We Suck as a People

The homeless man was wailing. My Bose headphones were fully in, but I could discern the cries coming out from the shape of his mouth.

Is he crying? I wondered.

That’s strange. Are those tears? Or just crusty eyes?

Leave it to me to question whether or not a man without a home is really crying or just pretending. Leave it to all of us.

Two brisk steps closer brought me near enough to observe his eyes. Real tears running down his face, I realized. Actual wails of pain, with a sixteen ounce cup in his hand, lopsided. For spare change?

Wailing, nonetheless. The wheelchair he sat in didn't register. Just a prop.

But why is he crying?

I gazed lower to avoid seeing his face. Because that’s what we do. Let’s not look anywhere near their eyes because, God forbid, we are the ones being fooled. We’ve all been fooled, right? The guy who asked for money but wouldn’t let me buy him food – got it, you must be a crackhead. The man who scammed my mom twenty years ago ago pretending to be blind, only to still be found on the same street corner not a day aged – thanks, thief.

Our hearts may be robbed of empathy after we’ve been robbed of trust. I'm not sure that's ever a good excuse, though. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, right?

With my gaze lowered, I finally saw the gaping wound on his shin. That’s why the man was crying. The pink flesh contrasted with his black skin, and the outer ring was ashy, as if someone had taken a layer of skin and torn it away. No blood. Just four inches of gaping pink flesh and a makeshift bandage barely covering the still-exposed wound. A 230-pound man reduced to his wails right outside of a busy subway station.

I walked to the next block with my heart in my stomach. If that wound was on my leg, it’d be cleaned, bandaged, and I’d be walking the next day. I imagined his wound going on the way it was, infecting, festering, causing disease, and permanently disabling a man who was already with a lack of resources.

“I lost my leg after it got infected because my skin tore off and no one helped,” I imagined him saying to people curious enough to ask.

I debated calling 911. Instead, I Googled: "what to do if homeless man injured.” The first result, without even needing to click, says "if you are not comfortable engaging the person, then call 311 to let the City know..."

Guys, 311 just tells you to call 911. So I'm telling you now, just call 911.

EMS was there in two minutes flat. I watched, from half an avenue away.

FreethoughtShawn Li