Last Saturday, as I walked out of the Cathedral after the funeral Mass for Father Gregorio Iriarte, OMI (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate), a beloved educator, writer, and human rights activist in Bolivia, who had been deported from Bolivia many times during its dictator years, I came upon a young man who had passed out on the sidewalk outside the church. It was 12:00, and he was struggling to recuperate from the night before. I watched helplessly as he tried to recover the pink ice cream that had spilled from his overturned plastic cup. Still lying on his side, he leaned over, trying to follow the stream of ice cream with his straw, sipping it from the dirty pavement.
I had seen many young men passed out on the streets in the city. Some of them were sleeping off the alcohol from the night before, while others were debilitated from sniffing glue—borrachos (drunks) and cleferos (glue sniffers). I have even seen the street boys’ dogs passed out from sniffing glue.
I walked on, though, for I was used to such sights, and the young man would probably come to his senses and go on his way.
The next day after going to an early Mass in our neighborhood that celebrated 200th anniversary of the Sisters of St. Joseph, I was returning home and saw something strange just beside the curb of Guayacon, now a busy street since it has been paved. It looked like a pair of bent knees jutting up from the pavement beside the street curb. I hoped that what I was looking at was not human, but as I came closer, I saw the rest of the figure. Yes, it was a young man, about fifteen years old, passed out beside the curb of this busy street. Accustomed as I had become to seeing young men passed out in the streets of the city, I mentally registered what I had seen and passed on.
Three minutes later I stopped myself. What are you doing? Are you just going to hope that a car doesn’t run over him?
So I turned around and just stood by the boy. At least no cars would run over him if I were standing there.
He wouldn’t and couldn’t wake up. Dressed in a turquoise-blue tee-shirt, with a black jacket and black jeans, along with a silver-studded leather belt, also black, he did not look like a street boy, but a middle-class kid who had just not been able to make it home.
It wasn’t long before the family who lived in the house in front of the curb came out, and we somehow got the young man to a safe place, sitting on a rock, leaning against the wall surrounding their house. We could hear his cell phone ringing in his pocket. If he could only come to his senses, someone would come to get him and bring him home.
What surprised me was that I did not immediately go to help the boy. I had simply walked by, hoping that I would not read in the papers the next day that a car racing by had run over him. Later that day, I talked with a Maryknoll sister who told me that she had had the same experience, walking past a young man passed out in the road, but then stopping herself.