The eve of 54th Grammy Awards-midnight of February 11, 2012 -my facebook homepage feeds me status updates from friends and the pages I liked (You know, sometimes you press the like button of some pages not because you are actually crazy about them, but just because you must pretend that you are so to get some important information- such as if the end of the world is really approaching or if chemtrails are real).
All of a sudden, I see a wave of status updates bearing almost the same message. “R.I.P Whitney”…“Today is the saddest day for the world as it loses a star-R.I.P Whitney”… “I love you Whitney, I am sure you will be in Heaven”…
Well, honestly I was shocked by the tragic news of her death. Whitney Houston was a legend. Her music has touched a number of people by their account. Other younger stars say that she is their idol. What I cannot still agree with is the notion that 11th of February is the saddest day for the world. Stars are born, stars die- and as it stands these days, indeed, at younger age because of some bad choice or self-destructive behavior.
What is the difference between them and us? Save their talent which makes us adore them, do they mirror in whole what we aspire to be? What is the difference between an addicted performer who shines on the stage-and, by the way, whom we barely know and an addicted homeless in our neighborhood? Why do we cry for the former’s anguish while we do not pity the later for his misery? After all, who has the better means and support to reset his lifestyle and who is the black sheep?
Not so long after that night, walking on a street near to Varvakios market, with my knapsack on my back, a very thin man, in his forties, whose face is covered by brownish beard, wearing only white t-shirt which is turning yellow, with no overcoat to protect him from the shivering cold approaches me. His hair greasy, his long fingers full of dirt, both of his arms full of old and new needle marks, his unnatural stance witnessing his struggle to keep his balance.
He asks me, “Buddy, do you have something good to sell?” his voice not quivering a bit and giving me the hint that he is ready for a further dialogue.
Fixing my eyes on him, with a smile on the corner of my mouth I answer to him, “I don’t sell drugs!”
He straightens up, looks me into my eyes and apologises to me sincerely.
I say to him, “No worry, my friend. The cops also confuse me for a pusher.”
He laughs genuinely exposing his toothless gum and not stopping laughing he asks me “What do you work?”
“I am a student”.
His smile vanishing from his face, his eyelids half closed and with a serious tone in his voice he reminds me, “Bravo! Don’t flinch. Education is light. That is what I lacked, that is what I am being punished for-for my ignorance”.
Like that, I wanted to hear more from him and thus ask him if he wants to eat a sandwich. He smiles and thanks me. Over a sandwich he tells me that he was not always like that-that his well off family dwells in the suburban Kifisia but has not seen them for the last 15 years. Surprised by his way of telling his story, I listen to him carefully while he tells me about his struggle to quit taking drugs, his confrontation with the law, his anger on the society, his family and himself, and his regrets. Finally, we finish our sandwiches and I thank him dearly before we separate. On my way to Zografou-that is where I stay, I say to myself, “I found the black sheep”…
He is, indeed, one of the black sheep, stigmatized by the society for the choice he made- which he remains penitent for. We understand neither him nor the drug pusher as we don’t understand the prostitute. We blame them over and over for what they do as we hold the murderer or the thief culpable for crimes they committed. We often turn our faces on them. We curse them for we believe that they spoil our children even though it is true that the lifestyle of a popular music group has much more profound effect on teenagers than a random homeless drug addict or prostitute in the neighborhood as the former mirrors what success and popularity means. We completely forget our role on their fate. We believe that they are bad seeds when, in fact, it is the society which is bad cultivator. In the words of the Bishop in my favorite book-Les Misérables:
“Teach those who are ignorant as many things as possible; society is culpable, in that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is responsible for the night which it produces. This soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed. The guilty one is not the person who has committed the sin, but the person who has created the shadow.”
Yes, one is responsible for the decisions he makes, the path he follows. However, we must not forget the effect of society on the erring soul. We should not blame the wrongdoer without trying to light the sublime dark.
Quarantining, stigmatizing and embarrassing those we deem burden for the society does not get rid of the maladies within us. It rather darkens further the shadow, reinforces antisocial behavior and removes any form of penitence.
Not all drug pushers, who sell those drugs they abhor, even if their conscience tells them that they are selling death, are after quick money. Most of them have families to tend back their home, had lived and hence known poverty and have no means of survival as they are illegal immigrants.
Not all addicted enjoy taking drugs. It is that they had slipped into quicksand from which they cannot drag themselves out.
Not one prostitute was born prostitute; she is rather a victim of society which she renders her flesh to for little money and, alas, for much stigma.
But, all of them live in the cavern amongst us, ignored by society until they go out to forage. Light the cavern of evil-Light up society from below, as Hugo wrote, then not a single bat can resist the dawn. By light we mean- effective immigration rules and assimilation methods, well-organized rehabilitation centers and healthcare, productive education system. By light we also mean- love not abomination, solidarity not isolation, activeness not passivity.