On the “Human Cube” and Other Walls

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

The Human Cube

A friend and I were walking back from a popular coffee spot in the middle of a part of the city where gentrification has transformed old Victorians into new chi-chi restaurants and former warehouses into strip malls featuring flower shops, clothing boutiques and the like. There is even an old funeral home that now houses the “Bijou Art Cinema” (the place to go for Indy films and re-runs of old classics), although enough of the stained stucco facade and cloudy overhead “chandeliers” leftover from mortuary days can still haunt the movie-goer who has, perhaps, too much imagination.

This part of mid-town is also where one is likely to see a homeless one asking–or looking–for money and/or others clearly separate from the coffee drinkers, shoppers and movie-goers for one reason or another, self- or society-inflicted, who stand out because of their disheveled attire and demeanor. My friend and I passed one such. This one caught my attention, however, and in a way, my heart, for a few moments.

Not that there was any interaction whatsoever between us. Indeed, he (or she?), sitting on the bottom step of a building just down from Full City Coffee, sat stone still, his small body forming a kind of four-walled human cube, head face down,  buried in folded arms propped on bent knees, thick dreadlocks twined down his back.

Perfectly still, he sat.

At least for the several seconds it took us to walk by him.

He was somewhere inside himself, there, I thought as we stepped along, but I got the feeling that it was somewhere deep and far.

Or was he dead, packed so tightly and sitting so still, his body posing him thus, like those old turn-of-the-last-century photographs people had taken of their deceased loved ones propped up in life-like poses?!

I wanted to stoop down and ask him if he was okay, or needed help, but I also sensed, strongly, “Do not disturb.” So I just leaned near for a moment and whispered a simple prayer, “Jesus, please help this one…” to Him (Who can penetrate even the most impenetrable walls) for  him who sat so still and alone drawn up so tight into his body. Because I also sensed, strongly, there was something going on.

(Although, of course, this person sitting there so seemingly disconnected from the animated scene around him this crisp, noisy, multi-hued fall morning, could also have been sleeping. But a prayer never hurts.)

Other Walls

In our minutes’ prior coffee conversation, the friend and I had touched briefly on another kind of human wall, as it were: the kind we construct between ourselves. There are, of course, many ways to tear down such walls, but if the tools are on the other side and the wall is otherwise impenetrable, there may be little the one without the tools can do. Wait, maybe. Certainly pray. But sometimes, walking away for now or for good is the only answer.

So I suppose in the way our brains and hearts keep working on analogies that penetrate some wall-obscured comprehension we are searching for (in this metaphor-rich world) I was still working some of this analogy out when I saw that one on the porch step. I could see a bit of a comparison in his tight, motionless cube of a body separate–and separating him–from all around him, to how we dissociate ourselves with walls of defense or offense from each other, a different kind of “human wall” that can also seem impenetrable.

But, of course, as always, there is prayer–to not only aid our efforts to tear down what walls we can but also to know when to walk away from those we cannot as the seasons of our lives bring us, hopefully, closer to comprehending the difference.

Here’s a little encouragement regarding the outcome if we stay the course:

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open (Luke 8:17).

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2 Responses to On the “Human Cube” and Other Walls

  1. This is very powerful and so true. I appreciate how you sought to discern how to handle that very personal, touching situation with which you were faced and felt as though the spiritual option was the best choice at that moment. Every situation is different. May we, as people of faith, trust God to reveal to us in the moment what hurting people really need.


    • pnissila says:

      Hi, Cindy,

      Thank you, and yes, we need to discern!

      I was reminded of the time my neighbor and I came across a person kneeling and doing something in the dirt just outside the gate to our community, and as we approached him we discovered he was picking things out of the DIRT and eating them. He had a good looking bicycle and cart behind it and new looking luggage inside of it, so we figured he had some kind of resources for actual food. As we approached him to see if there might be something we could do to help him, he turned and “growled” (no other word describes it) at us in short, low, tones. We moved on and then prayed later. Who knows who or what was “in attendance” as it were, there! I wrote about it somewhere on here. Ever since, I check my “spiritual gut,” as it were, before responding!

      Cheers and blessings and I will gladly write a few sentences for your new book. Haven’t had a chance to respond to your private message.



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