I looked at her for two seconds, and that was about all I could stand. Her pants were pulled down below her buttocks, so she was sitting bare-skinned upon the filthy, gum-stained asphalt of Bucharest’s Unirii Square. She was completely exposed. I saw boils spread across the singed, bubbled skin between her legs — her vagina was mutilated. Worse than that, she had been burned. Intentionally.
The wail was even harder to stomach. As she solicited money from people passing by, her voice fluctuated in a high-pitched moan that sounded like she mourned the death of a child. Even after looking away, I couldn’t escape the horrible wail. In that moment I knew she was far and away the most pitiful person I’ve ever come across.
At the time, I was too stunned to do anything. My travel buddy Morgan and I walked for a while in silence. What do you say to that? How could we relate to someone reduced to such a low? I tried imagining a life so utterly devoid of dignity and couldn’t. To be sure, I felt sorry for her. But my sympathy felt detached from her circumstances. No words or amount of money I could offer could undo her past.
In the following days, the scene in Plaza Unirii plagued me. I tried pushing the image of the woman out of my mind – resolving that it was unhealthy to dwell on. And yet it kept coming back.
I think I know why.
It’s a cultural quality of the Western mindset to be problem solvers. Many times, we see something wrong with the world – something unjust – and we feel compelled to do something about it. It’s an unspoken superiority complex where we feel like we have our shit figured out, and can thus help others. We believe the reason brokenness exists is because the right solution hasn’t been applied yet.
But what then if that broken thing is a person? Can you fix a mutilated, shameless beggar who has undergone horrors no person should ever go through?
I don’t know. And for me, the naive problem solver, I think that’s what has been so disturbing.
This post originally appeared at POSTULATEONE