Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Came Across a Body

When I run ideas percolate to the surface. This story has risen and settled several times. It’s rough and it’s probably not ready to be shared, but whose to judge? I return in my mind’s eye to the scene of the body.  It's got a hold on me. 

When I run I reflect on life’s happenings, good, bad, and disturbing. This is how stories come to be on this old blog. I run to clear my mind and sort through ideas.  I run because to do otherwise is unfathomable. Running is my therapy, writing is my release.

I came across a body.
I was rushing to work the other day when I came across a body. I was running late. I was to present to a staff.

I rubbernecked a body shape as I zoomed by in my little car down lonely Alexander Street. Alexander Street, where it's best not to be found after dark.

“There's nothing I can do and I'm late,” I thought as I zoomed on by.

I paused at the stop sign some 200 meters beyond the body. My options were simple, turn right to my destination or return to the body? With one foot on the gas and the other on the brake I pondered this dilemma. It was a critical moment that we all find ourselves facing from time to time.  Jagged thoughts ensued…
Is the body alive? 
Is the body in trauma? 
It's freaking cold! 
Do I care?
Is it just another drunk? 
There's no one around to judge me and I'm late. 
No one will ever know if I keep on going.

Removing my foot from the brake I turned slowly and pulled up alongside the body.  I yelled from the safety of my car "Hey, are you awake?"

No response.

I approached the body, stooped and shook its hip lightly. No response. I shook the body again, harder this time and yelled again, louder than previously.
Still, there was no response.

I called 911. 

"Is he breathing?" the operator asked.

"I don't know." I replied.

"Can you check?" she asked in a calm voice.

With phone in hand I returned to the body and stooped again and shook the body’s shoulders hard and yelled "Wake up, wake up".  I thought for sure the body was dead, how could it survive a night on this desolate, cold street.  He just curled up and died.

Suddenly a head popped out of the dirty cocoon of a sleeping bag. He was confused and looked fearful.

I spoke softly "Are you okay? Do you need help?”

I remember his long scruffy hair falling loosely over his young face. His bleary eyes were dark and empty. He was little more than a child really, maybe early twenties, but it’s hard to say for sure. My heart softened and time stopped in this moment of compassion. Our eyes locked, me standing, he lying in the cold gutter. 

"Yes, the body is breathing" I told the 911 operator while standing over the body, our eyes locked.  

I left the body lying on the cold street with a $10 Tim's card and $10 cash. An ambulance had been dispatched. There's nothing more I can do.

"Go get a hot breakfast, buddy, It's cold out” and drove off in my warm car.

I started my presentation.  “I’m going off script” I told the audience, and I proceeded to tell the story of the body and my ambivalence. I asked them to consider their students and reflect on their practice.  We talked about mental health and mental illness.  We talked about the universal need to belong. We talked of the importance of feeling safe and loved. We talked about states of languishing and flourishing.  We talked about making learning meaningful and relevant for all students especially those at risk. We talked about how might we create a school community where all belong, all succeed, and all are cared for deeply.

These invisible bodies that we step over are the philosophers of our time.  They teach us compassion, but we turn away. They teach us patience but we are too busy.  They give us wisdom, but we turn our backs.  If only we would heed their voice.

I thank the body for his wisdom, his patience, and the compassion that warmed my soul. I thank the Alexander Street body for this story and I wish him well.

Today I ran 12 hard, fast miles with friends and it was life affirming.
It's a good day to be alive.