One of the top must see tourist attractions of the United States, if not the world, Hollywood is famous for just about everything. If you're anybody, you’ve been to Los Angeles. You’ve been to the Grammy's when they rolled the red carpet out onto Hollywood Boulevard from the Shrine Auditorium. We are fascinated with Hollywood and the stars that live there.
Living in a small town and being a broke college student, the best I could hope for is to catch a glimpse at this life of glamour through the very public lives of the Kardashian’s. This past week during spring break, I found myself on a plane flying to L.A. Headed to the airport at four in the morning, I was so dazed that I didn’t hit me until I looked out my window as we flew over the Hollywood sign preparing to land in LAX.
This wasn’t a sightseeing trip. I was here with eleven other college students to work alongside the Carmelite Sisters in their various apostolates during the day (Grade school, Educational daycare, and Assisted Living Facility). At night, we hit the streets of downtown LA with Mike Manhardt, operator of a non-profit organization, F.A.M.I.L.Y, who teams up with Share A Meal to serve the homeless.
I know I’ve blogged about the dignity of the human person before, but it has always been in relation to topics which are comfortable to me. It’s easy to talk about seeing the dignity of the human person when it’s our significant other. In a certain way, it’s easy to be vulnerable with our family and close friends. They love us. While it takes a risk to step out and encounter their personhood, we can rely on their love to support us when we take that risk.
Seeing the dignity of the person does not come easily to me when it is the homeless. I could talk about it and philosophize with you about their dignity, but those words would not have been ones I backed up in actions. Actually leaving the comfort of my college campus, and the familiarity of Starbucks to stop on the streets and actually see the dignity of those struggling to get by was way out of my comfort zone.
There are homeless in every city. Some more than others. I distinctly remember being on the streets of Paris and walking by women begging for food and turning the other way because their suffering made me uncomfortable. I rationalized turning my back by thinking of the sheer number of homeless. What would buying that woman a sandwich really do in the grand scheme of things?
This week in Hollywood changed my perspective. I walked onto Hollywood Blvd. for the first time in my life and I wasn’t there to sight-see. I had a reusable grocery bag filled with hygienic products. Limos filled with people ready to hit the club drove by. My group stopped to talk to “Papa Mooch”. He lived there on the streets. He told me he takes care of the other newbies. We chatted for awhile and I gave him a zip-lock bag with some deodorant, shaving cream and the like. The gratitude he expressed for the little things I take for granted tore me up inside. How had I been scared of people like Papa Mooch?
My fear of the homeless came from a fear to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable with them would demand something of me. In stepping outside of myself and my pristine bubble, I encountered them as person. I couldn’t think of the homeless as “them”, but as Papa Mooch, as Mariah, as Jay, as Cabbage, and as Wily. Thinking of the homeless as a mass, I separated myself from their distinct individuality and subjectivity. Dietrich von Hildebrand warns us of this anti-personalism calling it, “the great and terrible danger of our times” (5).
Do I honestly believe that anti-personalism, or the reduction of the human person to an object, to a member of the crowd, to a fixture on the street, is the great and terrible danger of our times? When it is comfortable for me I seek to see the person in others, other times I shy away from their personhood, knowing it will ask something of me. Going to Hollywood this week taught me something. I have nothing to fear in giving of myself to another person, but I have everything to gain. In stepping outside of myself, I have the chance to love a new person, who is an unrepeatable instance of humanity.
Hollywood is more accurately the boulevard of broken dreams, and I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to walk it, and to meet some of it’s residence.