Rants & Essays

Humanity is a Virus

By The Lighthouse Keeper

Hey Troops.

It's 4 am, Eastern Standard Time.

It's amazing to me the kinds of things that silence breeds. Silence is a lot like garbage in a sense. Silence and stillness breed introspection and random thought in much the same way that garbage and stench provide the incubation substrate and conditions necessary for breeding maggots. Silence makes the most ambient and subtle surface thought that might go through your mind shout at you. It amplifies it. No distraction. No tangent to hide in.

Do you ever do that? Hide from your thoughts? Avoid them if possible?

I'm not talking about the thoughts that race through your mind when your best friend's girlfriend stretches in front of you and you find yourself staring at the small of her back, listening to her "purr" as the joints in her small bones pop while briefly fantasizing about whether or not her flesh tastes like salt or honeycomb. I'm talking about those completely RANDOM little thoughts that seem, at first, to mean absolutely nothing. The ones that, by themselves, are completely and totally innocuous and meaningless...but when combined with a few other thoughts create a brief yet meaningful sub-paradigm within your brain:

While driving Anne to work the other day, we came to a particularly long stoplight. I've been awake at this point for close to 24 hours straight and am convinced that the only thing powering the machine that is me is nervous energy, a couple of bites off a cinnamon raisin bagel and the 2/3 melted Café Cooler that's sitting between my legs as I drive. Anne and I are discussing a mutual friend of ours and how we should really keep in better touch with her. I say something about the friend in a Freudian-Slip sort of way and don't even realize that I've said it. Anne giggles and after I realize what I've said I'm quite embarrassed. Anne soothes the awkwardness by agreeing with what I've said about our friend wholeheartedly and tells me that she's really happy that I said it instead of her. While I'm clinching my eyes shut to keep the sun from raping them while I try to rub the sleep out of them, which is very strange seeing as how I haven't slept yet, I'm listening to a radio advertisement for a medical procedure that will completely and totally eliminate body hair from a woman's bikini line via laser beam. I find this somewhat disturbing. I open my eyes after putting my sunglasses back on, after its safe, and I see on the median that separates the road between inbound and outbound traffic a very skinny, disheveled man holding a Rubbermaid container full of blue and green ballpoint pens in one hand and a coffee can in the other. The man is apparently either handicapped or retarded. Perhaps both. I can't tell which. Anne is talking about the mutual friend. I'm not listening, even though I know that she thinks I am because of my timed nods. I'm staring at the man. He doesn't see me, of course. For all he knows I'm staring straight ahead. But I see him. He's selling his pens for change. He's panhandling, in the middle of Tampa, in the middle of Dale Mabry (one of the busiest roads in the Tampa Bay area), and even though it's only 9:30 in the morning the temperature is already in the low 90's. I feel a burn in my throat as I take in the weight of what I'm watching. What I see. The man is being turned away from every car in front of me. He doesn't knock on the windows of the cars... he doesn't hold up a sign. He simply walks from car to car, waits a short second, and then moves to the next car. The man in the car in front of me doesn't even turn his head to acknowledge the man. The man approaches our car. Anne is still talking about having our mutual friend over for dinner in a couple of days. I'm still nodding in time. I see the man's face and it screams ONE SINGLE aspect to me more than any other: Defeat.

I reach down beside me and grab a handful of quarters which are designated for tolls. I feel the burn in my throat swell as I roll down the window as Anne is in mid-sentence and say, "Hey. Come here." The man limps over to my window. I hand him the change. He takes it without saying a word, but extends his Rubbermaid container full of ballpoint pens to me. The swell in my throat splits as I force the word "No." out of my mouth as I shake my head. The man tips his very dirty Green Bay Packers cap at me and walks behind me to the next car. My eyes are on fire. I don't know WHY I feel the almost uncontrollable urge to cry...but I keep it in check. Anne has stopped talking. She puts her hand on top of mine, which is shaking somewhat on top of the gearshift, and says, "That was sweet, baby." The man in the car behind me rolls down his window and hands the man a bill of some denomination or another. Checkmate. I cry.

As we drive off and head onto the interstate, I glance into my mirror and see that yet another person is handing the man some change. I think about the complete and total humility it must take for the man to do what he's doing. I think about the fact that even though he can't seem to walk tall due to his physical condition, he still has pride. He is not a beggar. His pens are his trade for those who are kind and take mercy, NOT PITY, but mercy on him. I think about how he might even be an angel in disguise that was sent to test me. To see how cold I've grown. To see what I'm made of. I don't think that I set off a chain reaction by rolling down my window and giving him what I could to help him to, if nothing else, get out of the heat and get a soda...but for a brief moment I ponder how good it feels to be a human. How sometimes we lose touch of what it is that makes us what we are. How sometimes we need to be reminded. Maybe I reminded the person in the car behind me...and he the person in the car behind him. Maybe humanity isn't a state of being, but a condition that lies dormant in each of us that needs to be awakened every now and then.

Maybe humanity is a virus.

I've been hiding from these events... these thoughts... since they transpired. Every time I even began to think about that man I felt the burning in my throat again and knew that it was a herald of an emotional display that I've never been comfortable with. As I write this now, it's more to sort out these thoughts and events for myself. But it's also for you, too, I guess. Maybe the lesson in all of this is don't take anything for granted because you never know when it's going to not be there. That could be. Or maybe the lesson is to be thankful for what you have, for you're gifted if you have a place to call home and a full belly. It could be that, too. Or maybe...and this is the one that I've REALLY been trying to avoid thinking about for whatever reason, the lesson is being born on planet earth as a human being does not necessarily mean that you're instilled with the gift of Humanity. Perhaps Humanity is something we acquire through time and experience. The ability to relate in some way to the lowest possible denominator. The ability to, even at our personal worst, see the good in man and the goodness that man is capable of. The ability to care for the lowliest, most meek of our ranks as if he were our brother. Maybe THAT's what Humanity's all about.

I'm not really sure.

I'll let you know if I find out, though.

I promise