I am overcome with anger, but don’t know where to direct it.
Today I rode the train home from work. Walk 5 minutes, ride 10 minutes, walk 5 minutes, just like any other day. The crowding onto the platform–and then crowding into the train car–was not new either. I did, however, have my new book Love Does (by Bob Goff) that my friend Bailey bought for me. So I sat down, smoothed my skirt, and began to read on page 71.
Two stops later is when it happened. I don’t even know why I looked up; I don’t know why he stood out to me. At the end of the car, a black man with a stroller stepped through the open doors. He had some form of oxygen with him. The small tubes went into his nose with the rest of the machine out of sight, probably in the stroller.
“Please help,” he said. “Please, please help.”
My eyes fastened back on my book as he walked closer. Train cars are too small. They keep us too close. You can look one another in the eye, and that’s not something we like to do very often.
He knows there’s no soliciting on CTA. That message is repeated every 2 minutes.
Sometimes I get angry when people don’t do what they’re supposed to, or when they do something they’re not supposed to. But that’s not why I’m angry now.
“Please help.” The stroller rolled up and stopped with the front wheels in line with my knees.
“I don’t have any money, and his mom left us. I’m behind on my rent. I can’t pay my rent. I don’t have anything. Please help. My son has Down Syndrome.”
I looked up fully this time, and my heart broke a little. A 2 or 3 year old boy with chestnut brown skin sat oblivious to his dad’s pleas. Wearing a white shirt and tattered jean shorts, he matched the man pushing him. The toddler wriggled, working his way through a cookie the size of his face. The chocolate chips had started to smear on the tray holding him in, but as with everyone who has a cookie in their hands, little else is of consequence.
“He has Down Syndrome, and he had heart surgery.” At this, he reached over the front of the stroller and pulled his son’s shirt up to his chin. The boy twisted away from me, and I was spared the emotional scar on my heart to match the physical scar over his.
“There’s his scar from his heart surgery. I don’t have any money to pay the bills for it. Please help.”
Nobody moved. The conversations that had been going on before this man and his whirlwind of misfortunes came in were still going on. Those who had been silent before were silent then. I looked up again, making eye contact not with the man, but with the child. It took him a few seconds, but he eventually caught my eye and the smile I was giving him.
Precious boy, you do not deserve this. Nobody deserves this.
He waved his cookie at me, and I waved my hand at him. Smiling still, cookie crumbs showed through his little lips. Meanwhile his dad was ensuring that they would eat that night. Recognizing that no one had been moved enough to help him, he got down on his knees while grasping the stroller handle for strength.
“Please,” he asked with a new urgency. It was the desperation that did it. That, mixed with the humility drove me mad.
Who put him here?
Was it a mother on drugs? A father in jail? Did his grandmother raise him? Did he finish school? Was he in a gang? Where is the mom? Why isn’t she helping? What happened to their relationship? And just as importantly, what will happen to the boy? Will his mother be in and out of his life, always on drugs? Will his father go to jail after several citations for soliciting, or will he turn to drug dealing to try and support his son? Will an aunt have to raise this special needs child? Will he make it in a public school? Any school? Will he be harassed? Did his mother leave because she didn’t want to deal with a handicapped responsibility?
Who put them here?
A father and son. The entire scene happened in probably 60 seconds or less, yet the thought still came to my mind that I was witnessing something unusual. Not in the solicitation by a homeless person, not in the poor being ignored, but in that a parent down on their luck was taking care of their child. How many deadbeat dads are out there? How many hundreds of law officers have to go beat down doors every month to have someone pay child support? How flooded is the generational poverty system with irresponsible, immature, no good, Imma-do-me fathers? And those can even be the better off men–the ones who are professionals, drive nice cars, meet clients at business lunches, remarry and start new families, have the extra lake house, etc.
This man amazed me. With medical problems of his own, a son with a disorder, no income, no wife for him or mother for the son, possibly no extended family, he was still determined to look out for his son. That cookie? It was probably all he could afford to keep his son fed, since the fruits and vegetables a two year old should be eating are much more expensive than cookies, chips, and other vending machine food.
So who do I get to be angry with? Please, give me a name I can stamp blame on. Tell me who I’m allowed to kick around when I’m frustrated with something and my knees begin to shake. Can I yell at the world we live in for having created a system that makes it harder for blacks to get out of poverty and into the educational/professional world? Can I yell at the people on the train and the people on the street for not breaking down in tears every time someone has to ask them for cash on which to survive? For that matter, can I yell at myself for letting the world scare me back into my shell so I didn’t offer to pray for him, or dig in my purse for something I could give up? Can I yell at God for not letting us see the bigger picture of what is happening?
I don’t know. This is a blog of honesty, not of answers. And honestly, I don’t have any answers. Is it okay if I sit here for a bit with you and think of how far we are from paradise? Can you pretend it’s not weird if I cry about how sad it is that there are human beings who don’t care about other human beings? Will you cry with me? Will you yell with me?
I had things to say today. Things that someone needed to hear, prayers that needed to be prayed, burdens that I needed off my chest. But I didn’t say any of those when I needed to. I wrote them in a blog post hours later, when the man and his son were God knows where. And the anger is sinking now, so all that remains in the drain of my heart is a hopelessness for the fate of my brothers and sisters, and a sadness so wretched it is only answered by tears and heaven. The moments in your life that will define you are when you act, not the moments you write about when you should have acted.
Be a blessing today.
Before you go:
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”