Walking Cross-Town. Or, on the Highway to Hell?

It’s late evening, the sun is setting, the end of a long day. I’m sitting in a Metro North train car on my commute home reflecting on the day. Cool air streams down from the overhead vents.

Summer has arrived in Manhattan, and despite this 23 square mile piece of land being surrounded on all sides by water, the Island can be 10-20° F hotter than it is at home in the suburbs – billions of tons of concrete, steel and asphalt broiling under the late day Sun.

I had read his essay the prior week, and it was still rooting its way into my core, into the marrow of my bones.  I flip open my e-reader to re-read the passages that I have highlighted in George Yancy’s “Is Your God Dead?” where he speaks to leaving our God in our places of worship or in our good intentions. 

Perhaps by remaining in your “holy” places, you have sacrificed looking in the face of your neighbor on the street. You know the one: the one who smells “bad” because she hasn’t bathed in days; the one who carries her home on her body; the one who begs. Surely you’ve seen that “unholy” face. I’ve seen you suddenly look away, making sure not to make eye contact with the “unclean.” Perhaps you’re preoccupied with texting, consumed by a work or family matter…Your refusal to stop, to linger, to look into her eyes, has already done its damage. Your body has already left a mark in its absence, in its fleeing the scene.

If there is a shred of life left in ‘your’ God, full resuscitation might begin with remaining in the presence of that suffering face.

We should be mortified by the inadequacy and superficiality of our anguish when we witness the suffering of others, the sort of anguish that should make us weep until our eyes are red and swollen and bring sleepless nights and agonizing days. We are a generation that has lost the capacity for outrage.

I have been troubled by the lack of outrage against poverty, white racism and supremacism, sexism, classism, homophobia, bullying, building walls, “alternative facts,” visa/immigration bans and xenophobia. Heschel reminds us that when we establish a way of life predicated upon a lie, ‘the world can turn into a nightmare.’

I return back to my day, and return to two events that took seconds, yet will replay who knows how long. Both events occur in the same New York city block.  I’m rushing (again! why? to what? for what?) to catch my train.

We, other commuters and tourists, stand behind a large man at the cross-walk, all waiting for the Walk sign.  He stands alone, while the Group stands in an established safe zone, a half-moon perimeter several feet back.  He’s wearing a soiled jacket, with his head bowed down heavily towards the curb. A red double decker tour bus passes, leaving a wind blast in its wake. We’re smothered with his body odor.  Amid snorts and grimaces, we leave him behind as he limps across the street. Our nostrils have not yet cleared and another Man approaches: “Sir, please, can you spare some change? Miss, can you spare me a dollar for a sandwich? Sir, what about you? Can you help me out? I’m hungry.”

Yancy continues: None of us is innocent. “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people,” Heschel reminds us. “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

And I sit and think – – what if one is responsible and guilty? Then what?

That’s Eiko Ojala‘s illustration above titled “I found my silence.

I found mine too.


Notes:

  • Link to the entire NY Times essay by George Nancy: “Is Your god Dead?”
  • Post Title Inspiration: Comedian Bill Murray joked when he said “The fact there’s a highway to hell and only a stairway to heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers.”
  • Related Posts: Commuting
  • Illustration:  Eiko Ojala (Estonia) with “I Found My Silence”

Comments

  1. Can someone at least acknowledge the man at the cross-walk? Silence can be hell.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Responsible and guilty here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Christie says:

    I encourage all who read you post to click the link you have provided and read in entirety, George Yancy’s “Is Your God Dead?”…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Poignant. Mega cities make it even more stark, our lack of mercy, that is. Few are guilty but many are responsible will stick with me David. ♡
    Diana xo

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think many speak of outrage, and few do more than that – which alone makes us guilty

    Liked by 2 people

    • Way Guilty here of that…

      Like

    • And Mimi, your thought reminds me of:

      If there is a problem somewhere,” he said with his dry chuckle, “This is what happens: Three people will try to do something concrete to settle the issue. Ten people will give a lecture analysing what the three are doing. One hundred people will commend or condemn the ten for their lecture. One thousand people will argue about the problem. And one person—only one—will involve [himself or herself] so deeply in the true solution that they are too busy to listen to any of it.” Now asked gently, his penetrating eyes meeting each of ours in turn, “which person are you?”

      – Elias Chacour, recounting a seminary professor’s challenge to him in seminary from “Living Mission: The Vision and Voices of New Friars” by Scott A. Bessenecker (IVP Books, October 1, 2010)

      Liked by 4 people

  6. We, who consider ourselves “above” are really all at any given time just one circumstance from the bottom.

    I get to sit with the homeless, I get to try and console the bereaved by suicide, and I get to help mama’s who can’t buy diapers. Still, I rush and I look away sometimes using my “executive” tasks as a reason not to linger.

    Shame on me when I do, ’cause the times I don’t, oh, those are the times I am changed.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. i think we are sometimes afraid to look them in the eye, for fear of seeing ourselves in them.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. The way things are moving right now, I’m afraid we’ll have more frequent encounters with guilt in a near future. And the responsibility will feel even heavier.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a tough one to read because I know that I am definitely guilty and responsible on various levels to various situations…

    Liked by 2 people

  10. well said; also guilty as charged…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So hard to read, David; so much to digest. Guilty time and again. Praying to be more responsive and loving…..
    You always give us food for thought. Thank you.🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Your posts David, are always revealing. Some days I’m not ready for them. This, was So very close to home, it hurts.
    I know better, we all do. Yet we carry on regardless. We each have our ‘territory’ our own comfortable sphere where we dole out largesse and kindnesses. But it is within a controlled environment. heaven help us if we lose control. I wish I could apologise to the man from yesterday. shame on me.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hard hitting, thought provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Christie says:

    Shalla Montiero, example…I keep thinking of your soul touching post from Nov. 1st 2015 and a woman, Shalla Montiero who befriended a homeless man… Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho, a homeless poet and philosopher https://davidkanigan.com/2015/11/01/sunday-morning-theres-no-words/#comments the video portion is no longer available so I located one similar about Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho and Shalia Montiero….having watched the video and re reading your post and the comments, still tugs at my heart…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awww, Christie. I forgot about this beautiful story. Thanks for the reminder.

      “Damned is the man who abandons himself”
      These six words show
      That the worse the situation is
      Never, ever should a man consider it is lost.

      ~ Raimundo A. Sobrinho

      Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho, 77, is a Brazilian poet and writer. Born in a rural area of Goiás on 1 August 1938, he moved to São Paulo at the age of 23 where he worked as a gardener and a book seller. In the late 1970s, early 1980s, nearly at the end of the military dictatorship of Brazil, he became homeless, and this lasted for nearly 35 years. During this period he wrote several poems and short stories, but they remained unknown until they were discovered by Shalla Monteiro in April 2011.

      Like

  15. I once heard that guilt is precipitated by a conscious act to ignore what is put in front of one. As for responsibility, take it from the hyper-responsible Me: I cannot help everyone, but I can help someone. And I do. Every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It’s hard…we find so many reasons to look aside, away…people are in back of us, we’re in a hurry, and on and on. When I try to imagine what that life must be like, I can only think that it would be the hardest job in the entire world to be begging for help. For this summer while I have the care of my grandchildren during the day, I decided to make sure they are aware and awake to the plight of so many who are less fortunate. We roll the car window down when we see someone begging for help on a street corner, and my own grandchildren are required to give what we can, even if it means holding up that long line of cars in back of us. I feel this is one of the most important lessons I can pass on to these children, who have so many people caring for them and ensuring that their lives are the best they can be right now. I want them to never, ever forget that there are so many so much less fortunate…and that we always, always need to remember that we need to care for each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The image is so original. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Anonymous says:

    I don’t always comment, my friend, but I read a lot of your stuff weekly. It encourages me and I’ve gotten back to blogging after a long and dry hiatus. Carpe diem and keep it up. It matters!

    Like

  19. I’ve not always replied, my friend, but I read your writings weekly. Always an inspiration and I’ve resumed writing after a long and dry hiatus. Keep it up–it matters. Carpe diem!

    Liked by 1 person

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