Tempt not a desperate man. – W. Shakespeare
I think the worst part about being human is, recognizing when you cannot help. The moment, when you realize that you are helpless and you have to give up, even if every fiber in body is working against that notion. The moment, you have to just let go, that is the difficult part.
I try not to change people because I know, I will never succeed at that. You cannot go to work every day, thinking that you will change all the people that you will meet that day. You will not. I used to want to be able to change people, I wanted to be able to change the way they think about themselves and correct the ways they chose to live their lives. I had a strong desire to show people that they could live their lives in a way, where they would not and could not harm themselves or others.
But most of the suffering people I met in the past few years chose to damage their own minds and bodies by heavy substance abuses, by their own physical abuse, by allowing others to abuse them. But when trying to help, these thoughts put you in despair. Wanting to help, but knowing that what ever you will do, you will not be able to help.
So instead, I decided to just listen and accept. You should know, that sometimes listening is the hardest part. Going home every single day, having a heavy ache in your heart. Knowing that a person you see today, might not live to seize the next day. And sometimes getting a call, that the person you so strongly rooted for, did not survive. That is a hard role to play and no matter how much you wish, you could change your role in all of that, in the end, you need to accept and move on.
Several weeks ago, I met this man. A healthy, young and strong man, very tall and beady little dark eyes that can pierce your thoughts. He catches you off guard with things he says and you want to ignore it, ignore him, but somehow you cannot, because his anger reaches you. An anger without origin, it is just within him. He does not want to understand that people are all the same, that you cannot prefer one person over another and he does not want to understand, that he is fighting a loosing battle.
Let me back up a bit here. I do not know where he is from, I asked him several times, but he does not want to answer the question. I ask him, what his name is, and he shakes his head, he does not want to answer. Yet he keeps asking me for my name, which I do not tell him. An eye for an eye. He stands in front of me, 7 feet tall and I can feel that the unforgiving cold has gotten him, his health is deteriorating and he strongly believes that he is a better kind of person, better than all the other people, that are waiting for a bed for that night.
That night, I am at the shelter, it is way below freezing, has been snowing for days and he does not wear proper clothing for this kind of harsh weather. He believes, he deserves a bed much more than the other people that are waiting for a bed. People that have been standing in front of our doors for hours now. Most of the people waiting outside do not own appropriate clothes for that weather, yet they spend the majority of the day outside. Fighting for their livelihood. These people he calls “second class people”. He calls them lazy and a disturbance to society. But what we have here is a shelter, we only have a 100 beds for over a 130 people, I lost count there are so many.
I have not been working here the last few nights, but I understand that for the last couple nights he was one of the people, that couldn’t get a bed. He does not understand that, when we have more than 100 people, we have to send some away. This, by the way, is not the only shelter in Oslo, there are other shelters that are maybe not as good as ours, since we provide 4-bed-rooms and private showers and toilets, but at least the other shelters keep you out of the streets in the night.
He does not want to hear, that there is no such thing as “second class people”, but people that need help. He does not understand how we can let people sleep in warm beds, when he, has to find a place elsewhere for that night. We give help, where we can and unfortunately that is not everywhere. I can see, that it takes every ounce of common sense in him, to not wanting to hit me in the face. This might have been the way, he would have usually sorted out problems, but you cannot do that here, that he at least understands.
I stand my ground, I do not try to bother him, but to listen, which, believe it or not, when someone is yelling in your ear is a bit difficult. Every word I say is either ignored or shut down by him, because he does not want to listen. So I go silent, while his stare pierces every single of my thoughts. I am scared. Scared for what he would do to me, if I keep talking.
He gets escorted out by the police a few minutes later. You can see the desperation, the longing, the need of a warm bed in his eyes. His eyes flicker between anger and desperation and in the end I am met with angry desperation. My heart sinks, plummets. Because I know I want to help. I know where he can find help, a warm bed, a warm meal, a good night’s sleep. But instead he yells at me, believing that would change anything. I don’t respond anymore. By the time he left, I am close to tears, because I can see that he is devastated. He needs help and all he has is a jacket that can not withstand Norwegian’s harsh winters.
We close down the shelter for the night, pack up our things and off I am, left with a strange feeling in my heart. I walk home and realize that I was followed by a tall man. I turn around and realize that it was him and instantly my heart speeds up, my mouth gets dry and the cold wind burns my eyes. I stop and look at him, waiting for him to say something, waiting for people to see us, so if he were to hit me, that they could help, because lets face it. I am helpless. I just look at him and wait and he does the same.
I don’t know how long we stand like this. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. But I do not dare to speak, hoping that because of my hat he might not recognize me, but he did, he knew exactly who I am. And while my mind was going a million miles an hour time froze quietly and I am met by sheer fear.
I then start running as fast as my legs could carry me and truth to be told, he probably could have outrun me. But he didn’t. He just vanished into the night, while I ran home, making sure ever so often, that he was no where to be seen, because let’s face it. I was freaked out of my mind and scared.
I haven’t seen him ever since. I do not know his name or where he came from, but I know that sometimes life is not fair, sometimes it makes you wonder, what you did to deserve what you have to live through. Sometimes you wonder why you cannot have, what you so badly wish for and it is unfair and harsh. So I urge you, to still try to listen, to help, wherever you can in the worst case, when you cannot help, take care of yourself and your loved ones, because sometimes you cannot help angry and desperate people. But go the extra mile, always.