Monday, November 21, 2016

The Ventra Card

We were in Chicago for the weekend; we had the opportunity to get free lodging, so we decided to go. My son did a campus visit to Northwestern while I sat in a coffee shop writing. Later, we wandered around the city and got dinner with my wife, who was there for a conference.

It was that sort of cold you only get in Chicago. The air temperature is meaningless; it's the wind chill you have to think about, though even on a calm day (Sunday) the cold seeped into every weak spot in your clothes.

Saturday night I had the chance to make a difference. Maybe. Those opportunities come along more than we think or recognize. All too often, people want to make a difference in their own lives: why can't I watch what I want on TV RIGHT NOW, why can't I get promoted, why can't I succeed, why can't I have a vehicle that I don't feel a need to celebrate when it makes a ten mile trip. Etc.

There are many homeless in Chicago, as in any city. People who know me will understand what a weak spot that is for me. I have bought food for homeless in Nashville, offered to buy groceries, have conversations; I don't give cash, mostly because I don't keep cash on me, but partly because I have those built-in prejudices a lot of us have.

As we were walking to a sculpture called The Bean (a giant chrome bean-shaped thing that literally and figuratively reflects the city and its people), a man came up and said he had missed the handicapped van that takes him home, and could I buy him a Ventra card. The Ventra card is what you use on the Chicago transit system. The man showed me his veteran's ID. He had one of those industrial-strength walkers that has a place to sit if you get tired; my mom used one just like it most of my life. He needed a Ventra card to take the train home. Again, he said he missed the van that takes him home, and all he needed was a Ventra card. Not cash, just the card.

I said no.

Because... why? As I crossed the street it hit me like a hammer. I had no reason to say no. I had no reason to not help. I had spent all day in that city and had so quickly become jaded to its people. Worse, I actually had a Ventra card in my wallet. My son and I bought a 24-hour pass Friday night, and there was a good three hours left on it. I told my son I was going back to find the man. He asked why, and I told him I had a card I could give him. I would meet him and his mom at The Bean.

It wasn't easy to find the man. Which way had he gone to find another person for help? I chose the direction where there were the most people. From a distance I saw two people refuse him. They looked so callous, so cold. Had I been that way? Probably.

"I have a Ventra card," I said to him. He was looking tired, dejected. He raised his face to me. "I remembered that I have one. It's a 24 hour pass and is good until 9:30. That's more than enough for you to make your train to get home."

He looked at me. His face was an unreadable emotion. "Thank you," he said, smiling. I walked away.

My son asked why I chased him down. The old man was probably faking it.

"In life," I told him, "we can only be responsible for our own soul. If he was lying, that's on him. That's his soul. I had what he said he needed. I didn't need it, so I gave it to him. There is no harm to me, no danger, no risk, no loss except something I didn't need.

"What if he was faking? What if he goes and trades that card to someone for cigarettes or something?"

"Then maybe I made a difference. Maybe he'll say, 'that man came back to find me and give me what I asked for' and maybe that will influence him. If it doesn't, then it doesn't. That isn't something I can control. He is who he is, and his soul is his to govern. I have to do what I think is right, what I think is good."

That's what I'll leave you with today. Take care of your own soul. Seed it with goodness, fertilize it with kindness, protect it from selfishness.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

It's All About Nothing

I don't normally write political commentary; actually, lately I don't normally write any kind of commentary. But this is a weird year, and I'll write a political commentary. Sort of.

Let me digress for a moment.

About a dozen years ago I had ankle surgery; I had a bone spur, torn ligament, and tons of inflammation. It was a painful experience. Sometime in the next year or so I'll need surgery again; the pain is becoming more intense, and I didn't do surgery a couple of years back because of work obligations. Now, I think I need to.

When I go for my surgery, I will go to a qualified orthopedic surgeon with expertise in ankles. Not a shoulder or hand doctor; but an ankle specialist. That's because it's important that the person who helps me to walk pain-free be an expert in the field. I wouldn't go to a veterinarian or a dermatologist for that. Only an orthopedic surgeon specializing in ankle repair.

This is common sense. Everyone in the world would do the same, given the choice.

Why, then, do people support a political candidate whose primary talking point is that their lack of qualification makes him qualified to hold one of the most powerful positions in the country?

If I had to go into my ankle surgery and had to choose between a hand surgeon and a marketing guru, I would choose the hand surgeon, because at least that person knows surgery.

Another digression.

I love magic, especially close-up stuff. It's cool. I know how a lot of it works. I know that it's all distraction. "Look over there while I do something over here." And that's part of the fun, trying to figure out what's the distraction, and what is happening while I'm distracted.

Politics is much the same. So while we're all focused on two political candidates for the office of President, I do not understand why people aren't looking at what they're being distracted from.