Every now and then, on the busy street where I live, there will be someone who seems to have profoundly lost his or her way. However, they never seem to lose their voice. They might be sitting at the bus stop screaming swear words at the top of their lungs. Or shouting upward at the enemy sky with a tone that indicates they're ready to rumble. Or they just may be sobbing loudly to remind the rest of us that they're still alive.
Mostly, though, they all sound desperate and full of anguish, and appear to be far, far off course — as if they have willingly purchased a ticket that will plunge them down into a nightmare of their own making. As they walk across the intersection, flailing or cursing, they're oblivious to pretty much everything around them. They are lost souls.
While I was making dinner the other night, I thought I heard someone yelling outside. After a good fifteen minutes of thinking I was imagining this far-off hollering, I asked my husband if he heard it and he said no. But something in my gut told me that there was a person out there, hurling their pain out into the stratosphere. I opened the porch door and, sure enough, I saw a man scrunched up next to the bus stop bench, rambling and raging. I couldn’t make complete sense of what he was shouting, but his monologue was punctuated with fuck them and fuck you and I hate and betrayal.
My initial reaction was to close the porch door and lock my little family in tight so we wouldn’t be harmed by this man, should he decide to get up and cross the street. But another part of me wished that I had crossed the street and sat down with him. I bet I would've related to a a lot of what he was feeling. I bet I would have recognized that disconnected look in his eyes.
Because I know we’ve all snapped at one time or another. But some of us snap so severely that it's almost impossible to come back to reality. That kind of snap is just a confused, screaming, wild hideousness that resonates throughout the neighborhood in a way that reminds the rest of us that, no matter what you tell yourself, that could be you. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
I’ve always prided myself on being a human being that can rise to any occasion. Someone who, when there's an emergency, is the one who gets herself involved to see what she can do instead of running in the opposite direction. If an old person is confused and looking lost, I like to brag that I’m the one that will step forward and offer assistance. If a mom with her three young kids is broken down on the other side of the freeway, it's always been me who takes the next exit so I can turn around and help.
I’m good at fixing things that seem to be broken out in the world. But when it comes to a person that seems so far gone — what is it about that scenario that sends such a shiver down my spine? Why is it that I hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact”?
Regardless of the wish that they would all get it together, find someone to care for them and have a happy life, the broken ones are everywhere you go. They are the ones you hope you’ll never be. The ones that make you think, What on Earth happened to that person to make them that way? What about their family? Don’t they have one friend?
I listened to the Screaming Man for quite some time. I just stood there, looking at him, knowing he was totally unaware of me. Part of me hoped that someone had called the police to take him away to a place where he would at least have shelter. But I did nothing.
I simply listened and felt sad. And then I said a prayer for him, asking God why any human should be rolled up in a ball on a sidewalk, wailing in pain, without a single person asking him what's wrong.