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
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,
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.
Back to table of contents