Forgive Me For Not Laughing

I see him as a whole, real person, with a whole, real family. 

As I brought my car to a stop, pressing my foot down on the brake pad, I looked up to the opposite corner of the intersection, and my heart began to race. There stood what appeared to be a young man, in a flowing black cape with a hood over his head. My left turn signal indicator kept a steady rhythm while my mind raced with possibilities. What was he doing there? Promoting some local store? Just a pedestrian with a unique style? Something about his presence unnerved me, and I wasn't immediately sure why.

With a swift motion, he began pacing back and forth, pivoting quickly to produce a Batman-like silhouette with his cape. Then, he crouched down and let the wind whip is cape back behind him, as if he were perched atop a building. He suddenly jumped back up and pushed his cape aside, and seemed to be accessing something in a pocket. Was he getting ready to start shooting at people? Was he getting ready to dart out in traffic? Was he trying to entertain?

I was not amused. I was scared. And you see, this isn't really like me, to be paranoid about an out-of-the-ordinary character on a busy street corner. I typically have a high tolerance for those who choose to look or behave outside of the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in public. I have this level of empathy, or maybe indifference, because I used to be one of them. I ran with an interesting crowd in high school. Shopped mainly at Hot Topic for several years, and even wore a spiked collar and blood-red streaks in my hair. I still have that silver collar (it's kind of cool), but no longer have the black and white camo pants, Doc Martens, feather boa and belly-baring white T-shirt I used to wear with it.

Yes. I was a strange kid. Who ran with an even stranger looking crowd. And I came to value "those kids" as fully human. So yes, I have a heart for the oddballs of society. But this felt different. I had to trust my gut. My intuition was telling me I didn't want to be around this character. I felt somehow threatened, even though I later learned he's more of a threat to himself than anyone else. I decided to take a picture. Because that's what we do now with our fancy smartphones.

Finally, the left turn light flashed green, and I was no longer in the presence of the caped man. Later, I posted his photo on Facebook, hoping to vent a little, maybe get some answers about his identity. And in hindsight, the caption was a little judgy, in which I called him a "super creepy" caped man. But you know what? I was creeped out. And I don't feel guilty about my initial reaction.

(The following information about this young man was obtained via comments from friends on Facebook. I in no way intend to violate his privacy or misrepresent his identity. If there is a correction or update that needs to be made, please let me know.)

I came to discover that this young man, who is reportedly only 19, goes by the name "Super Villain." So, he's probably flattered that I was initially scared. After all, isn't that what villains intend to do? But why would he do this in the first place? I would soon find out that he lives in a home for those with special needs, and has been out performing on this busy intersection (and neighboring parking lots) for several years now. He was labeled as harmless, and most seemed to enjoy his antics once they discovered he was more likely to sprain his ankle jumping and pivoting than he was to injure a bystander.

Still. I just couldn't find joy in this situation. Yes, my fears and misunderstanding were relieved, but I didn't really feel any better. You see, it didn't crack me up, it broke my heart. I felt sad for this young man and sad for his family. Why? Why couldn't I just laugh along, and get a kick out of this street-side "performer?" Because unlike my adolescent experimentation, this young man will not grow out of this phase. He will not one day realize how out of line he is with society, and decide to start looking and acting normal. This is who he will be, now and forever. Maybe not in a cape, but it doesn't matter. 

I'm not sure of his condition, or why he acts the way he does. I just know that if he lives in a home for those with special needs, his family was no longer able to care for him on their own, and this was probably devastating to them. When you can't help someone you love, it's the worst feeling in the world. I would know. If you've ever loved someone with a severe mental illness, you know the heartache it can bring. I see this young man as a whole person, a baby once cradled in his mother's arms, a toddler once giggling and begging for another chocolate cookie, an adolescent beginning to show signs  of an inability to "just fit in," and now, this. And while some might mistake my feelings of sadness for intolerance, they would be wholeheartedly wrong. This has been something that has been bugging me for years, and this situation is just now helping me bring it to light.

I've seen those in mainstream society try to "adopt" someone with mental illness or special needs into their circle, especially in the school setting. They sit with them at lunch, maybe take them to movies, and call themselves friends. And while true, genuine friends can be forged (which is wonderful), I sometimes see something entirely different. I see a "normal" person enjoying the antics of an "abnormal" person for...entertainment purposes. Mockery can be mistaken for tolerance or worse yet, friendship. I've seen this too often, though it's rarely addressed. We picture bullies as those who taunt and tease, not those who falsely befriend, only for their own benefit of owning a personal freak show. Better to be a true enemy than a false friend.

People want to experience their own personal Benny & Joon, but we don't see what happens when the movie's over. What happens when they're 30, 40, 50 and still unable to live on their own? Who is paying those bills? What happens when they're of legal age to drink, and can't make wise decisions? What happens when someone takes advantage of them sexually? It happens all the time, and it's heartbreaking. I hope and pray that the caped man who roams our city streets at night can live a safe and happy life. I hope he's able to enjoy living in the moment as he does now.

I pray that he's not taunted, teased, or worse yet, physically abused by some group of dark-souled people. I also pray that he's not taken in as a false friend. I hope he has true friends, who can see him through all of the stages of his life, not just the fascinating one he's in now. Forgive me for not laughing when I see him living out his comic book fantasy on the street corner. Above all else, I see him as a whole, real person, with a whole, real family. Not a freak show. Not free entertainment. He is a unique soul created by God, and he is loved.


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