A Confession

A number of years ago, I was walking at the beach with a couple of friends of mine. The weather was perfect, as it frequently is in southern California. The sun was shining, the temperature was about 75 degrees, and the air was dry. Everyone around me seemed to be living a relaxed life. People were chatting, eating ice cream, and doing beach activities. I suspect when people imagine life in Los Angeles, that’s what they picture.

Unfortunately, like every big city, there are many of those who live in poverty. Homeless people are everywhere, including the beach. So I wasn’t at all surprised when I noticed, to my left, a homeless person sleeping on the grass with a blanket over their head and torso. It was a common scene, for sure—a poor person ignored and avoided by the rich, their proximity to the ground reflecting their social status. I’m so used to seeing homeless people that I would’ve entirely forgotten about this person, if it hadn’t been for the fact that their feet were absolutely disgusting. I mean they looked rotten. For a brief moment, I thought to myself that this person might have been dead.

But I didn't do anything.

By the time the thought had cemented into my mind, I might have been half a block away. So I could’ve easily gone back to check up on this person.

But I didn’t.

I just kept walking and chatting with my friends.

Sometimes I watch these social experiment videos on YouTube, where they have hidden cameras to record how people react to certain situations. One experiment featured two actors, one dressed as a nonhomeless person and the other as a homeless person. And the goal was to see if people would check up on them after they pretended to collapse on the sidewalk near an intersection. The results were what you would've expected.

When I watch experiments like that, I like to tell myself that if I’d been a civilian in that video, I would’ve done the right thing, that I wouldn’t have been like almost everyone else, that I wouldn’t have ignored suffering right in front of my face.

But I am like almost everyone else.

When I think back on that day at the beach, I wonder if that was one of those social experiments. I wonder if somewhere on the internet, there is a video of me walking by what I thought could have been a corpse.