Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

When Empathy and Faith Aren't Enough

Three days later, the bus stop benches had been removed. I noticed them missing before we even crossed Harbor Boulevard to head back to our hotel. After four consecutive years of coming to Disneyland in and around the Holidays, the two benches near our hotel that we passed by a few times each day going back and forth to the park, had vanished.

"Look, they're gone," my wife said as we crossed the street, all of us bathed in Southern California sunshine and blue sky.

"I know," I said.

But although that's what we fixated on in that moment, it wasn't what bothered us. Three days earlier when we first got to Disneyland, we passed an old obese white woman, seemingly homeless, sitting on one of the benches, eyes closed, wrapped in what looked like a old blanket, empty food containers stacked next to her. That wasn't completely out of the ordinary because every year there are homeless camped out at that bus stop.

This time though the smell was horrible. Her smell. The fat woman wrapped in a dirty blanket. And it followed us in either direction after we passed her. It wasn't just the smell of body odor, urine and feces either. There was another underlying sulfurous smell of decay, something we didn't want to imagine. But she was still breathing, so it wasn't the unimaginable. The girls smelled it too and we treaded lightly on the subject when asked why she was sitting there like that. We told them the poor woman didn't have anywhere else to go.

That's where the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I diverged, because while forgetting about the homeless woman after each time we passed was easier for me, it wasn't for her.

"Maybe we should call social services or something," she said. "Thousands of people are walking by her every day and no one's doing anything. And neither are we."

I empathized, but didn't comment further, and we never called anyone. Two days after passing her multiple times, we were on our way into the park yet again when the Mama tapped my shoulder.


"Did you see that?" she whispered, making sure our girls didn't hear.

"No, what."

"The homeless women was gone."

"I didn't notice."

"You didn't see the yellow tape blocking off where she was?"

"No, I didn't," I said, although the sulfurous decay smell had been stronger this time.

"There was a big human waste stain on the bench and on the concrete under where she sat. So sad."

That image floored me. We crossed Harbor Boulevard and I couldn't get it out of my head.

"Are you serious?"

"Yes. You didn't see it?"

I didn't want to turn around to look. "No, but now I do. Thank you."

My faint attempt at humor was lost on her. "She's gone. The homeless woman. "

"Wow. I wonder if she --"

"I know. We've should've done something. I should've called someone. I feel horrible," the Mama whispered, her voice trailing off.

Later on our way back to the hotel room, we passed the benches again, which at this point had been hosed down along with the sidewalk underneath them. No one sat on them and the stench still hung in the air. The few people who seemed to be waiting for an actual bus stood away from the benches.

My wife struggled with everyone's inaction to this homeless woman's plight, especially her own. It had all been washed away. Literally. And then completely removed, only the footprints of the benches remained like scars in the sidewalk concrete. Again, I empathized, but moved on to worrying about battling the dense crowds and getting our return on investment with the rides and the character sightings and signatures.

Eventually my worrying turned a little broader and darker as I thought about what the coming New Year would bring -- global conflict, another recession, civil unrest, maybe a zombie apocalypse and God knows what else. I worried about my wife marching in the local Women's March on Washington next month. All of us are marching in it actually, and so I worried about all of our safety, even in this still peaceful bastion of progressiveness called Santa Cruz. The march mission across the country is to stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families.

But what about the homeless woman's safety and health? Why did her family and community fail her? If this was a test from God, then I failed miserably. I didn't even feel committed to Kidpower's commitment to integrity and safety for everyone. Not my problem. Somebody else's. I have my own first world kind to deal with here in New Pottersville. That much I thought about while we waited in line for the Storybook Land ride.

That, and the fact that on the night before we left for our Disneyland trip, Christmas Day, a young white guy with a scraggly beard wearing a hoodie sweatshirt rang our doorbell. I answered the door and although he looked to be well-dressed with a new knapsack, and not homeless, he proceeded to tell me he was trying to make his way up north to somewhere undecipherable and wanted to know if we had any fresh "tasties" we could give to him -- food that is -- and he kept asking me for different kinds of food, although I kept saying no.

After less than a minute, I shut the door on him. Maybe he was legit, maybe he wasn't, maybe it was another test from God. I'll never know. I did tell our neighbors to keep an eye out just in case. I should've never answered the door anyway. It wasn't that late, but unless we know who it is, we don't answer the door after 7:00, and we've lived in a relatively safe neighborhood for over 10 years now. And who the hell knocks on your door at 7:30 at night on Christmas Day anyway?

And who the hell lets an obviously "sick" elderly woman become homeless and possibly die in a pile of her own feces at a bus stop in Anaheim across the street from Disneyland during the holidays?

After this year, it just feels like we're all a long way from the happiest place on earth. Maybe it's just me and my clouded perception. I don't really know. A good friend of mine who was an amazing artist and who volunteered for marine mammal rescue locally passed away suddenly earlier this month, and he wasn't too much older than me. Feeling the road as I already do, it just added to my angry yet impotent introspection of late.

Maybe it's not all so bad after all, though. I mean, our family is healthy and our girls have grit and we have a home and employment and causes we believe in and we love and care for one another, our families, our friends. And we do live in a community that mostly embodies similar spirits. Even when I doubt a little, or a lot, I still have faith we'll be strong and persevere, and that our girls will as well.

Someone reminded me recently that everything that happens is God's will and we're just living His plan for us all. I grew up in the Christian faith hearing that every single Sunday bloody Sunday. But I've always struggled with it, and I don't believe that's how life works, because our will is God's will is our will.

There are no divine tests as referenced above, only our lives, our wills and the decisions we make, the actions or inactions we take. We should've called for that homeless woman on the bench, but we didn't. That won't happen again. (The jury's still out for the guy at our door, though.)

Today, when empathy and faith aren't enough, our complex collective wills need to take progressive actions. The kind that will make a difference in the years to come for ourselves and our children. Mostly positive and peaceful actions, but also a throat punch or two delivered to indifference and incivility as needed.

We know how incrementally complex our lives can become, how vitality and happiness are relative spectrums we try really hard to stay centered in. The Mama and I pledge to stay centered and fight the good fight together to protect our rights, our safety, our health, our family, our community and our country. Because no other wills will do.

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