Yesterday morning, I decided to walk down to Washington Square, a lovely park in Philadelphia that has lots of benches, a nice fountain, and is the home of the tomb of the unknown soldier.
I sat on a bench that had a view of both the fountain and the tomb and read my book for several hours. Periodically a young homeless man would distract me, as he made a "Halt" gesture with his hand. In another time and in another place, this would have been a handsome man: tall, muscular, with a nice face. Clearly he was reenacting something with his movements around the park, but he did so unaggressively and silently.
At a certain point he settled onto a platform near the tomb, under a tree. I watched him sit there quietly as tourists and their children went up to the eternal flame, and then moved away to take photos in front of the fountain or head off to the next activity. After some time, I finally read the inscription above the tomb: "Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness." It was so poignant, so disturbing... it rattled me. That man sitting there in the darkness - next to this grand tomb - forgotten, neglected, relegated to this one spot on the planet. Not free. Not by my standards.
Faced with such a scene, such a moment of revelation, I did the only thing I could: I cowardly fled, wishing I could at least document it in some way. Wishing I could change things from the way they are. Wishing things to be different though does not change the world.
On my walk home, one of those duck tours passed me. The tour guide was trying to get me to dance for the tourists. He then seamlessly moved from his abuse of passers-by, into the amplified story of Richard Allen, a slave in Philadelphia who bought his own freedom for $2000. Allen then founded a congregation where African Americans could worship without restraint or harassment.
What did I immediately think: "$2000 is alot of money." Then, I thought, "Whoa,$2000 in 1760 is an unfathomably large amount of money." Now, I keep thinking: "What would $2000 be able to do for that man in the park?" Medication? A home? Therapy?
I don't have anything to contribute right now - I'm just trying to make it until the end of the week when I get paid. But the more important questions are: Who else is lurking in the darkness? What is their price for freedom? And how can I help?