Thank you "man dressed in brown"
by Robert Lewis

I stand silently at the edge of the ugly courtyard.

I am surrounded by the crusted walls of this enormous grotesque brownstone building.

There are bars on every window.

I am here for a moment or an hour. They are here for a lifetime.

Did this ugly courtyard once grow grass? No longer. The shuffling feet of the desperate

Men who live here and daily walk here have pounded it away. The ground is hard and


Some would call these men evil. They have robbed. They have dealt drugs. They have

Raped. They have murdered.

They have been here for years. For decades. For lifetimes.

I look up for a moment. If I can. At the sky. The beautiful blue blanket of cloudless

Sky. The sky that seeks to reign in sharp contrast to all the ugliness below. The walls.

The rusty bars. The desperate sedated men.

Is this tragedy? Is this justice? Is this irony? Is this parody of all human existence? Is

This surrealism at its ugliest? Or at its most beautiful? Is this a piece of humanity that

We prefer to pretend does not exist?

Who am I? Where am I from? Am I from the men? For in some ways we are not

Unalike. Or am I from the sky? For in my own stumbling and imperfect way I would

Invite them to look at the blue sky. Where there might be a faint whisper of hope.

Something beyond this desperate endless mortality.

Am I making things any better for them? Or am I making things worse?

Am I really here to save my own soul. Or to rid myself of white middle class Guilt?

Listening. Counseling. Speaking. Teaching. Doing favors. Praying. Starting up new and

Necessary social programs. Am I so out of touch with the trauma of their existence

That my words are but blundering sermonizing, superficial academic intellectualizations,

Naïve government social pronouncements.

One man dressed in brown (they are all dressed in brown) whom I have met before

Says simply "Thanks Bob for coming." He isn't smiling.

Maybe that's it. Maybe my words, pronouncements, programs, sermons, promises,

Favors, prayers, etc. mean nothing. But my simply being here does.

Just as I have stood in the grassless courtyard of this maximum security prison, I have

Stood in bread lines. I have sat in homeless shelters. In unemployment offices. On the

Broken glass basketball courts of racist rock bottom city housing projects. At hospital

Beds of the lonely and dying. In increasingly empty mental hospital wards.

I have stood there with my books. My committees. My government and church

Funded programs. My Bible. My holy communion set. My awkward words of counsel.

And perhaps all these are no more than the words from the writer of Ecclesiastes in the

Bible "Vanity of vanities. Everything in vanity.

But in all my folly, in all my restlessness, I have stood there. And I am still trying to

Stand there. More so now with the people who make the laws.

Who decide the fate of these men clad in brown.

Who pass the Judgements. Who direct the money. Who form the public opinion. Who are too

Obsessed with their own careerism. Who have long ago given up the morsel of idealism

They may once have had.

"Now we see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13 — the Bible)"

Thank you "man dressed in brown". I may have learned more from you than you have

From me. Somehow that's okay.

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