The Morristown Miracle
by Paul Gabor
Dedicated to the good people - citizens and leadership - of Morristown.
Disclaimer (will not be included in final copy).
Although I’ve written many independent pieces, this will be my second full book - and a difficult one at that. The writing below is a “subjective documentary”; personal impressions and observations by someone directly involved and touched in a painful experience relating to serious matters of Society. There is no intention to defame or insult any person or organization, however, the author, ever so humbly, found it necessary to touch upon subjects, views and facts in a style which might cause discomfort to some readers. Without such, this work would carry no weight. The author, with respect to intellectuals and collective bodies mentioned, will nevertheless own up to the views and concerns expressed below, while trying not to be judgmental or vindictive.
My goal was to capture beauty where it’s last expected. I hope I succeeded. But sometimes beauty is harsh and asks for harsh words. I know I succeeded in this... We are humans. I am human, too - as are all my comrades depicted. Behold Humanity.
This copy is intended for review, critique and interaction - any, or all of which, I humbly and respectfully ask for. Thanks. (This is a literary work, NOT investigative journalism).
FIRST DRAFT. SENSITIVE AND CONFIDENTIAL
…I really, badly, wanted to write this. Then I decided not to. It wouldn’t make a difference.
And then I got unceremoniously deposited at a place where Jesus saves. Through my butchered state of mind, I perceived the surroundings as welcoming and urban - even pleasant. Perhaps even promising. I was dumped in chic Morristown.
As I started to roll my in-head observation movie next morning, a nearly surrealistic picture began to emerge. I was looking at an upscale, historic town whose population appears to be made up of two roughly equal parts: its prosperous regular residents and a veritable army of the homeless. The two seemingly irreconcilable components intermingle and coexist without friction. This town has taken upon itself to sustain its undesirables. And, to successfully execute this formidable task, the whole town has turned into a well-organized, impressively functioning, social-charity-machine: private, church and government.
The town is like a small city; outstanding in many ways. Steeped in history, built impressively, its citizens and businesses progressive, affluent and generous, its socio-political structure exemplary. It has noble traditions, like its exceptional practice of charitable giving and donating, visible from everyday life stories to plaques posted everywhere from lampposts to benches, from the library to its highly-rated hospital. The atmosphere could rival a similar-sized European town; it’s a pleasant blend of small town characteristics and big city groove. Wellbeing is obvious everywhere, from fancy restaurants and live-music pubs to inner town supermarkets exceeding any expectation (including that of your wallet), to fashionable boutiques and a noticeably high number of very expensive cars. Architectural wonders abound: old, ornate historical buildings, skyscraper-like office towers, modern condos and churches.
I’ve never seen so many churches and religious institutions concentrated within a half-mile radius in this corner of the world. Beside the general good feeling one gets from the presence of churches (spiritual and architectural), one can’t help thinking that this impressive congregation of churches serves a major role in supporting the poor - in addition to be just nice places of worship.
And then, we praised Jesus.
I’m lying on the floor of a chapel. And I am. Hallucinating. I’m hallucinating reality. Something that can’t be but is. Sounds, sights, noises and smells, all impossible, yet bordering. On reality. Big wooden cross, hanging. Bare, from the corner of the ceiling. Underneath it are zombies. Being shot by endless gunfire as they try climbing out of a large television screen. On the floor there are human shapes scattered around me on green mats. Zombies? Ghosts. Like me, they are. The Homeless, the walking dead. Human wreckage deprived of dignity by capitalist greed, genes, misfortune or by our own deeds or demons. We found shelter here. The big screen TV is part of a safe haven. They are watching themselves, like so many zombies, not caring about what is going on, apart from the safety of their present night. Very few understand, even fewer care and practically none think about causes or doing something about them. It’s not their problem. They are oil-covered seals slowly dying after an industrial catastrophe.
Hallucinations. Or a nightmare. Endless. I pinch myself. I feel it. The scene doesn’t go away.
Next to me lies Eric. He is a friend. A mestizo. And there’s another friend, a mulatto. Blacks and
browns and whites, big and small, old and young. They are all people. People, whose kind I couldn’t even conjure up before. They are all beautiful in their own ways. Beautiful but damaged. Wrecked by something incomprehensible, something ungodly. So many characters, shapes and forms, hewn to raw, angular features that reveal common, shared, destructive forces. Lives, like train cars, derailed and sent to rusting and abandoned stations, but somehow arrived here, where they can receive maintenance. Restoration. Aboard a strong railway with a destination. A station that will hold them. Safe and grounded. Perhaps even happy. Human.
And then, we praise Jesus.
As you get about-town, sooner or later something will start registering in your consciousness. Something that’s there but you can’t put a finger on it. It’s the massive population of ghosts. Can you tell the unwashed masses, the hardship-trodden, the marginally insane, the homeless, apart from the seemingly happy and affluent regular inhabitants? If your eyes are trained, you can; if not, it’s more difficult. They are practically dressed the same; the lowly are wearing the discarded (donated), up-to-date, good quality clothes of the more well-off. And, apart from the occasional frown, the citizens seem to have no problem with the ever-present downtrodden; on the contrary, helping hands and good deeds are in evidence, everywhere.
There are several pivotal spots around which the “ghost army” routinely rotates. Amazingly, this clockwork serves everybody well; it appears to have evolved into a system that borders on a miracle. (It may - against all apparent observation - also have developed into a veritable industry.) The beauty, the cruel, yet human beauty of all this has made a lasting impact on me. That’s how this book has come into existence.
This is how the Morristown Rotary works. In addition to practically any spot in and around town, the pivots (each of which is serving a similar yet unique purpose), are the Railway Station, The Firehouse, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, The Town Library, The Green, The Soup Kitchen, Our Promise Charity, a number of other churches, The Mission and, the center of it all, Café Stardust. I left the final two to be last on purpose for these are the two venerable institutions I became personally the most involved with; the two epicenters that determine the motion and activity of the unseen army which, to some extent, has included me as well. (There are also numerous agencies, organizations, housing and other support-projects scattered all over from inner town to the outskirts and to neighboring municipalities and towns).
On the streets, squares and parks connecting the Pivotal Spots goes the ghost army, invisible yet overly visible, like an assault on our sensory receptors, endlessly and aimlessly, but coordinated by the timing and nature of the services they receive. Everybody gets fed (more than amply) and everybody has a roof over their heads for the night. And a lot more. But what’s the overall, higher aim of all this - if any? What is the motivation? A solution - or an indefinite extension of the un-extendable?
It’s stating the obvious and respectable fact that the town has done (and still does) more than its fair share of effort, expense and goodwill in creating and managing an impressive mechanism to provide a valued and seamless service, a machinery to keep the contrasting two sides of its population getting along, functioning and content.
I’m scum. Because I feel like it. Homeless in the land of the homefull. One in a flock of birds covered in oil after a spill: unwashed, ugly, sad and hopeless. Even the mere sight of me would dirty your pretty eyes. You don’t want dirtied eyes, do you? After all, you are safe, secure and cozy in your sweet little home. Like I was a few months ago. It can’t happen to you. Don’t be smug about it. Don’t be so sure. There’s oil aplenty…
There are many like me, all over the place. Our existence is creating all kinds of problems. Our presence is an eyesore; living, walking human garbage polluting parks and sidewalks, public places and restaurants. We are a drain on society’s resources - and nerves.
Who, or what, am I? I am society’s byproduct. Yes, the kind and giving people, who shelter and feed me, collectively known as society, created me. Collateral damage to a good cause: the pursuit of the American Dream; to become rich and live a good, materialistic life. There is a philosophical and political right to do so. We are unaware (or pretend not to care) of the damage we cause by pursuing a dream. But damage there is, and damage is bad, and what bad society did, society has to undo. This is an urgent and overwhelming obligation regardless from what angle we view it: moral, economic or political. The obligation is moral. The solution is primarily philosophical. Then come the economy and politics: the easy part.
Society created all kinds of catastrophic events in its quest for financial gain and a perceived good life, even if some of these events were well-meant. But, after reckoning time came, what did we do with the damage we caused? Nuclear waste, polluted glaciers, hole in the ozone, oil-spills in the seas? To make it brief, the damage we did we have to undo at whatever cost and effort. Sure, at first, we were not very eager, but eventually we realized that by not doing what has to be done, we will create more and more damage to us, to ourselves. Society is ourselves. Society is us. We’ve got things to do, fellow citizens.
It’s a comforting and heartwarming experience to receive, even just to observe, the charitable contributions from people of all walks of life. They are society, too. But it’s not a lasting impact on poverty. It’s window dressing, however kind it is. Because it is kindness; the basic good still alive in humanity. But the epidemic (nowadays increasingly called a pandemic) of homelessness is as serious as oil on pristine Alaska glacier bays. The oil spilled on beautiful landscape and wildlife becomes synonymous with human beings scattered all over the towns and cities of America. Some places grapple with it more humanely or more efficiently than others; some ignore it completely, but most efforts to eradicate it are nearly futile; like treating cancer with aspirin and a prayer.
The girl was about 14 years old, a tiny heap of bones and skin. She appeared to be black. Actually, grey. She lay with her back popped against the footwall of Tiffany’s. She was practically naked. She wasn’t selling her body. She wasn’t panhandling. She was freezing to death. It was below zero; I was cold in my winter coat. Just looking at her made my teeth rattle. The well-heeled, beautiful throng of diamond-shoppers quietly walked around her. I’m sure she was insane. How did she get there? I didn’t wait for the police or ambulance to arrive. Because they do arrive. Eventually. Then it all begins all over again.
Will the United States forever adhere to the classic, albeit ruthless, philosophy of its outdated fifty/fifty capitalist model? Half of the population thriving over the rotting corpses of the other half?! Well, we don’t want rotten corpses around us, do we? So, we keep them alive. First, we need them to exploit, second, what can we do with so many corpses? Anyway, they are not even dead; they’re living quite well, don’t they? And those who don’t, have surely chosen to live a wretched life, no? No. Not quite…
Clean up your act, America, and face the music. Smell the roses you planted. They smell like corpses.
To be continued