Life has the bizarre tendency to throw curve balls at us. I’ve had a couple of them this year, whipping at me out of nowhere and I’ve survived them. I dare say that I’ll survive this latest one that has not only eluded my bat, but is now circling me with a moral dilemma and a rush of righteous indignation.
What the crap is wrong with society?
How is it that a kid – any kid! - is neglected, abandoned and abused and left without any source of assistance, guidance or even rudimentary help? How have we, as a community, as a society, managed to get to a point where we are more concerned about making weapons and getting to Mars than taking care of our own planet and our own people? Billions of dollars are spent on space exploration, on the military, and on other wasteful and stupid things while kids – KIDS! – are abused, hungry, unloved and uncared for right here in our own back yards.
I’m not going to even pretend that I am the least bit politically savvy. I honestly don’t give a rabid rodent’s rosy red rectum what goes on in parliament or wherever it is that the elected elite gather to further fuck up our lives with their ridiculous notions of what they think we need. It’s such a pathetic and unproductive system as far as I can tell and seriously needs to be as abandoned as some of the people it is supposedly in place to serve – forget protect. The education system has become a joke. The legal system is a joke. Social services have become social disservices and the government is a nothing more than a gaggle of squawking geese honking their own horns with little or no idea of how they are impacting the people who elect them, their country or the world. It makes me sick.
If you can’t tell, I’m slightly pissed off. As much because I don’t know what to do about it as because of the way things are. But I do not mean to disparage any of the well-intentioned within these systems who do care and do try to make a difference. I know that there are many in the government, the law and social services that really do want to make things better.
I make my living managing a small public library. I make dozens of decisions every day that have a wide variety of effect throughout the community and even throughout the province. Sometimes the choices are easy – what books to buy, what books to withdraw. Sometimes they are not so cut and dried. Sometimes I have to say, “No.” To the best of my ability, I try to make the decisions I make with the greater good in mind and I accept and understand that I can’t please all of the people all of the time. I’m also quite willing to rescind a decision that isn’t serving the greater good and I take responsibility for it, try to learn from it and try to make better future choices. It’s all I can do.
I also try to accept that other people do the best they can, too. I can put myself in their shoes to a point and I can fully appreciate that circumstances are not always conducive to making good choices – in one’s personal life or professional life. But when I see a kid who no one gives a crap about and no one who could be in a position to do something for that kid steps up, I get a little frustrated.
We are led to believe that we are a caring society. We so are not. And I am as much a part of that lack of caring as anyone else. I sit on my own high horse and tell myself that I follow the rules, I work hard and pay my bills, I’m a good person who functions in society as I am intended to. And if I can do it, so can everyone else. If only it was so simple. If only it was a perfect world…
My choices have recently landed me in what may be interpreted as a bit of a pickle. I honestly, within my limited scope of reasoning at the time, thought that my choices were not malicious or threatening or that they would be interpreted as such by anyone. I actually expected that those affected by my choices would simply adjust and carry on. Apparently, I underestimated one person who did see them as malicious and threatening and reacted in a manner that frightened me just a little; enough to take the matter to the police, not with the intention of getting this person in trouble, but in the desperate hope of getting him some help. He needs help!
For the last four years I have watched this kid come and go in the library. From the get-go, it was obvious that he has some severely debilitating limitations. He’s quite intelligent; however, he does possess some sort of mental health issue that I am not qualified to diagnose. I have some theories, but I cannot be certain. He lacks social skills, life skills and basic personal hygiene skills. He is also very curious and has been educated enough to be able to read and write fairly proficiently. Watching him over the years, I have come to the conclusion that, with some help, he could function quite well. He is teachable and I think that he could be a reasonably productive member of our community and that he does have something of value to contribute. If he could get some help!
Three years ago, I went to social services about him. I was concerned about the way he appeared not to be getting proper nourishment and that he wasn’t attending school. When we asked him if he was in school, he replied that he was home schooled. When we asked him what courses he was studying, he wigged out and shut down because he didn’t know the answers. No one told him what they were supposed to be and he didn’t understand what that meant. My intention was to get the people that I believed were in a position to help, to help him. I was told by a social worker that I should call his mother and tell her my concerns. Really?
I pressed for them to do something for him instead, but nothing came of it. I have no idea what, if anything, they did do. I was told that the family refused assistance.
The library is a safe haven for this kid, who has been known to walk around with large sums of cash. When he’s in the library, I can be relatively sure that he’s not causing trouble or being bothered. Occasionally staff do have to speak to him about his behaviour when it becomes disruptive. We do this firmly, but kindly, knowing that he can be unpredictable at times in his reactions. He avoids me and had displayed clear animosity toward me in the past. I mean him no harm and would dearly love to see him get the help he needs. I am concerned for his safety and his well-being. I don’t know how to help him.
When I discovered that he was sitting on the cold stone benches at the back of the library after hours using the wi-fi, I was alarmed. Winter has set in and I am uncomfortable knowing that he is sitting in a relatively isolated spot in the cold and dark for heaven knows how long at night all by himself. He has a laptop and – as I’ve said – carries large amounts of cash at times. He is vulnerable and, in spite of being left to his own devices most of the time, not very street-smart. I thought that if I turned off the wi-fi after hours, he would go home, or at least get off the streets and find a safer place to be out of the cold and not in such an isolated place.
I was wrong.
His reaction was unexpected and even more alarming. He chased my van down the street.
Feeling horribly guilty and uncertain of his intentions, I decided to report the incident to the police. I felt unsafe and I felt deeply concerned about his safety. My hope, and my intention, was not to get him in trouble, but that he might get the attention of those that can help him. Chasing a moving vehicle down the middle of the road is not a wise thing to do by any estimation. I didn’t even see him and only know about it because another staff member witnessed the whole thing. That was probably the worst part of it for me. What if he had slipped on the icy road and been hit by another car? What if he had caught up to me at the stop sign? What was his intention? I don’t know.
Based on past experience, I decided to continue turning off the wi-fi at night. I thought that, as in the past when things have changed, he would adjust and accept it. He chased me again. Only this time, he left a few minutes earlier and was waiting for me at the end of the road. When he saw my vehicle, he started running in the direction that he assumed I would turn, possibly thinking that he could get ahead of me. Clearly he wanted to see where I was going. I turned down a different road and doubled back to the library, then turned in the opposite direction and took an alternative route home. I could see him watching me and could tell he was somewhat baffled by the maneuver.
What’s next, I wondered. Is he going to leave a bit earlier next time, go a little further and wait for me so he can see where I’m going? Why does he want to know? What does he intend to do when he finds out? I called the police again. As with the first report, they were reluctant to get involved. They are aware of him and are under the distinct impression that he is incapable of causing – or even intending – any personal harm. I’m not so sure.
Am I being paranoid? I don’t think so. He isn’t stupid. He does not lack intelligence. He can be quite calculating and cunning in his own fashion. He has some plan, very likely half-baked, that he wants to carry out. Whatever it is, I don’t want him to have the chance to see it through.
I could just start leaving the wi-fi on again and let whatever happens happen. How shitty am I going to feel if someone – the wrong someone – notices him and accosts him while he’s sitting alone in the cold at the back of the library? Pretty shitty, I think. Is it going to come down to someone, either him or someone else, getting hurt before something is done? And then what will be done? Do I turn a blind eye? Do I keep hammering at the police, social services, or anyone else I can think of until something happens? What do I do? How can I make a difference in this kid’s life? Where is the help he needs?
As I sit here in my lovely home with my nice stuff, my good health, knowing that I have people in my life that care about and love me, I feel grateful, humble and – perhaps incongruently – privileged. I have it pretty damn good. I’m happy and I’m more prosperous than a lot of people in the world. I want to do the right thing. I don’t know what the right thing is.
I feel like I’m being called upon to… do something. I’m overwhelmed at the enormity of whatever that something might be. I can’t fix the whole world. I can’t even seem to be able to make one scared and lonely kid’s life a little better. I am convinced that, with a bit of coaching, he could make something of himself. I’m convinced that he could have a decent life with enough food and a safe, warm bed to sleep in at night. I’m certain that he can be happy. I want all these things for him. But I’ve let him down. Right along with the rest of society. He’s just been let down.
This whole incident has given me pause. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own behaviour and motives and have come to the realization that since I’ve not been part of the solution, I must be part of the problem. There is an opportunity here for me. I can see that clearly enough. I just haven’t figured out what that opportunity is or what action I need to take. My decision was well-intentioned, but poorly executed. I made a mistake, the consequences of which I must now endure. I now have new choices to make.
This isn’t easy for me. I tend not to be very sympathetic and have little tolerance for people who make bad choices for themselves and then expect others to fix things for them – particularly when the innocent are caught in the proverbial crossfire. I admire accountability and try to practice that. At the same time, I get really choked and offended when others don’t live up to my standards and expectations. It’s a bit duplicitous of me, I know. I am confident that we all get what we give and that we create what happens in our lives for ourselves. Intention carries a lot of weight, but it does not absolve misguided action.
I am off now to do some errands and get on with my projects. While I go through my day, my duties and my dalliances, I will ponder this crossroads that I seem to be standing at – yet again! Somehow, something good will come of all this. It, too, shall pass.
And hopefully, a better world for all and a happier life for this young kid will be the result.