By most measures I enjoy a cushy life. Various armchair sociologists have periodically proposed that when people have too much of a good thing they grow soft and unprepared for the inevitable hard times that will surely rain down upon us. I am probably guilty of uttering a few words to this affect at various junctures. Now I’m wondering about this same issue but again this time as it measures me.
Yesterday was a tough day. The day before too. I’m pretty clear about the real world factors that combined to send my mind, my heart and sometimes my gut into a tailspin. A friend was in trouble. It was the 31st of the month. He texted to say he had to move immediately. Earlier that month he told me he was looking for a new apartment but when I arrived at his address he sat shaking on the front porch. Next to him was a violent pile of belongings tossed by his landlord against the railing like detritus washed up from the sea. His room had been in the only occupied residence on his street in our city’s poorest neighborhood. For the past several months we met and laughed and played ball together at the YMCA. The discussion often turned to his room-mate cum landlord who was verbally – and apparently physically – abusive. This was precisely the corrosive environment he had suffered in as a child.
Now his options seemed to be our spare bedroom or the hard streets themselves. Together we negotiated an agreement that worked for him to do his laundry, share a meal and a safe night’s sleep. The next day we plodded through the mechanisms established to provide a safety net for people who can’t shuffle to the music without help. It’s a dreary, deadening process.
For my small part the crux of the crises was at the intersection of friend and judge. We are an unlikely pair. Me, a bulky tall white haired old dude and he with a slight frame bearing 75 pounds and seven inches less while sporting a long and medieval beard and a halting gait common to many who have suffered the effects of long term psychotropic medications. His Red Sox cap, as near to disintegration as possible without falling from his locks, completes the picture. Indeed you have seen him on the street. And if it wasn’t him you saw there are thousands like him wandering our world.
So he and I carry on. We have built a bond that began 30 years ago when he was happier and healthier. He did his best as a father despite the crushing impact of his own childhood. Later his marriage crumbled, his jobs became more fleeting and the clouds of depression more frequent. We have walked along our individual paths but never straying too far apart but now we are here; me with a cushy life and he on the very margins. The chasm between our two circumstances challenges our friendship. Now I can find myself in the unholy role of pushing him out on the street myself. I think about the power to arbitrarily buy lunch, lend a sleeping bag, act as chauffer or simply follow him around to retrieve the items he inevitably forgets.
Somehow all this has shaken my sensibility. Like hiking in high country and suddenly coming to the edge of the cliff. The view is both stunning and unsettling. It’s not about what the next steps will be but rather how do I make sense of what I see and why the hair on my arms is signaling high alert.