Sunday, February 10, 2013

Root's Crime, Deviance and Justice Page: Deviant Altruism

Deviant Altruism
Root's Crime, Deviance and Justice Page

A drunken panhandler stumbles through the Occupy encampment asking for change, and receiving none. Various activists mill around but most seem not to notice him or his humble request. She does. Explaining that she has no cash, she asks if he will go to the store with her so that she can get some. He reluctantly obliges. Pulling into the Neighborhood Wal-mart, she leaves him in the car with her husband while she buys a couple of bags of groceries: chicken, greens, flour, and a whole host of other things “necessities” she points out, ibuprofen, dishwashing detergent, and so on. He is flabbergasted and continually exclaims: “How did you know?” On the way to his girlfriend’s home, who he says is handicapped and poor, she picks him up a bottle of whiskey, just in case that was what he wanted to begin with, “but at least he won’t be hungry either for a few days,” she explains to her husband.

A man sits in his wheelchair, scar tissue covering his face like a quilt and the intersections where it was sewn back together deep and painfully evident to any who can bear to look him in the eye. For those who refuse to do so, his slurred speech is a constant reminder of his presence as he loudly uses awkward humor in attempts to explain the power of car accidents to maim and disfigure. For dozens of people within earshot, he is a source of discomfort, anxiety and perhaps no small measure of annoyance, as their body language betrays. But for her, his is a voice that is literally crying out for help. She walks over and tells him that he won’t be needing his cigarettes, his lighter, or any of the other random objects he is clutching in both hands. Helping him put all of these items away in his carry-on bag, she explains how all he needs out is his boarding pass. He thanks her, and shortly thereafter nods off in a deep narcotic sleep as the boarding pass flutters to the floor in front of him. Her actions seem to make those around her just as uncomfortable as those of the intoxicated and mutilated man.

An elderly woman recovers from a stroke in her hospital bed, surrounded by family. Tears roll down her cheeks as she laments, of all things, her hair. She is African-American, with very thin grey hair. Barely enough to cover her crown she does not want anyone to see her this way, and tries to explain, but the stroke has garbled her speech. Holding a wig catalog, she moans and points to what she wants, indeed, needs. A nurse clocks out from her shift and visits a wig shop around the corner taking care to match the bun to the woman’s fine hair. She explains the situation to the shopkeeper, who advises her of what other accessories will be needed and gives her a 10% discount “because you’re doing this for someone else.” When she returns, the woman and her family are awestruck and thankful. Showing off her new “do,” the patient looks at her daughter and says perfectly, “You’re just jealous.” The next morning, she has no problem stating how “it made me feel better.”

Standing outside the door is a man with a grocery bag. He was told that a homeless man was waiting to be discharged from the hospital, but the clothes that he came in wearing were nowhere to be found. The emergency room explained that this was likely “because they were nasty”. In the bag is two sweatshirts, four t-shirts, four pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, a pair of blue jeans, a pair of denim shorts, a pair of shoes and a belt. This was his “honey-do” list for breakfast, and he’s bringing the bag at the request of his wife, who is currently busy complimenting her patient on how good her hair looks this morning.

If you don’t know already, this woman is the woman that I love. These random acts of kindness are perhaps random, but they are also part of her default setting. From the mix of wonder, confusion, awe, anger and sometimes even shame in the eyes of onlookers and bystanders (myself included) at the profundity and power of such simple gestures and acknowledgments, I believe it might be ours as well.

I had no intentions of pilfering through my closet to find clothes for someone less fortunate this morning. In fact, my goal was to read a few hundred pages of social movements literature in hopes that I could begin writing a theoretical framework section for a dissertation that voices my discomfort and displeasure with what I perceive as a whole lot of theory without practice.

Ain’t life funny?

Some of my more philosophically and/or sociologically-inclined comrades might accuse her of “hacking at the branches,” but this Root remains convinced that she’s the most radical human being he’s ever had the good fortune to encounter. Often, I’ve given her a hard time for being such a habitual rule-follower. If the sign says “Don’t step on the grass” not only will she not do so, she will quickly voice her displeasure at me if/when I do. She’s a stickler for protocol, regulations, guidelines, etc. Still, in terms of kindness and humanity, it hurts my heart a little bit to recognize that she may be one of the most deviant people I know. Fortunately, it heals quickly with the realization that she loves me.

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