Satan is a Pussy

“Satan is a pussy compared to God, but he’s still strong.”

That’s what he’d said the instant before I took this photo. It’s the line that stayed with me, not due to any socio-religious significance, but because he’d said it in the context of explaining the reason behind his self-loathing. By this point, we’d been talking for only a few moments, but they are moments that will stick with me as long as the photo. We’d met in March 2008, while I was trying to shoot an empty barbershop.

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“Take my picture,” he’d said, after politely moving out the way of my shot. He spread his arms as if to say, “This is me, all that I am.” I took the shot, and he approached. If you are willing to listen, there is an abundance of people who are willing to tell you their stories. I avoid most street people for just that reason. They want me to listen, and listening is work I no longer want to do.

“Have you ever seen Satan?” he asked, testing me. He gave me a long stare as if trying to discern if I’d draw away. I’m pretty hard to shock. “They say Satan was the most beautiful of angels. I am Satan.”

I knew instantly he was speaking half-metaphorically. He spoke with the conviction not of insanity, but of one who knows you couldn’t possibly believe or understand. I understood. I’ve met people like him before. Then, “This city is full of beautiful people.”

Ah. Yes. Beautiful people … those who aren’t invisible. Those with hope, with self-love, with possibilities. Most of all, those whose light masks an inner darkness the others pretend not to see.

“You wouldn’t believe I’ve seen God, been to God. Again testing. He went on to explain that Satan had him, he had become Satan in effect.

“Satan is a pussy compared to God, but he’s still strong.” His eyes still searched mine for ridicule. I assured him I don’t attempt to judge what is real or not real. The fact that I’d not met God doesn’t mean he isn’t real. Maybe me and God weren’t boys. Besides, if one did somehow see God, or Satan, would not the incomprehensible power make one mad? Would not knowing no one could believe leave one feeling alone? Maybe this man’s predicament was proof of his truthfulness.

He told me that people like him aren’t nearly as crazy as people think. He assured me schizophrenia wasn’t talking. I knew that. I’ve talked to schizophrenics, lived with one, and this wasn’t it. I could smell the alcohol on his breath — “a few beers” as he told it — but I knew he was telling the truth when he said it didn’t faze him. I’ve lived with alcoholics too.

“It just numbs me a little, you know?” He wasn’t numb though. His pain showed in every expression: constant emotional pain. I couldn’t feel it as don’t always have the gift of empathy when I’m shooting. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, ‘I do not turn it off, it turns off all by itself.’ However, I know what hurting looks like just as I know what a tree looks like.

He was 54 years old and had been living on the streets for 5 years. “I’m not the shelter kind of guy.” In fact, according to him, he was no one, evil, an abortion that should have happened, but did not … his precise words. He told me his back story, the son of a cleaning woman from the projects: illegitimate, illiterate, and depressed. He felt worthless, telling me he didn’t want to die, but rather wished he had never been born. He was evil, he was Satan, he was worthless. Looking back, I realize I should have asked him what he did to be so despicable, but honestly, I didn’t want to know. Empathy thrives in ignorance.

“See that squirrel? I wish I were that squirrel.” A squirrel has no worries, no problem. A squirrel just is.

I told him simply, “You can’t lose faith in yourself, because you’re all you have.” I touched his shoulder. He seemed surprised that I would. I knew he had faith in God, whatever that meant to him, but somehow he was still lost.

“If you believe in God, then you must believe that God believes in you,” I offered. For a second, then two, he looked, wanted to believe. “It’s never too late to start.”

“Start what?” he sneered.

“I don’t know. That’s up to you.” Again, for a second, he wanted to believe. Then the darkness inside shrugged it off. Some darkness can shadow even the light. I wished him well, and stepped out of his shade and back into the sun. A camera doesn’t make one a savior. It only makes you an idiot who can remember the story. Some things, you have to leave to the Universe.

— Peace, Bill

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4 thoughts on “Satan is a Pussy

  1. I’ve often had quoted at me “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.

    In the first place, it’s true.

    In the second, I judge as much as I want and no-one’s going to use me as a weapon or tool against myself. So I don’t give a damn what people think. Of me.

    There are many people out there hurting, and sometimes to simply listen costs nothing but is a major gift. Other times you can be sucked dry by emotional vampires—with maturity sometimes comes the wisdom to enable one to judge.

    The Zen and other literature is filled with stories of such folks, sometimes they are abject ‘failures’ and other times unrecognised ‘saints’ doing their thing; chasing simplicity and trying not to cause harm.
    I forget the name of the Chinese guy (Japanese? Who knows …) who carried a grubby sack everywhere from which he’d produce toys for the children (these days he’d be arrested on sight—hell, I had a correspondent in Sydney tell me that she thinks I’m brave (or stupid) taking photographs in a playground).

    A Christian lady once sanctimoniously told me of a street-person passing us, “There but for the grace of God go I” and she was quite flabbergasted by my response. I was meant to smugly endorse her remark …

    And I continue to judge, judge, judge—as if the future depended on it. Perhaps it does …

    In the navy we were taught that “Many a man would rather you listened to his story than put right his wrong”. True, too. And sometimes genuine wisdom springs from surprising founts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Argus, I’ve always had the opinion that people who say “judge not” are really saying, “Since I’m not going to do anything, I’ll stay neutral so I’m not a hypocrite.” With all apologies to the Christian woman, God isn’t who puts you on the streets or in a lovely house. More often, it’s the crappy life you were brought up in, or as recent studies show, loneliness that send us on the streets.

      My grandfather was a retired Army officer and quite accomplished. He was also a raging alcoholic. He didn’t end up on the streets because he always had people around to keep his self-destructiveness within controllable boundaries. This man was on the street because he believed it’s where he belonged. That’s the bit I can’t shake . We’re our own worst enemies sometimes. No Satan needed for that.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Remarkable piece. Being “lost” is such a human thing, and at the same time, there are so very few who ever take a moment out of their lives to be a guide, even if for a brief few minutes on the side of a street.

    Like

    1. Thanks, John. I ended up feeling like I’d done nothing, and I wonder if he ever made it off the streets. But maybe taking the photo and telling his story is enough. We (including me, most of the time) forget they’re really just people whose lives turned against them.

      Liked by 1 person

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