The image of a person collapsed on a Beverly Boulevard sidewalk on Christmas Eve has weighed heavily on my conscience.
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 there 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 its diamond-encrusted patrons were to collapse, I have no doubt the cavalry 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 okay 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 on Christmas Eve. 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, were we satisfied? Did we find that elusive, shiny brightness that will make the world right?
Can our world ever be right as long as it’s okay 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.