The first time you see a sketchy and emaciated junkie suddenly fall over like a dead tree, the first time you hear the wet mop-head like smack of his cranium on the cobble stones of an old Spanish city street, when you notice the thick darkness flow from the virgin wound on his head into the sharp crevices of the stones, when you observe the writhing body’s eyes, when you feel the junkie’s watch hit you despite the paralyzing seizures prohibiting him from any reaction or communication what so ever, when you see him watch you standing there judging him and making conjectures or making assumptions, when you see him watch you fear for him, when you see him watch you forget you once defined him as a junkie, when you see him watch your emergency nurse by profession friend talking to his colleagues of the local ambulance urging them to head out right away, when he sees you feel helpless, when he watches your powerlessness sweep across your eyes, eventually this stranger will see all that’s left of your humanity. You get to know each other. You feel each other’s unique embarrassments and fears. You feel each other’s judgments. You feel each other’s pre-determined role for each other dissolve under the intensity of the rare intimacy of this event. All the sludgy layers of pre-conditioning and societal shit pull away. You see them locked in violent tremors, unable to gesture and unable to make a sound in their defense. They see you locked in knowledge-less and powerless feelings. Somehow you feel recognition at the eyes.
The first time you see a young man facing what could be his last living moment spent in the prison of unwanted convulsions that override his neurological autonomy, the first time you watch a skull bleeding youth denied commune with the exterior world, the first time the only signal you receive from a dying face literally being soaked up by a towel now held in the mother like hands of La Habana’s bartender repeating “stay with me” is a piercing gaze that you know is watching you – that, that is the last time you excuse yourself as ‘powerless’.
There are two immense moments that compose life: being and non-being. Every moment you share with a living being you are sharing in that grand moment before they are a non being. You may not know CPR, you may not be a doctor, you may not be an EMT, you may not know that you should put protective gloves on before even getting your hands close to the AIDS rich blood oozing from this poor youth’s injury; but not all pre-non being moments require these qualities of you. Largely, you’ll need other skills entirely. As long as you share any moment of being alive with a being you have your words, your actions, your thoughts, your mannerisms, your stories and experience, your unique intelligence, your creativity, your consideration, your sympathy, your glances, your reactions, your judgments and confessions, your approval, your shirking of responsibility, your secrets, and simply all that makes up you. All of you effects the entire playing out of this large Alive and Being moment for that being. You are infinitely potent in your participation in another’s great journey before non-being as are they equally impacting on yours; this, of course, also means that your impact on their transition into non-being could also be unimaginably powerful.
So when you stay with them, when you meet them at the eyes as blood excitingly bursts towards the good earth, you better damn well share with them your absolute presence and attention, gift them freedom from your prejudices, and have the courage to look back at them in a way that unequivocally lets them know that they are not alone, they are not feared, they do not disgust you, they are not abandoned.
The first time you watch the Watcher, all of the foul nonsense with which our cultures defensively flail falls away and you become intimately acquainted with what is always there in every single instant of interaction you ever have with other human beings. This particular tragic example is not the limit, an extreme, or a terrifying exaggeration of human interaction. Rather, you find that what is there is also at the foundation of each interaction you have with every person you meet. Until you see it there dying in front of you, you may find this unending responsibility for your infinitely impacting role in another’s life to be an impossible burden. That burden only exists if we run from our connections to those around us, even threads to strangers dying in the hands of other strangers can be shockingly strong connections to run from. There is no burden but the force of tension our cowardice creates as it pulls hard away in hopes that the elasticity of the strong bond between beings will finally snap if we run hard enough; and there are few burdens under the stars like cowardice.
The first time you watch a beautiful soul carried away by a siren blaring chariot and orange vested angels you realize something. You don’t change but you certainly do maneuver. Suddenly you have great clarity about what you’re doing, what you’re going to do.
This is a story, friends, about one of those gaze holding onlookers. His name is Huckleberry. Raised to be pruder than his sensual nature, raised to be more violently docile against his naturally harmless chaos, raised to be selfishly unegalitarian rather than follow the ease of considerate anarchy; some of you may feel you know him already. I fear disclosing further information will take the fun out of getting to know him. You, my friends, as you listen to this story over the following nights, are no less that Onlooker as much as I was that evening walking down Calle Pizarro; as is Huckleberry. I can’t say that you’ll be able to pass any words on to him as the story progresses, or that he could pass any on to you. Neither will physical gestures be of much use to you. However, if you have to courage to hold your gaze for long enough, it will bring you to the very heart of what this is all about.