— 21 April 2004 —
“Wednesday morning, one of his caregivers found Kaleak dead, still seated in front of his television in the tidy white house he rented off East Third Avenue and Eagle Street. Kaleak, 45, appeared to have died of natural causes, Anchorage police said.” (source)
Floyd Kaleak died April 7, 2004.
I talked with Floyd a couple of times during my time in Anchorage, and have thought about him from time to time since.
When I first experienced Floyd, I was a preteen and reacted as one might expect: stupid kid quietly makes fun of some “unfortunate person” to his friends. Once I entered an environment, as a teenager, that required me to think for myself, my view on Floyd changed. I didn’t “get” him, but I accepted him. There was no pity, fear, or mocking. He was just Floyd and seeing him made me smile.
Once I made it to college-age, I went out into the big, bad Outside. There are a lot of “Floyds” out there. Wavers, smilers, followers, panhandlers with expectations and without… For the most part, there was nothing unique about them. They were part of the city, but for the most part they were cogs; a part of the necessary machinery of a city that moved it and was moved by it. But if one cog broke down there were plenty more to take its place.
Floyd was not a cog. He was an important part of that necessary machinery: the oil. Floyd kept the city moving. He kept it from breaking down.
Traffic lights keep the traffic moving. Garbage service keeps the land clean (except during breakup). Commerce keeps everyone (mostly) fed and sheltered. While all of these things that make a city function are important, they do not make it function well, only adequately.
Being able to be involved in the commerce of a city allows you to pay for the most basic of life’s needs. Coordinating a service that takes waste away from the living areas also is an important factor to a healthy life. Traffic, even when it’s slow or seemingly unmoving will allow you to get where you need to be. But once you have the basics taken care of, you yearn for more. Even if you spend all your energy just making sure the basics are going to be there, you still yearn for more.
Floyd was that more. He was another human being who reached out every day to you. A smile, a wave; friendliness. Even when you didn’t reach back, for whatever reason, he was there again the next day, just for you. Think about the openness it takes to be that for others. Think about that, for Floyd, reaching out was a basic necessity that trumped those life needs that “the rest of us” apply so much importance to.
Those things are important. But I challenge you to be Floyd. Take care of those necessities, but once things are even somewhat stable, reach out. Smile at others. Wave. Not for yourself, but for them. Make their day better, even just for the moment you are smiling. You live in a city, and while your life may be focused on those unfortunately colored buildings, dragging a garbage can 30 feet once a week, or driving through dangerous intersections, remember that you live with people.
People live and work in those buildings. There are people at the other end of that garbage can. And there are plenty of people who don’t seem to have jobs driving the city streets. People make a city, and people need human contact (yes even in Alaska). So go out today and don’t be embarrassed to reach out. Think Floyd. Be Floyd for 30 seconds a day. Make someone else’s life better just by being friendly.