Sometimes it overwhelms me – like this morning when I was sitting quietly on a bench in Central Park in New York City taking in all of the sites and sounds around me. I don’t know how to describe it quite right. There is a scene in the 1997 end of the world sci-fi movie called “The Fifth Element” starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Jovovich’s character is watching a series of pictures on a monitor that show how earth had arrived to the point of its pending doom. She is overcome by taking in all of the emotions represented in those scenes. It was a very powerful moment. At the risk of spoiling it for those who have not seen it, Jovovich is later revealed as the fifth element that brings all of the four natural elements together to save the world. The snapshot view into human nature and interconnectedness that she witnessed gave her the drive and motivation to do so.
There is something so beautiful, and at the same time painful, about human interconnectedness. That’s what I felt on that park bench today. It is hard describe without sounding cliche’ or trite. But, as I sat next to a sleeping homeless woman and watched the world go by, you could feel all of the energy and emotion in the air.
There were the runners and bikers, the families with strollers and young children who just wanted to walk, the lost tourists with maps and pointing fingers, the locals walking their dogs, the NYC-style tuk tuks driven by immigrants in search of a better life, the man in a heated debate with someone on the other end of his cell phone, the older couple (he on his electric scooter and she in her really cool pair of running shoes)…and there was my sleeping benchmate.
It felt like a scene in a movie. But, it wasn’t. Each of those people had their own lives beyond this moment, their own concerns, their own joys, their own sadness and their own struggles. On this beautiful morning, however, we were all connected through our presence in the park, making the scene what it was. But it was the homeless lady that I kept thinking about the rest of the day. I spent much of the latter part of my life living in San Francisco, so homelessness is not a shocking or unusual site for me. It was part of the city landscape. However, today, I could not stop thinking about this woman. What got her to this point? What was her life like? What did she think about? Did she have any connections in her life?
I wanted to make things better for her. She was as much a human being as everyone who was a part of that scene in the park. But, what can I do? These things are complicated. I often struggle with what is the right thing. If I give her money, will she spend it on drugs or alcohol which would only perpetuate her situation? Bringing her food, as I have done for SF homeless in the past, would be good, but only temporary. Then my mind, as it often does, turns to the bigger picture. There are much larger issues that have contributed to her current state of affairs. Ones that are complicated and involve political systems and human nature and addictions and mental issues and …that is when it gets overwhelming.
I wish I could say that I had an epiphany and all the right answers. Unfortunately, I didn’t and I don’t. What I do know is that I cannot let it paralyze me. Feeling that human interconnectedness keeps me grounded and empathetic. Like our fifth element heroine, I will use it as fuel and motivation. It propels me deeper and with more conviction to continue to use my own unique talents and interests to contribute to a better world through impact investing and contributing to social enterprises that address the bigger issues. For now, that’s what I can do.