OPINION: Engendering passion in our political climate
I thought about the night she died and I wondered if there was anyone else thinking of her, too.
She had big peppered gray hair and a crooked nose. Her clothes always fit too big, probably because they were never really hers. Wherever she was headed her deep raspy voice boomed, “Hellooo,” announcing her presence. She shuffled more than she actually walked, always leading with her hunched back as if her legs couldn’t keep up with her own body.
She was pleasant at the beginning of all our conversations, but every conversation led into her calling someone a f-ng bastard and a f-ing asshole and that motherf-er how she wanted to f-ing murder that person and then she would throw punches in the air to illustrate such and the sound of her fist impacting the palm of her other hand sometimes startled me. Then all her rage would finally give way to tears that cascaded into streams falling from her tired eyes. I never knew what I could say that would even help to undo all the abuse and torment from so many years prior, all the years that led her to be sitting there before me.
So I listened. I listened patiently and sincerely, listened with all of my senses. Her defeated chest folded down into her thighs and her back rose and fell in sync with her sobs. Her right hand was clutching the corner of my desk, as if that was the only thing she had to hold onto to keep grounded in that moment than where ever god awful place her mind was taking her to. I softly rested my hand on top of hers, trying to remind her that she wasn’t alone. Her hand looked weathered and each crack of dried skin had dirt that felt cemented in and I couldn’t distinguish if it was really dirt or maybe dried blood. I pulled a few tissues from the Kleenex box and placed them in her other hand hanging limp off her knee. She smelled of urine the way people reek of a perfume too strong and when her breath reached me it was like tasting alcohol second hand with my nose. When she left my office, my pained eyes followed her walking away, wishing I could’ve said something more, done something more, been someone more.
But I was only 22. All I had was a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a passion for social work, and a heart bigger than I could support. I had a caseload of nearly 60 patients, the majority of them minorities, almost half were either homeless or had unstable housing, and more than a handful suffered from being bipolar or schizophrenic. And too many of them were in and out of Rikers, incarcerated for minor infractions, similar to that that had cost Eric Garner his life.
Eric Garner echoes the names and faces and situations of my former patients and so many countless unnamed others, echoes the barriers already set against them before they even start trying. Eric Garner’s struggle started long before that tragic incident. I’m not too surprised, but I’m also angry that this is how much it takes for our nation to realize there is a huge issue that goes far beyond just politics. I’m not attempting to shift the responsibility of illegal activity off of an individual, but it does need to be acknowledged that although overt racism is less common in a supposedly progressive city like NYC, this city, along with our entire nation, is plagued with institutionalized racism. Which can be even more dangerous when it’s not recognized for what it is.
With this heated political climate and an unforeseeable forecast, I don’t know what the solution is. But how about starting at the human level, at the level where we can treat everyone around us with the same compassion, value and respect for their life as we do our own.
Eric Garner died loudly, awakening a nation. She died silently with hardly anyone knowing her name. Her name was M. Ridge and she died in the middle of the night, on a bench in the tiny park off of Lafayette and Spring St.
— Gyaltsen F. Go graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has worked in New York City as a Methadone Maintenance Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor.
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