The warm summer air hit my face as me and my friend stepped out into the 9 a clock evening.
We had decided it was the perfect night for some frozen Ice cream, so we headed to our usual down the street before we settled in for the night.
As we strolled down Magnolia Boulevard, the smells of ethnic food and the sounds of night life filled our senses, telling the story of the mash-up of cultures and backgrounds crammed into this small part of LA.
We passed our local grocery store enjoying the weather and plethora of unique and diverse characters that seemed to cover the streets in this area all on their way to who-knows-what.
The cheap rent and close amenities seemed to invite and nurture people from every walk of life to cohabitate in this place called the NOHO Arts District.
Once we had our hands wrapped around cups of heaping sweetness we headed to our usual eating spot, a wall next to the street that gave the best view of this part of the city, enabling good conversation and great observation capability.
Usually we were able to sit in peace while watching all the young actor/dancer/singer hopefuls, dressed in their slim cut pants and thrift store t-shirts, here to make it big, gathering together for a night stroll with others of their kind.
Or the large families pushing kids across the street laughing with their spouses.
Or a young-love filled couple holding hands for the first time, standing like a movie scene under streetlights.
But that night offered a very different scene.
As I crammed a huge bite of vanilla goodness into my mouth I asked my friend a question about an audition he had coming up the next day.
But he didn’t answer, instead his eyes grew wide and he looked past my head.
As I turned around, I saw a car full of young guys in the parking lot, it seemed as if they had been trying to leave but had been stopped by a young girl looking to be not much older than me.
She was leaning with attitude into their now open passenger window, talking and flirting to them.
She was wearing high heals and clothes that seemed to tight for comfort
The young men in the car started laughing and signaled her to turn around, she did, showing her self off, in a fashion-show esque style.
Then suddenly the car took off out of the parking lot down the road, their laughs echoing coldly into the warm air as it they faded away down the street.
The girl (who I had now gathered was a woman of the night) just stood there.
Perfectly still, like a statue, frozen where she had been left.
Then, coming back to the moment, she began to look around as if searching for another car or potential client.
I looked back at my friend, we stared at each other waiting for the others reaction.
My first impression was one of confusion, almost letting out a laugh at the ridiculous scene I had just been subject to.
Then remembering who I was -a caring and self proclaimed ‘good guy’- I quickly added “That’s very sad”
my friend agreeing with an “Of course”
The young girl walked by us on the sidewalk almost shamefully lifting her head to look at us.
My friend smiled and said “Hello” politely, unsure of how much eye contact was appropriate as she made her way into the darkness.
A few weeks earlier I had sat in the same place eating the same concoction of vanilla sweetness.
I had left the house to get some fresh air right after dinner and was hoping to have a relaxing time of contemplation and thought.
When suddenly seemingly out of nowhere appeared a young man.
As I lifted my head from my second meal, I saw he was shirtless and dressed in torn and worn out clothes, his short hair and young face were dirty.
I noticed his vacant look on his countenance, that had at some point in his young life, taken up residency over his face.
From what I could tell He looked to be about my age.
As I gave another a quick and hopefully unnoticed glance at him, hoping he would just go away, I saw he had walked up to me, stopped and just stood beside me looking into the distance, as if he was an actor who had forgotten his lines.
I realized I had seen him before, wandering around this part of the city by my house.
He was clearly homeless, and alone.
I often became annoyed when seeing him hassle people for money, or hitting on girls as they crossed the street, I wondered why didn’t he just ‘get a job’ and live like a normal person.
The awkward seconds past as he stood there silent, just staring past my shoulder as if fighting to remember what he was doing, clearly under the influence of something strong.
I had seen it many times before, addiction ruining lives, but rarely this young.
I felt he had no excuse.
I’ve gone through hard things, but you don’t see me acting crazy like this, I thought judgmentally.
“Have you seen the girl with the cigarettes?”
He said breaking the uncomfortable silence, still looking past me into another world.
What? I thought
“No.” I replied coldly
Then suddenly he looked at me, I felt his eyes on my face, studying me as if to see if I was a friend.
I looked back into his probing blue eyes that seemed to speak of more sadness than most did for the amount of years he had been on this earth.
“Do YOU have a cigarette?” He asked a little quieter.
Again, I gave him the short answer.
And with that he was off, he leaped over the wall and began looking for his smoke elsewhere.
On my my way home that night, I kept seeing his eyes as they would appear in my mind, interrupting whatever thought I had.
Like a movie that I couldn’t hit the STOP button on, the vision of his distant blue eyes looking at me kept ringing in my head.
I couldn’t help the feeling that somehow, I saw my self in his gaze.
We both were around the same age, living in the same city and we even both had blue eyes.
I wondered how I would have treated my self, had I ever chanced upon meeting my self in less than ideal circumstances.
Would I have turned my self away with a cold “No” like I had just done.
How could I have been so cold?
As I sit here at my desk this morning, just down the street from the wall I experienced these stories.
I think about my reactions to each one of these people, to the young girl in the throws of desperation enough, that she would sell her self and her body.
I think of the young man who felt so chained by addiction he had alienated himself to the point of poverty and living in a run down car, parked next to the grocery store.
I think of how my first reaction to each of the scenes was one of coldness.
I wonder why.
Have I become so used to looking at the world through a screen of my computer or TV or car window, that even while I am faced with real life, I look at it as if in third person?
As if the darkness around me doesn’t effect me that it’s not real?
Have I become so desensitized to the sadness of the world around me, I think it normal and something simply to be observed?
Even the beautiful things in the world I realize, have become normal to me.
I suddenly am taken back to the time when I was a child, when the first time I saw something as simple as snow, it was literally magical, and was shocked that anyone could ever be homeless or not have enough to eat.
I want that again, I want to be affected by the world, good and bad, I want to be amazed at sunsets and heart broken over heart break.
I want to once again to put my self in peoples places and remember when I was lost and in over my head, the people that looked on me with compassion and helped me through my struggles, not merely dismissed with with a cold word.
I wish now, I could go back and to the young woman, give her whatever money I had in my pocket and remind her there are good men in the world who are able to love her for more than her body, and remind her of her worth that God made her with.
I want to go back to the young man and buy him a meal and tell him we have all been there, dealing with vices we think we can’t break or escape from, but remind him, there is hope and a God who designed him with a purpose.
But I can’t.
So instead, I have made a decision, as I sit her typing away on my little Mac in the heart of North Hollywood- I will no longer be immune to life.
I will let my heart break for the broken in the world and do whatever I can to bring light.
By not being immune to the darkness the exists OR the beauty of world that can bring light.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helples