My apologies. I know I’m taking a risk here, but I posted this the other day and then I took it down. I’m torn. I want to leave the past in the past and so I thought I’d put it out there and let it go, but then I thought, by putting it out there, it regains energy. I had a great conversation with a wise person, who told me its okay to put it out there, let it go, and be done with it. So, here it is again. I will not take it down. Namaste.
Charles Bukowski once said, “I walked around the block twice, passed 200 people and failed to see a human being.”
The block I grew up on was pretty bad. I walked around it countless times. I witnessed and experienced things I shouldn’t have at an early age. At any age, really. I greeted the prostitutes on the corner as I walked by, witnessed horrible violence and incredible kindness. A bloody lifeless body on my sidewalk and a two-year old boy innocently playing with a toy truck. I went to sleep to the cacophony of gun shots, sirens, the elevated train, people yelling and screaming, and … a dog barking. You get used it.
I learned street diplomacy in my single digits, got into and out of violent confrontations and maintained a delicate relationship between decent people and the criminal element.
Mentally, physically, and psychologically processing that stuff has its effects. For so many, the atmosphere becomes them and I completely understand. The pressure to align with this group or that group, because standing alone is dangerous. So is aligning with a group. Catch 22. What does it mean to be a man? As a young teenager, successfully navigating that atmosphere was next to impossible.
Due to the surrounding violence, my dad enrolled me in martial arts when I was twelve. Real martial arts. Not kiddie karate. Blood, pain, injury, and a bit of Zen. I could have gotten three of those on the streets at no cost. Actually, I did. Something I asked my dad was … “Can’t we just move, instead?” But that wasn’t in the cards.
That neighborhood heightened my sense of awareness and information processing speed. My decision making skills are quick and quite decisive. I learned to read situations, verbal exchanges, tone, demeanor, mood, movement, and things that just don’t feel right. I don’t recommend it.
And the martial arts? That militaristic dojo taught me how to embrace the suck, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and focus. It helped me to see myself. And because of that, it helped me to see the human beings.
Back to the Bukowski quote. I saw the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful on that block. I saw the humans. All of them. A person. A life. I think that’s what helped me navigate those streets. I genuinely saw the person and they saw that I saw them and so … they saw me. Some didn’t, no matter what. That’s just the way it goes and that relationship got handled differently.
Whatever, whenever, and wherever the block; literal or metaphorical, seeing the human beings helps a lot. It can hurt sometimes too. But, the alternative is just going through the motions. No feeling to it. No soul.
I know what Bukowski was trying to say and I get it. Life, atmosphere, circumstances, and shitty people can cause us to lose our faith in fellow humans; jaded, frustrated, guarded, and disheartened. It happens and we all have our days, but we can’t live there. That would be a miserable existence. No joy. No peace.
I see human beings, but I first had to truly see myself.
Photo by Fredy Martinez on Unsplash