

These are all great comments and I feel all the same reactions coursing through me when I read this.

Spy, Charles, Robin and Precie - I walk by them everyday and rarely do I do something to help. Yesterday I saw homeless woman who's sign stopped me because it said "homeless, helpless and so very sad." It hurt my heart to read it and I stopped and gave her money just to see her smile. That lead me to this picture. It also really touched me.

Anonymous what a lovely poem. Thank you for sharing it.

Hey Janet - I know the bigger issue needs to be resolved since handouts are only short term solutions. And yes, we are all selfish with our time. I don't know what the answer is but I want to think on it more. For even Mother Theresa became overwhelmed by the poverty of the world. The issues are so large.

Pretzel - what a wonderful story and it really fits. I feel that pain of incredible loss emanating from the picture and you nailed it. One day I know you will be published!

Lisa - I am going to go check out that post it sounds very interesting. It is exactly relates to my feelings of pity and remorse that are so overwhelming when faced with situations like this. Obligation overload - what a great title. Thanks!

Chris - there is that fear that this could happen to any of us. We must be grateful for all we have because there but for the grace of God go I.

Melissa - it is my own exact reaction most of the time. But I think it is very normal.

Anonymous said...

i see jesus in that picture. it's hard to abide the pain...

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