Limping between cars at the corner of Van Buren and Racine on Chicago’s Westside, a young homeless man was heavily favoring his left leg. As he caught sight of the homeless outreach bus, he flashed me a broad smile and a friendly wave. I know him well; we’ve know each other for about a year, and I’m sad to see him deteriorating. I had bandaged his leg about a month ago down by the Sear’s Tower and it’s clearly gotten worse.
Later I compared photos of his leg from before and it had clearly swollen more than twice its size and the skin was translucent. He had been in and out of several ERs to have it treated; but his lifestyle and the momentum of the decay was leading to amputation. Sadly, the common trajectory of a leg amputation for a homeless person is death within the year.
I have no ability to stop this path; I could only treat it topically and be as compassionate as I am capable. As in any relationship, that compassion is often just talking as friends; those conversations being a mix of humor, anecdotal and regret. It is my intent to always steer away from anything historical, there is little value in remorse; the future can be optimistic if the heart’s right. He’ll have to take drastic steps to save himself; and I do appreciate the extraordinary energy it would take to for him to reverse his course. It would absolutely be a miracle.
As I sat with him, he interrupted me and asked if I was OK. A bit taken aback by his question, he remarked that I looked very sad since our last conversation; and he was worried about me. I initially felt humiliated that my mood was a topic of discussion compared to his life threatening issues. And without knowing, I had tears rolling down my cheeks from a well of emotion.
I think miracles are only recognized after the fact and I truly believe many start with two friends showing concern to each other and themselves. Yasmin Mogahed said that, “compassion is to look beyond your own pain, to see the pain of others.” Perhaps there’s hope for the both of us.