Portrait of a Man

Portrait of a Man September 14, 2017

“Whaddaya mean you have to count me as a no-show? It’s only three-ten. My insurance will pay for a whole appointment, but I gotta talk to her a little. I can be there by three forty-five.”

Another pause.

“Now listen.” He was still frightened and polite, but now he was also angry. “I was at community service until two-thirty. If I don’t show up at community service, I go to jail. My caseworker said she’d pick me up at two-thirty, but she didn’t come. Said she had an emergency. She’s always having emergencies. I was stranded downtown. I walked a mile and a half to the bus stop on only one leg.”

Everyone on the bus instinctively glanced at the man’s mismatched appendages. Apparently, that skinny leg was a prosthesis. No telling how he lost it. From his age, I thought it likely that he was a veteran of the neverending war on terror. A low-income veteran picked up on some nonviolent offense– drugs, perhaps– and sentenced to counseling and community service but given no easy means to do both. It happens all the time. And if that wasn’t his story, you can bet the real one was equally tragic.

People ask me why I write about politics. I’m so much better at writing art pieces about the eerie half-abandoned streets of Steubenville, those sad rugged people and the things they leave behind.

The man listened to his cheap phone; then he responded, clearly furious but still soft and afraid. “What do you mean, you understand? Do you have one leg? I wanna to talk to my counselor. My insurance will pay you for a full hour, I’ll just see her for fifteen minutes, but I really need to see her! NO! No, you said you understood. Do you understand having one leg? Did you do community service today and walk a mile on one leg? I shouldn’t have to pay you because my caseworker keeps having emergencies. This happened last week too. She’s always having emergencies. I just really, really need to talk to my counselor.”

He must have been new to the task of trying to get mental health services with medicaid in a small Ohio Valley town, if he was talking back to the secretary from the office of a therapist who took medicaid. You’d be better off screaming at a cop.

People ask me why I write about politics, when it’s so much more interesting to make art about human beings.

Sometimes I want to shake those people.

Don’t they understand what I’m doing?

I am not making pretty works of art for your entertainment.  I am trying, with every trick I know how, to show you the invisible people. People like me, my husband and my daughter; the people on the bus and the prostitutes at the Friendship Room. People you look away from because they’re the wrong kind of people. I am showing you people, writing icons of people, pointing madly at people and crying out “Behold, the children of God,” because these people are suffering. They are suffering because of the hardness of our hearts and heads, for lack of help society could have given them if only they’d seen, and been converted.

When hardness of head and heart are institutionalized, they’re called “politics.”  I write about politics because politics impacts the lives of the invisible people. The invisible people are always struck worst of all, when politics go awry. The powerful start wars. The helpless go to war, lose limbs, and come back needing therapy. The powerful institute laws. The helpless go to jail or community service, and it’s made as hard as possible for them. The powerful decide policies for healthcare and community service, and the helpless are lucky to get fifteen minutes with an overworked counselor. The powerful set the bus schedule, the helpless ride and try to look grateful. If they don’t, they get slapped down.

I got off the bus at my stop, praying under my breath. Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate the Lord fly in terror before the glory of His countenance. Let they compassion go quickly before us, O Lord, for we have become exceedingly poor. 

It’s not a remarkable story. But if this were a better world, it ought to be.


(image via Pixabay) 

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