If The Homeless Wore Diamonds

The image of a person collapsed on a Beverly Boulevard sidewalk yesterday afternoon has weighed heavily on my conscience this Christmas.

Indeed, in the moment I spent tapping my fingers on my steering wheel, waiting for a traffic signal to switch from red to green, I observed a person motionless on the sidewalk. He or she was face down in front of one of the many mom and pop stores that pepper Los Angeles' streets. Pedestrians walked by, occasionally doing a double-take as they stared at the shoeless body, bare feet exposed. Inevitably though, the observers moved along, just as I did when the light turned green.

A mere twenty minutes earlier I'd been in the center of effervescent, sparkly Christmas happiness: a shopping mall. And not just any shopping mall. I'd been at the apex of pretentious celebrity-sighting: The Grove.

The Grove is the kind of place where, if you forget to get your parking ticket validated at the Apple Store, the concierge tells you he can't do it unless you can produce receipts totaling $250. It's easy to observe women wearing diamond rings with rocks the size of a half sucked on Lifesaver, even when they are dressed in the latest bohemian chic.

Everything at The Grove is perfectly shiny and bright, down to its manufactured town square containing the tallest Christmas tree west of the Mississippi. Its sidewalks are, of course, devoid of any bodies lying face down, shoes ripped from feet. If one of it's diamond-encrusted patrons were to collapse, I have no doubt the calvary would descend to immediately provide aid and assistance.

I have no way of knowing whether the person I drove by had been laid out on Beverly Boulevard all day, homeless and barely surviving on his or her piece of sidewalk real estate. Or was it someone with a medical emergency? Or someone whose physical shell had already begun to stiffen against the brutal hardness of the concrete?

If homeless, why is it OK to drive or walk by our fellow man, our minds on the inevitable climax of all our holiday expectations? How has our world arrived at such extremes of wealth and poverty? Paparazzi photograph some of us and then, a mere three miles to the east, not one person pauses to aid, let alone photograph, someone else. Including me.

Some of us slept in shelters or on the streets last night. Some of us slept in our comfortable beds, anxiously awaiting the ripping open of skillfully wrapped, much-longed-for presents. And when finally surrounded by a sea of jagged-edged, multi-colored paper, are we satisfied? Have we found that elusive, shiny brightness that will make the world right?

Can our world ever be right as long as it's OK to drive by a person who was obviously in need? I can rationalize my not stopping in a million different ways. None of the rationalizations feel good enough, especially not at Christmastime.


Jameil said…
please don't beat yourself up about this. you KNOW you are a good person and do good things. i have felt those pangs of conscience before when i felt like i should have done more. i just make sure the next time-- because there always is one-- i follow my instinct and help when it's needed. Christmas is as good a time as any but no better. hurting people hurt all the time. but of course you already knew all of this.
I like how you write, very nice and fluid. Good questions. But sadly, I think humanity will always be that way, until we all evolve into gray beings with no sex organs and psychic powers : p
April said…
To be fair, it's possible that people were scared it was a scam. If I were there with my 2 girls, I most certainly would've tried to avoid the scene as much as possible.
But yeah, this year in particular, it's harder to cover up all the problems with lights.
kegf said…
In these situations if I decide to do something (and that's a big IF. I've frequently been the person in the car who says a quick prayer and moves on when the light turns green) I'm never quite sure what to do. Simply call 911 to make sure that someone with training knows there's a person face down there? Stop and try to help the person myself (I don't have any formal training to help ppl in these types of situations, just "mom training"). Something else that obviously doesn't automatically occur to me? What action do you wish you'd taken?
Anonymous said…
Los Angelista,
Well, considering recent decisions by the California Supreme Court...
you coulda got sued for helping.
LOL (maybe...)
jamaise said…
Wow! That was powerful.
Liz Dwyer said…
You are, of course, quite right. Last time this went down in my neighborhood, the person was actually deceased. I could tell because I was one of many people walking by and the body just looked way too still. In that instance, no one had even stopped to even call the police, so I did. I hope the person the other day was ok, but there are so many who aren't.

Birdiums Prime,
Thanks for the compliment about my writing. I believe that humanity has to at some point, reach a tipping point where we collectively rebel against not helping another person. I think in the future, the very idea of not helping someone will be the equivalent of deciding to drink bleach.

It could be a scam or someone out of their mind on drugs. Very true. When I'm with my boys, I am much more wary of situations, but also try to model for them how we help other folks. I didn't have my phone with me so I couldn't call 911, and what's really getting me is that by the time I got home 10 minutes later, I was so caught up in getting stuff done that I didn't call then either.

Yes, prayer in the car is a big one for me to. I wish I could follow up the prayer with some sort of concrete action as well. I wish I'd remembered to call the police when I got home since I didn't have my phone with me. I have no formal training either, and the times I have stopped (while on foot or bike) and called 911, the operator has asked me stuff like, is the person breathing, can you administer CPR, and I've always been like, heck no, I'm not going over there by the person and I'm definitely not going to touch them. I'm too germ phobic and also to worried about passed out addicts/drunks who might flip out if touched.

Oh goodness, that's right! That is such a ridiculous law, but I understand it, sort of. If you get well-meaning people who pull a person out of a car wreck, they could potentially do more damage to the person than just waiting for paramedics. But to sue is just ridiculous.

Thanks for visiting and saying so. With such a large homeless population in Los Angeles and with the downturn in the economy, this is a sight I see more and more.

Thanks for sharing. I have also found that when I think someone else might have called, no one has. The time someone was dead on the sidewalk, there were so many people out walking by him and I walked by and something was just off. So I asked a group of teens if they'd seen the guy move and they were just like, "No, we weren't really paying attention." So I called 911 and waited till paramedics came. It was so sad.

I guess it is a reminder to me also to not leave the house without my phone. What did we do without them 10 years ago?
robyn said…
your post made me think of a song by ani difranco, she talks about the same sort of issue. you might want to check it out.http://www.danah.org/Ani/Reckoning/Subdivision.html
Jen said…
These are issues I'm really struggling with right now, Christmas or not.
Shiona said…
That is the way of the world. That is pretty interesting since when there's an accident everyone stops to look.

I wonder how many people think someone else has done something wehn no one has. That whole 911 thing is so sad.

On a good note The Grove is awesome. Man that was the best mall ever. I watched Terminator 3 there :)
Jessalyn said…
Even though you didn't stop, the fact that you blogged about it shows that you care. Other people would have been annoyed about this person being in their way or reminding them of the problem of homelessness. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten all of us.(((hugs)))
Jennifer said…
It is sad that the world is like this! I would've done the same thing most likely! I live in a very small town and we don't see much of this around here. I am a social worker and have it in my mind to want to help everyone! I have to realize that this is not possible and all I can do is try my best to help as many as I can. I can tell by your writing that you have a good heart and intentions. I'm glad you did the post and I hope many others read it and have the exact same thoughts weighing on their conscience as well.
Ian Lidster said…
Poignant tale, dear Liz and a stark reminder of some of the realities of contemporary life. You react to such things much as I do. And people can blather on about 'bad choices' to ease their consciences, but there she was lying on the sidewalk, nevertheless while we go off to our comfy homes.
May 2009 be all it can be for you my wonderful friend.
I face the same quandary nearly every day as homeless people abound in my genteel neighborhood. If I'm walking, I might ask if the person is ok, but you couldn't do that without causing an enormous vehicular pile-up.

What is especially hard to accept is that some of these people really have chosen this lifestyle which represents freedom from responsibility while most, I believe, have been the victims of very bad luck as well as possible bad choices. It's hard to know which is which, and therefore how to offer meaningful help.

Sometimes the answer is clear but often it is not and all we can do is castigate ourselves for not doing more. As long as we don't become hardened to the pain of others, there is hope for us all.
Dirty Red said…
This is what we have evolved into. Don't feel bad about not stoping to help, I don't know too many people that would have helped, and that is a damn shame. But just the fact that you wrote about your feelings for all to read shows what kind of woman you are. God knows your heart and from what I read on your blog, your heart is pure. Don't beat yourself up over this. More than likely you will find a way to help someone else.
Liz don't beat yourself up.

If you were on the sidewalk and had your phone I know you would have at least called for help.

I hear you on the Grove. I read the owner got the idea for the design from visiting Italy and France. Whatever, it's still a mall. Not an neighborhood.

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