Also published in MinnPost.
January 1, 2012
Mary Buelow is a budding writer whose ability to see through superficialities and shed light on hidden truths will take her far.
More important is where her stories take others, by transporting subjects who don’t or can’t speak up into the vision of readers to whom the subjects speak in ways heretofore unheard.
LikeA Man I Never Knew featured in Buelow’s blog Happy Times. The unknown man Buelow “never knew” was found dead, buried in the rubble of his foreclosed home.
It seems few made meaningful connection to the man, save an opportunistic woman who consumed freely of his vulnerability before abandoning him. Leaving him overwhelmed in the wreckage of volumes of random things, piles and piles of purchased stuff.
Gone is much of this man’s essence, too. His history lost somewhere along the line, likely accelerated by his apparent attempts at connection with the woman. She squandered his likely tenuous grip by literally taking over all he owned and once was. After she left and he, too was gone, a bank and random looters took most of the rest.
All that remained of two humans in isolated relationship was a forbidden house. Community had swirled all around them and it, but in the end they amounted to little more than comers and goers. There had been little signs of hope in the home, including a poster with the caption “Never Give Up.” But, however any might have tried to help, all obviously gave up.
One wonders: at what point did the man gave up?
Leaving his story only to be told by chance of a young writer who, it happens, was so haunted she felt compelled to share it, illuminates life-critical questions.
On her blog Buelow posted a poignant photo. Of a handwritten list, yellowed with age, posted prominently on the home’s refrigerator. Not of food to be bought, but of fears to overcome. Titled, by the man: “What I am afraid of.”
He was afraid: “To talk to people.” Who hasn’t been?
He was afraid: “To make money.” Who hasn’t struggled to?
He was afraid: “To turn away.” Who hasn’t been? Who has?
This man chose not to hide his fears, but rather to face them. And, at the very place he sought life-sustaining food, no less.
He was afraid to turn away. So much, he would not allow himself to turn away from his own fears. A strength of his character, evidenced still in his absence. But, this strong inability to turn away hurt him, too, in the end. The women, he likely knew, needed help. But, he alone couldn’t help her enough. Because he (as all humans do) needed more help, too.
What if others had overcome fears and reached out to him, them? And, if they did, why not much more? Why not enough?
Where are we without connection? Without relationship? Without community who opens up when we feel isolated? And when we dare reveal our fears. We must admit the deepest of ours bear resemblance to those this humble man voiced.
We’ve all been there, could be even now, or will be someday.
What if others talked to each other about how to help him? And, if they did, why wasn’t it enough to organize sustained ways to help him? And, perhaps, his housemate, too. Was it because they were so quiet, so loud? Or so different? Were others afraid of or disgusted by this odd, sad couple?
Or, were others simply doing their own hoarding? Of food, money, time, image, privilege or, there it is again: fear?
What if others set aside some, just enough, of their own situations, and faced their fears by turning to this man and each other, again and again, somehow. To help all live realer lives (for all the messes living reveals). Not hoarding, but instead engaging life’s stuff, life’s living realities?
This man, beneath all the mess, was different, yes. And yet, not so much from the rest of us and or others we know.
We can see through his story something true and real of him–and, in so doing, something realer and truer of ourselves. That is if we don’t turn away from each other, or, more importantly: our own hidden fears. By engaging and staying in real relationships that dare reveal vulnerabilities and interdependencies we tend to avoid, until it is too late.
May this man rest in peace.
And may we not rest until we resolve our seemingly endless and overwhelming differences and struggles, however and wherever we can.