Yesterday I saw a pretty girl. But her face had been smashed. Dried blood caked her swollen lips and encrusted itself on her cheeks and chin. She had no shoes or socks; the bottoms of her feet were black with the city’s filth. But it was her eyes that caught me the most; in them was such deep sorrow. I was looking into beautiful dark brown pools of despair.
I asked if she wanted to go to the hospital. She responded quietly.
“No, I’ve already been.”
Then she slumped down against a dust-covered, dirty wall. Hairy legs and filthy feet sticking straight out, partially blocking the sidewalk. She didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Her look of absolute despondency burns me even now as I write. I walked away from her. What could I do to help? I had no idea.
Why did I notice this one in particular? Why is my heart stabbed more for her when I see sorrow and hopelessness staggering through the streets daily? She was pretty. She didn’t quite look as though she belonged on the streets. Once drugs and misfortune do their thing, the look produced no longer immediately generates sympathy. The teeth are gone, the extremities are swollen, wounds mare the legs, and the back contorts to a permanently bent-over position. The brain no longer functions as it should; the person stinks of body odour and urine and is often passed out on the street or sidewalk.
But It’s the sheer volume of them that distresses me the most. Quantity has led to normalcy, and when even seriously disturbing things are normalized, compassion tends to disappear. These suffering ones become annoying obstacles that I must step over and around as I pick my way home from work — lumps of human flesh littering the streets.
My mind drifted back when I encountered another woman in distress. We saw her on the security camera in the alley behind the Manor. At first, we couldn’t tell she was a woman because the camera was mostly blocked by a man, who appeared to be kicking and punching a crumpled person on the ground below him. I ran to the back door and kicked it open.
“Dude! What the hell are you doing? Stop right now, or I am calling the police!”
He looked at me casually, and then with absolute malice, he kicked her two or three more times before nonchalantly walking down the alley. As he strolled away, he let me know in no uncertain terms that the quivering mess beneath my feet deserved everything she got.
There was no point in calling the police. The perpetrator would be long gone before they arrived.
“Are you damaged? Can I call you an ambulance?”
“No, I don’t want an ambulance; I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? I’m afraid you might have internal bleeding. He was kicking you so hard.”
“No, I’m fine.”
Amazingly, she struggled to her feet and stumbled off in the opposite direction of her assailant. Unlike the first girl, street life had already decomposed this one to such an extent that any external beauty she might have had was long gone. This poor thing slinks about in the shadows, going from one beat down to another until finally, like an old sewer rat, she will drop one last time, her miserable life finally ending.
- I feel conflicted because I have more immediate care for the young, pretty ones than any of the others.
- I feel guilty because this overwhelming problem has become normalized, deadening my capacity to care.
- I feel sad because I have no idea how to help.
- I feel angry because we, as a modern society, should have figured out by now how to help these shattered lives find a way forward.
- I feel frustrated because whatever that way forward is, it is emphatically not for us to continue to be OK with having the streets of our city strewn with breathing corpses, stuck in a perpetual cycle of abuse and despair — which seems to be our current plan.