LA has been coolish and gloomy for the past several weeks. It's even rained, which the Lord knows we need--but May? Our rainy season is usually over by March. Plus we had weather in the 80's earlier in the year. So the whole setup is a bit unsettling. Then again, "June gloom" is a yearly phenomenon here in the Southland, so maybe it's just come early.
Whatever the case, Friday, I'm headed out to Palm Springs for several weeks where coolness and gloom will not be the issues.
I've been mulling over the objection of a reader to a piece of mine where I wrote about giving a couple of bucks to Barry, the homeless schizophrenic and hopeless alcoholic who trolls Sunset Boulevard a little farther down, towards Silver Lake.
What are we supposed to wait till Barry regains his mind, gets a job, finds a place to stay, and starts going to church before we bestow our "charity" upon him? People who think like that have never known such a physical, emotional, and spiritual bottom that a single cigarette or a bottle of cheap beer is the only thing staving off a complete nervous breakdown. I have.
I'm not neglecting my own duties to go sit in a bar and stand a round for the drunks. I'm not helping out a whiner or a victim. I'm not doing for Barry what he could do for himself. Barry's not a whiner. He's out on the freaking street, where he lives, begging. He's sick. He needs his medicine. And I, for one, am happy--proud--to help him buy it if that's what he wants to spend the money on.
You can bet that Lazarus, the sore-covered wretch who lay at the gate in the Gospel parable [Luke 16:19-31], was a drunk or a drug addict. And we know what happened to the rich man who, from his splendor and comfort and place of prestige, refused the poor man a drop of water.
I've been staying in Angelino (also spelled Angeleno, often on signs within feet of each other) Heights, an older neighborhood just west of downtown, and I've been feeling a bit depleted myself as of late. I can walk to the Cathedral, as I may have mentioned. So a few afternoons I have tottered down there to sit before the Blessed Sacrament for a bit.
On these walks I noticed a guy in a wheelchair who hangs out in front of the CVS on Beaudry. I was going to give him a few bucks one rainy day but as I approached I saw he was lighting paper cups on fire and hurling them into the street. So I thought I'd hold on till he was in a better mood.
Next time he was sitting there quietly so I stopped and offered him a five. He looked up and said, "Thanks, I'm okay." (How classy is that? For a guy in a wheelchair who's clearly been wearing the same clothes for weeks, if not months). Then he said, "Well wait, is there a 6 on it?" So together we minutely examined this five-dollar bill to see if the numeral 6 appeared. You may never have examined a paper bill that closely--I certainly hadn't--but there are all kinds of tiny groups of numbers. Sure enough we found a 6. Then we looked at another five I happened to have and there was a 6 on that, too. So he wouldn't take the money but he did ask if I'd buy him a pack of cigarettes, which I promised to do--and did--on the way back (Marlboro Lights: $6.53), along with a bottle of anti-itch scalp medicine he requested when I asked if he wanted some candy or food to go with his butts (he was surrounded by wrappers from the adjacent Jack in the Box).
On the way home I thought of another guy I'd run into once on a sidewalk in Venice (CA). "Could you just stand still for a minute so I can walk around you a few times?" he'd asked. "Oh absolutely," I'd said. And this guy who was clearly not well, who smelled, who my heart so went out to, made four or five rotations around me, politely thanked me, and went on his way.
I understood completely the thought that your entire sanity, your existence, hangs on the happening or not happening of what to others seems a random, arbitrary event.
My whole purpose on earth may have been to stand still that day so that OCD-guy could walk around me and hang on for another twenty-four hours.
The Gospels aren't social work. They're not about shaping ourselves and the people around us up into people who "deserve." They're not about an "effective" use of our money, energy, and hearts. They're about one human being having compassion for another. They're about love.
|PASSION FLOWER, |
SEEN ON THE WAY HOME AFTER PURCHASING CIGARETTES
FOR A FELLOW HUMAN