Friday, November 20, 2009

Miami Heat


Awhile ago, my Facebook friend, Rafael Casas-Don, sent me, unsolicited, something he'd written. He didn't ask me to read it, nor did he say he was a writer (he works in the "real" world). Nor did he say he wanted to be a professional writer, or ask advice.

The piece was fantastic; one of the best things I've read in a long time. I zipped through it, then read it again. I've since told Raf (who is Cuban, from Cuba--so, well, he's already got one advantage over the rest of humanity) to write more and submit his stuff.

Since I read this piece, I have met Rafael. When he showed up at Rusty's house in Miami, I was complaining about lawyers. Rafael pointed out to me that he is a lawyer, and I stuck my flip-flops in my mouth.

Per his permission, here it is.

Charlie in a Wheelchair
The rain storm was typically Floridian. I could barely see the gray SUV that swirved ahead, driven by some indulgent blonde on her cell phone. The traffic light ahead turned bright red, forcing me to slow down and stop. The indulgent blonde rushed through the intersection carelessly, leaving me at the head of the line of cars on my lane. I like that. I like having unobstructed views of the world around me, especially when I drive.

A few feet away, protected by a thin blue plastic coat, a man on a wheelchair endured the merciless rain. It had to be bruising the frail skin on his legs. His head was bowed. In resignation, I'm sure. His right leg was paralyzed so he used his left leg to push himself a few inches in different directions. There was no shelter anywhere near him, no trees, no highway underpasses, no bus stops. Mother nature soaked him without concern for his safety. He bent forward further and stopped moving.

I was two hours late for work after a nasty battle with insomnia and a delayed morning routine.

Within a second, a thousand different thoughts flooded my still half-medicated brain. Self indulgent, guilty, pitiful, altruistic, angry thoughts. I turned right at the next intersection and drove through half flooded streets, near Target and Michael's, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, determined to find the way back to the man on the wheelchair.

I prayed. Surely God would help me succeed in my mission, quickly, so I could do both, His work and save face at work. "Lead me back to that man, if you want me to help him."

I got lost. I ended up, half an hour later and still under the crazy rain, back on US 1. I turned right again. "Who designed these streets?" There had to be a way to make it through the maze of Kendall Cubans, to the intersection with the wheelchair.

God wasn't helping. Did He think, too, that the man on the wheelchair would surely spend my money on cheap heroin instead of McDonald's? Was my clumsy sense of direction God's way of telling me I should not validate this man's sinful ways? Was He trying to teach me a lesson on emotional foolishness and self-reliant Republican logic?

God cannot be cynical. Cruel, perhaps. But not cynical.

At one point I thought my empathy would turn costly. The streets were flooding quickly (Miami is still a third world country). A tow truck driver salivated at the business opportunity the rain would soon pour on him. Several other cars had stopped, signaling hazardous conditions, and chosen to ride out the storm which by now seemed more like a typhoon.

I found my way to a bridge that, based on my foggy calculations, would lead me back to my goal. I hoped the wheelchair was still there-- under the torrential rain.

Was that a cruel hope? Did I wish this man misfortune so I could release my guilty, angry thoughts, and fulfill some twisted Catholic penance? I remembered then a friend's indictment of Mother Teresa as a selfish bitch bent on perpetuating suffering for the sake of her ego. Was my morning adventure the same as Teresa's Nobel efforts, on a diminutive scale? I had never agreed with David. But I do think we need to be careful, when we seek to help others. I've worked with too many people bent on destroying the best in us while claiming to be rescuing the world. The line between caring and manipulation is a fine one, indeed. But sometimes we genuinely care, even if what we do alters nothing in the order of the universe, is too small to make any real difference, validates sinful behavior, or appears to exalt the unavoidable, relentless suffering. True, intentions matter. But actions do speak louder than contrition and blame.

There it was, finally. The wheelchair wrapped in the thin blue plastic coat, a paralyzed leg showing, half covered by the water rushing alongside the prosperous SUV Cubans.

Charlie is in his late thirties, though he looks 55. He's very thin, has long hair, dirty fingernails, and shameful eyes. He carries the typical Big Slurp white plastic cup where I saw about fifty cents' worth of rescue. My stopping next to him surprised him. He was more surprised still when he saw that I was handing him bills, some of them twenties. By now you and your cynical God may be laughing.

He smiled when I asked if he needed anything, then lifted his thin blue plastic coat and said "mother nature!" and showed me a beautiful little kitten asleep on his lap.

The kitten was golden, and breathed peacefully. Charlie had protected it from the storm while he and his paralyzed leg got soaked and waited for mercy.

"Where did you find him?", I asked.

"The lady who gives me my AIDS cocktail had a pregnant cat. I told her I wanted the runt!"

Did he want the weakest of the bunch because he felt a special kinship with the golden kitten? Because he wanted to relate to his feline equivalent? Or was he seeking to feel superior and reclaim some sense of efficacy over life through this helpless creature? Was he like my cynical friend's version of Mother Teresa, spreading suffering by adopting a cat when he himself lacked the means to support himself? Was it selfishness or love, that fueled him? Was it selfishness or love that fueled me? Does God care, either way, if we end up becoming His instruments anyway?

I held back my tears. I wanted to hug Charlie. Lately, life has been pushing me further outside of my selfish playground. The feelings of loneliness and the need for some trascendental connection are not coincidental, I know. Charlie and his heroism looked so much more interesting than my plans to go shopping tomorrow.

But the light had turned green and I could sense another big SUV behing me was getting impatient.

"Have a nice day, Charlie" was all I could manage to say. "You have helped me do that" was all he answered.

The driver behind me hunked loudly and repeatedly. He had surely had enough of this ridiculous display of public charity.

I complied. I stuck my left hand out, gave him the finger, and drove away.

I am absolutely certain my gesture made the SUV driver feel like shit, even if only for a couple of seconds.


Hypocritical Tendencies:
So, Sarah Palin likes porn herself, but says her daughter's ex Levi prostituted himself for agreeing to pose for Playgirl.

Palin on Oprah

This is the equasion of someone saying they love their black maid's cooking, but don't think black people should hold positions of power. It's not just hypocritical, it's an arrogant, bigoted statement.


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